Op-Ed: Here’s How to Fight Corruption in Cupertino

We the people are suffering through a system of governance at the federal, state and local levels in direct contempt for founder James Madison’s maxim that legislators “ought to be dependent on the people alone.” Our elected representatives appear, and frequently are, all too dependent on concentrated moneyed interests whose goals are in direct opposition to the common good.

Take, for example, the saga of the Cupertino City Council and the Sand Hill Corporation, whose multibillion-dollar plan to redevelop the blighted and empty Vallco Mall has divided the community.

Tara Sreekrishnan, Cupertino City Council candidate.

Sand Hill purchased the mall for some $320 million dollars in partnership with the foreign Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, a fund established by the United Arab Emirates government in order to reinvest profits from fossil fuel extraction—a highly corrupt industry that is responsible for injecting catastrophic carbon emissions into our atmosphere and destabilizing politics the world over.

In terms of investment, the development partnership hit the jackpot in buying over 50 acres of prime real estate in the heart of Silicon Valley, just steps from Apple’s new mega-campus. Sand Hill has played politics for six years, surviving highly contentious campaigns and ballot initiatives, to finally get city approval of almost 2 million square feet of highly lucrative office space at the Vallco site in September.

The people of Cupertino and the Bay Area need housing and affordable housing now more than ever. While Sand Hill promises to build housing and some retail alongside their sprawling office space, they were never upfront about how so much planned office space would exacerbate Cupertino’s imbalance between jobs and housing, a ratio that drives displacement, local and regional housing prices, and carbon emissions. Looking out for the community’s interest is not Sand Hill’s responsibility, it is City Hall’s.

The current council majority placed no reasonable limits on the amount of office space to be built at Vallco, and recently secured for the developer a sweetheart deal featuring 1.75 million square feet of office. The majority also did nothing to proactively prevent the developers from effectively threatening invocation of their not-so-secret back-up Senate Bill 35 plan in order to secure support for the city-approved plan.

Sand Hill hired a former Cupertino mayor to head its public relations team, and this election, the company took out a political insurance policy to protect their investment. They utilized the power granted by the Supreme Court’s infamous Citizens United case to spend unlimited sums of money in independent expenditures (disguised under seemingly innocuous labels like “Cupertino Getting Things Done Together”) to reward those who voted to support them in the past and to fill vacant council seats with those friendly to their interests.

Compounding the appearance of corruption, Cupertino’s former City Attorney Randolph Hom just filed an explosive claim against the City, claiming that the Council fired him for questioning the legality of the streamlined Vallco proposal and that Councilman Barry Chang threatened him with retaliation unless he supported the proposal. With scandalous headlines like these, is it any wonder that the people of Cupertino have lost faith in their government?

This election, we can re-elect the status quo or choose those who will push back against rampant corruption by changing the corrupt political incentive structure with a solid plan to reduce the influence of big money in our politics and restore trust in our city. The latter would establish norms whereby candidates reject and renounce shady Citizens United expenditures and initiate reasonable restrictions around lobbying, campaign contributions, and disclosures.

Finally, a straightforward whistleblower policy could encourage future staff members to speak out about fraud and improper conduct in our government, and shield them from retaliation or abuse.

In order to realize a more responsive government, we need to ensure that the public—and not powerful moneyed interests—are financing our elections. To secure these changes, it is time to kick out the politicians who show up for billion-dollar ribbon cuttings, but fail to show up to represent the people’s interests.

Tara Sreekrishnan is a candidate for Cupertino City Council. Opinions in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to [email protected]

30 Comments

  1. My god this lady hits the nail square & dead on the head, great summary and so eloquently stated! The Cupertino City Council is ROTTEN and corrupt to the core, the majority of them! Unfortunately, one member on there that rhymes with ‘Stinks,’ will be around for another go. Get em out, drain the swamp!!!

    • Thank you for your note and be sure to vote if you haven’t already. I will be on your ballot for Cupertino Council. – Tara Sreekrishnan

  2. In my opinion, some Cupertino residents have reaped the benefit of a poorly regulated market exchange between the US and other countries only to inject their opposition when others try to do what they want with their own property when it hits a little close to home…

  3. I couldn’t be more disgusted with this op-ed piece. Tara, the author, is making some very large unsubstantiated claims about the City Council and lumping all members of the council together. Corruption is a very serious allegation, not a word you can just throw around for headlines.

