Judge Thomas Kuhnle’s New Order Means Two-Thirds of Santa Clara Won’t Vote for Councilmembers in 2018

By Robert Haugh

Well, Judge Thomas Kuhnle is making things interesting. And no, that’s not a compliment.

Kuhnle amended his order from yesterday that created six council districts in Santa Clara to help elect Asian candidates.

He now says Districts 2 and 3 will be on the November ballot, as we predicted yesterday. Those are seats without an incumbent running. They’re open because disgraced former Councilman Dominic Caserta resigned and Councilman Pat Kolstad moved to Washington state and won’t run for re-election. Candidates must be residents of Districts 2 and 3. Only voters in Districts 2 and 3 will be able to be council candidates in the November 2018 election.

Here’s the bad news: two-thirds of Santa Clarans won’t get a chance to vote for a council candidate in 2018.  Voters in districts 1, 4, 5, and 6 will have to wait until 2020. So will candidates who live in those districts.

Santa Clara Six Districts
The six districts proposed by the City of Santa Clara.

Here’s what the City’s press release says:

This will mean that only a fraction of eligible voters who live in Santa Clara will be able to elect councilmembers in November 2018, whereas prior to the court’s order, all eligible voters could vote for all of the council members.

The good news is everyone in the Mission City will get a change to vote for Mayor. That election is still citywide and Mayor Lisa Gillmor is up for re-election. That’s not likely to be competitive though.

Here’s another interesting thing in the City’s press release:

In compliance with the court’s order, the City has already transmitted the required data regarding district boundaries to the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters.

Our sources in the County building say the Registrar of Voters’ staff is going crazy over Kuhnle’s order that came to them really late in the election cycle. Registrar Shannon Bushey is having people work seven days a week to try and draw the new districts correctly. Wow.

One high level source called it a “train wreck.”  People who know the Registrar’s history don’t get why Kuhnle rushed an office known for making big mistakes. In fact, a state audit last year says they screwed up drawing district boundaries — and that was when they weren’t rushed by a late order.

We’ll have to keep our fingers crossed. So will Kuhnle, because he’ll look really bad if things are screwed up due to his late order. And what if no Asian candidates get elected soon? That will mean a judge with no real political experience decided to single handedly change the Santa Clara city charter for nothing.

Thomas Kuhnle
Santa Clara County Judge Thomas Kuhnle





  1. […] At the May 7, 2019, meeting, the City Council decided to put a proposed charter amendment on the November 3, 2020, general election ballot. This was because last November, 70 percent of Santa Clarans voted and said they should decide if and how districts are created in our city.  We prefer that to Judge Thomas Kuhnle’s decision that concluded that Mission City voters are racist. […]

  2. The judge’s ruling seems entirely fair, including having only district 1 & 2 vote for their council member. And no, just because an Asian or Latino community member doesn’t win this upcoming election in those districts doesn’t mean the judgement was incorrect or a failure. Such narrow minded arguments for maintain the status quo is exactly why this judgement was needed. It’s time to unrig the system and allow the whole community to have a say in government.

  3. Anthony Becker, I read your comments and understood it the best I could. I do take an exception to one of your comments:
    ” Faces like Kevin Park, Suds Jain, Raj Chahal, Markus Bracamonte, myself, Debbie Bress, Karen Hardy, Eversely Forte, Sumeena Usman, all deserve places on council”
    Wrong! People are not given a seat on the council because someone says they deserve it. They work for it and win a seat in an election. We all deserve a fair election but don’t deserve a seat we haven’t won.
    As I have said before the concept of a judge deciding the city of Santa Clara is racist because of the people they elect is based on two fallacies.
    1. That all ethnic/racial groups register to vote and turn out in the same proportions. BS
    2. That all ethnic/racial groups vote for people based on their ethnic and racial component.
    This assumes SC residents vote according to race; everyone, not just whites but black, Latinos and Asians, all vote by race.
    I would be insulted if this person knew me or my neighbors. Might be just as well he is a judge since he is blind.

