An advocate for families and children, District 8 San Jose Councilmember Sylvia Arenas said she is not a politician — she’s a public servant.
The distinction is notable — her role as a public servant did not begin when she assumed elected office, rather when she began to dedicate her career to serving a community she calls home. That role started the day she launched her start in childhood development and education, working for agencies such as FIRST 5 Santa Clara County, a statewide program that brings critical services to young children, and Gardner Health Services, a health center that provides services to low-income families.
“She’s devoted to children and families — it’s her high priority and she is a collaborative partner that wants the best interest of her community at the forefront,” said Jolene Smith, the chief executive officer of FIRST 5.
Arenas said she’s grateful to serve on the City Council, amplifying her mission at a higher level.
“I’ve always served our families and communities just in different capacities. This has always been a lifelong passion for me,” she said. “If you offered me another job where I’d be making twice as much but wouldn’t serve the community, I couldn’t take it. It wouldn’t be fulfilling for me.”
The Latina from the city’s East Side is not interested in playing games or being in the limelight, shying away from cameras or the drama consuming local politics. Instead, she said she’s focused on continuing to serve her neighbors by being a defender of women and children, calling for the city to reform its response to rising rates of sexual assaults through prevention education and services, as well as advocating for subsidized child care programs.
“You would think that there would be more crimes involving adults, but the crimes are actually with children under the age of 12,” Arenas said. “Less quality child care and after school programs creates a lot of accessibility toward children, especially when families don’t have the money for child care services.”
Arenas promises to shift more city funds for family initiatives and continue supporting competitive pay and pension reform for police officers.
According to financial disclosures, Arenas has raised about $77,000 for her campaign.
Growing up in poverty and in a run-down neighborhood of San Jose, Arenas saw how the educational system failed so many in her social circle, those who did not make it to high school.
Her father — a bracero who labored long days in the fields — taught her the meaning of hard work, but Arenas said that addressing racial inequity starts with taking care of the most vulnerable children to lead them on a better path.
The Evergreen councilwoman launched the city’s Family Friendly Initiative, meant to increase access to early education, after school programs, safe housing, family-friendly public facilities and paid family leave.
If re-elected, Arenas said she wants to keep funding the Recreation of City Kids (ROCK) after-school program she helped expand that offers homework help and recreational activities, and preschool to low-income families.
“The best investment of our resources is when we focus on our youngest children,” she added. “That has really been the cornerstone of who I’ve been.”
District 8 is known for its open spaces, trails and parks, and Arenas plans to preserve these areas and supporting development around transit.
Another of one of her top priorities is to encourage more retail stores in shopping destinations like Eastridge Mall or Evergreen Village Square, as many businesses have closed in recent years. She plans to add resources to the citywide retail strategy to study the types of businesses her community wants.
“Very specific ethnic-driven small businesses do well, but some big chains don’t because they don’t recognize what our community wants,” Arenas said. “We have one of the highest household incomes out here, but you wouldn’t be able to tell from the retail we have.”
She is being challenged in the March 3 primary by Evergreen School District Trustee Jim Zito, a self-described fiscal conservative.
Contact Nadia Lopez at [email protected] or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.
Name: Sylvia Arenas
Family: Married for 19 years, 2 kids
Political affiliation: Democrat
Education: Bachelor of Arts in human development, focus in early childhood development from CSU East Bay; Master of public administration, University of San Francisco
Profession: Early childhood development specialist
Current or previous elected or appointed positions: Evergreen Elementary School District Board of Trustees, San Jose City Council District 8
Top 3 priorities: Economic Development; public safety; family services
Top 3 endorsements: U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren; State Sen. Jim Beall, Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese
Special talent: She is “very perceptive with people and I can get along with just about anyone.”
In one sentence, why vote for you? “Not only am I an advocate, I’m also part of a community. I recognize what services and programs our families can benefit from and I lead the way for families.”