New San Jose City Council Could Take Up Renewed Special Election Question Jan. 24

Proponents of electing replacement San Jose City Council members this year are expected to make one last-ditch effort for the special ballot with new council members when it begins interviewing candidates for two vacant district seats.

Armed with the results of a new poll that shows overwhelming popular support for a popular vote – rather than a council appointment – to fill vacant District 8 and District 10 seats, council members are likely to consider resurrecting a version of the plan rejected by a largely lame-duck city council last month, according to City Hall sources.

The effort has the support of new Mayor Matt Mahan.

“The best of all worlds is to have qualified, collaborative community leaders representing both District 8 and District 10 through next week’s appointment process and for those appointees to be temporary so special elections can be held as quickly as possible,” Mahan said in a statement to San Jose Inside. “The voice of District 8 and District 10 residents is too important to be represented any longer than necessary by a council member who lacks the power of the people behind them.”

The council has scheduled the first special meeting for Tuesday, Jan. 24 to interview the five finalists for the District 8 seat vacated by Sylvia Arenas when she was elected to a Santa Clara County Supervisor seat.

At that meeting, the council will be asked to designate the council appointees as interim appointments only, until an election is held later in the year for a council member who will complete the term through 2024, according to sources.

A second special council meeting is set for Jan. 26 to interview six finalists for the District 10 seat left vacant by the election of former councilmember Mahan as mayor.

The poll was released today by Solutions for Silicon Valley,  a non-profit advocacy group created by supporters of former mayor Sam Liccardo. Solutions for Silicon Valley said it commissioned and paid for the poll. Liccardo had argued unsuccessfully last month for a special election to fill the council vacancies.

The poll released today showed overwhelming support for electing rather than selecting replacement council members. It was conducted Jan. 10-11, and surveyed 531 randomly selected San Jose voters. It was conducted by Public Policy Polling, a North Carolina pollster affiliated with the Democratic Party.

The poll results showed 82% of respondents favored filling the San Jose City Council vacancies “by a vote of the people in the districts,” with 8% saying they should be filled by a vote of the council and 9% saying they were not sure. "The mayor is completely in alignment with the poll's findings," said Mahan's Chief of Staff Jim Reed. Reed was also chief of staff for Liccardo and one of the founders of Solutions for Silicon Valley.

The council voted Dec. 5 by a 7-4 margin to depart from council precedent and vote to have the council appoint council members to fill the two vacant seats.

At that meeting, Liccardo and Mahan recommended a special election in 2023, which could include interim appointments. Councilmember Pam Foley, who was unopposed in her 2022 re-election bid, made the unsuccessful motion to hold special elections.

The other council member to join Liccardo,, Mahan and Foley in opposing appointments to fill council vacancies was Vice Mayor Chappie Jones, who left the council because of term limits.

Only five of the 11 members who voted in December are on the current council. Councilmembers David Cohen, Dev Davis and Sergio Jimenez, all elected in 2020, voted for the appointment of the two replacements.

In a second, similar question in the Solutions for Silicon Valley poll, 86% of the respondents said the council vacancies should be filled by a vote of the people in each district.

Other questions in the poll showed that respondents' voting preferences matched citywide voting patterns: 69% supported President Joe Biden, Mahan was favored by two percentage points over Cindy Chavez. The respondents skewed Democratic, by 63%.

The poll respondents were: 41% white, 25% Asian and 23% Hispanic or Latino; 72% were homeowners; 85% reported at least some time in college; 34% were under 45, 42% were 46 to 65 and 24% were 65 or older, and included representation across all council districts. As of early January, 44% of those polled said the city is “Off on the wrong track,” and 27% said the city is “headed in the right direction.”

Three decades of journalism experience, as a writer and editor with Gannett, Knight-Ridder and Lee newspapers, as a business journal editor and publisher and as a weekly newspaper editor in Scotts Valley and Gilroy; with the Weeklys group since 2017. Recipient of several first-place writing and editing awards, California News Publishers Association.

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