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.
She’s been called a connector, collaborator and bridge builder. In a city frequently divided by two political factions, San Jose Vice Mayor Rosemary Kamei finds common ground.
The West San Jose councilmember won the primary election last June to represent District 1. A week into her term, Mayor Matt Mahan tapped Kamei to be his vice mayor. In her first six months, she’s focused primarily on public safety, housing and homelessness and responsible growth—as her district braces for major development.
“In West San Jose, there’s an image of, ‘Oh, you guys don’t have any issues or problems, nothing happens over there.’ And I think that’s not true,” Kamei, 64, told San José Spotlight. “We definitely have issues to address—some are short-term things, but I also certainly take a long-term view.”
When a young boy was killed by a speeding driver at Castlemont Elementary School in September, she met with school principals to understand how the city can bolster safety near schools. Traffic-related issues are a chief concern for Kamei, who secured $45,000 from this year’s budget for safety measures along the westside’s most dangerous corridors.
She also secured $117,000 for tree trimming and dispersed a $75,000 grant to West Valley Community Services—a nonprofit that provides food, transportation and housing assistance to West San Jose’s most vulnerable.
“People often forget that there are communities here that need resources and assistance,” Kamei said. “I’m going to make sure that they get them.”
Some of her campaign promises included expanding public transit and making West San Jose safer. Kamei has added stop signs throughout her district and secured dollars for safety infrastructure along deadline streets. Some unmet campaign promises include creating more open space and focusing on public health—but she still has more than three years in office.
Cadillac-Winchester is one of the more disenfranchised areas of West San Jose. To better understand the dangers and needed resources, Kamei toured the area at night. Tom Morman, a member of the Hamann Park Neighborhood Association, said Kamei has been active in all neighborhood associations.
“We are all very happy to have her,” Norman told San José Spotlight. “She has been very responsive, listened to parents’ concerns and acted quickly when we needed her to.”
Kamei has hosted office hours, attended 15 neighborhood association meetings and organized trash pickups throughout the district. She once served as president of her own neighborhood association, so she knows what it’s like to be on the other side.
West San Jose has high-profile developments planned, including a new hotel on Winchester Boulevard, the Costco at the Westgate Shopping Center and El Paseo de Saratoga. Kamei said residents are worried about traffic and safety impacts.
Kamei has authored or co-authored seven memos that focused primarily on land use. She helped strengthen the city’s wage theft policy and allocate more resources to clean up abandoned vehicles. Kamei also found an alternative to COPA, a failed policy that would’ve given nonprofits first bid on multi-family housing properties to keep rent affordable. She suggested creating a community development corporation to help nonprofits and developers find grants, tax breaks and other financial assistance to build and preserve affordable housing.
Kamei is considered a more progressive, labor-leaning representative, but her votes have been surprising and she’s often the swing vote on a divided council. She has sided with the moderate mayor and conservative voices like Councilmember Dev Davis at times, and with progressive leaders like Councilmember Omar Torres other times.
“She’s bringing a different perspective to the council that’s making us think a little bit more,” Councilmember David Cohen told San José Spotlight. “She certainly has gotten herself into a position where she’s a good sounding board for the mayor, me and for others when we want to discuss complicated ideas and issues.”
Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or follow @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.