A Tale of Two Cities: Santa Clara and Cupertino

The city of Santa Clara’s success is largely due to its political leadership, which is why voters are likely to re-elect Mayor Jamie Matthews, Council member Pat Kolstad and former Council member Dominic Caserta.

Elected leaders in Cupertino, on the other hand, have been an embarrassment, and none of those incumbents should be allowed to return to office. But because few people focus on down-ballot races, erratic and irresponsible Council member Barry Chang, who is the worst of the bunch, could be re-elected.

Currently, candidates Savita Vaidhyanthan and Darcy Paul are the best options running in Cupertino. But their messages are being lost in the avalanche of mail.  Their inability to define the incumbents’ shortcoming, combined with a system that simply elects the top-three vote getters, is a recipe for disaster.

The process in Santa Clara makes it easier to determine who the qualified candidates are, as they vote at-large by seat number. In the mayor's race, Deborah Bress is a paranoid gadfly who sees conspiracies everywhere. (She’s even accused the city of killing her dog.) At a recent forum she declared she was ready to leave the city. The public would do itself a favor by taking up a collection to help her.

Bress is a candidate from the misleadingly named group Santa Clara Plays Fair. This collection of irrational individuals came together to oppose the new 49ers stadium. Because the cameras and news media gave them public attention, their myopic views were given an oversized voice and they decided to run candidates in an effort to seize political power. All of this occurred after they were crushed at the polls in the stadium vote. But because few people pay attention to down-ballot races, their candidates have succeeded at the school board level. Their divisive nature can currently be seen on the dysfunctional Santa Clara Unified School Board.

Santa Clara Plays Fair has now set its sights on the City Council. They have endorsed Bress, Karen Hardy and Kevin Park. None deserve to be elected.

Councilmember Kolstad is a straight shooter and will be reelected. The former police officer is a reasoned voice on the council and his clear understanding of the issues facing the city makes him a wonk worth retaining. Hardy is perennial candidate and her enlistment in Santa Clara Plays Fair is apparently a last ditch effort to gain enough support for public office. Dr. Mohammed Nadeem is also in the race. He is an earnest member of the community, but he lacks the political gravitas of Kolstadt. But Nadeem is a person to consider in the future.

Caserta has a record of service that is unmatched by his opposition. Both of his opponents have little resources and seem to be running for purely personal reasons. Park is the choice of Santa Clara Play Fair; he is simply out of his depth in terms of public service. Rosann Alderete LaCoursiere is the third candidate who doesn't seem to have a cogent answer as to why she is running.

While neither Santa Clara Plays Fair candidate—Hardy or Park—seem as unbalanced as Bress, her endorsement of their candidacy is not a plus.

Juxtapose the situation with Cupertino, however, and it’s obvious things could be much worse. Chang is the poster child for what is wrong with local government. His unstable behavior got him a reprimand from County Executive Jeff Smith, and his antics are well chronicled for those who actually follow the city. But in a race with several people, where a contingent will vote mainly based on ethnicity and name identification, he may well return to office.

The other incumbent is Mark Santoro, whose has exhibited less egregious behavior in public. But his record in office can best be characterized as undistinguished.

Though Cupertino’s council, especially Chang, mortifies many city leaders, few are willing to take on the challenge or expense of educating the public. Cupertino, like Palo Alto, is a polite town and the idea of engaging in a political brawl is reserved only in times where Apple's interests are at stake. As a result, the majority of the electorate in Cupertino remains unaware of this council and Chang's repeated displays of uncivil behavior. Chang also has the personal resources to get a benign, positive message out that simply ignores his own record.

Cupertino’s most credible leaders are heavily backing Paul and Savita (the latter emphasizes her first name). But that may not matter if Chang's record remains hidden to the public at large. So long as Apple remains in Cupertino, the status quo can win the day. Thus, term limits may become the public’s best friend for the likes of Chang, who can only serve one more four-year stint.

