Milpitas Mayor Candidate Interviews: Part III

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(CONTINUED FROM PART II)

 

Do you have any comments on how the Tom Williams lawsuit was handled? How do you think this affects the reputation of the City and its employees? How will you ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again? (Given the ongoing litigation, Tran and Nuñez were not at liberty to comment.)

 

Esteves: Performance of an employee is a year-to-year basis. During my term, his performances were not this problematic. Unfortunately, I think the actions happened after my term already…We do what’s best for the city and keep integrity and trust from the people by cleaning up undue deeds or actions…We try to search for truth, and I talked to many employees, especially directors who report work to him, and I have not gotten that feedback — otherwise we could have done something, too…All the information we received did not show that. Then action should be taken. (Follow-up question: So you never heard of any issue with him during your term?) No.

Lee: If I’m elected as mayor this November, I would meet him and try to solve the problem first. I’m willing to go there [Millbrae] and meet with him. I would probably talk to him and we’ll solve this problem step by step.

Montemayor: Nobody should be using government money or city money; I know I know him, he’s very good to me, very plainly, but nothing is friendly or best anybody if you made a big mistake like using city money, using your card. In other words, when I sit there I want people to know the history of Milpitas already; we don’t want litigation; there were two, three litigations already; it costs the city big money, maybe a million dollars at least.

Nuñez: I think that I will have many comments once it’s done. It is something that I’d heard about coming in. I didn’t know Tom well when I first came onto the city council. My history was when I started as a city councilmember. I heard a lot of persons talk about history, but I got to create my own as I went, as I’m still creating…It’s about culture I believe. And for me, one of the things that I want to do moving forward is talk about a change of culture. When I came here, and it’s one of the things I talked about a lot, is this city was a city manager-run city…Is it a city manager-run city? Which it should not be. [A] council-run city? Which I don’t think it should be. But really, a city manager/council-run city. It needs to be a give and take, a combination of the two, which will allow us then to take the policy and the ordinances that go with those and say this is what we need to be doing, here’s how we’re going to do them, now let’s move forward.  

Tran: There’s nothing more important to me than the well-being of Milpitas residents, and also our Milpitas employees. I can’t really speak on what may or may not have happened in city hall in the 12 years prior to my arrival. What I can say is from anybody in the community, any type of taxpayer, there are concerns when you look at what [was] reported in the media. What’s more alarming even is the lawsuit settlements and the millions of dollars that have been paid out to former employees. That to me tells me enough. That to me is a major concern that needs to be evaluated and it’s not normal to have so many lawsuit settlements and it’s not normal to have such a great amount of lawsuit settlement payouts. I’m talking about former employees and their allegations towards the city manager. To me as a resident, just 2 years ago there was a common denominator to the cause of serious problems.

 

How much do you think ethnicity plays a role in elections?

 

Esteves: My philosophy is regardless of ethnicity I always want to reach out to everybody and serve each and every community regardless of their ethnicity, their race, their age, their whatever. Make sure that each one is served and respected. For me we are just one [inaudible] city.

Lee: I’m not quite sure.

Montemayor: Not at all because as I said, people love me now, when they see me, when they see my name, Voltaire S. Montemayor, Voltaire is a French, [my middle name] is German, Montemayor is Hispanic, but when you see my picture I look like not a Filipino, I look more on the Asian nations, and when I talk…the way I speak now is Americanized.

Nuñez: It does play a role. I think that a lot of times, persons belong to all kinds of different groups, political groups, ethnic groups, social service clubs, things of that sort and a lot of times you belong to groups that you feel comfortable with…I think a lot of times that’s the group that you would go to because they’re your friends or they’re in your social group and you discuss politics among yourselves. And sometimes that influences how you vote.

