SPECIAL EDITORIAL: The Future of Santa Clara

By Robert Haugh

I’m writing my first special editorial for an election, ever. I’m doing it because I think there’s an important vote on the March ballot.

Measure C is about creating three Council districts for six Council Members. It’s really simple.

We’ll get to vote every election cycle for a Council candidate. It’ll be every other year with six districts.

We’ll be represented by two people, instead of one. That’s a good thing especially if you have a Council Member who doesn’t have the time or has an illness and can’t attend several meetings.

Candidates will still get to run in districts and not citywide. That helps cut down costs. It helps grassroots campaigns, too.

Those are good things and worth voting “yes” for.

But Measure C is about more than that. Some people are making it about race.

They will use words like “racially polarized voting” and “voting rights.” But really, what they’re saying is that Santa Clara voters are racist.  And I think that’s just wrong.

Santa Clarans are Not Racists

There have been a lot of comments on Facebook and on this site about racism. I’ve lived in the Mission City for over 35 years. I’ve covered news and politics here for about 15 years. I can tell you that Santa Clarans are not racist.

We live in a racially and economically diverse city. We don’t have neighborhoods dominated by this group or that group. That’s one of the reasons why it was really hard for a court to create an “Asian” Council district in Santa Clara.  Because of a lawsuit, Judge Thomas Kuhnle had to lower the legal standards and create small districts. That’s why some legal experts think Santa Clara will win the court appeal.

Measure C opponents say small districts are important to help minority candidates. That’s why Raj Chahal got elected in 2018. But they forget that same year in another small district, Karen Hardy, a white woman, beat Sam Kumar, an Asian man. Kumar also spent almost 10 times what Hardy did.

And they must forget that in 2018, Santa Clarans elected Hosam Haggag as City Clerk. He’s the first Muslim-American candidate to be elected in Santa Clara County. And he did it by winning citywide — not in a small district, and against white candidates.

Santa Clarans vote for the candidate’s qualifications, not their skin color.

The 49ers are Trying to Control the City Council, Again

As many people know, the 49ers have put in over $300,000 to oppose Measure C. As far we know, they don’t really care about “voting rights.” They say they do. And local reporters just repeat it. But the team has never supported “voting rights” before by spending a lot of money. So it makes you wonder. They’ve supported candidates in the past, almost always white candidates.

What we do know is that the 49ers want to control the Council. And they want to change the stadium curfew. They can make a lot more money at the stadium that way. They don’t really care about Northside neighborhoods or the quality of life of our residents.

Thanks to the work of City Clerk Haggag, the 49ers were forced to report their spending. But it looks like they still violated the Dark Money Ordinance. (see Editor’s Note below).

It’s not like they haven’t tried to use dark money before. In 2016, the 49ers were connected to BluPAC. They tried to win Council races that year and take control of the Council. But they failed.

Let’s hope the 49ers’ dark money effort fails again. It’s important for Santa Clarans to be in charge of Santa Clara, not a billion dollar NFL football team.

So, I’ll be voting “yes” on Measure C. It’s good for the future of Santa Clara. That’s what we all should care about.

Editor’s Note: There will be a “town hall” on the Dark Money Ordinance.  City Clerk Haggag will provide info and answer questions. It’s Monday, February 24, at 7 p.m. You can join a conference call, dial-in, or watch online. Here’s a flyer with all the info.

12 comments

  1. As a practical matter it seems to me that 6 districts is cheaper to campaign in compared to 3 districts. I commend Gillmor, Hardy and others for holding the Niners to the stadium agreement. With the malfeasance by the Niners, the Chamber and at the I-Swim Center this ship needs a good captain and crew. If we need to organize a larger group, so be it.

    Another CVRA lawsuit, however, I don’t think we need.

  2. Thanks so much Robert, well said. As a long time Santa Claran, I appreciate your point of view.

    Suds, There is another component. People have to agree with your views and trust you. You can be on committees and knock on every door, to get elected you need a following.

