UPDATE: Santa Clara lawmaker apologizes for comparing homeowners to toddlers
Santa Clara Councilmember Kevin Park. File photo.

The Santa Clara City Council will not censure Councilmember Kevin Park over his comment comparing homeowners to toddlers after Park publicly apologized at a council meeting Tuesday.

“I do understand the need for an apology. I will repeat the intent was not to offend, but that’s not what happened, which was that people were offended,” Park said at the meeting. “So I will apologize, especially to Lee (Broughman), for what I said, if it offended her, and it did offend her.”

Park maintained at the meeting that “reasonable people” wouldn’t be offended by his comment.

The controversial comment stemmed from a July meeting where the council debated housing density on El Camino Real. Park spoke in support of the plan to build higher commercial buildings.

“Just like you can’t ask toddlers to specify their own lunch, you can’t really have single-family homeowners design a city,” he said at the meeting, advocating for a plan to accommodate concerns from both homeowners and newcomers. “To homeowners out there, I hate to say it, (but) density is coming. But we need to manage the transition.”

Resident Leonne Broughman, who serves on the city’s library commission and was Mayor Lisa Gillmor’ treasurer in her 2018 election campaign, filed a petition July 12 seeking to censure or admonish Park for the comment.

Gillmor and Park, a newcomer who in 2020 unseated the mayor’s ally, Teresa O’Neill, are on opposite sides of a divided City Council. They often butt heads over policies and issues related to the San Francisco 49ers.

“Making demeaning remarks about folks who disagree with you is totally unbecoming of members of our cities,” Broughman said at the Tuesday meeting.

The council debated for roughly 30 minutes on the issue. The council was split on whether the comment was offensive.

Councilmembers Suds Jain and Raj Chahal rejected the petition to censure, saying it’s “destructive to the functioning of our council.” Councilmember Anthony Becker defended Park and his comment.

“I don’t think it’s offensive at all,” Becker said. “Because I think honestly, Councilmember Park had the freedom of speech to say what he wants.”

Becker also questioned the petitioner and the validity of her complaint, asking about the inconsistent addresses she had used when reaching out to him and her role as treasurer for Gillmor’s election campaign in 2018.

Gillmor and Councilmember Kathy Watanabe said it was obvious Park’s comment offended many residents.

“There were people that were offended by that comment,” Gillmor said. “I heard it through the community. There was no doubt about that.”

Councilmember Karen Hardy was absent.

Watanabe said several complaints have been filed against Park for his “words” toward city employees. City manager Deanna Santana confirmed the complaints but declined to elaborate on the details, citing privacy rules related to personnel issues.

“Obviously there’s a pattern here,” Watanabe said. “And it needs to be addressed.”

The council declined to vote on the censure after Gillmor asked Park to publicly apologize.

Park’s comment from the July meeting struck a nerve for Broughman, who spoke against the plan to build four-story buildings at the corridor.

“I hope that the City Council is going to censure or at least admonish Councilman Park for his offensive comment about myself and the rest of the single-family residents of Santa Clara,” the petition reads.

Tit-for-tat

Since being elected to the council in November, Park—the first Korean American to serve on the Santa Clara City Council—has found himself in at least one other contentious situation.

In April, Park joined the majority of the council in censuring Watanabe and admonishing Gillmor after Watanabe refused to let him speak at a “Stop Asian Hate” rally.

The vote highlighted the deep rift in the City Council as Gillmor and her sole ally Watanabe struggled to maintain control against newcomers like Park, Jain and Becker, who shook up the city’s political landscape in 2020 and stripped the mayor of her majority.

The two factions don’t see eye to eye on a number of issues, including the city’s contentious relationship with the San Francisco 49ers and the city’s six district election system.

The petition to censure Park underscored the ongoing animosity not only from councilmembers but also their supporters, he said.

“It’s tit-for-tat,” Park told San José Spotlight. “It’s like because you admonished this person… and you voted for censure, so we’re going to do this to you.”

None of the councilmembers, city workers or residents raised issues with Park’s analogy at the July meeting. Broughman filed her petition six days after the meeting.

Park said he’s not losing sleep over the now-defeated petition.

“I would hope, and I would ask that if people have issues, tell me what the issues are,” he said. “Don’t tell me what the issues are by shooting me with an admonishment petition. Let’s just talk.”

Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter. 

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