Heat blazed down on the Starbucks’ front-side patio.
This past Saturday, workers from the Milpitas Fire Department sat in a loose circle around Milpitas’ Vice Mayor Marsha Grilli and Councilmember Bob Nuñez.
The mood was casual, allowing for free-flowing conversation, ranging from the topics of public safety, to the addition of new replacement firetrucks, to the inordinate amount of fires that have raged across California lately.
“I’m much better at going out, talking to people, and listening to them, than I am at receiving and reading emails,” said Councilmember Bob Nuñez. “I like to see their faces and expressions.”
This gathering was among the first of many that Vice Mayor Grilli and Councilmember Nuñez plan to host in the coming weeks. Reaching out to various service groups and associations, and inviting them to sit in assorted settings all across Milpitas, Grilli and Nuñez hope to provide people with the opportunity to express their concerns, share their ideas, and ask their most burning questions.
“I think one of the things that the Vice Mayor started last year was the whole budget process that actually had us go out to the community and to employee groups for their input on how we’re going to spend our money. We’ve adopted that process and used it. This is an extension of that,” added Nuñez, who has thrown his hat into the ring in the Milpitas Mayoral race, going up against incumbent Mayor Rich Tran and former Mayor Jose Esteves.
Grilli’s also running as an incumbent, in the hopes of holding onto her City Council seat. For her, these events are a staple of her community engagement process:
“You get a better opportunity if you go to them. And give them the opportunity to sit down and talk to you in a relaxed environment,” said Vice Mayor Grilli. “It makes a big difference. We put this together because it’s an opportunity for us to talk to the people we represent. And to listen to them rather than them having to listen to us.”
Just a few days before this casual coffee gathering, Captain Reggie Sutton, who has been with the Milpitas Fire Department for the past 30-and-a-half years, was part of a strike team sent out to fight the fire in Mendocino. He had been away for 14 days straight, and just returned home a few days prior. He spoke of having to work nonstop, sometimes for 24 hours at a stretch:
“You could be on the hillside for 24 hours. If you get a chance to sleep, good; but most times you don’t. If you do, you’re sleeping on the ground, or the engine, or in your seat, trying to get comfortable,” said Captain Sutton. “We had to do fire watch out there…sometimes at 3 or 4 in the morning, driving down country roads. And even if we weren’t actively fighting the fire at night, we’d have to stay awake, especially when the fire’s at its worst. There are embers and hot spots. We’d be up practically the whole night. We’d take a rest period, dinner, or lunch break, but were working non-stop for the most part.”
But despite what he’d just gone through, and the fact that he’d actually hit a much-needed day off, Sutton made the two-hour drive from his Elk Grove home to attend the gathering.
“We try to be proactive in the community. The forum gives us an opportunity to answer questions from the community and to give our side of things,” said Sutton. “We want to be upfront, honest, and truthful. To keep the line of communication open.”
After a couple hours of conversation, as the circle started breaking apart and parting handshakes started being traded, Councilmember Nuñez said, “They gave us good input. That was amazing how many of the firefighters came, and brought their families. They brought their families to talk about what happens in their home city. For me, that was important. And I think it was a good start for us.”
With their guests all gone, Nuñez and Grilli stuck around for awhile. Behind them, on the other side of the steel fence lining the Starbucks porch, Milpitas traffic whizzed by in blurs, taking on various speeds and volumes. These are the ones whose votes they seek — whose stamp of approval they need to continue serving.
Just the same, campaign or no campaign, Bob Nuñez always seeks a connection with his community. “We’ve talked about doing this even if it’s not an election year,” he mentioned.
The pair’s next gathering will take place on September 5, at 6:30PM, at Taqueria Las Vegas at 1417 N. Milpitas Blvd. The public is invited to attend.