Candidates hoping to replace state Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose) when he terms out in 2020 faced off for the second time this week at a forum where they tackled a range of issues, including homelessness, sanctuary immigration policy and climate change.
The event hosted by the Willow Glen Neighborhood Association took place Thursday at the Starlite Ballroom and featured former Federal Elections Commission chair Ann Ravel, Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese, ex-Assemblywoman Nora Campos, San Jose Councilman Johnny Khamis and para-transit operator Tim Gildersleeve. Former San Jose Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio moderated the panel.
A sixth contender—Anthony Macias—recently jumped into the race but was unable to attend. Macias, who identifies as a Republican, ran for the same seat in 2016 against Beall, Campos and Chuck Page.
How the state should go about solving its homeless crisis became a point of contention among the candidates. While most of them agreed it was a human rights violation, they differed on the best way to get people off the streets.
Khamis argued that instead of just examining the cost of housing, they should be looking at the causes of homelessness. “We need to start building facilities to house the mentally ill with wraparound services,” he said.
Gildersleeve said he supported sanctioned tent encampments—a controversial idea that earlier this year struck a nerve with some Willow Glen residents who opposed relocating Hope Village to their neighborhood. Gildersleeve added that he’d like to continue Beall’s work in helping unhoused people with substance use problems.
Ravel said she supported Beall’s recently vetoed SB 5, which would have created an Affordable Housing and Community Development Investment Program—a tax-increment model similar to that of redevelopment agencies. She also advocated for using public land for temporary housing and building more permanent supportive housing, which gives homeless people a place to live and access to various social services.
Cortese touted Measure A, a countywide $950 million affordable housing bond, as a model for tackling the crisis. The county supervisor said state policymakers needs to look at implementing something similar across California. They also need money for short-term and transitional housing, he added.
“That’s why you don’t see people coming out of tents and you see more tents going up,” he said. “They can’t wait for the long-term housing to be built.”
Pushing back on Cortese’s answer, Khamis criticized the county for not utilizing the old San Jose City Hall to house the homeless. Cortese rebutted that turning the “rat infested” building just wasn't going to work and that the county already had plans for the site.
Ravel came to Khamis’ defense. “The city hall was purchased by the county 10 years ago,” she said. “That was the county’s responsibility and they could have made it into a dormitory with people with their own rooms and doors and locks that they could live in instead of living on the streets.”
Campos also chastised the county for opting out of building tiny homes, which it would have been able to do because of a bill that she authored while in the Assembly. She said the county never gave her an explanation for why it decided against that approach.
Sanctuary State Policy
Oliverio also asked candidates about their views on sanctuary state policy, which limits cooperation between local governments and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Campos said she supports the law and believes that someone who commits a crime should be prosecuted “with the full weight of the legal system.”
“What troubles me about this is as a nation I don’t believe that we should allow ourselves to be baited into profiling people based on their ethnic makeup,” she said. “I believe we’re better than that.”
Gildersleeve said that while he is in favor of helping people trying to come to the United States, he’s concerned about those who go on to commit crimes. “You’re coming here to try to escape a bad situation and try to get a better life, I’m all for that,” he said. “But if you’re going to come here and commit crimes, kill, rape and deal drugs—no.”
Both Ravel and Cortese said they believe that the sanctuary state law was widely misunderstood and that undocumented people who commit crimes are not immune from being prosecuted.
Khamis, an immigrant for Lebanon, said that he disagrees with how much stricter the county’s sanctuary policy is compared to the state’s. “There was a member of our community here that lost her life because our criminal laws are so lax,” he said, referring to San Jose resident Bambi Larson who was murdered by an undocumented man. “The county sanctuary policy was not there for any cooperation with ICE.”
Candidates were also asked what policies they would support to combat climate change.
If elected as state senator, Cortese said he would focus on curbing pollution from cars. “We have to continue to regulate emissions in the state and we have to be a leader among others, not just here, but globally to do the same thing,” he said.“That’s not the posture of the White House right now, but in needs to be the posture here.”
Khamis talked about lawn mower and leaf blower buybacks that he started in San Jose, which led a charge to trade gas-powered appliances for electric ones. He said he’d like to look at implementing a similar program at the state level. California’s Legislature also needs to examine how the state recycles plastic, he added—especially when it is shipped off to other countries.
Gildersleeve echoed Khamis’ point about focusing on recycling.
“I’d like to see a recycling hotline," he said. “If people are confused about how to recycle whatever things they have they can [find] ... where these things are supposed to go.”
Ravel said that while her fellow candidates offered good suggestions, none dealt with some of the more serious polluters, such as semi-trucks that travel far distances.
“What we need to do is figure out through investment in the state ... how [we can] retain more solar, more wind energy and how to have better batteries that can be utilized for those larger trucks,” she said.
Campos said she wants to focus on creating inclusive environmental policy. “Not every individual can afford a brand new hybrid,” she said. “Maybe there’s incentives for individuals who want to buy a used hybrid.”
The statewide primary election takes place on March 3, 2020. For more information visit the California Secretary of State's website.