Sunday, October 31, 2010

Candidate recommendations

As we're on the eve of the election, I felt it prudent to get this posted. I've been avoiding doing this mostly because as a reporter, I'm supposed to stay neutral on issues or candidates. But as a citizen of our fine community, it's rather difficult for me to just sit by the sidelines and not speak up, which is probably a reason why I'm a reporter in the first place.

Recommendations:
School Board Race

  • Andrew Ratermann (Incumbent) - Santa Clara Unified School District; Trustee Area 3
  • Pat Flot (Incumbent) & Anna Strauss - Santa Clara Unified School District; Trustee Area 2
My reasons? I think Ratermann, although a bit verbose at times, is the best candidate for Trustee Area 3. He's intelligent, gives a darn about what happens, isn't running for a political cause (or for political revenge) and is looking out for the best interests of students.

For Trustee Area 2, I think Anna Strauss & Pat Flot are the two best candidates. Flot is articulate, gives a darn about what happens, isn't running for a political cause (or for political revenge). The same goes for Strauss. When I first met her a few years back, I wondered why she wasn't on the school board or running for it. I think she'll be a fresh face and voice on the board.

One BIG problem I have with Christine Koltermann is that Santa Clara Plays Fair has endorsed her, yet she's a member of their board. That just isn't right - see my previous posting about the Sniff Test - Part II. What's even more amusing is she happily lists them as endorsing her on her webpage, but fails to include that she's on the board and then goes on to state that SCPF believes in "...ethical government, transparency in governance..."

One BIG problem I have with Ina Bendis is that two of her endorsements come from fellow board members on Mission City Democratic Club - see my previous posting about the Sniff Test

A problem I have with Christine Koltermann, Ina Bendis and Adela Saadat is that they appear to have copied from each other.

On either their webpage (in Bendis' case) or on the SmartVoter.org page (for Koltermann and Saadat) their ballot statements all include these key words or phrases:
  • fiscal responsibility
  • administrative accountability
  • transparency in governance
  • increased educational opportunities/options/choices
  • supporting (retaining) teachers and staff
  • narrow the achievement gap
Those are all great ideas, but for all three of them to have essentially the same ideas, down to the same wording sounds like they should go back to school to learn why plagarism is bad before they consider running for office.

A problem I have with Ashish Mangla is when he states one of his top priorities is to: "Increasing Education standards of the Santa clara city schools along with incentivizing children from economically weaker section of our community"

Except the SCUSD has schools in Sunnyvale and Alviso. Does this mean he'll just worry about Santa Clara schools and those schools in Sunnyvale and Alviso can get by on their own? Also, exactly what does "Incentivizing Children" mean? Is he proposing the district pay students to go to school?

City Council
  • Mayor: Jamie Matthews
This one was looking like it would be a difficult choice, but one candidate made it easy. I'm recommending a vote for Jamie Matthews. Say what you will about him, I think he'll be more open and honest than Chris Stampolis. Stampolis appears to be a very gifted chameleon candidate - he's able to provide answers he thinks a target audience wants to hear. I've never really seen Matthews do that - he pretty much states his opinion whether you like it or not.

Also, back in 2008, when Matthews was running for Council, I related this story. Even though time has passed, I still think this is relevant in talking about Jamie's character:

"One thing that impressed me about Matthews is his turning down free press. After Hurricane Katrina hit, Matthews and several other Code Enforcement Officers went to New Orleans to help identify houses that were still habitable. Upon his return, I told him the paper could run a story on this, but to my surprise, he declined. He explained that he was just doing what he could to help the victims and didn't want to be in the spotlight. In starting his Council race this time, I offered to do a story on some website shenanigans committed by a former Council member and he declined. Both stories would have shown him to be an upstanding guy but he turned them down. Why tell the story now? I related these stories to a Santa Clara resident who said she felt they should be known."

City Council Seat 2

  • Mohammed Nadeem
Nadeem answered a series of questions I put to him that unfortunately, won't make it into an issue of the Weekly. However, the questions I asked of him are questions any Santa Clara resident can ask of a candidate. I'll post the questions and candidates answers soon. Although Nadeem didn't impress me with his answers, I think getting a fresh face on Council could be a good thing.