    The real crime being committed here are the actions of the Better Cupertino group to un-do the hard work of the City Council. I have seen Councilmember Vaidhyanathan and her peers put in incredibly hard work over the last 4 years to seek community opinion and do their absolute best to make sure this Vallco plan includes real community benefits – not just what is prescribed by SB35. Now those community benefits are at risk because of the signatures collected by Better Cupertino and the candidates they support – Liang Chao and John Willey.

    This seems like a mudslinging piece timed just in time for the elections – very poor form for a candidate.

    • @Cupertino Heart and Soul – what claim in the article is unsubstantiated? If you can prove that anything I wrote isn’t a fact, I will edit my article to reflect it.

      I mention that the Council majority did not try to limit the office space or put in any protections before SB35 became law. I mention the money being poured into this race going to candidates that voted in favor of the office space. These are facts not an unsubstantiated claims.

      It is no secret that Sand Hill is funding three candidates through independent expenditures.

      I do agree with you that all councilmembers put in incredibly hard work.

    • I would love to respond in detail to “Cupertino Heart and Soul”, as soon as the writer is brave enough to put a name to these words. Anonymous emotion counts for little.

  4. Tara is a clear unbiased choice to work for the best interests the residents. Please use your vote to elect Tara. She is not obligated to any independent expenditure groups.

  5. I see that Better Cupertino has done a monumental effort to study the City Council doings for many years. They have provided more information about the city than anyone, except for perhaps former City Attorney Hom. The dollar amounts coming from the developers have been staggering. Over $6 Million was spent marketing the failed Measure D office park for Vallco Plan. How much did all the anti-referendum personnel working for Vallco, and the ridiculous truck trailers parading Why? Bizarre campaign cost? Better Cupertino grows larger, educated, trusted, and respected with every passing year. That is why their candidates: Liang Chao and Jon Willey are so wildly popular. Better Cupertino has earned their place at the city council table. And it is time to have the residents finally listened to.

    • Better Cupertino has done their part, but they also need to be more constructive and productive on providing solutions. Jon Wiley is not able to articulate any ideas or solutions at the candidates forums, he is one issue guy. There is very little information on his website.

      Tara by far has the most informative and pragmatic policy ideas on many issues impacting Cupertino from her website and public forums. It shows her knowledge and experience in public policy and how government works. She has my vote!

      PS: I signed the referendum.

  6. Even after referendum, Sand Hill is still working against the community trying to scare people with SB35. It is not secret that Cupertino City Council is corrupted especially Barry Chang. Even his campaign team tried to recall him. It is time for us to vote for the right candidate instead of the three new “Barry Chang” – Savita, Hung and Orrin.

  7. I have been a resident of Cupertino for 37 years, born and raised. I had never heard of Tara before, but 1st ran across her op-ed piece about the employee tax and apple on this site. I then found out about her candidacy for Council. Tara – I agree with your values and can see you would serve the City well as a Council member and I voted for you. I hope you get elected, but if you do not, don’t give up because you have real potential and are a true leader.

  8. Very well stated.

    The developers, Chamber of Commerce, and other anti-resident PACs have spent nearly a million dollars to buy three seats on the City Council of Cupertino. A million dollars is pocket change considering how profitable it is to own a City Council.

    Along comes Better Cupertino, a large group of residents, with very little money, to fight back against the corporations desperate to exploit Cupertino for their own financial gain. Undeterred by this grassroots group of citizens, the corporate PACS hire thugs and goons to disrupt referendum signature gathering, but only succeed in making residents so angry the Better Cupertino far exceeds the number of signatures to but measures on the ballot.

    Of course the corporate PACs aren’t done. They are spending money like drunken sailors trying to defeat the pro-resident candidates running for City Council, and to elect a City Council that they will have complete control over, with independent expenditures on behalf of Hung Wei, Savita Vaidhyanathan, and Orrin Mahoney. Why don’t these PACs just skip the middleman and elect Peter Pao and Mark Tersini?

