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Sunday, May 19, 2024
ElectionsAn interview with County Supervisor District 3 Candidate: John Leyba

An interview with County Supervisor District 3 Candidate: John Leyba

Why are you running for County Supervisor?  

I’m running for County Supervisor because our biggest problems — homelessness, mentally ill on the streets, and the drug addiction crisis — are fundamentally county responsibilities, given counties’ public health and social service mandates. Santa Clara County’s budget has skyrocketed from $4.9 billion to $8.1 billion in 5 years, a 65% increase, yet homelessness, housing affordability, and other issues are worsening by many measures.

I will return fiscal responsibility to the county – stop spending on frivolities and re-direct dollars to dealing with the crisis of people on the streets and improving public health service delivery (which includes mental health / crisis care, etc.). 

We should target a 75% reduction of homeless residents on Santa Clara County streets within 10 years.


What do you love most about Santa Clara County? 

It is home for me, and it is in the middle of everything, with a piece of everything: mountains, valleys, cities, chaparral, vineyards, close to the beach, far enough from snow. And the people here are diverse and interesting.


If elected, what would your priorities be to improve the lives of residents in our county?

More fiscally responsible government that focuses on service delivery and results, not just on the dollars “invested” in an issue.

Address homelessness – end creek and street camping, compel people into shelters, drug and alcohol treatment, and mental health care.

Provide Affordable Housing – fulfill the commitments of Measure A and work with local cities to streamline processes and provide housing at all income levels.

Improve traffic conditions – get housing closer to jobs and maximize the utility of our expressway system. (The supervisors are not directly responsible for transit.)


What are some things you see that are happening in local government right now that inspire you?

I am inspired not by the local government but by community advocates who show up to try to make a difference on housing issues, homelessness issues, etc.


How can we help our residents who are facing mental health challenges? What would you propose? 

I want to see a top-to-bottom review of our Behavioral Health Services, looking at all the programmatic offerings to make sure that no one is falling through the cracks because we don’t serve their particular problem. I attended most of the Board of Supervisors meeting on January 28th in which such a review was on the agenda, but I came away feeling that the SCC BHS materials presented did not make clear the different care options. One community advocate asked for “no wrong door,” that all departments act as intake to bring patients into the system (rather than turning someone away because they have come to the wrong department or program). Based on staff responses, it sounds as though this is not a practice today but something they are “interested in implementing.”

Given the conditions of our streets and the shantytowns sprouting up all over, I have serious concerns that some people who need help are not getting help. Staff insisted that there is no waiting time for all of their programs that are fully ramped up, but they defined waiting as taking longer than 10 business days (two weeks!) to get an appointment. For someone who is depressed or experiencing an altered reality, two weeks is outrageously long. 

Secondly, we need more mental health beds, such as inpatient facilities as well as crisis care and intermediate term options.


Any proposals for bringing more affordable housing to our region? 

I believe in a market-based approach to advancing housing development and lowering the middle-class cost of housing.

We need more housing units at all price points and closer to jobs. Many communities do not allow new housing to be built while they continue to expand office parks and commercial facilities. Communities that grow their industries have a duty to house the employees they bring in as well, not push them off to other cities and counties. Three cities that have done well in adding housing as industry has grown are San Jose, Milpitas, and Sunnyvale. Most others in our county are lagging.

The result over the last few decades has been a massive increase in the cost of housing, the length of commutes, and traffic all around. We all know friends and family who have left to pursue a better life that used to be available here. Some have left just to survive and make ends meet.

As Silicon Valley continues to grow, we need housing markets that keep pace with population growth, so our children have a place to live too. 

As a neighborhood leader, it became clear to me that what holds development back is when a new project brings down the quality of life for immediate neighbors without respecting their homes or providing any community benefit. That’s why I fought for step-back rules and park requirements when I was involved in designing San Jose’s urban village plans. And that’s why I supported responsible developments that improve neighborhoods. As a planning commissioner I regularly reminded other commissioners and Planning Staff of the importance of neighborhood integration and respect for the house next door – goals already in San Jose’s General Plan.

Several years ago, Santa Clara County voters passed a $950 million bond to provide affordable housing at different income levels. Years later the County is still buying land but is barely housing anyone with these dollars, which you and I are already paying for. We need to speed up the process and bring housing units online now.


Any ideas to ease traffic congestion? 

Traffic in Santa Clara County is a mess. The County needs to do what it can on the roads it controls, like Capitol Expressway and Montague Expressway. This includes extending carpool lanes, improving light timing, expanding rideshare programs, as well as grade separations where feasible.

