Santa Clara Appoints Kathy Watanabe to Council; City Manager Set to Resign

In a unanimous vote Monday, Santa Clara’s City Council appointed Kathy Watanabe to the seat vacated when Lisa Gillmor was named mayor.

Gillmor was appointed to be the top elected official just a few weeks ago, following Mayor Jamie Matthews’ mysterious resignation the day after the city hosted Super Bowl 50. He had more than two years left on his term, and the council unanimously selected Gillmor to serve the remainder.

This unexpected changing of the guard comes amid a civil grand jury investigation into the city's dealings with the San Francisco 49ers and Levi's Stadium. Meanwhile, City Manager Julio Fuentes became the second major resignation following a San Jose Inside report on City Hall dysfunction. His announcement came last week, after he accused city officials of creating a hostile and discriminatory work environment.

Seventeen people applied for Gillmor's old seat. The mayor said said she chose Watanabe because, as one resident’s letter pointed out, she’s already considered the “Mayor of North Side.”

“I can tell you the reason that I voted for Ms. Watanabe is that I have worked with her well over the years,” Gillmor said toward the end of the meeting. “She has … quietly worked tirelessly for Santa Clara. She worked incessantly to get our north side library open with our city manager. She has done so much for our sister cities program. She’s just a work horse in this city.”

During her interview, Watanabe said she wants to prioritize affordable housing, homelessness and balance conservation with new development. In closing, she held up the council agenda and said, “I’m ready to go to work.”

“I’m really excited about this new chapter in my life,” she told San Jose Inside. “I admire everybody on that council. I’ve known them all for quite some time and consider it an honor to work with them—as long as there’s communication and openness and a sense of professionalism.”

Watanabe spent 30 years in the legal field, according to an online bio. In 2000, the Brooklyn native touched down in the Bay Area, where she worked as a legal assistant at Palo Alto-based law firm Simpson, Thacher and Bartlett.

She moved to Santa Clara in 2005 with her husband and daughter and began working with various community groups. Over the past decade she has served on the Santa Clara Library Board of Trustees and the Mission City Community Fund’s Circle of Pillars. In 2013, she was appointed president of the Santa Clara Sister Cities Association.

“Thank you to the City Council for selecting me,” Watanabe wrote on her Facebook page later that night. “I will be sworn in before the council meeting tomorrow and then it’s down to business.”

Kirk Vartan, a local activist and owner of A Slice of New York, called Watanabe’s appointment the most important action taken by the council next to Gillmor being named mayor.

“With things like billions of dollars in development in the pipeline, a couple billion dollar assets under their control, key city staff to fill like the director of planning and now replacing the city manager, this council will set the tone for the city of Santa Clara for decades,” said Vartan, who has attended virtually every council meeting in the past year. “Small town politics making big city decisions.”

The council will affirm the appointment when it meets tonight. Watanabe said she plans to run for election when the term ends in November. Click here to watch Monday's meeting.

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. That was a nice ad for that hole in the wall pizza place. Inexplicable. But there it is.

    I wonder, what was the quid pro quo for the free advertising?

    • Smokey (i.e., Dave S.): Why don’t you stop seeing the possible negative in every situation for just a minute. You don’t like me for not supporting your tirade about a light on Henry, fine. But don’t accuse me or this reporter of whatever it is you are suggesting by saying “quid pro quo.” If you have any integrity, you would identify yourself for who you are, someone you feel that I did not support. You have already told me you will send letters and message everyone to try and combat or neutralize anything I do. Fine. Come after me, not the reporting staff. You have no data or facts to back up your statements, you are just throwing out your bitter and negative opinion.

      Kirk Vartan

      • No offense to Kirk Vartan, but why doesn’t the SJI reporter speak to people who actually do live in the City of Santa Clara? As far as I know, Mr. Vartan’s business is on Stevens Ck Blvd (Santa Clara’s border) but he does not reside in Santa Clara.

        • Like Mr. Vartan, I also live in San Jose on the border of Santa Clara, and issues of both municipalities are important to me, so I pay attention. I may not vote in Santa Clara, but the way the city is run does directly impact me. Maybe the reporter chose to speak with Mr. Vartan because, as the article states, “he has attended virtually every council meeting in the past year” and is actively involved in his local regional government as a volunteer/ activist–perhaps to the extent that many who are “official” residents of Santa Clara do not.

      • using a obscure name instead of your own only protects you from the negatives effects of govt, has nothing to do with integrity , matter of fact smoky doing the right thing, and for this lady she is just part of the 1% program falling in order like sheep do, if govt is involved it’s negative, they or 99% of them are psychopaths.

  2. Hoping Ms. Watanabe would add racial diversity to the Council. But…no. One more white Councilmember.

  3. Why didn’t the reporter mention Ms. Watanabe’s intense involvement with Yes on Measure J, the 49ers stadium ballot measure? What Santa Clarans do not need is another yes vote in the pocket of outside special interests, which is what we just got last night. Please do not ignore her past history, and her viciousness towards anyone who does not agree with her views.

    There were several good applicants who had previously run for city council and been vetted by the voters here. People who had not taken campaign donations from outside special interests. Instead, they once again appointed someone who is a close friend of current council members, just like they did when they appointed current Mayor Gilmore to a vacant council seat 6 years ago.

    Why appoint someone who worked on Yes on Measure J with Mayor Gilmore (when she was a former councilmember heading up Santa Clarans for Economic Progress, the fake citizens group funded by $5 million of Jed York’s money – just look online at the FPPC filings) and Council Member Kolstad (who also helped head up Santa Clarans for Economic Progress as a former council member.)

    A whole lot of people here in Santa Clara feel like we have zero representation on our council. Our city council exists primarily to please outside special interests who fund council members’ campaigns.

    One can only hope that someone who really will represent the people here will step up to run against Ms. Watanabe in the November election. And hope that the Civil Grand Jury investigation will release a report that the citizens of Santa Clara can read, so that we can find out what is really going on behind closed doors in our city.

  4. San Hose I side … It was NOT a Unanimous vote … Caserta and Marselli DID NOT vote for Whattobe. please get something correct.

  5. Great! Another lawyer on city council working alongside with the 49ers. Who better than to represent Santa Clara City Council Members in the 49er/ Levi’s Stadium civil grand jury investigation.

    Note to SJI: Please identify where each person mentioned in your articles are employed and business’ they own so that they can receive their fair share of free advertisement.
    PS: an activist isn’t necessarily the person in the room with the biggest mouth.

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