  3. Thank you Robert for writing this, as I see it if the Niners are sinking money into Measure C they have a reason for doing it. Why they have to dabble in politics is for one reason only they are protecting their ‘assets’ their financial assets, schemes to hide money, or profit more. Whatever it is its not to make a difference in our city – its ALL ABOUT THEM – THEIR MONEY – They don’t care about US they have reneged on every promise, Let’s remember a few – We will STICK to the Curfews (oh the Bands went past the Curfews not us), We will give the Schools Money (but we will get the Tax Assessor to change that so we Pay LESS To the Schools), We will bring Employment to the Area (not before we don’t pay a living wage in fact lets skim our workers), We will Let the SOCCER people Keep their Grounds (but Let us Park our VIP cars during Super Bowl on them) and (Fight to take over the Soccer Park). We will give the City a Community Room in the Stadium aka somewhere in the Basement with no windows and No access and where we STORE OUR THINGS. You will Make Money from Non NFL games … WHAT A JOKE THAT ONE IS >>> Every event has lost money recently. YEH LETS BE YOUR FRIEND IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD – MR ROGERS has more credibility than MR YORK. MAYBE if the Niners hadn’t put their NAME to this MEASURE I might have Voted No but Now I’m Voting YES !! OH And I”M a SC racist I don’t like the Color of RED BLACK OR GOLD.

    • Well said fellow SC Racist. How can people vote for something that will hand the city over to a corporation? With their head in the sand, maybe, or do many that promote the No campaign hope to get something out of it?

    • Robert, thank you for articulating so many great points all in one short article. I will vote Yes on Measure C.

      Crazy as it sounds, I did cheer for the 49er’s during the recent Super Bowl. So you can still be a fan, and at the same time be 100% against whatever the current owner wants, the two are totally different.

      “Vote Yes on Measure C, bring back Eddie D.”

      Burt

  4. I would like to remind people that Sam Kumar was a carpet bagger. He got an apartment in Santa Clara just before the election and barely spent any time there. Also he had never served on any commissions. Karen Hardy is a long time resident who was a planning commissioner and is a teacher at Wilcox. She knows the City and its residents well. Sam accused Karen Hardy of causing poor test scores in SCUSD which wasn’t true AND City Council has almost no control over schools in Santa Clara. He simply didn’t get it. Karen Hardy had also run for City Council before. So despite Sam Kumar’s money, Karen Hardy was clearly the better candidate. Finally, Karen Hardy and I walked precincts to oppose measure J. The 49ers outspent us 500:1 and that’s why we have the stadium which has become such a headache for the City. We need thoughtful candidates who think carefully about the issues. Karen is one of those.

    As chair of the Charter Review Commission, I voted against measure C. Three districts will cost a candidate MORE money than running in 1/6th of the City. VOTE NO.

    • Suds, what you say about why Karen won is not relevant. According to the plaintiffs and the judge the fact that she is white and Sam is not makes you a racist. We are all racist because a judge said so.
      That’s one reason I am very offended by the ruling and the actual basis of the charge.
      And the fact that a no vote furthers the niners ability to take over the council screams at me to vote yes.

      • If you are offended by the judge’s ruling, why do you support Measure C over Six districts?
        You are just proving the court correct. You get that, right?

      • I urge everyone to read the CVRA. It says that at large elections are essentially bad. No City has every won against a CVRA lawsuit. Districts are safe harbor against CVRA lawsuits and single member district are bullet-proof. So the judge ruled per the CVRA. I’m dismayed that so many other Charter cities figured this out and just went to districts by ordinance which limited their financial liability to $30K but Santa Clara decided to fight. Santa Clara is in for $4 MILLION already. Wouldn’t it just be so easy to follow what the judge ordered and pass 6 districts by ordinance.

        • Finally found some common ground (I think) for supporters and opponents of Measure C. Shouldn’t the City at least get a second legal opinion before continuing burning money on the appeal, defending measure c and peculiar opinions the City Attorney recently rendered (eg, that Measure C will revert to at large voting because the City Charter was no changed?).
          Anyone knows that when a portion of any document is found illegal, that portion at least is dead. It’s dead. Full stop. Charter, Contract an illegal clause in your mortgage, whatever. It’s a Marbury v. Madison thing. The City Attorney’s opinion in this regard is out there and in and of itself. He was obviously was wrong on the underlying litigation which cost the City $4MM to date.
          Getting a second opinion is just good practice in a case like this.

