You couldn’t ask for a more distinct set of candidates in this year’s Milpitas mayoral race. As the paperwork has trickled in, five candidates have thrown their hats in the ring (with room for more, as the official filing deadline is still a few days away). With incumbent Rich Tran, former Mayor Jose Esteves (seeking his 7th term), Councilmember Bob Nuñez, and newcomers Voltaire Montemayor and Yoon Lee vying for position, Milpitians will have a lot to pore over when selecting their choice of mayor.
Over the course of several weeks, I spoke with each of the mayoral candidates to hear their pitches and ask them some questions about themselves and the past, present, and future of Milpitas. Here’s what they had to say. (Note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity.)
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Why should Milpitians elect you?
Esteves: Again?… If I’ve hired somebody like you that did a great job you’ll come back and say yes or if you leave we’re gonna say, please come back…I enjoy what I’ve been doing and really giving the best I can without personal agenda or personal benefit, except the salary.
Lee: Because they want a change and they want a better life and I can do it.
Montemayor: Because I’m a man for the people of Milpitas. I’m a man to make Milpitas if not the best, the best city to live in the whole world. I will make this city very peaceful, progressive city. I don’t want any wrongdoings, I will not condone anything. I will sacrifice my life if I need to, to protect anyone in any walk of life.
Nuñez: Three reasons: 1) My track records both at Milpitas Unified as a school board member and my track record as a city council member is that I lead; when I see an issue I deal with it and I leave it better than what it was before I started…A leader needs to know when to lead and when it’s time to let the other persons lead and when just to follow…and I have the experience to do that. 2) One of the things that the city really does need now is they need to be able to go to the table and get things done because they’re seen as the true partner. [Citing the San Jose Airport’s wish to redirect flight patterns over Milpitas:] It was because of the relationships built over the 12–15 years I’ve been in this county that we were able to not allow that to happen. I don’t really know of another person on that council that has those kind of relationships. 3) I am able to pull together teams..That sense of team is something that I strive for because it’s important to me that when people walk out of the room, they feel that they were part of something…And I think as mayor, you give up part of yourself because what you now are is almost sort of like the band director, getting everyone going in the same direction, sort of focused and that’s important. And I think I can do that.
Tran: I’m available 24/7/365. You can reach me via phone at 408-755-5554, on Facebook at “Mayor Rich Tran”, on Twitter and Instagram at “mayor_richtran”, or just call me and I’ll cruise by your home to solve your problems as best I can.
What do you see as the biggest issue for Milpitas in the next 2-5 years and how will you address it?
Esteves: Quality education should always be something that should be a front issue for everybody at the city and at the school…For example I still want to…partner…with the school in looking at the need for a second high school. … Public safety, with the growing population, we have to ensure that Milpitas needs to be the safest if not one of the safest places in the entire area. When you’re a growing city there is a tendency to have [increased] crime rate and we should be very cautious and aware about that and should not let it happen…We have to maintain the safetiness and security of people and families and businesses. Traffic, the challenge there is solutions would be regional solutions, so I would still fight to expand our overpass bridge, the 237…And it’s unfortunate that Milpitas is basically left behind by the county or VTA group in terms of addressing traffic issues like expansion of 237. After all, if we expand 237 it is not all Milpitas that would benefit but the whole region…It’s long overdue.
Lee: Many who have been born and raised here are worried about housing and rent, because our population is a little over 77,000 people who live in Milpitas right now. Every morning when they go back to work from their home, even though they leave at 6 a.m. they get to their office or work around like 7:20 or 7:30. It takes about one and a half hour. So we need to find out what is wrong so we can figure out. It’s not late; we need to start right now, starting from this November. And the second problem they mention about the landfill. I have had a chance to talk to our citizens who live on South Victoria and [inaudible] and those/our citizens complain a lot because when the weather is windy especially like summertime, the air can smell really bad. So I really feel sorry about that…I have some good news for when I elect as a mayor in Milpitas in November, I might have opinions for our citizens for Milpitas.
Montemayor: Housing affordability and homelessness. I’m very good with talking to the homeless people. I’m great with that one. I convinced a lot of people already; I worked at gasoline stations, I worked at the church, and they are around us; I talk to them, I convince them. In other words, I believe I could stop this homelessness around Milpitas.
Nuñez: The biggest issue to Milpitas is going to be its growth and how you manage that growth, both when it comes to housing and transportation, and its ability to fund both of those. It’s gonna take the ability to deal with…a brand new administration, there’s really only two department heads that have been there since I’ve taken office…As a city council, I think that I’d like to see us work together as a team of five.
