Don Rocha Begins New Council Session with Fire in His Belly

Don’t make Don Rocha angry. You wouldn’t like to see him angry.

Or would you?

The recently re-elected councilman for District 9 issued a scathing memo Friday in support of a general sales tax measure while calling out Mayor Chuck Reed and his bloc of Measure B supporters on the council, as well as the Mercury News editorial board. Rocha doubled-down Monday with an additional memo, this time taking top city staff and Measure B backers to task for not adopting his plan to fix the city’s pension reforms.

Starting with his first missive, the councilman emphasizes not only the need for more revenue, but also what he sees as short-sightedness in restricting a ballot measure to funding just public safety. He points to the city's infrastructure backlog as one of the more serious issues that receives scant attention because it's not a sexy topic.

“Viewed purely through the lens of fiscal sustainability, restricting revenue to public safety would actually be a problem, as it would prevent us from devoting at least a portion of the revenue to road maintenance,” Rocha writes. “Our pavement maintenance backlog is growing every day, and is beginning to approach the magnitude of our unfunded pension liabilities. I understand that solving the unfunded pavement maintenance problem might not be as exciting for some of my colleagues as solving the unfunded pension problem as it does not present an opportunity to kick public employee unions along the way, but it is no less serious an issue. Pursuing a special public safety tax would completely ignore this problem.

Another choice nugget from Rocha's memo:

  • “In its editorial endorsing the special tax, the Mercury News Editorial Board makes the following argument: ‘We could not support [a general tax] in a mayoral election year when nobody knows who will control the purse strings come January. It would be all too easy for a labor-backed majority to slip back into unsustainable spending on pensions and benefits.’ To begin with, it's no mystery who will be our next Mayor: it will be the person who the voters of San Jose choose for the job. For the Mercury News to attempt to hold the voters' choice hostage because they might select a candidate endorsed by the 'wrong people' is arrogant and irresponsible. As elected officials who hold office only by the grace of the voters, we should show a little bit more faith that they know what they're doing.

The daily paper’s full-throated support of Councilman Sam Liccardo for mayor has been well-documented, and it’s no secret Rocha and Liccardo aren’t the closest of buddies. It then seems county Supervisor Dave Cortese, who would lead a “labor-backed majority” if elected mayor in November, has himself a pitbull in Rocha in the run-up to the runoff.

And one more strong take from the memo:

  • “According to the poll, the voters support a general tax. It is within our power to unite behind that option and let the voters decide. Why, then, are people scrambling to invent arguments to avoid a general tax? Sadly, I think the answer is that the clique that has managed this city for the past several years relies on division to attain and keep power. Just as they needlessly drove divisions by mishandling the pension reform process, they are now seeking out divisions on revenue measures. The prospect of consensus is objectionable to them in itself.”

This is an interesting view, as it asserts that Mayor Reed, Liccardo and like-minded councilmembers actively search out reasons to disagree. In a time when so many elected officials bend over backwards being polite, Rocha’s tone is cantankerous and accusatory.

In a follow-up memo, he again argues against the daily newspaper’s suggestion that a Cortese administration would be worse than the last two years of pension reform—which Rocha did vote for—under Mayor Reed.

  •  “After two years of a deteriorating organization the flaws are even more obvious, but we still do nothing, all the while giving lectures about how ‘labor-backed majorities’ will mismanage our finances. Unfortunately this Council doesn't need any help making questionable decisions all on its own. Excesses may have occurred during past administrations, but equal excesses have occurred during this one they're just on the opposite extreme of the ideological spectrum.”

So there you have it. Rocha is on the warpath and it’s barely August.

Josh Koehn is a former managing editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley.


  1. He voted for measure B. He campaigned “I’m for pension reform!” I saw him shake Pierluigi’s hand after saying so at the Gunderson candidate forum.

    If there’s one thing that irritates the hell out of me about Don, is the constant, dismissive “Get out of Jail Free” cards people seem to hand him. I dunno, maybe never being held accountable is what makes him a “Great elected official”. Out of all 7 candidates that ran in that race, Don and Pegram were the only 2 gung ho for pension reform. Myself, Cogan, Cueva and Greer were admittedly against, while Trout was “Against the statue that looks like a giant turd”

    Nothing personal Don, maybe I just need to learn that swagger of yours.

  2. Robert, although we may have our differences (and we do) I appreciate that you were a candidate that conveyed your convictions – and haven’t abandoned those beliefs.

  3. Almost everybody, but dithering idiots, are for pension reform. The key is how you go about it. Don Rocha has offered cogent advice and sought compromise when others were not interested. His approach is not simply nuanced, it is thoughtful.

    The memo on taxes is a barn-burner. It seems Mr. Rocha is willing to risk it all to move the City forward. We should have more like him.

    • Remember Chuckie voted yes on all the contracts presented to the city council now he cries wolf. Why do we not hear about how councils diverted pension money in all the good times. And how (once) redevelopment is a billion in debt thanks to our second hand airport.

    • > The memo on taxes is a barn-burner. It seems Mr. Rocha is willing to risk it all to move the City forward. We should have more like him.