City Council Seat 5
  • Teresa O'Neill
Disclaimer:
  • I signed Teresa O'Neill's campaign filing statement - not because I'm now supporting her but because she needed a signature and I thought it would be kind of neat thing to do. Since that time, I've emailed and chatted with Teresa - she answered the questions I mentioned above - but we've never discussed the issues or much of anything else.
  • I've used Patricia Mahan as an attorney. My wife is quite fond of Patty and has already disagreed with me over this posting. I think Patty is a fine candidate and as a reporter, I've been duly impressed by the gravitas she's displayed sitting on the dais.
That said, I'm in favor of Teresa, in part because of the apparent loophole in how the term limits law applies. I'm sure if elected, Mahan will do a fine job, but I feel term limits should take priority. I think Teresa O'Neill will bring a fresh perspective to the City Council.

The Brown Act and Ina Bendis

Ok. This is not my writing, although I do like the style of this.

This was written by a soon-to-be participating blogger, "Fly on the Wall" on the Around Santa Clara blog, but since the election is almost here and Mr. Fly still can't post, I felt it prudent to get this posted sooner than later. Apparently did Mr. Fly in his email to me asking if I could post it for him (her?) in the meantime. (If I find out Mr. Fly is really a Miss Fly (Mrs. Fly?), I'll correct my salutations).

The appeal of this seems to be how Mr. Fly has managed to capture the spirit and style of Ina Bendis' speaking style.

Once the permissions issue is resolved, then I'll delete this post and allow Mr. Fly to re-post it.

Below is the work of one, Mr. Fly in response to my article about the School Board issuing a "Strong Disapproval" of Ina Bendis.

---------------------------
Mr. Sacks,

What you didn't include in your article was what I see as Bendis' biggest problem. Her commitment to verbosity.

"I should have kept my mouth shut" was a laudable defense, although she rarely will follow that strategy. Instead, she acts more like a crafty petulant child, who caught red-faced with her hand in the cookie-jar intones, that she has done nothing wrong.

Rather, it was the fault of her parents for having purchased the cookies in the first place and then for having placed them in the cookie jar and for not properly securing the cookies in such a way that would truly prevent her from gaining access.

Merely placing them on a high shelf in the pantry actually has forced her to risk life and limb by climbing in an unsafe manner to get to the cookie jar. She, is merely acting the way her parents intended her to act by doing the aforementioned grievances with the cookies and the cookie jar. Had her parents not wanted her to attempt to sneak cookies from the cookie jar, then she would not have been forcibly placed into such a position where her parents are now accusing her of lying, which "quite clearly" (one of Bendis' favorite phrases), she is not doing since quite clearly, this is the behavior her parents sought from her.

On top of that, it should also be pointed out that Mommy and Daddy actually regularly break the law by driving over the posted speed limit, and for not properly stopping before making a right turn on a red light. Furthermore, even though Daddy promised that he would stop smoking, in reality, he has been smoking in the bathroom and blowing the smoke out the window and then washes his clothing and takes a shower to mask the smell of cigarette and cigar smoke.

Additionally, Mommy and Daddy also smoke marijuana on a regular basis in the privacy of their room even though it is quite clearly, a violation of the law and neither of them has a valid medicinal need for it.

Finally, while Mommy and Daddy are smoking their dope, she is left to sit in a dirty diaper as they are both too stoned to know that they are quite clearly violating the Brown Act. This has left her no choice other than to report Mommy and Daddy to child and family services. The social worker assigned to my case was unaware about Mommy and Daddy's heinous actions and she informed them of that."

The “Sniff Test" - Part II

Santa Clara Plays Fair has endorsed Christine Koltermann in her bid for Santa Clara Unified School Board, Trustee Area 2.

Except, "Christine Koltermann... (is) a Board member of Santa Clara Plays Fair..."

Santa Clara Plays Fair's (SCPF) endorsement of Koltermann smells funny since Koltermann is on the board. To be truly objective and easily pass the sniff test, no board member would (or should) ask for, or receive the endorsement of an organization for which they serve on the board.