Sadly, not so long ago it was Cupertino who had the good government moniker with leaders like Dolly Sandoval, Sandy James and the late Don Burnett. During that same time, Santa Clara had a dubious cast of characters, including the former convicted Councilmember Jim Arno. Santa Clara voters became so embarrassed by the antics of their council that they swept in ethics leaders that include former Mayor Judy Nadler, Councilmember Rod Diridon Jr. and the late Councilmember Aldyth Parle. The results of that change speak volumes for how Santa Clara’s government performs today.

One can only hope Cupertino will return to its roots as a good government city. But that won't happen until people like Chang are no longer anywhere near municipal power.

Rich Robinson is an attorney and political consultant in Silicon Valley. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside.

32 Comments

  1. I don’t understand why you think Cupertino is a bad place to live. As someone that lives in San Jose, in the Cupertino Union School District, Cupertino looks pretty good to me.

    Santa Clara is now run by the 49ers. If you have kids, the only place you want to live in Santa Clara is the corner that’s in the Cupertino Union School district.

    • My point was that while the way Santa Clara’s city government operates may or may not be something other cities can aspire to, its school district is mediocre. Its school board seems more contentious than Cupertino’s council. If you want to compare Chang with Stampolis, I’d rather have Chang.

      What about Sunnyvale? If you ask the folks that wanted to recall Meyering, you’d think Sunnyvale had the worst government.

      Let’s face it, when there are contentious issues, like cement plant pollution, mediocre schools and unfettered growth, you get people like Chang, Stampolis and Meyering. While you may not like them, they are agents for change. If that wasn’t the case, they wouldn’t get elected or they’d get recalled.

  2. Nice hatchet job. Are Matthews, Kolstad et al your clients? Or the 49ers? How much were you paid for this piece?

  3. Sorry Rich, but I’ve got to go the other way on Kolstad. He is a “know-it-all” who has already served three terms on the Council. He is terribly out of touch with the average Santa Claran on neighborhood issues such as the need for open space in form of the Ulistac Natural Area as well as other parks and recreation issues. His primary source of campaign funds are 49ers executives, not average citizens. The all-white composition of the Council in a city as diverse as Santa Clara is an embarrassment. It’s time for a changing of the guard: Vote for Nadeem.

    • The City Council is a rotation of the same faces. One of the reasons we don’t have more diverse and better representation is the ‘at-large’ election system for members. Must be nice to be the insular incumbent, knowing that the old boys network will fork over money for you. Look at Caserta–he apparently signed up for the spending limits but went and raised more money (mostly from 49er execs) than the limit. Oops, he says.

  4. Distractions aside. The substance Caserta and Kolstad have to offer is far greater than the sum of their opponents. The 49ers have put Santa Clara on the map. Santa Clara has plenty of open space and the NIMBY refrain in SC has been soundly rejected by the majority–as it was in Cupertino. The difference is Cupertino public officials let the nuts back in after their rejection. Santa Clara officials are smarter.

    Saying Meyering, Stampolis and Chang are agents of change is nutty. I guess you would call Idi Amin or Moammer Qaddafi agents of change. Not to diminish mental health problems, but sometimes crazy is just crazy.

    • There’s no problem with having a Stadium in Santa Clara–the problem is with the City bearing the financial risk, rather than the 49ers. If you can find me one credible study that shows cities come out ahead after making concessions and guaranteeing debt I could be swayed.

      As a ‘political consultant’ surely you don’t believe the 49ers spending on getting the citywide proposition (J?) passed, and then the large contributions made by 49er officials, were done out of the goodness of their hearts. They were protecting their investment–they found some local rubes and conned them into giving them what they wanted. And the local rubes then went and conned the voters in the City. And now City taxpayers are on the hook for the very large construction loan for the stadium.

    • Distractions aside. The substance Caserta and Kolstad have to offer is far greater than the sum of their opponents. The 49ers have put Santa Clara on the map. Santa Clara has plenty of open space and the NIMBY refrain in SC has been soundly rejected by the majority–as it was in Cupertino. .

      Are you saying voting for Caserta and Kolstad is a vote against youth soccer and preserving the Ulistac Natural Area?