      In this complicated world, there are a few things that are ALWAYS true. One of them is:

      “Democrats raising taxes is ALWAYS wrong.”

      The issue is not whether or not there are important public needs that may benefit from improved funding.

      The issue is that Democrats are NEVER satisfied with they last tax increase, and any success in raising taxes encourages them to seek the next tax increase.

      For Democrats, “improved public benefit” is not the end, it Is the means to an end. And the ultimate end is itself “raising taxes”.

      The late labor leader Waltern Ruether was once asked: “What do unions want”?

      His answer was simple: “More.”

      This is the Democrat attitude toward taxes. They are an objective “good” in their essence, and the more the better.

      As a simple experiment, try asking your favorite “progressive” organism, say Rich Robinson, the following question: “How much taxes are enough”.

      The typical progressive organism answer is some variation of; “How much money do you have? Send it all in.”

      The fact that Don Rocha has “fire in his belly” is NOT a good thing, it’s just his burning desire to feed his innate taxing appetites.

      Anteaters eat ants. Killer whales eat seals. Democrats raise taxes. It’s nature.

      • keep your ranting to yourself – its taking up valuable space her and definitely not needed

  4. Mr. Robinson you write, “Mr. Rocha is willing to risk it all to move the City forward”. What is he risking? He already has a second term coming. Well better a Donny come lately then to not come at all. Perhaps he has grown a pair and is ready to play. Welcome to the party Mr. Rocha.

    Vote for Change. (Ah man I think that slogan has been used already)

  5. The sales tax is a red herring. San Jose residents need to be asking our current and future leaders why San Jose’s per capita revenue is so low compared to surrounding cities. Residents should also watch the ratio of jobs to residents.

  6. I could understand if Councilman Rocha was now saying his support of Measure B a few years ago was a mistake, but didn’t he just recently vote to give the private law firm hired by Reed more money to appeal Measure B? The only Councilman who said Measure B was a mistake and accurately predicted the disastrous consequences, and has voted as such consistently, has been Councilman Kalra.

    • Hey Observation.

      I was going to say, “Then RR, you must consider Ash a dithering idiot too” but you beat me to mentioning Ash.

      I have to say that Ash’s record has been commendably beyond reproach on this subject. Not just in his voting record, but I can just about repeat what he says about it word for word. “It’s illegal to retroactively cut pension benefits, this is going to get cut down in court, it’s been struck down in other courts around the country”

      I think the reason myself, and possibly you (and LEO’s) respects Ash is because he actually shows some passion about these things. Not *just* compassion, but conviction too. I’ll have to admit, that’s a hard hard thing to do. Not *just* to believe in something right, but stick to defending it with all your heart.

  7. I can understand Councilman Rocha wanting to distance himself from this Mayor and Liccardo. For a city of a million people, the SJPD should have over 2,000 officers. At the highest level, there were about 1,450 officers. Under this Mayor, the department has about 850 officers, and that number is rapidly falling. There is virtually no burglary or auto theft unit, and the motorcycle unit may very well be cut. This is not to mention all the other investigative units that have been slashed, and not enough patrol officers to answer calls. I do appreciate Councilman Rocha bringing light to this, but the damage has been done, and thousands of years of collective institutional knowledge have been lost.

  8. Between the RDA (which Reed Chaired) and the Airport(which Reed pushed) the combined debt is almost $ 7 Billion Dollars . But it is the $ 260 million dollars killing San Jose, according to Reed

    • Local media has given these facts scant coverage, for the entirety of the “pension reform” faux crises. The mere fact that the recession has come and gone without Measure B “savings” speaks volumes. It was tied up in Court and COST the a City millions… Of course, Reed claims a $20M, which was actually realized via City staff leaving, not pensions. The Police Department alone zeroed out those “savings” in overtime costs- where’s the supposed media watchdogs?

  9. STEVEO wrote: “San Jose residents need to be asking our current and future leaders why San Jose’s per capita revenue is so low compared to surrounding cities.” It’s simple, Steverino–SJ has the highest percentage of low wage earners and unemployed/welfare recipients, and BMR housing units.

  10. If any non-Democrat had spewed forth the vitriol Don Rocha has from time to time, the press and the interested Democrats would have been on him like white on rice. But since he is a Democrat, he gets a pass. Two years into his first term, after the rest of the council failed to go along with what Don knows best, he threatened to quit the council. As a resident of his district, I wish he had done so. Safely esconced in his last term, he’s at it again–an “”I know what’s best for everyone and the rest of you are idiots” diatribe. Don, for once, please just STFU.

    • Hey John as a fellow resident of his district, tell me how you feel about the following.

      Almaden Ranch development.
      Mcdonalds at Union and Curtner
      Loss of dedicated turn lane on Cherry/Almaden
      Walmart at 85/Almaden

      • Robert and anyone else…do you know if someone can work as a paid council aide and on a mayoral campaign at same time? Thanks.

        Btw, Robert thanks for kind words…and I assure you I am only one person and this is only ID I have

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