A labor group took aim at San Jose Councilmember Lan Diep, a former Republican and longtime pro-business advocate, in an attack ad that accuses him of giving developer KT Urban, who built the Silvery Towers, a $22 million taxpayer-funded subsidy.
The group that released the ad last week, Santa Clara County Residents for Responsible Development, criticized the councilmember for “rewarding” KT Urban with a hefty subsidy, despite reports revealing that an unlicensed Hayward subcontractor on the Silvery Towers project cheated workers out of their wages and held more than a dozen workers in San Jose against their will.
Dubbed “slavery towers” by critics, federal authorities revealed that immigrant workers were forcibly kept in a warehouse with squalid conditions, denied wages and threatened with violent retaliation if they decided to leave. The subcontractor, Job Torres Hernandez, who held the workers, was recently convicted and sentenced to an 8-year prison sentence. He was also ordered to pay more than $900,000 in restitution fees to several workers.
The ad blasting the councilmember is viewed by insiders as the first to kick off a host of political ads as this season’s campaign trail takes off. While the ad does not explicitly direct his constituents to not vote for him, it encourages voters to call Diep to tell him he is “deeply wrong” for supporting the subsidy they claim is part of a $67 million “developer giveaway,” in addition to failing to vote for policies that protect workers or mandate affordable housing requirements on new developments.
San Jose lawmakers on Tuesday will consider a slew of housing measures, including changes to a law that requires developers to set aside affordable housing units and tweaks to the Ellis Act’s provision to put units back under rent control after redevelopment.
“San Jose taxpayer dollars should never reward modern day slave labor and what took place at the infamous Slavery Towers was repugnant,” said Tom Saggau, a spokesperson for Santa Clara County Residents for Responsible Development. “Lan Diep’s trickle down affordable housing scheme calls for the continued doling out of millions more in taxpayer subsidies to the Tersini brothers’ KT Urban development company at the expense of affordable housing and workforce protections and that is deeply wrong.”
Diep could not be reached for comment Friday.
However, some councilmembers who also voted to extend the downtown high-rise incentive program, which gives developers tax subsidies, came to Diep’s defense on Monday, alleging the video is nothing more than “dirty politics.”
“There are a lot of lies and misinformation in this video,” Councilmember Johnny Khamis told San José Spotlight on Monday. “To imply that Lan condones slave labor is beyond unethical. It’s a ridiculous assumption to think we support slavery because we gave builders a fee reduction.”
Diep was narrowly elected to the San Jose City Council in June 2016 by 12 votes. He unseated incumbent District 4 Councilmember Manh Nguyen, who sued over his election loss, claiming voter fraud and incompetence by the county elections office.
Diep faces two challengers, David Cohen and Huy Tran, in his re-election battle next year.