    • Sorry again, Rich, but your statement that “Santa Clara has plenty of open space” coupled with your support of Kolstad shows that you haven’t been paying attention. Ulistac is the ONLY open space left in the City of Santa Clara. Kolstad is on record as wanting to convert it and give the Open Space Authority its special tax money back. He is the lone candidate to take this position. Besides the legal prohibitions against misuse of special tax money, he is horribly out of touch with the majority of voters on this issue.

      While I do not support the Santa-Clara-Play-Fair crowd, I take umbrage at you equating a no vote on Measure J to be NIMBYism. To a taxpayer in a city of 100,000 people it was a question of fiscal wisdom. Santa Clara’s Stadium Authority is obligated to bondholders to pay back almost a billiion dollars in debt out of the revenue it receives from the 49ers over the next 30 years. While the initial ticket sales went well, I have noticed that most of the fans are missing from the sunny side of the stadium by halftime due to the excessive heat that builds up in those seats. I have also not heard that the traffic problems have been solved. Now that Santa Clara is on the hook, I certainly hope and pray that Stadium is a financial success, but I question whether a Council member that is beholden to the 49ers for campaign contributions will be hard nosed enough with the team management to uphold the interests of the average Santa Clara taxpayer.

  5. Ah … Rich, you never answered his much you are being paid THIS time and by whom? And, how mich did the 49ers pay you to misrepresent the Stadium again?

    Santa Clara has always been “on the map” … Now they are on the mao for being stupid. And Santa Clara will cement the stupid-status if they re-elect the bought and paid for trio,

    Time for citizen-supported candidates to be elected … Deborah Bress for mayor … Has the courage to hold 49ers accountable and NOT allow them the rest of our money … And Karen and Roseann … For council! Time for real people who actually CARE about Santa Clara, Santa Clarans and aren’t on the take from the 49ers, developers and unions.

    Follow the money!! And vote AGAINST the special interests!!

  6. A check for the 460s for all the candidates shows that Robinson is not a consultant to any of them. A check of the you tube shows Debbie Bress soliciting money from the group seeking to keep the Niners in San Francisco which is interesting. If this group is so beholden to the Niners, then way is one major committee against the Niners backing Caserta, and a major donor of Santa Clara Plays Fair endorsing Caserta? Also, I believe there are robocalls endorsing school board candidates going out by Bress, who declared the city as responsible for killing her dog. Also I think another interesting thing is that a majority of the school board incumbents elected by Plays Fair endorsed Chris Stampolis, the Norman Bates of Santa Clara!

    • Robinson’s comment:

      RICH ROBINSON Jun 21, 2012 @ 10:02 am

      Rich Robinson did work for the stadium and in purchasing his PSL is giving the money right back to the 49ers.
      As a 30 year season ticket-holder, I offer no apologies for helping secure the new stadium in Santa Clara. My only hope is that the economic boon to Santa Clara that occurs as a result of the new venue spills over to the rest of the valley.

      http://www.sanjoseinside.com/2012/06/20/6_20_12_san_francisco_49ers_stadium_santa_clara_psl/

      • From the linked article:
        There will be ample parking and light rail is anticipated to bring in 30 percent of the crowd, limiting traffic. Oh yeah, there will be 40,000 parking spaces within walking distance to the stadium.

        How’s that working out, Rich? The rest of the article is similarly vapid–the team looks poised to win so let’s build a stadium and sell season tickets. Um, is the team going to win every year here on out?

        The benefits will spill over to the rest of the Valley. Sure, to ‘political consultants’ and people who take money from the 49ers. Not so much for the tax-payers of the City of Santa Clara.

        Jennifer Y: can you clean up your post so it is readable? I have no idea what you are saying.

    • Oh, “Jennifer,” despite the not-very-clever nom de plume, you still manage to get the story wrong as usual. How much is Rich paying you this election season?

