Santa Clara City Council candidate runs into conflict with downtown redevelopment
Santa Clara Planning Commissioner Suds Jain stands in front of a Santa Clara brewery in this file photo.

    Suds Jain’s Santa Clara home, nestled in the core of District 5, now presents an 80-foot detour in his campaign for a seat on the City Council.

    A resident of the Old Quad neighborhood near Santa Clara University since 1998, the Planning Commissioner’s home is just under 1,000 feet away from the edge of the city’s proposed downtown renovation — the legal threshold that determines if a lawmaker has a potential conflict of interest on a project.

    While years away from any specific plans and even further away from shovels hitting the dirt, the project’s distance to Jain’s house is significant enough for Jain to recuse himself from the downtown renovation entirely, according to the Fair Political Practices Commission.

    “It is what it is and I have to make the best of the situation,” Jain told San José Spotlight. “I will abide by that because that’s what the FPPC ruled. That’s just where the chips landed.”

    The FPPC advised Aug. 26 that Jain should not take part in decisions or discussion about the project while on the Planning Commission, where he has served since 2015, erring on the side of caution when it comes to transparency.

    Jain can seek further legal advice if he’s elected to the City Council, the letter said.

    The development in question spans 25 acres bounded by Benton Street, Lafayette Street, Homestead Road, Madison Street and the Santa Clara County Superior Courthouse. While still in the process of drafting a precise plan, the city’s goal is to recreate the downtown core with new restaurants, retail, residences and recreation, similar to the now-bulldozed downtown of the 1960s.

    After Jain drafted the request letter with Assistant City Attorney Alexander Abbe, the FPPC’s legal division said it would be “reasonably foreseeable” that the increased density and use of the planned development would impact on the market value of Jain’s home.

    While ultimate impacts of the project remain to be seen, after accounting for issues such as traffic, air quality and noise, the FPPC’s decision boils down to the distance from home to first base in Oracle Park’s baseball diamond, minus 10 feet.

    While advice letters like these aren’t legally binding, especially as they act on facts provided by the asker, Jain isn’t planning any retort.

    “It’s extremely frustrating but that’s luck of the draw,” Jain said.

    This same advice has been given for smaller projects, including residential developments on park land near councilmembers’ homes in Mountain View. Notably, the FPPC decided Cupertino Vice Mayor Liang Chao can discuss and vote on Vallco Shopping Mall redevelopment projects across the street from her home because the impact on her residence wasn’t unique, instead affecting a “significant segment of the public.”

    According to the advice letter about Jain’s situation, only 2.5% of the city’s 19,276 residential properties are within 1,000 feet of the downtown’s renovation; nearly 15% of homes in District 5 alone are also that close.

    So while he officially can no longer advocate for the project moving forward, Jain said he’s worked on livening up Franklin Street before he ran for office and will shift his focus to the rest of District 5 and the entire city with Santa Clara’s $1 billion budget, if elected.

    Additionally, Jain has argued any downtown plans should be impressive enough to gain support of all councilmembers, not just the District 5 representative, while his opponent Bob O’Keefe, a retired California Highway Patrol lieutenant, in recent meetings honed a position as an advocate of the project.

    Instead of lingering his attention on this 10-block segment of Santa Clara, Jain said he’s focusing on a broad list of concerns ranging from Silicon Valley Power and the San Francisco 49ers to building affordable housing units and retail along El Camino Real.

    But for the cohort of residents who have become laser focused on downtown’s renovation, that rationale isn’t good enough.

    Mary Grizzle, a decades-long resident of the Old Quad and vocal member of the Reclaiming Our Downtown team, said Jain’s proximity and potential recusal is déjà vu.

    She said the area hasn’t had a voice at the table for years, after neither former District 5 Councilmember Patricia Mahan, who lives and works across the street from the planned development, nor Mayor Lisa Gillmor, whose business office is in Franklin Square Mall, could vote.

    “District 5 has been the unforgotten child — no more,” Grizzle said. “I want somebody that has a voice and will be active in all of District 5. Everybody has their own district, everybody fights for their own district. We come in second place with all of the other councilmembers and I want to be first.”

    Contact Katie Lauer at [email protected] or follow @_katielauer on Twitter.

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