With campaign season kicking into full-gear, contenders for Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese’s seat explored some of the region’s most pressing issues at a candidate Monday night forum hosted by the Silicon Valley Democratic Club.
Of seven candidates in the running for the District 3 post, only four got an invite: San Jose Councilwoman Magdalena Carrasco, Assemblyman Kansen Chu, former Councilwoman Rose Herrera and former Sunnyvale Mayor Otto Lee. Of those four, just Carrasco and Chu showed up; Lee, who was out of town on a work trip, sent his campaign consultant Eric Stroker to speak on his behalf.
One reportedly dropped out from not only the event, but the race itself. Herrera’s no-show prompted chatter about her setting her sights on her old City Council seat in District 8, where Sylvia Arenas is running for a second term. (Herrera’s campaign team did not immediately return San Jose Inside’s calls for comment).
The other contenders absent from the event were El Camino Healthcare District Director Peter Fung and recently resigned San Jose Planning Commissioner John Leyba (who says the club never extended him an invite). Anthony Phan pulled out of the race to pursue re-election on the Milpitas City Council.
Despite the small panel Monday, the conversation moderated by Silicon Valley Organization Executive Vice President Madison Nguyen proved lively enough. The Dem club made sure to press the candidates who did attend to talk about how they plan to address the housing crisis, the region’s over-trafficked roads and climate change.
Carrasco said she wants to make sure that cities throughout the county are building its “fair share” of housing. For ages, San Jose has been relegated as the region’s bedroom community because neighboring cities prioritize commercial development over housing, which has created a stubborn imbalance in the city she represents.
“The housing crisis is one of the biggest crises we’ve seen, at least in my lifetime,” the District 5 councilor said. “It’s going to take a regional effort to make sure we build quickly, we build throughout the county, we build for those who are living on the streets [and] that we build on all income levels.”
Chiming in for Lee, Stroker said that affordable housing is one of “Otto’s top issues.”
“We’re trying to go denser,” he told the audience gathered at the Campbell Community Center. “We need to find the right spots to get this stuff done.”
Chu cited his experience in the California Legislature, where, in the past week alone, a number of housing bills he supported made its to the governor’s desk.
“I think what we really need to do is get all the smart people together to develop a long term plan of how we’re going to address this issue,” the state lawmaker said. “Planning is the key to any government success.”
While rents rise in denser parts of Silicon Valley and the Bay Area, people are being pushed to live in the reaches of Fresno, Tracy and Modesto and commute great lengths to where the jobs are. The impact has put a strain on traffic and has made already hours-long commutes even worse. With that in mind, Nguyen asked how each candidate planned to solve the region’s worsening traffic issues.
Chu said he believed that both transportation and housing are “two faces of the same problem.” While Stroker said that “sometimes innovative ideas are old ideas,” and that Lee would look at expanding VTA routes to give people more public transit options.
Carrasco said the biggest issue, in her mind, is that California wasn’t built for mass transit and that lawmakers have prioritized the kind of transportation infrastructure that induces more vehicle traffic. “We need to get people out of their cars,” she said. “Transportation needs to be efficient and effective.”
Candidates also discussed ways to make the county cleaner by limiting carbon pollution.
“I know the thing Otto would want me to tell you was that he was the green mayor of Sunnyvale,” Stroker declared. He added that “2029 is the goal for the VTA-zero emission buses. Let’s speed that up and get that going.”
Carrasco said a key component of decreasing the county’s carbon footprint involves infrastructure. “I recently bought a used hybrid van, but one of my biggest frustrations has been I can’t find anywhere to plug in my van,” she said. “I think that is one of the easiest, cheapest ways.”
Chu said that the first thing he would do is make sure the county, “electrifies their fleet” of vehicles. He also drew upon his prior experience on the San Jose City Council, where he served on the commission of waste reduction.
“[We need to] concentrate on reducing the waste and recycling,” he said. “We need to also encourage other cities to follow the lead.”
The club ended the night by voting to back Lee’s in the race—even though he didn’t attend the event. Unsurprisingly, that didn’t sit well with some of the other candidates.
However, in a phone call the following morning, Chu criticized the endorsement process, saying the club allowed Lee to pack the room with new members who swayed the outcome. Normally, Chu said, a club would limit endorsement decisions to dues-paying members, or people with enough history in the organization to have earned the privilege of that kind of participation.
“I felt that the fairest way of voting is that you have to be a member and not to bring people in at the last minute, which makes it more of a popularity contest,” Chu said. “I could have brought people there, maybe 20 or 30 of them, but I didn’t do that.”
This article has been updated.