      You know very well that Santa Clara Plays Fair only endorsed two current school board members—Koltermann and Ryan. Only ONE of them joined a very long list of Democratic leaders to endorse Stampolis in 2012. That list includes:

      State Assemblymember Paul Fong

      State Assemblymember Bob Wieckowski
      State Assemblymember Jerry Hill

      State Assemblymember Fiona Ma

      State Assemblymember Luis Alejo
      Santa Clara County Board of Education President Joe DiSalvo
      Santa Clara County Board of Education Vice-President Julia Hover-Smoot
      Santa Clara County Board of Education Trustee Michael Chang
      Santa Clara County Board of Education Trustee Anna Song
      East Side Union High School District Trustee Lan Nguyen
      East Side Union High School District Trustee Frank Biehl
      East Side Union High School District Trustee Manuel Herrera
      Berryessa School District Trustee David Cohen
      Milpitas Unified School District former Trustee Carmen Montano

      California Part-Time Faculty Association officer Donna Frankel
      West Valley-Mission Association of College Educators officer Louise Lodato

      Santa Clara Councilmember and past-Mayor Patricia Mahan
      Santa Clara Councilmember Jamie McLeod
      Santa Clara Councilmember Kevin Moore

      San Jose Councilmember Kansen Chu
      San Jose Councilmember Ash Kalra
      Sunnyvale former Councilmember/Mayor Otto Lee

      Have you checked with all of them to see if they would endorse him again today?

    • Jennifer Y is James Rowen.
      Rumor has it he is being paid by either Rich Robinson or Ed McGovern to cyberbully candidates during this election cycle.
      Last year, James Rowen lost a defamation suit against a 2012 Santa Clara City Council candidate. James Rowen owes $400,000 to that candidate – that’s the amount the judge awarded to the candidate.

  7. I don’t know where to start. But I think we have to look at Caserta the most, must we remind you he insists on using ‘the company’ phone while on vacation, to call massage parlors no less. Oh sorry that was old news. He gave his civics students “homework credit” for his campaign. Oh sorry that was also old news. Let’s flash forward, Dominic Caserta loves to tell the residents “people who support my campaign love my city”, over $5,000 from 49er employees, over $18,000 Developers. Oh yeah they love our city. Then we have Pat, his friends love our city too, he loves telling us how he can work out our problems by sitting down with the developer and the neighbors and working out what is our problem. There is something just unsettling about how many developers Pat knows and how buddy buddy he is with them. Then there is Matthews who loves to remind us he is 5th generation Santa Claran belittling the rest of us who aren’t, as if to say that makes himself better than the rest of us. Dang I think I might just have to vote for somebody who offers a little diversity in our city. Thank goodness this election I have a few options vs the retreads you are endorsing. And maybe these diverse options I have might solve parking, traffic, over development, Ulistac, bike paths that have been closed off because of a stadium, soccer parks, pandering to developers, city park fees, just a few minor issues.

    Rich you really know what’s going on here don’t you? Got your pulse on the city I can tell. Or is that question about who you are really working for a little hard to clarify?

    Why don’t you just admit it Rich you love our city too. You love watching us get screwed over by these guys. Otherwise you wouldn’t have anything to write about. You’d have to write about the truth and that might not be a good thing.

  8. Oh ghod, really? Do you use your tickets or give/sell them outright to the riff-raff which spill over into our city; beat others to near death; and support those people who beat their significant others and hide behind their bosses or cops on the take, too?

    If that is true, you are the last person to judge anyone trying to preserve what is left of the good in our city, certainly not the people trying to oust the people on the take from the San Francisco 49ers!

    Robinson’s comment:
    RICH ROBINSON Jun 21, 2012 @ 10:02 am
    Rich Robinson did work for the stadium and in purchasing his PSL is giving the money right back to the 49ers.
    As a 30 year season ticket-holder, I offer no apologies for helping secure the new stadium in Santa Clara. My only hope is that the economic boon to Santa Clara that occurs as a result of the new venue spills over to the rest of the valley.
    http://www.sanjoseinside.com/2012/06/20/6_20_12_san_francisco_49ers_stadium_santa_clara_psl/

  9. Oh, “Jennifer,” despite the not-very-clever nom de plume, you still manage to get the story wrong as usual. How much is Rich paying you this election season?