Also, SCPF includes a link to Koltermann's webpage, but they don't do that for the other candidates. That's really just childish and a way to avoid allowing people to find answers for themselves.

The Sniff Test

Candidate Recommendations – Do They Pass the “Sniff Test”?

As the election season begins its last week, fliers imploring people to vote for candidates continue to pour into and overflow residents’ mailboxes. Each one extols the virtues of their particular candidate or a particular measure.

The Sniff Test
Some of these groups hope voters won’t give the fliers the “Sniff Test”. The “Sniff Test” is a way to literally see how a particular position “smells.” If it seems less than scrupulous, then it fails the sniff test. For example, in the last election cycle, PG&E was the primary backer of Proposition 16 – the “Taxpayers Right to Vote Act”. However, Prop 16 was defeated because voters felt PG&E was really trying to protect their own interests. Essentially, it failed the “sniff test” and a majority of voters said “NO”.

A Local Group
Most of the groups behind measures or candidates are a conglomeration of letters and names people think they’ve heard of before, which adds an air of legitimacy to their mailings. The same theory applies to local groups, based in Santa Clara.

One local group is the Mission City Democratic Club (MCDC). The MCDC, as with most politically motivated groups, also has its own slate of endorsements right on the home page of their website. Members of the MCDC have to pay a fee, answer a questionnaire and ask to be considered for endorsements. The Board of the MCDC then decides who should receive their endorsement. However, delving a little deeper, their endorsements raise some questions as people are asking, “Do the MCDC’s recommendations pass the sniff test”?

The Board
  • The President of the board is Chris Stampolis, current candidate for Mayor.
  • The Vice President of the board is Pat Mahan, current candidate for City Council.
  • The Outreach Officer is Dr. Ina Bendis, current candidate for the Santa Clara Unified School District Trustee Area 2.
  • The Secretary/Immediate Past-President is Todd Fitch. He’s not running for any office.
  • The Past-President is Anna Song, wife of Chris Stampolis, current candidate for Mayor.

The Endorsements
The MCDC has endorsed (this is a partial list containing only Santa Clara candidates):
  • Chris Stampolis for Santa Clara Mayor.
  • Dr. Ina Bendis, for SCUSD Trustee Area 2
  • Christine Koltermann for SCUSD Trustee Area 2
  • Adela Saadat for SCUSD Trustee Area 3

The Sniff Test?
MCDC’s endorsement of Stampolis and Bendis smells funny since both Stampolis and Bendis are officers on the board. To be truly objective and easily pass the sniff test, no one on the board would ask for, or receive the endorsement of the MCDC. Look at Pat Mahan. She’s currently Mayor of Santa Clara, is the MCDC's Vice President, is running for City Council, yet she did not receive the MCDC’s endorsement (rumors are she didn't ask for it). The MCDC’s lack of endorsement for Mahan is proper, considering her position on the board.

Addendum

I received an email from Chris Stampolis that stated:

No one pays a fee to seek endorsement by the Mission City Democratic Club.


The Club's Board does not endorse candidates - the membership does. All endorsement votes are taken by secret ballot.

The process was noticed, open and transparent.


I stand corrected... but let's take a closer look...

The fact of the matter - and this is from members of the MCDC - is that the MCDC won't endorse a candidate who isn't a member. And to become a member you have to pay a fee. So maybe no one pays a fee to seek endorsement but they do pay a fee. I mean, the MCDC won't endorse someone who isn't a member, so... perhaps seeking and getting the endorsement of the MCDC is a perk of membership? Like getting a secret decoder ring when you join the Little Orphan Annie's Secret Circle?

Let's take a look at an interesting choice of words - "noticed, open and transparent". Those are supposed to convey the idea that everything was done above board. Noticed to who (or is it whom?)? I don't recall seeing anything published in any newspaper (main stream or not) that the MCDC was going to vote on their endorsements or was seeking candidates to endorse.

As for the membership voting to endorse a candidate and not the board, it still doesn't pass the sniff test to have board members receiving endorsements from an organization.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Questions for Candidates

Early on in the election season, I posted a series of questions to each new candidate hoping to submit a story to the paper. That never happened, in part because of the sloooooow response of some candidates (I'll considering revealing that for a large enough contribution to my favorite charity). I didn't email people currently on the Council or who had served on the Council in the past, since their voting record shows how they felt, whether or not they had reservations at the time.

