Two men sit on a stage in chairs with a table in front of them
Keynote speaker Chuck Todd, NBC news journalist and former host of “Meet the Press,” explained at PolitiBeat why the American divide always seems unprecedented — but rarely is. Photo by Moryt Milo.

San José Spotlight’s all-day political festival returned for its second year to tackle pressing issues facing Silicon Valley, from artificial intelligence and county elections to the region’s evolving identity.

Roughly 200 attendees heard firsthand from local leaders in government, education, technology and development, converging on June 14 at the Hammer Theatre in downtown San Jose on topics such as philanthropy in journalism, opportunity gaps in East San Jose schools and immigration. Keynote speaker Chuck Todd, the NBC news journalist and former host of “Meet the Press,” capped off the festival and explained why American divide always seems unprecedented — but rarely is.

“I’ve often said, is this the 1850s or the 1950s? The 1850s it took a civil war to resolve. The 1950s, McCarthy died. Arguably, if you look at our history, we’ve gotten out of these moments when there’s been another existential threat. Is that war with China? It’s not a pandemic — we learned that. That’s not going to bring us together,” Todd said during a keynote talk moderated by San José Spotlight co-founder and executive director Josh Barousse. “Our democracy needs repair. It needs updating.”

The event has become a sponsor-filled fundraiser for San José Spotlight — the first nonprofit digital newsroom in Silicon Valley — and in turn, put the issue of funding news into painful focus.

A discussion on philanthropy’s role in journalism puts a spotlight on the issue of newsroom funding in America. From left to right: San José Spotlight co-founder Ramona Giwargis, Mauricio Palma with the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Hannah Stonebreaker with the Emerson Collective, Neha Gohil with the Hewlett Foundation and Allan Madoc with the Knight Foundation.

During a panel on philanthropy’s role in journalism, San José Spotlight co-founder and CEO Ramona Giwargis said she learned the Knight Foundation — one of America’s premier nonprofit funders of journalism — funded Silicon Valley the least out of the foundation’s entire news portfolio.

“Before coming tonight, I did not expect that was the case,” panelist Allan Madoc, the Knight Foundation’s San Jose director, said during the panel. “It’s counterintuitive to me. In the valley here — not just San Jose but more broadly San Francisco, right down the peninsula — we haven’t as an organization really seen the innovation in journalism which we have seen in other parts of the country and, as a function of that, the funding hasn’t flowed through.”

A burgeoning coalition between San Jose government and artificial intelligence interests was top of mind during a panel on the future of AI in the valley. Last year the city released its first set of employee guidelines for generative AI, a technology that has the ability to generate text, images and other media in response to prompts. But how will local officials make sure it’s applied responsibly?

Silicon Valley tech leaders discuss the future of artificial intelligence and its role in local government in the Bay Area. From left to right: San José Spotlight editor Moryt Milo, Peter Leroe-Munoz with the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, ScoreData CEO Vasudev Bhandarkar, San Jose Chief Information Officer Khaled Tawfik and SJSU professor Ahmed Banafa.

One panelist, San Jose Chief Information Officer Khaled Tawfik, said local governments in the valley are fragmented and need to coordinate their voices when demanding information from tech companies about their AI models.

“No. 1, we let the big companies understand that your future development has to be guided by our principles, otherwise the 250-plus agencies will not purchase your solutions,” he said. “If you’re not going to be transparent, you’re not going to be able to retain the information in a certain way. If you’re not going to demonstrate how bias is removed from the data and how your model functions, the government is going to have some concern and may not likely use the model.”

Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors candidates debate some of the hardest pressing issues in Silicon Valley. From left to right: San José Spotlight reporter Brandon Pho, D2 candidate Madison Nguyen, D2 candidate Betty Duong, D5 candidate Margaret Abe-Koga and D5 candidate Sally Lieber.

The August closure of lifesaving services at Regional Medical Center by its private owner, HCA, loomed large over a candidate forum for the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors for Districts 2 and 5.

