Santa Clara County supervisorial candidates square off on immigration, housing

    Three candidates running for a seat on Santa Clara County’s Board of Supervisors in 2020 squared off in a debate Saturday in Milpitas — the first event to kick off the campaign season.

    The four candidates hoping to replace District 3 Supervisor Dave Cortese are San Jose Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco, patent attorney and former Sunnyvale Councilmember Otto Lee, Milpitas Mayor Richard Tran and businessman John Leyba.

    Tran didn’t attend the debate because he was on air national guard duty.

    The candidates were questioned on four topic areas: Public health, immigration, housing and education. The first few questions, from moderator Aditya Ullal, a Stanford University student focused on tackling the South Bay’s public health concerns, asked candidates how they’ll address rising health care costs, and how the candidates can help insure more people with health insurance.

    The candidates agreed that the county should spend more money on outreach efforts and encourage partnerships with health clinics to provide insurance to underserved communities.

    The debate got heated when the topic of immigration hit the floor. A question focused on the murder of Bambi Larson, a San Jose resident who was killed in her home by an undocumented immigrant, asked candidates how they’ll address crime to “make the public feel safe again.”

    Lee, an immigrant from Hong Kong, said he supports the county’s decision to revisit the existing sanctuary city policy because “criminals should not be thrown into the community.”

    Leyba echoed that sentiment, saying that he supports “whatever it takes” at the county level to maximize safety.

    “We can’t have a situation where those vulnerable communities can be subject to violent predators,” added Leyba.  

    Carrasco, a Latina, strongly disagreed, saying that while the incident was “very polarizing” and “unfortunate,” it didn’t have much to do with immigration.

    “This is frustrating, we’re speaking of an immigrant issue when we should be dealing with mental health, drug addiction, homelessness and public safety,” said Carrasco. “It’s turned into an issue on immigration that’s ripping apart the city of San Jose at the seams.“

    But the three contenders agreed on ICE — an agency that the trio said has used “unethical” law enforcement tactics. Carrasco focused on ICE “separating children from their parents at the border that will never be reunited.”

    “The idea of a sanctuary city is offering undocumented immigrants the ability to live safely in a community,” added Lee. “There’s no reason why a hospital or school is calling ICE.”

    Housing was another hot topic on Saturday as Santa Clara County copes with a homelessness and housing crisis. As the region continues to boom economically, the gap between the poor and the rich widens in Silicon Valley.

    The candidates were asked if they would be willing to consider alternative solutions that involve land trusts to solve the housing crisis and if they supported stricter rent control policies and building granny units—secondary housing units on a single plot of land intended to house more people in concentrated spaces.

    Carrasco said she supports building more density to tackle the housing crisis, adding that “entire communities are being displaced and gentrified.” But she was not convinced that community land trusts are the answer. Carrasco said she’s confident that enforcing stronger rent control policies and building granny units would help reduce displacement.

    Lee and Leyba took different approaches.

    “There’s no silver bullet to solve our housing crisis,” said Lee, who thinks that stronger private-public partnerships need to exist in order to solve the housing crunch.

    Leyba was open to land trusts and using publicly-owned land, but said that displacement results from “giant market shift.” Leyba said he does not support expanding rent control as it’s an “incentive for disinvestment” and makes builders “skittish” about building in California.

    There was little debate on education among the candidates, who all mirrored one another’s answers on how to discourage smoking and preventing teens from using tobacco products, while acknowledging the importance of protecting social programs in schools that provide mental health services to students.

    Many attendees had the opportunity to ask the candidates questions on Saturday.

    Former Milpitas Councilmember Marsha Grilli, like other audience members, said that housing and homelessness are the most important issues facing the region. While she doesn’t know who she’ll vote for yet, she thinks each of the candidates answered well, despite the one-minute time constraint.

    “The forum was excellent and it gave us an opportunity to see the candidates in action,” added Grilli. “I’m really impressed with the quality of the candidates and excited about what their campaigns will look like, and what their platforms are. This will be brand new leadership and we want to see that Milpitas is represented.”

    Contact Nadia Lopez at [email protected] or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.

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