Here's the questions and my preface to them in the email I sent:

I'm emailing the following list of questions to the candidates who filed papers for this November's City Council elections. It's my hopes to use these answers in a future article in the Santa Clara Weekly about how the different candidates view issues that have affected Santa Clara in the past.

I'm doing this to hopefully provide a more level playing field so the voters can compare the candidates on an issue-by-issue basis.

If you have any questions about this, please feel free to ask.

1. Where did you stand on the proposed stadium for the San Francisco 49ers? Please state why you did or did not support the stadium.

2. What is your opinion of the Fairfield Residential Development? If you had been on the City Council when it first came to Council, would you have voted in favor of the development or against it? Please state your reason(s) for or not supporting it.
3. What is your opinion on the BAREC property? Please state your reason(s) for or not supporting developing the property.

4. What do you think should be done with the Santa Clara Square project?

5. What do you think is the biggest area for improvement in the local government in Santa Clara? What do you think is the best? Why?


And now the answers (these are just copied directly from the emails - no editing has been done):

Mohammed Nadem

1 (The Stadium).
I stand for ‘Yes on J’. I think the City of Santa Clara is uniquely positioned for the Stadium. Santa Claran’s will enjoy uncommon abundance and economic prosperity for a long time to come. The Stadium will enhance City identity.

I support the proposed stadium for the San Francisco 49ers because of the following reasons: No new or increased taxes on city residents; No money from the city’s general fund will be used for the stadium project; 49ers are legally and financially responsible for all cost overruns; long term jobs; Expected millions of dollars in economic benefits; Guaranteed new revenue to our Santa Clara schools and public safety services---Fire and Police, etc.

(Nadeem endorsed Measure J with this statement): "The City of Santa Clara is uniquely positioned for a Stadium. Santa Clarans will enjoy uncommon abundance and prosperity for a long time to come.”

2 (Fairfield)
The Developer of the Gallery on Central Park Project on the former Kaiser Hospital site, Fairfield Residential which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, recently announced that it received investment commitments from the CalSTRS. The new money will help fund operations and real estate acquisitions following Fairfield’s exit from Chapter 11. I think the time has come for the City Council to re-open the issue this year, and explore all options to move forward.

If I had been on the City Council when it first came to Council, I would have voted in favor of the development with a reasonable accommodation of the concerns of the residents and neighbors. I would have the Developer work hard with the City Council in resolving the density, open space, traffic, noise and FAR issues amicably. Given that the City's general plan already specifies higher density development for this parcel, I would find a common ground and resolve the residents and neighbors concerns as we add approximately additional two percent of the City of Santa Clara. We must particularly address required services and public safety issues with an end goal to develop the property by bringing existing land uses into conformance with the proposed City’s General Plan.

3 (BAREC)
I think The 17 acre Bay Area Research and Extension Center (BAREC) property is a treasure to celebrate our past and look for future. I support developing the property.

Having said that I would like to see State performs due diligence as required for remediation of the property in accordance with the RAW and DTSC pending initiation of site development. In particular, soil remediation of hot spots of contamination---with Arsenic, Dieldrin and or any other toxic chemicals whether they are in the middle (and or on the outskirts!) of the property--- as clearly identified and addressed in the EIR are safely and professionally handled.

Furthermore, I think all the stakeholders including Santa Clara Gardens, Charities Housing, Santa Clara Methodist Foundation, and Summerhill Homes (if still part of the development) must make sure---contaminated soil is removed, and the excavated soil is replaced properly. In addition, all dust control measures such as water spray, local air monitoring, and soil sampling after cleanup is completed accordingly.

In addition, attention to detail is warranted as health and safety plan complies with the State and Federal regulations and the City staff is kept duly informed. Finally all the stakeholders must protect the health and safety of onsite workers, residents, neighbors, and the general public---as Public Park, New Apartments for low income and very low-income seniors, Single-Family Homes are successfully built on the property in near future as part of our Land Use Strategy in accordance with the City’s 2010-2035 General Plan.