  4. FYI neither Caserta nor Kolstad lived in the areas bounded by the District 2 or District 3 boundary lines, so they could not have run in those districts.
    It will be good to have some representation on the council from council members living in those two districts. To my knowledge as a 30 year resident of Santa Clara, we’ve never had anyone on council who has lived in the areas bounded by those two districts. It will be good to have people on council who know the effects of the massive developments approved by our council on parking, traffic, and infrastructure as well as people on council who are personally experiencing the garbage/food scrap pilot program.

  5. It amazes me how we continue to fight this
    What is so wrong with 6 districts ?
    Why didn’t they throw another council seat in this year is odd. Because in theory 3 in 2018 then 3 in 2020 with a mayor elected in 2018 would make better sense. They could have selected the 3rd to run based on the lowest percentage of win in last election, basically someone would have had to make up for the changes to the sequence, but it extends their time on council not contained to the term limits.
    When the city was pushing Measure A, one council seat would have still had the short 2 year term to make up for the changes in the two districts. So I don’t see why they just didn’t do this here so it would debunk your statement on how lots of Santa Clara won’t be able to vote. if it was 3 districts and a mayor that is 4 “seats” (individual districts and as a city elect a mayor) in 2018 a larger majority of city voting. Yet 2020 would have meant that the city majority would only be voting for less then only have 3 council districts. Yet I understand also why 2020 would have more council seats considering it’s a presidential election year.
    I’m my opinion we shoulda have done 7 districts with alternating mayor. It was that way once before Gary Gillmor came along. Yet if it went that with 7 districts, Lisa Gillmor would have been remained as mayor, and she would have for sure been elected in her district. Yes she lives in same district as another council member, yet based on that other council members Debi Davis or Teresa O’Neill they would have been termed out in 2020, leaving Lisa the heir to the dirstict and could have been the first representation of that district and likely be the first of the rotating mayor. She would most likely be mayor again on that rotating basis considering she would most likely win re-election in her district and be in for 8 years since the retroactive does not apply to Lisa. She was appointed mayor to fill out Matthews term.
    Kathy Watanabe, Teresa O’Neill would have been rotated as mayor, I could see it happening.
    But instead we went with 6, so why is everyone still up in arms. Other cities have adapted, and what’s so wrong about having multiple districts and the opportunity for someone new to serve someone diverse voted on by the people not picked by council. Power to the people, not the council.
    The judges actions in this are valid, this has happened before, the only changes done to our charter can be done by the voters or the ruling or a judge.
    So yes this was all rushed, yes it could have its flaws but this had to happen this had to come sooner or later.
    With Dominic Castera gone, and Kolstad on way out, we can change the face of this entire council, and that includes the Gillmor alliance. Faces like Kevin Park, Suds Jain, Raj Chahal, Markus Bracamonte, myself, Debbie Bress, Karen Hardy, Eversely Forte, Sumeena Usman, all deserve places on council, new ideas, new perspectives less puppeteering and more independent thought.
    Think of it this way
    Gillmor, Mahan, Caserta, Kolstad all have been in office for a long time. Since I was 7 years old, it has been a repeating pattern. Between Gillmor, Mahan, Caserta, Kolstad that’s is a total of 66 years combined, I am 33, that is double my life in years of combined service.
    Mahan- 22 years- (could go up to 2 or 6 more years, 24 or 28 years)
    Gillmor -16 Years (still going could add up to 8 more years to be 23 years)
    Kolstad-16 Years (done!)
    Caserta- 12 years (Done!)
    So districts I feel is the right thing.

    If you count prior generations of Repeating family names, it’s created political Dynasties here In Santa Clara

    DIstricts can help change that

  6. We’ve had Asian candidates. Now we just need to get the Asians out to vote for them. This is a lot of manipulation just for fairness? Seems racist, what about blacks and Latinos?

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