Tran: Responsible housing development. I have voted yes on zero new market rate housing; I have voted 100% in favor of senior housing and affordable housing. I will continue to wait to approve market rate housing until our school district can alleviate the overcrowding at our public schools…Our high school has the largest high school enrollment for any campus in the county, if not the whole Bay Area. Traffic: It’s really extraordinary how bad traffic is now in Milpitas. We have some of the worst in the U.S. And our elected officials including myself need to do a better job of providing direction on how to alleviate traffic…This August I’ll be presenting my plan and I think it’s a very common sense plan, with engineering that’s involved with every major intersection. Garbage, new waste deal: residents are very upset. They’re paying more for their waste and they’re getting less waste capacity. The waste bins are smaller and the residents are paying more. And there are also more residents that are doing more work to separate the waste…I’m working with city staff to see if we can increase the recycling capacity. I think there’s some great news coming down the pipeline for residents that need to recycle more. I’m also very concerned that the garbage rate will go up next year. [Mayor Tran also commented on the odor issue and water rates; those responses follow herein.]
Milpitas is at the heart of Silicon Valley. A lot of tech companies and tech workers with families live, work, and go to school in Milpitas. How do you feel about this influx of people? How will you ensure the city has the resources and infrastructure to support a fast-growing community?
Esteves: I consider it a positive and a great opportunity and that’s why the city should always be prepared in accommodating in its projection and that’s why when we plan, the general plan update, the city needs to consider the potential influx of people. Like for example, we always have to consider balance of jobs and residents, so the city will not just be a bedroom community or a business community, but it should be balanced enough for people. So with low maintenance and for public safety, with for example, if you have more people there’s a tendency to increase crime rates, and that shouldn’t be the case so as long as we’ve projected all of these things for an influx of people…We have to have a good staff in looking at sources for funds; we have to continuously have an active economic development so we have businesses to support the city, for taxes and many things. Development, smart development or any development, will increase property tax, and that’s why I always oppose housing development within the city…It has to be smart. In part, anything that will benefit both the people and the business should extend their hand; after all, the benefit would be mutual…I would invoke public support, as well…It’s important that residents participate and get involved too, so that we don’t have to spend a lot of city resources; anything that the people can do I want to involve them. Because, in addition to not just helping the resources, I would invoke in them a sense of belonging and a sense of pride in the city…If there were grants, maybe. Because you know, we have to compete between two big cities, Fremont and San Jose, so we cannot afford to just be stagnant; we have to compete and we have to be progressive in a smart way.
Lee: People who for work for the high-tech company, they really work hard, and that’s why we are here, too…I’m gonna bring more company who interest in, let people know that why this company located in our city and if so, hope that they will live in Milpitas. We have some empty space, if I’m right, the Cisco land, so that we need to bring more companies; I have confidence that I can have some companies move down here, but you have to fit in. Before I do that, I’m gonna ask all our citizens of Milpitas first. I’m not going to make a decision with councilmembers. I’m gonna make a decision with our citizens of Milpitas first. If they say no, then no. Right now actually, we don’t need to bring any companies, but if they’re willing to do that, then I’ll have to do it, but we really need to solve the problem, which is the housing and rent…I really want to help and support them; I have some solutions, as well. I want to hear even little boys will whisper from our citizens of Milpitas first, then by decision of myself or a councilmember.
Montemayor: The influx of people depends on how good is the city. I admired the previous administrations; that’s where people wanna live in Milpitas; that’s why we’re struggling sometimes, because a business — sometimes the rate of rent control is going up, because people cannot afford. A good citizen of Milpitas, a good worker of Milpitas, will leave Milpitas because they cannot afford the rent. In other words, people want to come to Milpitas because Milpitas is one of the best places to live in the world…The influx is always there, but we should be fair: It’s not that because I cannot afford and I’m forced out. They’re gonna raise my rent for the house? No, I will protect them. In other words, I’ll, that’s what I could of kind of control, the influx. Milpitas is one of the best places to live in the world; it’s the fulcrum.
Nuñez: Two ways. One way is if you take on economic development like Edesa, you take that department and you send them out, let’s say, so there’s an organization up and down the State that’s called BizNow, that gathers groups together. I go to the one in San Francisco, Orange County, San Diego, L.A., and they talk about sectors within the business community, what they’re doing and where they’re growing, what they’re doing that’s new, what they’re doing that they should stop doing and who goes to those are actual practitioners. And I think we need to be doing that…The other sector is the small business segment. I try to go to as many small businesses as I can. One is they have to know they are [the] backbone. Small businesses here need to have a sense that we are small business-friendly…Economic development [and small businesses], those two things…will keep us where we have adequate dollars coming in so our infrastructure stays at a level that we can sustain.
Tran: Milpitas is one of the fastest-growing cities in America, in the United States. We’re the fastest-growing city in Silicon Valley, we’re the second fastest-growing city in the state of California, and we’re the eighth fastest-growing city in the United States. I don’t like it. When I was growing up in Milpitas, they said, “Rich, don’t grow up too fast; it’s not a good thing.” And as the Transit Area Specific Plan continues to develop towards completion, we’re going to continue to see thousands and thousands, over 10,000 people, move into our city and utilize our resources. By taking a hard and unpopular stance against rapid housing development and sticking to responsible housing development, I think that’s the best way Milpitas can ensure that our foundation remains strong and stable. If we continue at the rate of years past, it’s my belief that Milpitas as a municipality will face great challenges.