4 (Santa Clara Square)
What I think we should do---is to find a financially sound and environmentally friendly developer who can not only work with the City Council but also listen to residents and neighbors concerns and address and resolve the issues raised. For all developing Cities---traffic, noise, open space, and essential services---Schools, Police, Fire, etc are growing challenges.

As residents of Santa Clara a ‘Software Valley’ (no more Silicon Valley) we believe in innovation, creation, and abundance. If there is a will, there is a way and SC Square project is no exception. I think together, we must find a solution and develop the property as part of our Land Use Strategy in accordance with the City’s 2010-2035 General Plan.

5 (Area for Improvement)
I think the biggest area for improvement is to manage the ‘growth, change and sustainability’ of the City of Santa Clara. We must create and preserve healthy neighborhoods and ensure a diverse range of employment, housing, public space and investment opportunities with democratic accountability. Our current and new City projects must contribute to the overall fiscal development of the City areas to further enhance the City’s high quality of life and better public health & safety services.

***********************************************************

Chris Stampolis

1 (Stadium)
I endorsed and I voted for Measure J. However, I am very concerned that this project be seen as a City stadium that has just one of its uses for professional football. The community's investment of money and neighborhood impacts need to be managed for maximum City return. We have to be honest about resources and impacts; and we have to be creative to steer a range of uses to the stadium that strengthen our economy. And, we absolutely have to build trust with all our residents so they understand and trust the numbers. Transparency is key so our community has confidence in our leaders.

2 (Fairfield)
I am unlikely to have voted to approve the Fairfield development "as is," given the impact on the surrounding community. I believe in maximizing green space, even if this means building taller. Given our very high renter population, we need to create ownership opportunities for young families, so those growing up in Santa Clara have reasonable opportunities to stay in Santa Clara as adults. Develop? Yes. But we need to embrace smart growth that respects existing communities while still providing growth and green space for the future. Multi-story condo living is not perfect, but it provides a reasonable compromise as Santa Clara urbanizes.

3 (BAREC)
I served on the Planning Commission when BAREC development first was proposed and I advocated strongly to resist large footprint development. The City had all the power to decide the future of this property and I believe we could have been more assertive in retaining more green space. I believe the State was short-sighted to seek sale of the property to private development, though the senior housing component brings value. I was most concerned about the clumsy way public trust was approached - including private meetings that were held with some Councilmembers to build consensus outside of public view.

4 (Santa Clara Square)
We still need multi-story mixed use projects. The Santa Clara Square site still should be developed in a reasonable way that enhances multistory ownership housing opportunities and provides quality retail options that increases the City's tax base and El Camino Real's attractiveness. This is the time to encourage neighbors to discuss future options. I favor respectful transit-oriented development that incorporates creative recreational and other green space.

5 (Area for Improvement)
Four items:

1) Academic partnerships that recognize today's young Santa Clarans need outstanding math, science and language training to thrive in the new economy. From the first bell to the last bell is the responsibility of the school district, but from the last bell to the next first bell is the responsibility of the City. As Mayor I will champion homework centers and enhanced mentoring and tutoring efforts so our City's children have great opportunities to succeed. And, the Mayor must be aware of each school's performance so the City can respond to unique neighborhood challenges.

2) Enhanced international relationships that respond to the current demographics of Santa Clara. We have not had any new sister cities in decades and it is time to formalize relationships with communities in China, India, Korea, Mexico and the Philippines. These efforts will show respect and also spur the types of private investment in Santa Clara necessary to create jobs.

3) The El Camino Real corridor needs serious leadership to upgrade its look to the modern standards Santa Clarans demand. In partnership with landowners, business owners and neighboring residents, we must invigorate retail and create new multistory housing ownership opportunities so young families have the chance to build equity.

4) We must prioritize transparency and trust-building after the passionate stadium campaign. City leadership must make difficult budget and staffing decisions in coming months. As we consider furloughs, cutbacks and project deferrals, we must be fully committed to sharing these processes with all Santa Clara constituents. The decisions are not easy, but we can strengthen a culture of mutual respect and disclosure.


