San Jose mayor’s nonprofit nets thousands from water company
Mayor Sam Liccardo at the March 15 San Jose City Council meeting. Photo by Jana Kadah.

A local water company gave a lot of love last year to zoos, books, food and homeless services—as well as an advocacy nonprofit spearheaded by San Jose’s mayor.

San Jose Water Company (SJWC), the largest water retailer in San Jose, gave $250,000 in donations to a number of local nonprofits in 2021 to help improve the region’s quality of life, according to its website.

Every year, the company donates to conservation groups such as Guadalupe River Park Conservancy, recreational entities like Happy Hollow Park and Zoo and local events including Bark in the Park, Cupertino Diwali Festival and Water Awareness Night with the San Jose Giants. It also supports food banks such as Second Harvest of Silicon Valley, housing assistance through Rebuilding Together Silicon Valley and homeless services at Martha’s Kitchen.

A donation that didn’t make the public announcement was a $25,000 check to Mayor Sam Liccardo’s advocacy group, Solutions Silicon Valley, previously known as Solutions San Jose. According to documents outlining the mayor’s fundraising efforts, SJWC—which has Liccardo’s personal friend Carl Guardino as a board member—was the only organization that donated to Solutions Silicon Valley between October and December last year.

Rachel Davis, the mayor’s spokesperson, said Liccardo solicited the donation “for the same reason we ask any other entity: we thought they’d have an interest in common sense solutions.”

Solutions Silicon Valley, a 501(c)(4) formed by the mayor in early 2021, has launched several campaigns to sway public opinion on reopening schools, crime and safety and water rate hikes. It also hosted a number of panels featuring city, state and federal officials on homelessness, housing and learning loss.

SJWC said the donation is to support the organization’s work.

“The issues Solutions (Silicon Valley) is tackling—related to the unhoused, health care, housing and rent—affect our employees and customers,” John Tang, vice president of regulatory affairs and government relations at SJWC, told San José Spotlight. “Their issues are broad based and go well beyond water policy. We share the organization’s view that these issues and others need to be addressed so that everyone can thrive in the communities where we live, work and serve.”

It’s unclear whether Guardino played a role in obtaining the donation. Guardino, with the help of two outside lobbyists, orchestrated a last-minute effort with the mayor’s office in 2020 to help write an exemption in city law that benefitted his employer, Bloom Energy. Guardino was also a force behind fundraising efforts to elect Liccardo as mayor.

Guardino did not respond to inquiries about his involvement.

“We conduct our business with the highest ethical standards and have policies in place to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest,” Tang said.

The donation came seven months after Solutions Silicon Valley spearheaded an effort in opposition of Valley Water’s plan for a water rate hike that forced San Jose Water Company and other local retailers to raise their prices.

Liccardo said the donation from SJWC has nothing to do with his nonprofit’s water rate campaign.

“Every one of our residents—regardless of which water retailer who serves them (San Jose Muni, Great Oaks, or San Jose Water Company)—suffer with higher water rates as a result of the poor decision-making of the Valley Water board,” Liccardo told San José Spotlight. “There is no conflict of interest, because the public interest is wholly aligned with the position of Solutions Silicon Valley.”

The solicitation to SJWC isn’t an isolated fundraising effort for the mayor. Between October and December, Liccardo raised more than $420,000 for his PAC, Common Good Silicon Valley, before stepping down. He also raised $175,000 for SJ Aspires, an education grant program run by the city, during the same period, his disclosure shows.

Solutions Silicon Valley does not disclose the names of its leadership, staff or donors on its website.

Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.

Editor’s Note: Valley Water CEO Rick Callender serves on San José Spotlight’s board of directors.

 

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