The room was humble in appearance yet charged with energy. The same could be said for Milpitas’ Mayor Rich Tran, who took a seat in a high-legged swivel chair, town hall-style, to share his State of Milpitas Address with the packed crowd on hand.
The setting was an event room at Omega Family Restaurant and Lounge — a fitting backdrop not only for Tran’s supporters, who are hard-working, salt-of-the-Earth Milpitians, but also for the mayor’s distinct manner of speech: simple, direct, plain, grounded, human.
Tran’s going after his second term. Last time he ran, in 2016, he famously appeared door-to-door throughout every neighborhood in Milpitas. The effort paid off: He took in over 8,000 votes, and his personal connection with the residents of our city endures.
Even during Tran’s brief time in office, Milpitas has changed dramatically, both in terms of its internal political landscape and its rampant external growth. Indeed, as Tran stated, Milpitas is the fastest-growing city in Silicon Valley, the 2nd-fastest-growing in California, and the 8th-fastest-growing in The United States, for cities with a population of above 50,000 people (as of now, ours is creeping up on 78,000).
And Tran very much intends to keep his seat.
He spoke first on the issues, then on a recent scandal…
Issue-wise, he’s particularly mindful of the “tricky” link between housing expansion and school enrollment. “One of the reasons I got elected,” he said, “was because I told everybody I’m gonna slow down housing…Housing is having a deep impact on our school enrollment…”
In other words, the more new people the city lets in, the more pressure the growth puts on our already well- and overpopulated schools.
“In my opinion,” the mayor went on, “I think Milpitas is ready to take a little break, to take a little breather, and I think over 8,000 residents agreed with me almost 2 years ago…”
He stands firmly on the school district side of the equation, sensitive to the district’s need to keep pace with a growing student body.
Traffic was also a major topic, with Tran announcing, “I have a traffic plan coming out in two weeks. I’m very excited for that plan. But it’s very hard. It’s very hard…The roads are maximized…I want to make sure folks get home five minutes faster. So I’ve met with our traffic engineer, and I’ve asked that we look at adding turn lanes, anything to get folks out of the red light…”
Traffic isn’t strictly a concern among motorists. Tran has heard from crossing guards who are worried about their safety at the intersections, a natural outgrowth of our crowded school environments. As such, Tran added, “I want to ensure every school in our city is surrounded by paint on the ground, with speed limit[s], or words like SLOW, KIDS, and those sort of things. That’s something that we have to do as our city gets more populated and our communities get more dense, just based on multigenerational households and due to maybe the cost of living in Milpitas.”
The water rate, meanwhile, weighs heavily on residents’ minds. Tran didn’t mince words about the fact that rates will likely keep on rising: “You’ve seen your water bill, and folks want something done with the water rates. Every battle is an uphill battle, and the water rates is an uphill battle. If you live in Milpitas, I’ll tell you what, your water bill’s probably going up. Take my word for it. It’s probably going up year after year for the next three years, in the single-digit percentage.”
He cited the issue as being beyond his power to fix, though said he tried to “put my elbow into it”, and expressed gratitude for the recent work of the Citizens Task Force on Water Rates, which is presently aiming to bring Milpitas to a two-tiered rate system, as opposed to the current flat rate. Tran expressed the opinion that the old three-tier system was more reasonable than what we currently have, as it allowed for differing rates between, say, seniors who may not use much water and those who maintain lush landscaping and thick, green grass. So a two-tiered system, to Tran, would be a step back in the right direction.
When the address turned to the matter of landfill, everyone’s ears perked up…
“People tell me, ‘Rich, if you shut down the landfill, you’ll be the mayor forever. You’ll be the mayor forever…Or if you get a Trader Joe’s, you’ll be the mayor for a long time.’”
The audience laughed. But the laughter was short-lived. Tran went on to say, “The landfill’s not going anywhere. It’s not. And there’s gonna be thousands of folks in this city that are gonna be upset at me for saying that, but that landfill’s not going anywhere.
“Although their permit is expiring in 2041,” he added with a note of sarcasm. “But, you know, as long as they have that permit, that landfill’s not going anywhere…And there’s nothing we can do within that landfill in my opinion that’s gonna mitigate the odor from that site in a significant way.”
He shared memories of running track at Milpitas High School. Some days, he found himself “huffing and puffing” his way across the finish line. He knew even then, as a young man, that that wasn’t good to be experiencing, on account of the air around him.
Last time Tran ran for Mayor of Milpitas, when it came to this issue, his focus was on stopping the landfill expansion.
This time around, he plans on going after the smell:
“Come September, it is my intent to present to council my plan to take accountability of the odor, and to find out what it is and where it’s coming from…To me, in 2018, with all this technology that we have, we need to set up technology. OK? We need to set up a forcefield around our city, in the northwest corner, and we need to collect this data, and if we can prove that it’s a serious harm to our public safety, things will get done. Things will get done.”
He went on to say, “No one should suffer from odors or gasses that will harm their health. It’s simple, it’s simple.”
Then the tone in the room changed yet again, as Tran voiced a new word: scandal.
In recent months, the Milpitas City Council launched a strong rebuke in Tran’s direction, accusing him of workplace discrimination while adding in references to some quasi-#metoo misconduct on Tran’s part, consisting of G-rated jokes and side-hugs.
The council urged the mayor to consider resigning. But he flatly denies any form of misconduct. Last night, his words on the matter were forceful:
“I’m disappointed in the city council. I’m disappointed they rebuked me. Allegations for things I never did. It’s disgusting. I didn’t sign up for this. I didn’t. It’s a disgrace. I can’t have it. That’s not what Milpitas should be. I see other city councils in other cities, and…they act right. They have the decency. They have respect. They’re not desperate.”
He mentioned no councilmembers by name. Tran has, however, thrown his weight behind candidates Carmen Montano and Timothy Alcorn in this year’s city council election.
After all, the friendlier his council, the more they can manage to get done.
In the meantime, Mayor Tran has not only the city council to think about, but his four mayoral opponents. Last night, he only made mention of one: 6-time Milpitas Mayor Jose S. Esteves, who just hit the campaign trail in pursuit of his 7th term.
Tran sounded a respectful note about Esteves, citing the fact that his family had long been in the habit of voting for the man. Just the same, Mayor Tran made sure to let people know that he’s not intimidated by an establishment opponent:
“I’m gonna get it,” he said. “Period.”
This weekend, Tran goes door-to-door again.