Teresa O'Neill

1 (Stadium)
I feel the 49er stadium project has a lot of merit from the land use perspective and the design is very attractive. But I still have concerns about aspects of the financial model. I voted for the stadium recognizing the positive aspects of the project and believing that the areas of the term sheet that I feel are not sufficiently defined to achieve the financial objectives of the City of Santa Clara can be improved in the final contract. The stadium can be part of an exciting center of Santa Clara, but there is much work to do to develop correctly the entire district, as one of the City's own consultants pointed out.

2 (Fairfield)
As a member of the Planning Commission, I voted against the Fairfield project (at 900 Kiely). While I am not opposed to having denser housing developments in principle, I didn't like many aspects of this project as proposed. While I liked the idea of residents in the apartment buildings being able to park their car at the level where there apartment is because of the interior garage design, I didn't like the unattractive fa├žade of the building being built right up to the sidewalk on Kiely. To me, that was far from the "attractive urban streetscape" Fairfield was describing. I didn't like that Fairfield was proposing to pay additional fees to the City to avoid having to put aside an appropriate amount of the land for real open space. Additional fees won't help alleviate crowding in the existing park space across the street. I didn't like how every little piece of patio or parking strip was counted towards the open space calculation. There were a number of issues with the project, including the sequence in which Fairfield was proposing to build the different housing types, traffic navigation through the development and surrounding neighborhoods, the "paseo" along the southern edge of the property, and what I called "the bridge to nowhere." I would rather have seen some taller buildings clustered at the center of the property, offering condo flats (which are much more practical than townhomes on 3 levels as we get older), surrounded by open space, trees, and gardens.

3 (BAREC)
Having memories of BAREC as an active agriculture research station, I had hopes that some or all of BAREC could be preserved in tribute to our agricultural heritage and as a foothold for urban agriculture in Silicon Valley as one way to improve our lives. While I recognize the need for additional housing in Santa Clara, I believed the BAREC property was unique because of its history and that it had never been developed other than for agriculture. It's not clear to me that the State of California made a real effort, once Santa Clara said it couldn't afford to buy the entire property, to find one or more other public agencies to buy the BAREC acreage for a purpose other than housing. The area surrounding BAREC could really use more open space. I believe Supervisor District 4 is the only district in the County without a County park. Looking just at the merits of the development project as presented to the Planning Commission, I believed that the traffic and safety issues were not dealt with adequately, particularly considering that the City's parcel of land is to be used for a senior housing development. I also had concerns for how the clean-up activities on the soil would be conducted. I realize that it was going to be very difficult to have the entire 17 acres preserved in some form of open space, but I had hopes that a compromise could be found to better meet the needs of the entire community.

4 (Santa Clara Square)
From what I have read, it looks like the SC Square project will probably be on hold until this area comes out of the real estate slump. I think Santa Clara Square can be a nice mixed-use development that can be an asset. The parcel of land is sufficiently deep to allow for more density near the center of the parcel and then step down in height and density as the boundaries with the surrounding neighborhood are reached

5 (Area for Improvement)
I think the Santa Clara city government can improve in how it engages the residents to be involved in our community, in part by making sure that residents have more complete access to information and how the City is making decisions. The residents need to have more confidence that their voices are wanted to be heard and will be listened to.

The City has done an excellent job up to the point of these economic hard times at providing very high quality and diverse services to the residents--public safety, parks and recreation, library, and utilities. We need to assure our financial stability to protect those services which are so valuable to residents and our business community.

************************************

Followup
Some of Stampolis' statements read like platitudes to me so I emailed him follow up questions. However, those answers also read like platitudes as well.

Plus, Stampolis emailed both Carolyn and myself asking for an online retraction to an article Carolyn wrote - http://www.santaclaraweekly.com/1633.html because she stated he did not respond to the questions she asked. In Stamplolis' email, he stated he responded to two rounds of questions when my second round of questions was a follow up in hopes he wouldn't sound like a pandering politician.

However, Carolyn and I weren't working together on any articles and my questions didn't involve the budget in the least, while Carolyn's article did. So I took it as a bit odd that he would email both of us asking for an online retraction even though he never answered Carolyn's questions.