Tran: I think ethnicity absolutely plays somewhat [of] a role in elections. But here in Milpitas, one of the lessons I was given was by former Mayor Bob Livengood [was], “Rich, in Milpitas if you[‘re] to get elected, you can’t rely on one ethnic group, because we are so balanced in our diversity there is no ethnic group that has greater than 3% advantage over the next ethnicity. And to get elected in Milpitas, you have to really go beyond your own ethnic culture.”…Filipinos make up 22%, Hispanics/Latinos make up 20%, white folks make up 18%, Vietnamese folks make up 16%, Chinese folks make up 16%, Indian folks make up 10% approximately, and then you have all these other cultures, too. And so there’s really no dominant culture that has greater than a 3% separation or differential from the next ethnic group. In Milpitas, for example, when I got elected, I got 38.5% and just hypothetically speaking, if every person in my culture voted for me, that’s only 16%. And no one can win in Milpitas at 16%. And so I was proud that there were more people outside of my own ethnic background that voted for me than my own ethnic culture, which I do love and appreciate and respect…In Milpitas you have to reach out beyond your own ethnic group if you are going to be successful in an election.

 

(For Esteves, Nuñez, and Tran only) Since being in office, what are you most proud of?

 

Esteves: The library, because it impacts the whole society, especially our students. And everybody is enjoying it. I’m proud of it because I am the project founder, I proposed that project, chaired the project from beginning to end on budget and schedule.

Nuñez: Proud of the sense of team and the way the team effectively dealt with the Sunnyhills community…The fact that we were able to save those homes for the residents. And that we were effectively moving forward on preserving those affordable housing units; we didn’t lose them and we’re going to keep them in our inventory.

Tran: I’m most proud of being the first Milpitas High School graduate to be elected the mayor of the city. It’s been a dream come true, this first term as the mayor of my hometown. I would say overall I have really accomplished everything I set out to do. [I still have] a lot of things to work on, but I’m very pleased with my first term actually, despite all the ups and downs. I’m very proud of a lot of different policies, such as accelerating the minimum wage, wage theft, opening up the sports center field for public use, land use issues, rezoning industrial parcels of the city to places of worship, and I think there were 3 industrial sites I voted Yes to for places to worship involving 3 separate mosques. So I’m very proud of supporting the freedom of religion. The council, despite all the politics, we kind of all feel same way about working families. We changed the ordinance for affordable housing and now we require 15% of all residential developments with 10 units or more to kind of put in 15% of those units affordable or pay an affordable housing impact fee, but the goal is to get affordable housing units…We saved Sunnyhills, that was a big deal…I proposed stricter massage parlor regulation after we found instance of prostitution and just discussing public health issues…Parking permits in the Pines neighborhood…I also proposed a comprehensive homeless strategy that got passed…The accessory dwelling units, the granny units for certain parcels, homes, residential lots in Milpitas, I’m looking to ease the square footage lot requirements so that more folks can be eligible to build granny units in their back yard…Looking to spend money out of the general fund to pay for a full-time case manager in the field, and this is a person that works for a non-profit and/or the city pays a non-profit to have this person in Milpitas, walking around at all times, taking calls, reports to address [homeless individuals]. I’m really hoping that we can get that done in the mid-year budget. I believe homelessness shouldn’t be in Milpitas; that’s not who we are, that’s not the fabric of our community…I’m proposing a new traffic plan this August…One of the things I spoke to residents about at their door 2 years ago was my pledge to going to city hall to take care of any potential wrongdoing or unethical behavior or misuse of taxpayer funds, and I can’t get too much into the city manager’s office, but I’m proud that I did my best to shine the light on any type of area that needed to come out of darkness. I did my best and I did it appropriately, and I would do it all again if I had to because I love Milpitas so much.

 

(For the same 3 candidates.) And what do you wish you could have done differently?

 

Esteves: I thought I had maximized my efforts and accomplishments.

Nuñez: Yes, I think that one of the first things that I suggested early on when first elected was to have a planning session with all of us; the then city manager, consultant, and the newly imposed city council…And I think as I reflect back now, I really do think that would have made us much more effective in that we would have a chance to see each other and understand why we ran for office, understand what our expectations were of each other, and what it meant to be a team, what the teams were, and not flounder so much once the city manager left. Keep in mind that we ended up with 3 brand new city council persons and then 2 that only had a short period of time. I think it was 2 years each, so effectively you had a brand new city council trying to run a city with an interim city manager that had never been one either. So it was difficult to say the least. So I think that planning session, I should have…said, No we need one.

Tran: I would change the way I did my inauguration speech. That was an instance where I thought something was cool, but it was not.

 

(For Nuñez and Tran only) Let’s talk about the recent censure policy enacted by the city council. Walk me through what happened and where we’re at now.

