The 49ers’ political influence, a looming budget deficit and divisive politics are the hot topics this election cycle for Santa Clara.
At a candidate forum hosted by San José Spotlight last week, those seeking office shared how they would address the city’s top problems. Six candidates are vying for three seats on the council.
Councilmember Anthony Becker is challenging incumbent Mayor Lisa Gillmor for the top seat. District 2 Councilmember Raj Chahal is seeking reelection against retired engineer Larry McColloch. District 3 Councilmember Karen Hardy seeks to keep her seat against challenger Christian Pellechia, vice president of operations at Santa Cruz-based Slatter Construction.
Becker sees the common thread of all problems in Santa Clara to be Gillmor—noting she wasted millions on frivolous lawsuits like her attempts to stop Santa Clara from implementing six city council districts. Gillmor did not participate in the candidate forum despite multiple attempts from San José Spotlight.
“This is the turning point. You either get four more years of Lisa Gillmor, and we cannot afford that,” Becker said. “It is time to put our foot forward and in the future, and have a new generation lead our city.”
Becker wants to break up the political power on the council. He called Gillmor’s tenure “abusive” because she made decisions without council consideration like lobbying Gov. Gavin Newsom to help a major real estate firm save money.
To solve the city’s $27 million budget deficit, Becker wants to reexamine staffing costs of top city officials, bring in more events to Levi’s Stadium and increase taxes like Measure H, which would raise a business headcount tax from $15 to $45. He also wants to revamp the city’s permitting process to get affordable housing sites approved quicker.
Becker faced questions from the audience regarding his relationship with the San Francisco 49ers football team. He was recently named in a county grand jury report that found he and four other councilmembers meet regularly with 49ers lobbyists ahead of council meetings. Residents shared concerns of the team influencing city policy.
He said he’s been transparent and cannot control how the football team spends its money in elections.
“I am an independent,” Becker said. “It’s really kind of sad we have turned this whole election into discussing everything about the 49ers… It’s taking away from actually talking about big issues like affordable housing and homelessness.”
Becker touted his efforts to bring the World Cup to Santa Clara, his efforts to combat homelessness and bring more affordable housing to the city, especially on the city’s Northside.
Chahal, who was elected in 2018 and previously served on the planning commission, also points to affordable housing development as a measure of his success.
“My approach is smart, balanced growth,” Chahal said at the forum. “We are in the tune of 15,000-20,000 new housing units.”
By law, 15% of those units will be affordable, but Chahal hopes to make 25% affordable.
Challenging Chahal is McColloch, who did not participate in the forum. His candidate statement says he’s “pro-business, pro-public safety, and pro-neighborhood and a strong supporter of women’s rights.”
Chahal touts his work to get a free shuttle service for residents, removing the so-called music ban for events at Levi’s Stadium and his support for Measure H.
Chahal was also named in the grand jury report, but said he was never interviewed for it.
“It basically convicted (me) without ever listening to (me),” Chahal said. “But the stadium billion dollar asset is here. We want to make some revenue for residents. And we sat across the table (with the 49ers) and we put (those meetings) on our calendar.”
Chahal said he has been transparent about meetings and doesn’t take special interest money, and said he’s even turned checks down to prevent money from swaying policy.
Councilmember Hardy said her priorities if reelected are to hire a new city manager and attorney and fight for the city’s water rights. Pellecchia has taken a leave of absence from the Silicon Valley Central Chamber of Commerce to pursue the seat, and touts he’s got the business know-how to combat the deficit.
They both oppose rent control and want to increase revenue for the city. How to do that is where they disagree. The biggest point of contention is Measure H.
Hardy said it will bring much-needed revenue and the cost to businesses is minimal. She said businesses have not objected, especially since the overhead tax would still be one of the lowest in the region.
“For any business (this) is just three hours of a minimum wage worker for them once a year. So this is not going to deter them,” Hardy said. “But that’s going to help us.”
Pellechia said any overhead tax is a burden to businesses and may make some leave the area—the last thing Santa Clara should do while struggling to increase revenue. Instead, he would like to tap into city reserves, but Hardy said the city already used what it can.
Pellechia criticized the current council for mismanaging taxpayer dollars—which is why he is running.
“This city council (is) the laughingstock of Silicon Valley,” he said. “We fire a city manager (but) have to pay that city manager for the full year. While we hire this new one, we fired the city attorney… it’s absurd. It’s chaotic.”
Hardy said she is seeking reelection because she has a couple projects she hopes to see through, like the potable water project to bring more drinking water to residents.
“I worked very hard,” Hardy said. “I have a really good pulse on my neighborhood and my district.”
Hardy was named in the grand jury report. She, like others, said she has been transparent and is seeking to repair the broken relationship with the team.
Pellechia said he will treat the football team as a valued city partner.
“I would want to reassure the 49ers that I want them to make as much money as possible,” Pellechia said. “I want the city to make as much money as possible.”
Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.
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