    You know very well that Santa Clara Plays Fair only endorsed two current school board members—Koltermann and Ryan. Only ONE of them joined a very long list of Democratic leaders to endorse Stampolis in 2012. That list includes:

    State Assemblymember Paul Fong

    State Assemblymember Bob Wieckowski
    State Assemblymember Jerry Hill

    State Assemblymember Fiona Ma

    State Assemblymember Luis Alejo
    Santa Clara County Board of Education President Joe DiSalvo
    Santa Clara County Board of Education Vice-President Julia Hover-Smoot
    Santa Clara County Board of Education Trustee Michael Chang
    Santa Clara County Board of Education Trustee Anna Song
    East Side Union High School District Trustee Lan Nguyen
    East Side Union High School District Trustee Frank Biehl
    East Side Union High School District Trustee Manuel Herrera
    Berryessa School District Trustee David Cohen
    Milpitas Unified School District former Trustee Carmen Montano

    California Part-Time Faculty Association officer Donna Frankel
    West Valley-Mission Association of College Educators officer Louise Lodato

    Santa Clara Councilmember and past-Mayor Patricia Mahan
    Santa Clara Councilmember Jamie McLeod
    Santa Clara Councilmember Kevin Moore

    San Jose Councilmember Kansen Chu
    San Jose Councilmember Ash Kalra
    Sunnyvale former Councilmember/Mayor Otto Lee

    Have you checked with all of them to see if they would endorse him again today?

  10. From this report of the City Council meeting last week (may require registration to read the full post and comments): https://catalacourt.nextdoor.com/news_feed/?post=7276463

    This is how Kolstad would work things out?

    What an incredible evening at a council meeting. I know, hard to believe, but it was pretty exciting! Quick background: The City of Santa Clara has NEVER had a park fee ordinance…NEVER! Without boring you with the details, every city around here (probably everywhere) has an impact fee for developers when they build residential units. It is either land dedication or fees or both. Santa Clara had none. So, last night’s meeting was to determine the appropriate fee for developers to pay.

    Here is what the City Staff recommended:
    To recover 65% of the impact fee from the developer.

    Mahan was adamant about being the low cost city for the area, providing discounts and credits. Pat Kolstad immediately backed her up on her motion to support this action (the 65% recovery fee).

    To be clear, 65% recovery fee = 35% discount to developers. That means the city will get 65% of the value of the land they will need to purchase by their impact. That means they are digger a 35% hole on every transaction. Why? Why do this? Do developers really need more incentives and credits?

    The public spoke against this idea. SummerHill Homes, another developer, and the Chamber of Commerce guy spoke out supporting the 65% discount, saying since this fee didn’t exist, it was a good first step. Yeah, that’s because it has been a 100% discount until today! Most of us stated very clearly that the City should be at 100% recovery. Why would you discount your City? Well, Teresa O’Neill and Lisa Gillmor spoke against the 65% recommendation. Lisa is a powerhouse.

    Mahan made the motion to support the staff recommendation for a 65% park impact fee (explaining how Santa Clara had always been and should always be the lowest cost place to do business) and Pat Kolstad immediately seconded her motion.

    Lisa then led the discussion to deny this motion which was successful! She then said immediately said she was going to “go for the gusto” and made a motion to make the impact fee 100% recovery, which was immediately seconded by Teresa O’Neill. The motion was then voted on and passed, with Pat Kolstad, Patty Mahan, and Jerry Marsalli against it (the three of them were supporting the 65% recovery).

    • Interesting indeed. Hege is a pretty common Scandinavian name as well.

  11. do you think the contributions that Sallings and Muirhead are getting from the 49er’s Jed York is a good thing? Just wondering why he would do that? and Why is Sallings paying Rich Robinson ? Is it just me wondering why Niners are interested in a school board race?

    • I just looked at her 460, $500 from York… I wouldn’t exactly call that a large donation (i’ve donated much more to candidates. Certainly not enough to sway her decisions.

      And she’s paying Robinson because he wins.. sometimes.