    Moving Cupertino forward requires a pro-resident City Council majority. There’s a lot to do. The City needs to fix the mess created by three council members with the City Attorney. They need to fight the developer’s attempts to hire a City Manager that will continue to allow them to run roughshod over the city, and they’re spending a lot of money in that pursuit as well. A pro-resident City Council also needs to make major changes to the Planning Commission to remove the developer-owned members. Most of all, they need to repair the reputation of the City Council, so badly damaged by Barry Chang, Rod Sinks, and Savita Vaidhyanathan. Residents no longer have any trust in the City Council to act in the best interests of the City.

  9. Want to read the filth from Barry Chang, Savita Vaidhyanathan, and Rod Sinks straight from former City Attorney Hom’s Government Tort Claim? The imbecilic firing by those three apparently can cost Cupertino millions: https://www.sanjoseinside.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Government-Tort-Claim.pdf Only Liang Chao and Jon Willey supported the Referendum which had over 4,330 signatures in just 16 days, saw the problems with SB35, and have mobilized community support volunteers. They have earned our respect and support!

    • Better Cupertino needs to do a better job of educating community on state requirements and the need for more affordable housing. More teachers will be leaving CUSD and FUHSD if they can’t find reasonable rental units. That is not good for schools and housing price. Get a grid on the reality!!!

  10. While what Tara is saying about a certain majority in the city council not acting for the benefit of the city residents specifically in the Vallco case, (whatever the reasons may be: incompetence, ignorance, indifference, maleficence or faulty vision or the combination thereof) resonates well with the residents, Tara has a trust deficiency on her part as well. Tara has been vacillating with her stance on the Vallco matter. She was against the referendum signature gathering and in favor of Tier II plan even though it looks like she knew it was badly done from this op-ed. Not sure why she waited 3/4 days before the election after the referendum signatures were delivered to write this. Is it a case of late realization or smart calculation seeing the tide shift?

    • No it’s not. First off I was always against the Tier 2 plan. I only supported Tier 1. I would also support a project with much less office and more housing.

      Second, I did not support the referendum campaign because the Better Cupertino group never presented a realistic alternative vision for Vallco. And they have yet to do this. They are lying to residents if they think all retail and 400 units of housing is a project that could ever get built at that site. That is why I could not in good faith support the campaign although I respect the intent of the BC group wanting to take Cupertino back from SHP. I have yet to hear what realistic plan Better Cupertino could get behind. The group has a lot of power and influence. They should act responsibly and be truthful with residents.

      I have been campaigning on increased transparency measures etc. in Cupertino for a while now which is the point of this op ed.

      There are voices outside of Better Cupertino and SHP/Chamber here in cupertino.

      Venkat, would you be willing to accept a Vallco project with 2000 housing units?

      Thank you,
      Tara

      • Tara, It seems to me contradicting when you say you are against Tier 2 yet you are not supporting the referendum either because referendum is the only effective way to stop Tier 2. What have you done to stop Tier 2 if you are as you said representing the residents? Your article is well written and inspiring, but I value more what a candidate has actually done for the residents. Better Cupertino and the candidates (Liang Chao and Jon Wiley) they support may not have a clear plan for Vallco, but they did real work to stop the plan that residents don’t want. Without their work, no new plan would be needed anyway.

        • Your comment shows how uninformed you are with public policy and what a majority of city council members can do. Referendum is not the only option!

        • @Cupertino Resident I want to hold both sides of the Vallco debate accountable to actually move the community forward. I may not always say what BC wants to hear, but I am not running for this position to be a « career politician » and pander to people. Even if it means people don’t blindly vote for me. That is why I respect the intent of the referendum but wanted to see an alternative plan for me to endorse it. I have not seen an alternative plan from the BC group in the few years of their activism. I have just seen repeals. I want to hold BC accountable to actually being realistic with the community especially in terms of a reasonable amount of housing. People signed the referendum for different reasons. Many in our community would sign a referendum for any feasible project that could possibly be built at this site. Since there is such a disconnect, it is our responsibility to educate residents on what is actually feasible. As someone running to be a leader, I could not endorse a referendum campaign that was a repeal with no alternative or statement of a realistic plan. I know this is a nuanced view on things, but that is my honest truth.