“There aren’t enough words in my vocabulary to describe the sheer calamity, the devastation this closure will have on our residents,” District 2 candidate Betty Duong told the audience. “The most vulnerable population in the county, the most low income district in the county, needs the Level II trauma center to stay open.”

Her opponent, Madison Nguyen, said the county needs to work with HCA.

“These conversions need to happen right now, at that level,” Nguyen said. “There might be solutions for how we can save the trauma center for residents.”

Local education leaders tackle the opportunity gap in San Jose’s schools for PolitiBeat 2024. From left to right: San José Spotlight freelance reporter Lorraine Gabbert, ARUSD Board President Corina Herrera-Loera, Dilza Gonzalez with SOMOS Mayfair, former San Jose Planning Commissioner Rolando Bonilla and Lisa Andrew with the Silicon Valley Education Foundation.

A discussion on the opportunity gap in San Jose schools compelled Lisa Andrew, CEO of the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, to call out the state’s school funding formulas.

“Our state is funding the students of East San Jose far below other students in Santa Clara County. That perpetuates poverty; it perpetuates a lack of access and opportunity; and it perpetuates the idea that those students are not going to be able to become economically mobile,” Andrew said.

City, county, activist and religious leaders discuss the effects of immigration on Silicon Valley. From left to right: San José Spotlight reporter Joyce Chu, San Jose Councilmember Peter Ortiz, Santa Clara County Supervisor Sylvia Arenas,  Maritza Maldonado with Amigos de Guadalupe and John Pedigo with the Catholic Diocese of San Jose.

East San Jose Councilmember Peter Ortiz raised concern over President Joe Biden’s executive order closing the U.S. border with Mexico to asylum seekers during a discussion on immigration in Silicon Valley.

“We believe it is a human right for individuals to seek asylum in any country and by closing our border he’s infringing on these individuals’ rights,” Ortiz said. “They’re coming to be entrepreneurs, to be local small business vendors, to be service workers, farmworkers. These are the individuals who play a vital role in our economy.”

Santa Clara and 49ers leaders reflect on the 10-year anniversary of Levi’s Stadium at PolitiBeat. From left to right: San José Spotlight reporter Sakura Cannestra, Harbir Bhatia with the Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce, Santa Clara Councilmember Suds Jain, former Santa Clara Councilmember Kevin Moore and Jihad Beauchman, executive VP with the 49ers.

A discussion about the 10-year anniversary of Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara had local leaders pondering what’s to come in the next decade, especially with Super Bowl 60 and the FIFA World Cup just a couple years away.

“If you talk to Santa Clarans, a lot of them say we don’t have a downtown. There’s no place to go in Santa Clara,” Councilmember Suds Jain said. “Having a lot of events at the stadium will create some good support for restaurants. We need to have more events.”

Development and tourism leaders discuss San Jose’s evolving identity at PolitiBeat. From left to right: San José Spotlight reporter Annalise Freimarck, Alexandra Urbanowski with SV Creates, Mercury News columnist Sal Pizarro, Ben Leech with the Preservation Action Council, SJSU professor Kelly Snider and Benjamin Roschke with Visit San Jose.

A discussion on San Jose’s evolving identity raised the question of what keeps people in Silicon Valley when the cost of living is so high.

“I think it’s if you have a safe and healthy place to live. Whether that’s a little rental that you share with 10 of your family members or if it’s a house you inherited or were lucky enough to buy or had access to wealth,” San Jose State University professor and land-use consultant Kelly Snider said. “I think generally most of the other people are being lured away because it’s simply too hard to work here. You can’t make enough money to be comfortable in a typical middle or working class existence. It’s very hard.”

Contact Brandon Pho at [email protected] or @brandonphooo on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Comment Policy (updated 5/10/2023): Readers are required to log in through a social media or email platform to confirm authenticity. We reserve the right to delete comments or ban users who engage in personal attacks, hate speech, excess profanity or make verifiably false statements. Comments are moderated and approved by admin.

Leave a Reply