Additionally, the County should seek State and Federal dollars to help with road expansion, improvements, and continued facilities maintenance at Reid-Hillview Airport. Spending general fund dollars when we could recover 95% of facility improvements from FAA and Caltrans grants is an unacceptable diversion of resources to purchase a development option on the land. Multiple opinions, including the County’s legal counsel, have concluded that the FAA will not allow RHV to close anyway.

Lastly, the County must partner with cities to create complete neighborhoods that serve neighbors’ needs, to encourage people to complete trips on bike or on foot when possible, and to locate housing next to jobs and jobs next to housing. Such changes will reduce vehicle miles traveled, auto-emissions, and improve public health.


Do you have any ideas that would help our county government function more effectively? 

Implement the sunshine reforms that San Jose did a few years ago regarding meeting noticing (10 days) and slow down the growth of the county bureaucracy. Focus on core services. No additional programs unless they help the housing / homelessness / drug addiction / mental health crisis on the streets. Do not staff new management positions for new programs or departments until they are over half-staffed with service providers or clinicians. (Example, I have seen programs started in which the county hires a manager but then the pay band is so low they have difficulty fully staffing the team that will do the work.)


What do you think the biggest issue is that’s impacting residents in our district, and how do you intend to help fix it?

The biggest issue is the complex problem commonly called homelessness:

Homelessness is out of control in Santa Clara County. Addressing homelessness is the responsibility of the County and it is tied to other issues like mental health, substance abuse, and criminal justice – all county responsibilities.

It’s time to change our approach:

First: We need to stand up for neighborhoods. We need a County Residents’ Bill of Rights: Public sanitation, clean sidewalks, clean underpasses, clean creeks, clean parks, clean trails, and no public camping. All county residents deserve the same standard of public facilities as wealthy communities. It is critical to protect all neighborhoods equally.

Second: Santa Clara County needs to join San Francisco, Los Angeles, and nearly two dozen other California counties and implement Laura’s Law, a state law which allows local courts to compel dangerous individuals to mental health treatment when they pose a threat to themselves or others.

Third: We need to operate with compassion: we will shelter and feed anyone in need. But we will insist that they get clean – no drug or alcohol abuse – and we will help them with that too.

Fourth: Every person needs a purpose. People on the street could be doing something to move our community forward, from cleaning, to cooking, to construction work. Let’s help them find dignity while transitioning back into society and fixing what is broken within them. While many in our community have disabilities, which prevent them from working full-time, they can make some contribution. We must insist on it. The old saying is true: “the best welfare program is a job.”


What is something unique that you bring to the table?   

I come from a financial and project management background, so I have a mind for large capital projects and programs. I’m not afraid to say no or stop throwing good money after bad. Our county would be in better shape if we shut down failing programs sooner and try a different approach. We have to acknowledge when things are sub-par and work to fix them and close service gaps, not “save face” by insisting everyone is working hard and doing a good job when the results show otherwise.


What is something that not everyone might know about you? 

I’m an adopted white kid in a Mexican-American family. I speak almost fluent Spanish which was greatly improved during Dartmouth’s language study abroad program in Puebla, Mexico. The Leyba family taught me Spanish as a toddler, but I had largely lost it until resuming study in high school. I also picked up German as a college student (plus Berlin LSA) and taught language drill for a year at Dartmouth College, my alma mater. I graduated with a degree in Economics, one course short of a minor in German.


What do you love to do in your spare time?

Sing jazz with a combo or a big band – it has literally been years since I have done so.


Anything else you’d like to share?

I am driven by a mission to fix a system with many working parts but some obvious failings. I have a well-paying job, a growing family, and I had my own advocacy interests in San Jose trying to improve parks and serve on our planning commission. I don’t have to do this to run for some higher office in the absence of other opportunities.

I am running for County Supervisor because I have seen countless families become dis-empowered by the system we have, as their mentally ill or drug-addicted son or daughter spins violently away from them. It is estimated that 1-2% of the population has schizophrenia. In this county, that works out to 40,000 people. Are we taking care of all of them well? I doubt it. Now add on the populations affected by depression, anxiety, and public health challenges like obesity, diabetes, and asthma. We can be doing better as a community. It’s time for all of us to step up and do this together.


Where can people go to learn more about you? 



And finally, why should people vote for you? 

“If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.” We are well past due for a change in direction at the County. I represent a change from politics as usual, a shift away from the special interests that seem to run things around here to instead focus on our neighborhoods and people. I’m a finance guy, a neighborhood guy, a parent, a husband, a brother, a son, a former foster kid, an adoptee, a landlord, a tenant, and a homeowner. I can’t profess to have walked in everyone’s shoes, but I have walked in many myself. No one will work harder than I will to solve our community’s problems. I am a tenacious optimist, and I am courageous. Never give up!





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