As election day nears, the competition over four Santa Clara City Council seats is heating up—and money is pouring in as two sides promote their own crew of candidates.
San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York on Wednesday contributed $250,000 to a political committee launched last week to support four candidates vying for their first term on the City Council: Planning Commissioners Suds Jain and Anthony Becker and active community members Harbir Bhatia and Kevin Park.
The contribution to the York and 49ers-sponsored committee, Citizens For Efficient Government and Full Voting Rights, comes in response to a request from former congressman Mike Honda, according to 49ers spokesman Rahul Chandhok.
“The honorable Mike Honda requested our support in bringing fair, balanced and diverse representation to Santa Clara, and to ensure we continue to protect the civil and voting rights of all Santa Clarans,” Chandhok said. “We are proud to answer his call.”
Meanwhile, the Santa Clara Police Association Political Action Committee last week got a $25,000 infusion of cash from New York-based The Related Cos., which is developing a massive mixed-use project in the city.
The prominent developer has assured the city it is undeterred by the pandemic and is pushing forward with the project, which will eventually include 9.2 million square feet of office space, retail, homes and hotel rooms.
The police PAC recently launched a website to promote council incumbents Kathy Watanabe and Teresa O’Neill as well as former CHP Lt. Bob O’Keefe and South Bay attorney Robert Mezzetti—all candidates also supported by Mayor Lisa Gillmor.
Public filings show the Santa Clara Police Association PAC has also spent a total of $11,104 on mailers for the four candidates, Gillmor’s endorsement included.
Santa Clara’s election, and the way the eight candidates have formed alliances, has laid bare how the city’s political landscape has split as officials grapple with a slew of legal battles with the 49ers and over how the city will be districted for future elections.
Mayor Gillmor and many of her allies have promised to take a hard line on the San Francisco 49ers, which they say isn’t being transparent and isn’t delivering on its financial commitments as it levies lawsuits against the city. The 49ers say Gillmor and other city officials have stunted their ability to book events at Levi’s stadium and bring in revenue through curfew restrictions and other disputes, but Gillmor pushed back on that.
“Rather than pay their bills and follow the law, like they should, they would rather pick their council members and control Santa Clara—period,” Gillmor told San Jose Inside.
The election also comes at a critical time for the controversy over redistricting the city for future elections, which advocates say would increase diversity on the City Council.
“I think there’s a lot riding on this election,” said Richard Konda, executive director for the Asian Law Alliance, which along with other organizations, brought a 2018 lawsuit to push the city to split into election districts to increase diversity on the council.
The slate of candidates backed by the POA and endorsed by Gillmor are all white, drawing criticism from some, including Konda, who said that was “to be expected almost, but it’s troubling that the slate is kind of more the same.”
“I think the mayor wants to continue to control the council and so I think that’s the people that lined up with her, and it’s unfortunate,” Konda added.
Representatives for the POA were not immediately available for comment, but Gillmor said she endorsed the candidates based on their qualifications and track record of leadership in the community.
“I’m not looking at the color of anyone’s skin,” the mayor said. “I’m looking at qualifications and who I think will continue the reforms for accountability and other things, that again, the 49ers don't want.”
In the lawsuit brought by the Asian Law Alliance and others, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Thomas Kuhnle in 2018 ordered the city to be split in six parts, rather than Santa Clara’s longstanding method of allowing every resident vote for every council member. The old method, according to Kuhnle, diluted minority votes.
City officials say that no districts, or larger districts, would not disadvantage minority voters and that residents say they enjoy voting for city representatives. Santa Clara is appealing the ruling and council members have since put two unsuccessful measures on ballots. One, known as Measure A in 2018, would have split the city into two districts. Measure C, voted down in March, would have divided Santa Clara into three parts.
Jain, Becker, Bhatia and Park earlier this month held a community and press event to promote their campaigns as a collective effort to bring diversity to a city council that has been fully white for decades—that is, until the 2018 win by Councilman Raj Chahal, who nabbed his seat in the city’s first election with six districts.
Chahal, along with the four 49ers-backed contenders, say they support halting the appeal and adopting six voting districts in the city. The 49ers say that’s their motivation as well.
“Mayor Gillmor’s allies continue to disenfranchise minority communities and strip them of equal representation in our local government through their support of Measure C while simultaneously ignoring court orders,” Chandhok said. “Our civic duty is to take steps towards equity and equality by supporting those who defend voting rights.”