Three finalists for San Jose Planning Commission announced

After months of speculation, three finalists for a highly-coveted position on the San Jose Planning Commission were announced Thursday.

According to city documents, the finalists are: Mariel Caballero, a Santa Clara County deputy director at the probation department; Louis Barocio, vice principal at East Side Union High School District; and business owner Rolando Bonilla.

The three community leaders are vying for the open seat of former Commissioner Namrata Vora, who announced her resignation in May. And the appointment process will be closely-watched after San Jose lawmakers touched off a firestorm of controversy in April by appointing ex-Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio for an opening on the 7-member commission, instead of two Latino candidates from underprivileged East San Jose and downtown, especially since the commission had four others representing District 6.

East San Jose has no representatives on the commission. Community leaders decried the decision and called for more equity on the powerful panel.

Following outcry over Oliverio’s appointment, Mayor Sam Liccardo, Vice Mayor Chappie Jones and Councilmembers Magdalena Carrasco and Maya Esparza proposed reforming the planning commission by prohibiting more than two people from the same district from serving, banning applicants who were lobbyists in the last two years and asking voters to expand the size of the commission to 11 members.

Bonilla, who is from East San Jose, was one of the finalists passed up during the last appointment process, along with Santa Clara County Planning Commissioner Aimee Escobar. Escobar reapplied for the position, along with 25 others, including San Jose City Council candidate Jonathan Fleming.

Bonilla told San José Spotlight Thursday night that the decision “should absolutely be based on the merits given” — and said he’s the only candidate with San Jose land use policy experience.

“Unequivocally, I am the best choice to represent the city on the Planning Commision. I’ve also made it very clear that one of the things that differs me from my opponents is that this position should not be a political stepping stone,” Bonilla said. “It needs to be solely focused on the responsibility it brings, and not a stepping stone for the next available political office.”

Bonilla said he’s challenging his two opponents to a a public debate to “demonstrate the clear difference in skill and understanding between myself and them.”

“This is not a place for training wheels,” Bonilla added.

Caballero and Barocio could not immediately be reached Thursday, but they made the case for why they should be selected on their Planning Commission applications.

“As a member of the Planning Commission, I would be able to share my experience and skill set with a diverse set of members in order to arrive to fair recommendations and equitable outcomes for our residents, business community, and other key stakeholders,” Barocio wrote in his application.

Caballero wrote that she wants to win the seat to “ensure that the recommendations made by the Commission to the City Council are balanced, data driven, and take into consideration the impacts of new development and general land use decisions on communities of color and underserved communities throughout our city.”

In order to become a finalist, applicants must receive indications of interest from four or more San Jose councilmembers.

The San Jose City Council is scheduled to interview the three finalists during its meeting on Sept. 17. The candidate who receives six or more votes will be appointed to a term that expires June 2020.

Editor’s Note: Rolando Bonilla is the chief strategy officer of Voler Strategic Advisors. The CEO of Voler Strategic Advisors, Perla A. Rodriguez, sits on San José Spotlight’s Board of Directors.

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