          In terms of holding SHP accountable, the article highlights a solid policy action plan to hold corporate interests accountable. I advocated for more objective standards in our General Plan at the Vallco site before SB35 to hold SHP accountable, specifically through a published article, helping write a petition, and in public communication to Council.

          Im happy to share with you other ways I have been involved in the community and served residents.

          • Also wanted to mention, that I communicated this to the folks at Better Cupertino, and asked them to present an alternative plan or even one potential alternative plan. The pro formas are out there. I went on the record supporting Tier 1. I would also support a project with little office and 2000 plus units of housing. They have yet to do this. This is me trying to hold them accountable. All of the plans I’ve seen from them are not feasible projects that could get built. I have only seen all retail and 389 units of housing. It does not sit right to me to lie to the community about what could get built here and the need for more housing at different income levels.

          • Tara, if you against Better Cupertino’s fear-mongering and lies, why do you tout Liang Chao’s endorsement on your website?

            I’d like to vote for a young, progressive candidate–but your hesitation about Vallco and connections to Better Cupertino candidates have turned me away.

      • I’ve approached this City Council race with as much objectivity as I can muster. What I’ve seen leads me to give my full support to Tara.

        Throughout her campaign, and in her career leading up to the campaign, Tara has been clear in her approach and consistent in her messaging. Any allegations of opportunism or questioning her integrity are completely unfounded.

  11. Well only two of the 8 candidate committees have taken PAC (Political Action Committee) money – those two are Jon Willey and Liang-Fang Chao.

  12. Cupertino has had way too many politicians working for developer and special interests. It’s high time for the residents to elect a majority of the council that works for the residents. Tara has my vote! I am looking forward to see her implement and execute legislation to prevent corruption and dark money influence.

  13. Tara is on the side for the regular people of Cupertino and it’s future generations. She is holding all sides accountable to solid solutions for the whole community, drawing from her experience in Berkeley City government to bring high ethics, transparency and using her experience of being an effective activist, organizer and excellent writer to communicate with all so that more can understand and the whole community can move forward together.

    Tara is one who can synthesize the best of all sides and champion what is best for all Cupertino residents, build consensus and build community, and thereby bring out the best in people with solid solutions that everyone can support.

  14. Tara

    I commend your services to the community as a young, aspiring and inspiring leader. As a budding leader I would have liked your forthright renouncement of the city council efforts with the Vallco Tier 2 plan when you had the opportunities earlier. That conviction will take you to greater heights in future.

    I am also not sure what modeling was done by the Cupertino city planning to grant a permit for nearly 1000 units in “The Hamptons” project and another huge allocation of housing and roughly 1.8 million square feet of office space at the Vallco site, when we have the Apple Park and the Main Street development already.

    Is it indifference that is driving these massive plans in one corner of the city: who cares about the traffic snarls in that area if we don’t need to pass it through on a daily basis? Or is it ignorance stemming from non-realistic modeling of the impact on the area post these developments? Or incompetence that a thorough job was not done? Or as you already raised here certain members dancing to the tunes of the developers?

    Don’t get me wrong – as a person who has all my life supported the upliftment of people who are not privileged, I get the need for affordable housing – but that cannot be dumped to one cornet of the city, beyond capacity.

    I hope all parties will come to the table and do the right thing for the betterment of the city as a whole.

    Good luck

  15. Regardless of the motivation of Cupertino’s City council I’m always pleased to see any kind of development that is NOT housing. Lost in our supposedly compassion driven compulsion to build more and more housing is any acknowledgement of the possible negative effects of unrestrained population growth. The closemindedness and politically correct groupthink mentality on this subject is really something to behold.

  16. May The God of Israel bring healing to Cupertino California in the easiest and sweetest way possible. Amen. May The Creator crush every greedy person/business in the silicon valley. Amen. We need to get back to being human beings loving and respecting each other. Healthy and Happy living to all humanity in all communities around the world. “Sharing is Caring”. Power to the People not the Babylon System. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJBgqt1Mzq4

Leave a Reply to Linda Sell Cancel reply

%d bloggers like this: