Santa Clara sees demographics shift over the last decade
An aerial image of a part of the city of Santa Clara. Photo by The 111th Group.

Santa Clara’s population has grown substantially over the past decade, and with those changes come new challenges.

2020 census results show the number of people who identify as Asian in Santa Clara has risen by more than a third in the past decade. But even before this demographic shift in the city, pressure was put on Santa Clara to diversify elected representation. Today, the city has three Asian Americans on the City Council.

One of those three councilmembers is Raj Chahal, elected in 2018 as Santa Clara’s first Indian American councilman. From his perspective, he told San José Spotlight, residents seemed happy to see an Asian American elected to the City Council.

“Luckily, in 2020, we were able to get more diverse representation in the City Council,” he told San José Spotlight. “That really makes the chemistry of the council like our community is.”

Since 2010, the city’s population has increased by about 10%, reaching a total of 127,647 residents, according to 2020 U.S. Census data.

Roughly 60,000 Santa Clara residents now identify as Asian or Asian American compared to the roughly 36,000 residents that make up white residents, the next-largest racial group. The third largest group is Hispanic with 22,550 residents followed by 2,710 Black residents.

The Asian population increased by 37%, multiracial 28% and "other" 148%. Those who identify as white dropped by 15%, Black 7%, American Indian and Alaska Native 23% and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander by 35%, based on 2020 U.S. Census data which still needs to be finalized.

While some of that change has to do with demographic shifts, a big part of that result was related to changes in the census survey design in 2020, "which enabled a more thorough and accurate depiction of how people prefer to self-identify," according to the U.S. Census.

Increase in Asian identification

One of the biggest shifts within the city during the past decade is the 37% increase in residents who identify as Asian. That isn't surprising to Richard Konda, executive director of the Asian Law Alliance.

"The 2020 census confirmed what we thought was happening," he told San José Spotlight. "There are significant numbers of Asian Americans that have moved into that city in the last 20 years, even in the last five years."

Santa Clara lacked Asian American representation for some time. In the 70 years before the city switched from an at-large to by-district system in 2018, residents had never elected an Asian American to the City Council.

It was against that backdrop that the Asian Law Alliance brought a lawsuit against the city in 2017, alleging the at-large election system operated in a discriminatory way that prevented racial minorities from electing their preferred candidates. In 2021, Santa Clara agreed to pay $712,000 to settle the lawsuit. During that time, the city adopted a new election system that divided the city into six districts, each represented by a resident of that district.

Then, in the 2018 and 2020 local elections, voters elected three Asian American residents to the Santa Clara City Council: Indian Americans Chahal and Suds Jain and Korean American Kevin Park.

"We're very satisfied with the districts and hopeful that going forward, the City Council will reflect that change in demographics," Konda said.

The metro area, which includes San Jose, Santa Clara and Sunnyvale, substantially changed since the 2020 census—losing nearly 43,000 people between April 2020 and July 2021, according to recent census data. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Santa Clara was one of the only cities in the county to see a population increase. The city's population increased by 3.5% while the majority of other cities in Santa Clara County stayed static or declined.

Councilmember Park said he wants to see more diversity on the council, not just in terms of race but diversity in thought, sexual identity and economic diversity.

He pointed to Councilmember Anthony Becker as someone whose identity as a working-class renter adds a different perspective to the City Council.

"That gives him a view of process and policy a lot of us don't think about as much," he told San José Spotlight.

Chahal told San José Spotlight he's pleased with the diversity of the city's elected officials.

"The more diversity we have on our council, the more it helps to make better decisions," he said.

Contact Kate Bradshaw at [email protected] or @bradshk14 on Twitter.

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