    • I’m not completely happy with either choice on Measure C, but on balance, I plan to vote YES. I think it’s wrong to reduce the voting power of all Santa Clara voters (see below) in exchange for only a tiny benefit to a very small number of candidates, particularly when there is so little evidence that any particular group in Santa Clara is hurt more than another. There may be more justification for some of the “NO” arguments in jurisdictions that are far more segregated than Santa Clara is, but we shouldn’t be penalized for situations that exist elsewhere.

      Voting NO would almost definitely leave us with a City Charter that is inconsistent with court mandates, presumably triggering additional court challenges and related costs. Court challenges could also happen for other reasons by voting YES, depending on the outcome of the current appeal of the court’s decision.

      In the 2018 Santa Clara Council election, one of the candidates essentially ran on a platform of “MY district FIRST!” I want elected officials that care about the whole city and region, not just one district, and can work with other Council members to create mutually beneficial solutions to the many complex problems we face. The more districts we have, the more likely it will be that selfish, unproductive attitudes like that will surface and the harder it will be to get even routine business accomplished.

      Suds wrote, “Three districts will cost a candidate MORE money than running in 1/6th of the City. VOTE NO.” Not so fast. There are other factors to balance against this.

      Yes, it’s probably true that running in a larger district would cost more than running in a smaller district, but let’s look at that a little deeper. Karen Hardy won in one of 6 districts in 2018 by spending only slightly more than $3000. If there were only 3 districts, she might have hypothetically had to spend closer to twice as much – maybe $6500 – to win. But even that ignores a lot economies of scale and fixed costs of running a campaign. The actual difference would presumably have been smaller.

      Suppose it does cost a little more for the candidate to run in a larger district. What are the negative tradeoffs of having 6 (smaller) districts instead? For one, in a 6 district configuration, (current local law by court order) each voter can vote for only the mayor position and ONE of the 6 Council candidates in a 4 year period. In a 3 district configuration, as could happen by voting YES on Measure C, each voter could vote for the mayor position and TWO Council candidates for their district in a 4 year period.

      Issues that affect Santa Clara voters usually don’t stop at district or city boundaries. Things like housing, traffic, stadium, public power, economic and environmental policies typically affect all of us. It’s therefore important that we have good elected officials for ALL Council positions, not just for our own district. Neither choice for Measure C gives us the same choices we had in pre-2018 years (each voter being able to do staggered voting for all 7 Council seats) but voting YES at least gives each voter more choices in this regard than by voting NO. That may be the best we can do, given the constraints of the court order that forced the switch to districts in the first place. (Stay tuned for the results of the pending appeal of that court decision and what it may mean for the future.)

      Also, I’m not sure I want it to be trivial for someone to run for Council. If a candidate for Council doesn’t have the time or energy to run in more than a tiny part of the city, how are they going to do all of the other work like the below if elected?

      Very few people have any clue how much work it takes to do a diligent job as a Santa Clara Council member. It’s not just attending a few meetings a month and a few ribbon cuttings a year. Just the twice-monthly Council meetings can come with agenda reports of as much as 1500 pages per meeting. Details in those can really matter. Ask any Council member how much they wish they could change a few paragraphs of decades-long stadium contracts that they never had time to fully digest before they had to vote on them. That’s just one reason I don’t want people to run for Council if they’re not truly serious about the time commitments necessary to do the job well.

      Among other duties, each Council member is also assigned to multiple committees that often deal with issues outside of Santa Clara. Each of those has its own meetings, staff reports, etc. Some of those meetings require business travel to places like Sacramento or the east coast. If a Santa Clara Council meeting runs until 10 PM or later (not unusual) the poor Council member who may be stuck on the east coast that night would then have to stay up on the phone until 1 AM or later (due to time zone differences) to remotely attend that meeting. Work a full day, stay up until 1 AM or later for Santa Clara business, then get up first thing in the morning to continue east coast business or fly home. Councilmember O’Neill is unfortunately painfully familiar with that ritual and deserves a lot more thanks than she gets for repeatedly making those personal sacrifices for the benefit of Santa Clara residents. Other Council members make similar (usually more local) sacrifices to varying degrees and also deserve thanks. If one member isn’t serious enough about the job to make those sacrifices it places an unfair burden on the remaining members.

      Pending court decisions and future challenges could invalidate either of the possible outcomes on Measure C. I certainly don’t have a crystal ball for that. Meanwhile, I plan to vote YES on Measure C.

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