Mayor Rich Tran and Vice Mayor Karina Dominguez have clashed publicly on Facebook in the past couple of days, following a City Council vote in favor of a new Milpitas condominium complex (located .3 miles away from Milpitas’ BART station) this past Tuesday night.
The vote, which the Council deliberated on for upwards of two hours, was noteworthy because of an exemption it contained, allowing for the developer, True Life Companies, to pay in-lieu fees (to the tune of $1.8 million) instead of designating 15% of the units as affordable. Per the ordinance, all new housing developments must partition 15% for affordable housing unless the City Council votes to grant an exemption…
Mayor Rich Tran was not present at Tuesday’s Council meeting. As part of his job with the Air National Guard, Tran was at Camp Roberts near Paso Robles, working with an air drop recovery support team. The team, which dropped five parachutes of cargo, was devised to prepare for active emergency events, such as natural disasters or wartime.
The four present Councilmembers (Councilmember Bob Nuñez, Councilmember Carmen Montano, Councilmember Anthony Phan, and Vice Mayor Karina Dominguez) voted unanimously in favor of the new development, along with allowing for the exemption. Afterward, the Mercury News ran an article mentioning that the Council felt that the developer, True Life Companies, had “been a good partner to the city” and thus allowed the exemption. However, it bears noting that the Affordable Housing Ordinance, which went into effect in June of 2018, came after True Life Companies initiated their current project.
On Facebook, Tran shared the Mercury News article and highlighted Tuesday evening as a loss for affordable housing in Milpitas while pointing out that he did not vote in favor of the project. Tran’s position is consistent with his longstanding principle of allowing zero new market-rate housing in Milpitas. In an interview with The Milpitas Beat, Tran said, “I always respect the City Council and their decisions on the dais…Although I have a disagreement and a different vote sometimes, I always leave the vote on the dais.”
“When the game’s over, you shake hands and you go home,” the Mayor added.
After Tran shared the news article on his Facebook page and expressed his disagreement with the vote, Vice Mayor Dominguez engaged with him there, pointing out that he’d been absent and she’d had to lead in his absence. As the pair went back and forth, Tran called out Dominguez for being the lone Councilmember who voted against the City’s recently formed Affordable Housing Subcommittee.
Dominguez held a meet and greet at Peet’s Coffee this morning to take questions from community members about the issue. There, she stated that her vote against the Affordable Housing Subcommittee had been (a) on principle, since the matter was put to a vote on an evening when she’d come in with more ambitious Affordable Housing plans and (b) a matter of practicality, as she already sits on a variety of Subcommittees and had initially expected to be appointed to that one, as well (although ultimately it got assigned to Councilmembers Montano and Nuñez).
In addition, at Peet’s, Dominguez said that Tran had not recently been communicating with her directly, and had instead been using Facebook (publicly, not via private message) as his means with which to engage. She added that Tuesday’s decision had been a hard one — something she could see on her fellow Councilmembers’ faces — and that she was “very disappointed” to see Tran bashing their work on Facebook.
“We can’t be using Facebook as our main communication,” said the Vice Mayor, who also voiced the following in regard to Tran:
“I need him. I can’t do my job without him. I need him to communicate with me.”
On the topic of Facebook, Tran said, “Everybody in Milpitas knows my Facebook page is where I post about all things Milpitas, including big decisions that are made.”
He added that he’s very rarely if ever used the platform to single out an individual, but when the Vice Mayor commented, addressing him by name, Tran said, “I replied appropriately.”
Tran also expressed concern over Dominguez saying online that he’d alerted his colleagues to his absence with only two hours’ notice, when his email about his absence had been time-stamped 24 hours in advance.
“I’m disturbed,” said the Mayor, “the Vice Mayor would frame myself in a false type of transparency.”
Dominguez traced the pair’s current rift to the point when Tran dropped out of the California State Assembly District 25 race, deciding instead to launch a third term for Mayor of Milpitas. Had Tran not dropped out of that race, he and Dominguez would have been opponents in it. Thereafter, Tran gave his endorsement to Dominguez’s opponent Anna Song.
A second-term Mayor, Tran clashed with his first-term City Council, as well, as his consistent zero market-rate housing stance often framed him as a philosophical outlier. Whereas Dominguez too has been a vocal champion of affordable housing in Milpitas, she both on Tuesday and on Friday emphasized the link between housing affordability and active development.
“[Tran] and I have shared values, but we lead very different,” Dominguez said.
The Milpitas City Council has a planned retreat coming up on next Friday, August 30, where one presumes the issues in this article will come up for discussion.