Editor’s Note: This article is part of a San José Spotlight series examining the newest San Jose councilmembers and their first six months in office.
District 8 San Jose Councilmember Domingo Candelas hasn’t moved far from his Evergreen childhood home.
Growing up in the Brigadoon neighborhood in southeast San Jose, the freshman councilmember attended Evergreen Valley High School and San Jose State University, where he secured his first internship in City Hall with then-Councilmember Sam Liccardo. Now he represents the district he’s all too familiar with—which he said makes him the perfect advocate on the dais for residents in his backyard.
“My district has this dichotomy of really affluent areas like the country club and also working family areas like Welch Park,” Candelas told San José Spotlight. “When you don’t know the area, then the squeaky wheel will get the grease. But if you are born and raised here like me, then you know which communities don’t have the loudest voices, but still need help.”
Candelas, 34, didn’t always dream of becoming a councilmember, but he knew he wanted to serve his community. He worked in state Sen. Jim Beall’s office, at Valley Water and most recently as the director of government affairs at Stanford University.
When former Councilmember Sylvia Arenas left for higher office this year, the seat opened up and Candelas won the appointment from the San Jose City Council—though it was marred by accusations that he cheated during the process. Candelas is one month behind the other freshman councilmembers and his term ends next year. But he has big plans for his short term, and he’s eligible to run for a full, four-year term—which he intends to do.
Since applying for the seat, his priorities have been increasing the city’s affordable housing stock, expanding public transit and providing more child care services. He’s added park upgrades to the list—something he heard about from his constituents. He said “park” 30 times in the hour he spoke with San José Spotlight.
“Most calls from residents are about blight or parks. Why is the grass yellowing when we are out of a drought? Can you repair a broken fence here?” Candelas said. “When I worked in the state I would have to defer it to the local level, but now I can finally say, ‘Yes we can totally fix that.'”
Candelas has hosted 15 community cleanups since February, four Dumpster Days to collect larger pieces of trash like broken refrigerators, five coffee events, seven community events like a senior scam workshop and more than 140 one-on-one meetings with district residents, according to his office. From this engagement effort, he said he learned residents care deeply about their public spaces and want more, like an Indian American Center. He secured $100,000 from this year’s budget to fund a feasibility study to possibly open one.
He also secured $15,000 for emergency certification supplies for residents, $35,000 to improve Fernish Park and $100,000 for a pedestrian bridge in Yerba Buena.
Patricia Mendoza, board member of the Evergreen Leadership Neighborhood Association, said residents are impressed with Candelas’ consistent community engagement—especially important because he wasn’t elected to the position.
“In his first week he started reaching out to communities and to neighborhood associations and scheduling meetings to meet everybody,” Mendoza told San José Spotlight. “It’s nice because we can bring up an issue at a specific road or something and he will say, ‘Oh I walk there, I know that place.’ So it is a really fluid relationship.”
Considering all perspectives
While not as prolific with policy as his council counterparts, Candelas has still left his mark on several key city policies. He has introduced nine memos, eight of which passed, including compromises between residents and proponents of a new Buddhist temple, strengthening the city’s wage theft policy and reshaping graffiti removal services.
His proposal to use Measure T dollars to restore Lake Cunningham failed, but he was able to implement a five-year restoration plan.
“I used to swim in Lake Cunningham back in the day,” Candelas said. “It’s so sad we don’t have that resource so close in our district without having to drive to Almaden or outside of San Jose. That is why I am fighting so hard to get it back.”
Politically, Candelas aligns more progressively, often siding with freshman Councilmembers Omar Torres and Peter Ortiz on policies like worker protections or prioritizing long-term affordable housing over short-term homeless shelter. But he’s also worked with more moderate councilmembers such as Pam Foley and Dev Davis.
Foley initially didn’t support appointing Candelas to the District 8 seat, but said the council ultimately made the right decision. She said now, she “thinks the world of him” and noted her appreciation for his unique expertise on water issues that stem from his previous jobs at the state level—something other councilmembers don’t have.
“He may not have the most memos authored, but I don’t think that number means much when it comes to addressing the issues in his community, the city at large and taking into consideration all perspectives,” Foley told San José Spotlight. “Candelas certainly does that.”
Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or follow @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.