Third Cupertino City Council candidate forum remains civil with heavy focus on housing affordability, development

The third forum for the five candidates for two seats on the Cupertino City Council remained civil Monday evening. Candidates discussed their backgrounds, skill sets, and priorities should they win election.

With voters returning ballots in droves every day now, the election is already well underway. Compared to the forum Friday, which saw pointed personal attacks, Monday’s event stayed mostly focused on issues.

All five candidates – incumbent Mayor Steven Scharf, Planning Commission Chair Kitty Moore, former FUHSD board member Hung Wei, advocate and attorney J.R. Fruen, and Charlene Lee – attended the 90-minute event. The League of Women Voters of Cupertino Sunnyvale hosted the forum, moderated by Tracey Edwards.

It was the second League-hosted event of the campaign. The first event also focused on housing and schools.

Top priorities, if elected

All candidates had the opportunity to state their top three priorities early on in the forum. Scharf focused his answer on the upcoming Regional Housing Needs Allocation or RHNA, homelessness, and fiscal responsibility.

“We are doing well right now but we don’t know the long term effects of COVID on our revenue,” Scharf said.

Moore, acknowledging that she and Scharf are running coordinated campaigns, focused on housing, transit, and fiscal responsibility.

Fruen also discussed housing affordability, community sustainability, and responding to the COVID crisis. He called COVID response “a real opportunity” for the city to support small businesses.

Fitting in with her answers throughout the forum, Lee called out local police and repeated claims that homeless people do not live at the city’s encampments.

Wei called for fiscal responsibility through reduced litigation costs, neighborhood integrity, and environmental leadership.

Housing affordability, development, and Vallco

As has been the case in many recent Cupertino elections, Vallco redevelopment featured prominently at many points.

All candidates promised to release detailed accounting of litigation costs around Vallco within 60 days of their election.

Scharf said that the city needs “to elect council members that will act in the best interest of the city.”

Moore, who sued and lost the case against the SB 35 approval Vallco, said she wished the city had challenged SB 35’s constitutionality.

Other candidates took a different tack. Fruen called for an approach that puts the city back in the driver’s seat.

“If we don’t plan for the development that we want or can tolerate then we will get someone else’s vision,” Fruen said.

Future city governance

The candidates were asked about the city’s financial picture and how they would make council meetings more accessible and transparent. Cupertino City Council meetings now regularly run past midnight.

While all candidates acknowledged the difficult fiscal road ahead, they took different approaches for ensuring viability.

Wei called for spending less on costly litigation and for working with unions. To cut down council meeting times, she said members should get answers from city staff in advance.

Scharf said he wants to examine how the city can get more property tax revenue back from the county. He maintained that closed session council meetings aren’t his desire but a required aspect given circumstances.

Fruen pushed back on the closed sessions, calling them the result of “legal adventurism.”

Moore advocated potential opportunities for working with neighboring cities on public works and seeing where redundant programs exist.

Parcel taxes and CUSD

The financial struggles of Cupertino Union School District also featured prominently. Four of the five candidates – except Lee – advocated for some parcel tax extension. However, Moore and Scharf think the city should move to a per square foot approach. Wei and Fruen advocate for an extension of the current structure.

Either approach would require 2/3 majority to pass, a significant lift. Lee said that taxes are already too high on residents.

Pledge for a clean campaign

All five candidates pledged, from Monday on, to refrain from personal attacks and run issues-focused campaigns.

At more than one point, Scharf referred to Fruen and Wei as developer controlled. He called himself and Kitty Moore the “resident focused” candidates.

Wei pushed back hard on what she called bullying efforts from other candidates.

“Ask me to my face, ‘do you take developer money?’ No … look at who donates to me: residents, businesses, and working families… I’m a local girl,” Wei said.

“This attack on my integrity hurts me. Do not continue to bully me,” she added.

Voters can return their ballots by the U.S. Postal Service, at a drop box, or at a vote center. To see a list of official drop boxes and vote centers, click here.