2020 elections usher in new era for Santa Clara

Santa Clara County ballots are currently at 99 percent counted. View official election results here. 

Santa Clara’s first district-based elections brought an end to Mayor Lisa Gillmor’s well-documented control over the city as voters expressed dissatisfaction with much of the status quo.  Themes of the election centered around financial mismanagement, citing the city’s $33 million budget deficit and criticism of excessive spending (49ers, staff salaries, litigation); and redistricting, including their expensive appeal of court-ordered district elections and the defeated Measure C districting counterproposal backed by the Mayor.  The city’s feud with the 49ers and lost revenue due to the imposed curfew (from $2.3 million annually to $9,000 in 2019) was a recurring thread; owner Jed York spent close to $3 million on the city‘s council race, representing roughly 90 percent of total spending in these races, and has been criticized by opponents as trying to create ‘Yorkville.”   

Two members of the current Planning Commission, Suds Jain and Anthony Becker, were elected to Council; both have long service records with the city.  In District 6, millennial Becker, recently chair of the Planning Commission and a strong personal advocate of affordable housing, bested longtime Santa Claran Rob Mezzetti, despite the latter’s endorsement from outgoing councilmember Debi Davis and longstanding establishment ties. Becker and Jain together campaigned for additional affordable housing units for the Gateway Crossings project.   

For the District 5 seat, vacated by Patti Mahan earlier this year for medical reasons, Suds Jain handily outperformed his opponent, retired police lieutenant Bob O’Keefe. Jain lives in Santa Clara’s ‘old quad’ across from Santa Clara University and is thus disqualified from voting on the city’s downtown revitalization projects; the issue was a major campaign theme for O’Keefe.  In past development matters, Jain has advocated for robust developer concessions and traffic and environmental mitigation. 

In District 4, incumbent Teresa O’Neill, a Gillmor ally, lost her seat to Kevin Nara Park, who has served on a wide range of city commissions in recent years, and campaigned on neutrality, curbing spending and supporting the city’s high-density vision in Santa Clara North.   

Kathy Watanabe in District 1 kept her seat by a comfortable margin. Watanabe, North Santa Clara’s first representative on Council, serves on various transportation, recycling and water committees and has been open-to-favorable to development in the Santa Clara North area in recent years.   

The new council will first be tasked with filling the two Planning Commission seats vacated by Jain and Becker.  Becker’s seat was a partial term ending June 30, 2021; Jain’s term was slated to end June 30, 2023.  

The City overwhelmingly supported the reelection of City Clerk Hosam Haggag, who narrowly defeated O’Keefe in 2018 and became the City’ first minority to be elected to the role, and Chief of Police Pat Nikolai, who replaced former chief Mike Sellers and was first elected during a special election in March 2020. Each ran unopposed, and each garnered more votes than the district candidates combined.  

Nearly three-fourths of Santa Clara voters approved a 4% Transient Occupancy Tax increase from its current 9.5% rate.  Billed as a remedy to the city’s fiscal issues, the rate makes Santa Clara the least attractive of its South Bay counterparts: Sunnyvale (12.5%), Los Gatos (12%), Cupertino (12%), Mountain View (10%) and San Jose (10%).