San Jose: Senate candidates debate immigration, public safety and more
State Senate candidates for District 15 spoke at a forum Thursday night. From left: San Jose Councilman Johnny Khamis, State Assemblywoman Nora Campos, Paratransit Operator Tim Gildersleeve, former Federal Election Commission Chair Ann Ravel and Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese. Photo by Katie Lauer.

Five candidates vying to replace Sen. Jim Beall in Sacramento next year took the stage in San Jose this week at a neighborhood group’s forum to field questions on immigration, public safety and transportation.

Hosted by the Willow Glen Neighborhood Association on Thursday night, the District 15 candidates included former Assemblywoman Nora Campos, Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese, Paratransit Operator Tim Gildersleeve, San Jose Councilmember Johnny Khamis and former FEC chair Ann Ravel.

Proposition 13

The candidates on Thursday were asked about Proposition 13 – which limits property tax increases for property owners – and whether it should be changed to a “split roll.” That means the law would apply to homeowners, but commercial property owners would see greater property tax increases.

Ravel said she supports modifying the proposition, but only if it accounts for small businesses that could be negatively affected. “I first started working at the county when Prop. 13 was first on the ballot,” Ravel said. “It was not sold for the purpose of giving a benefit to the big corporations and big businesses in California.”

Cortese agreed with Ravel that changes are needed but cautioned against negatively affecting small businesses.

Campos said she’s concerned that families will no longer be able to afford living in Silicon Valley, especially those who bought their homes many years ago, and would not support amendments if small businesses would be negatively affected. Gildersleeve said he would ultimately support reforms.

Khamis disagreed with reforming Prop. 13. If it’s changed, he said everyone in the audience would be hurt – and increased tax rates would force businesses to leave California.

“The people who end up paying for these higher taxes is you,” Khamis said. “I think we should stay within our means and not mess with the property tax equation. In the end, corporations will live with it or leave. If you live with it, that means you’re raising your own costs.”

Crime rates 

Moderator Pierluigi Oliverio, a former District 6 councilmember who now serves on the Planning Commission, asked if the candidates thought Prop. 47 and Prop. 57 – which reduced some charges from felonies to misdemeanors and allowed for the release of non-violent offenders after serving their full initial sentence – increased crime rates.

Cortese said Santa Clara County is an exception to statewide increases in crime, and that the rate of re-offenders in Santa Clara County has dropped from 70 percent to 34 percent.

Campos, who was in the Assembly when the propositions were passed, said there should’ve been more funding, wrap-around services and rehabilitation for people leaving the system.

Ravel said criminal justice issues need to focus on statistics. She agreed that there are more break-ins since the measures passed, but would support Sen. Scott Weiner’s efforts to pass legislation to make it easier to prosecute those burglaries.

Khamis has taken a hard stance against both propositions, and has called for their repeals. He said Thursday he believes crime rates have gone up, the system is broken and he supports Safer California which would reverse those propositions.

Gildersleeve said he supports tweaking the propositions.

Sanctuary policies

The five candidates were asked if they support Senate Bill 54, which prevents state and local law enforcement agencies from assisting in federal immigration enforcement. While none of them support the anti-immigrant rhetoric from President Donald Trump, they emphasized that a sanctuary city policy doesn’t mean people are shielded from the law.

Campos agreed with equal prosecution when necessary, but she worries about how that will play out in the current political landscape. “What troubles me about this is as a nation I don’t believe that we should allow ourselves to be baited into profiling people based on their ethnic makeup,” she said. “I believe we’re better than that. I just can’t see us going down that road.”

Ravel explained that state sanctuary policies simply allow arresting officers to notify ICE when they think someone is dangerous on a felony level. Cortese said he agrees that sentencing is the same, regardless of immigration status.

“If what you’re trying to do beyond prosecution is make sure that ICE has the information they need to come and pick somebody up – that’s really what this whole thing is about,” Cortese said. “It’s really not a problem here in Santa Clara County as far as I’m concerned.”

Khamis begged to differ, saying the state has dangerous criminals who need to be picked up by ICE. “There was a member of our community here that lost her life because our criminal laws are so relaxed and the sanctuary county policy was not there with any cooperation with ICE,” he said.

Gildersleeve said he’s in favor of helping refugees who are trying to “escape bad situations.”

“But my concern is the criminal aspect of it,” he added. “If you’re going to come here and commit crimes, kill, rape, deal drugs – (then) no.”

Senate Bill 50

Sen. Wiener’s proposal to increase housing along some of California transit hubs received mixed reviews from the District 15 candidates.

Ravel does not support the landmark bill for two reasons: the bill needs provisions regarding moderate to low income housing and she believes cities should maintain local control and decide what is most appropriate when it comes to building housing.

Cortese will support it when amendments, such as height limits and parking requirements, are made. Campos said she supports the bill, saying that homes and job centers built near transit corridors make for healthier communities. Gildersleeve said he won’t support the bill without amendments.

Khamis is opposed to SB 50, saying these decisions should be kept at the local level without allowing the state to step in.

Contact Katie Lauer at klauer77@gmail.com or follow @_katielauer on Twitter.

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