 

Nuñez: It is something that we put in place some months back that allows councilmembers to indicate to another councilmember that they did not agree with the statement, stance, something that they did. At the time it was something because persons weren’t following direction of our own city attorney, and we kept saying, ‘We asked you to not do something or not say something and you did it anyway.’ We…should be able to go on record as saying, You didn’t do what was asked of you. So please don’t do that again.

Tran: Members of the city council continue to waste time and taxpayers dollars on matters that don’t serve our community. The censure policy does not fix potholes, the censure policy does not cut the grass, and the censure policy does not lower the water rate, and the censure policy certainly does not separate food waste and garbage. Members of the city council spend too much time with petty politics and try their very best to censure the mayor and they have come up empty-handed. It’s sad that Milpitas politics has come to desperation for censure…Since the censure policy was established, there has been no member of the city council, including myself, the mayor, that has been censured. No one has been censured.

 

(For Nuñez only) What would you say to your critics that take issue with how you left Riverside?

 

Nuñez: I would say that persons that are in education or in any field for a length of time will find that you learn as you go. And so one of the things I was able to do, was learn from Riverside…during my first attempt for public office. I learned…that running for public office can get messy very, quickly. I was an assistant superintendent and my contract was not renewed but I got another position before my contract ended. But I learned a lesson from that. And those kind of lessons you take to heart and that was important. Politics is a tough game. In Riverside County as in Orange County, the county superintendent for the schools is an elected office. In Santa Clara County it’s an appointed office. And so that’s something that I think I learned about politics early on, to know the difference between an appointed office and an elected office. And it served me well later on in life.

 

(For Esteves only) What would you say to your critics about your Fair Political Practices Commission charge and settlement over campaign violations? And how do you explain not having the majority of the receipts (only 19 out of 98) for your campaign expenses?

 

Esteves: It’s more of an administrative violation. It’s just simply we didn’t know that when we have a campaign expense that I could not pay for the money and then the campaign funds pay me. That’s the big mistake…For example, we ordered some of our supplies online and our campaign bank account does not have a credit card, so I was using my credit card and had to locate all the receipts…What I hate is fraud or some people saying, “Oh, he pocketed the money.” And that’s not really true. Because in fact, I am the one paying it first and then I’d get it back…pocketing the money is fraud and it is a serious violation, and it’s not the case…They can see all the receipts are not only reasonable, but legitimate.

 

What do you want Milpitians to know?

 

Esteves: I’m going back and Milpitas will be back to being a prestigious city.

Lee: I’m pretty much new and other candidates they pretty much know about this city well, but I’m still learning about this city. Right now I’m still meeting our citizens of Milpitas and I continue to meet and let them know who I am and what I do so I keep explaining about myself.

Montemayor:I’m a man of care, I care for people, I’m a man of leadership, I’m a man who wants to live happily, I want a lively group, I’m a happy guy, I’m a happy husband and a happy father and a happy resident of Milpitas.

Nuñez: I am running for mayor because I care about the city and the citizens. The city of Milpitas is truly a shining star. The school district is an example, I believe, of a progressive school district, it is [among] the top 3 or 4 districts in the county. I think that the economic development department has gone a long way to begin to attract large corporations and we need to help them continue to do that and they need an elected body that knows how to enact ordinances and laws that will allow Milpitas to be second to none in Santa Clara County.

Tran: I want Milpitians to know that I won’t approve market-rate housing until I see some new schools or facilities built. We are in a school facility crisis in Milpitas. It’s a disaster to have nearly 60 students in one class.

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The official candidate filing deadline is August 10, 2018. All candidates must submit their paperwork by then to make the November 6, 2018, ballot.

 

Francie Soito
Francie Soito is a third-generation Bay Area native who has lived and worked in Milpitas since 2002. She has a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies from UC Berkeley, where she studied Sociology, Anthropology, and Physics. Having worked for nearly two decades in market research and data strategy for high-tech companies like Macromedia, Yahoo!, and Facebook, Francie also holds a patent for her work in data segmentation. She is a co-owner of Black Cat Comics and sole owner of Reiki Energy Healing, both located on Main Street in Milpitas. In addition to being an author, musician, public speaker, and martial artist, Francie is the mother of three furry babies.
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