      • Let us take a moment and give Mr. Cortese some long overdue compliments for stating a various obvious fact and making a credible opinion, which he has done in the past. Now look at Koltermann and Bendis the two other candidates in the race to get a lot of money, and Steve Kelly made advertisements for the niners so, can we look beyond the bloody stadium shirt. California Charter Schools gave Koltermann and Bendis a check for 500. and using the same rule, and I think Robert has the right to expect that, it is not enough to sway opinion, but given Koltermann’s support of a fellow board member’s work as an administrator for a charter school which leases from the district, shall we ask further? Yes or no? Now, shall we examine using the same rule, and again he is credible enough to be quoted and sometimes is, are there more or less donations of money from the anti stadium side for other candidates, and are there robocalls being conducted for Sallings? No, but there are for Koltermann for a group not registered as a school board committee. So let us broaden Mr. Cortese’s reasonable rule, amount, source, frequency, and other activities undisclosed is worse, as the York amount is at least disclosed. Secondly, who else endorses or supports Koltermann with a special interest? At least one ongoing vendor for the schools. why?

      • ah while I can see it’s not a large donation, it still is a donation nevertheless. And here we have it again SC being bought and paid for by special interest groups. $5 dollars is too much from these folks because I’m sure with every dollar there are ten we don’t know about and with that dollar there are a 100 requests for something they want. Now what could the Niners need in Santa Clara that puts them in the school board race. Yeh I think 1 dollar is too much from these types. Just like this same candidate spent $1500 using Rich here to do all her campaigning. Isn’t that right Rich? You are getting paid by her or is it your Hench men? do you have them do the work. People like the once infamous Rowen who had that blog. Oh jeez what was it called, I only used to go read it so I knew who to vote for. any name he mentioned or pouted as a good candidate was definitely not someone I was going to vote. And to think people paid him money to write crap about their opposition. If Jennifer Yoshi, or Jenni Y is Rowens it wouldn’t surprise me. That ranting and raving sounds like him. Petty a consulting firm like Rich’s would even consider hiring this loser. Perhaps he hasn’t come across that blog someone else mentioned. That’s a good read really uncovered some good articles about Rowen. Yeh Jennifer probably know all this though because I suspect Jenn is Rowen. ahha wouldn’t that be a laugh, Rowen dressed up in ladies out fit too funny

        • Someone else told me the same thing last night about Jenny Y.

          http://imgur.com/OveKkLh

          I’ve only ever seen one person refer to Stampolis as “Norman Bates”. Writing is like a fingerprint. Especially when you’re an ignoramus with a limited vocabulary and use the same words over and over again. .

          Here is Jimmy describing what he did with his potatoes. I wonder how they tasted?

  12. This article is just a desperate attempt to shine some light on these candidates; the same candidates whose 460’s indicate thousands of dollars received form the 49ers to run their campaigns.

    Cupertino has great schools and thus higher priced housing. Santa Clara has mediocre schools and a Stadium Authority burdened with $850M in debt.

    And Caserta, wow … His friends on the City Council used the Mills Act to reduced Caserta’s annual County Property Taxes by about $6000 a year. The vast majority of Santa Clarans have to pay their taxes based on the actual sales price of their home …but NOT Dominic Caserta.

  13. Hmm, Mediocre schools

    Well something seems weird.

    I just read where a personnel case is costing the school district in Santa Clara over 70 grand because Christine Koltermann demanded the firing of a critic. Hmm, then we have a case where Michele Ryan wrote the ADL and demanded a student be expelled. Then we have the case of Chris “Norman Bates” Stampolis who told the wife of the superintendent she would live a life of pain. Then we have Ina Bendis who said kids who went to one school were losers. Yeah, it seems not a good place to be when you have one board working to fire qualified, one board member that no one wants near them for fear of being in a Hitchcock scene, one board member bigoted towards Arab kids, and one board emotionally involved with Normsn Batws stampiolis.

    • Jenny Very is James Rowen.
      Rumor has it he is being paid by either Rich Robinson or Ed McGovern to cyberbully candidates during this election cycle.
      Last year, James Rowen lost a defamation suit against a 2012 Santa Clara City Council candidate. James Rowen owes $400,000 to that candidate – that’s the amount the judge awarded to the candidate.

      • You have to understand that his appearance is timed. Having him come out now gives the opposing side little, if no time for a response. A strategy based on math. Since 2010 I’ve made a study of these guys, like slime in a petri dish. Only difference is this slime has somehow managed to learn how to type, walk, talk, and by average standards appear human. Still slime though. They could have won without stooping to these levels.