Rich Tran never hides the fact that his affinity for Milpitas, and all the families that live within it, is what propels him each day. It’s that very affinity, one might argue, that allowed him to glide so effortlessly into a third-term win as mayor of the city that he has lived in since he was 9 years old. It’s also what informed his slogan, “Milpitas Families First,” which was proudly featured across all of his campaign signs.
Although Milpitas is a growing city, many believe it still has a close-knit, small town, cozy kind of vibe.
Whether or not you agree with Tran’s politics, it’s that vibe that he brings to City Hall; that ability to communicate and break things down in a way that builds social media followers and, of course, votes.
“I defeated a lot of people to get to where I am now,” said Mayor Tran in an interview with The Beat. “And this year, I just know the community so much that there wasn’t a doubt that I was going to win.”
This year, Tran faced off against Voltaire Montemayor, a retired geologist, who, after two failed attempts, ran for mayor yet again. Former Milpitas Mayor Pete McHugh also briefly entered the race, only to drop out a couple weeks later, citing personal reasons. That left Tran, as he puts it, without “a viable opponent” to run against.
“I won 100% of all the neighborhoods for the first time. I had no website, I had no mailer. I didn’t canvas. I had no newspaper ads,” said Tran. “I ran a very low-cost campaign, and it worked out using technology, which has been what has kept our City and Country together this year.”
Tran sees the next several months as a critical time for the city council to make some hard decisions on how to move forward amidst the pandemic. When asked about what his priorities for his third term are, he mentioned “meeting the moment with COVID-19” (both economically and public health-wise), balancing the City budget, beautifying Milpitas, maintaining public safety, and making a second effort with a comprehensive homeless strategy — something he’s been pushing since he first got into office several years ago.
“I don’t want any unsheltered homeless person in Milpitas to not be acknowledged at least on a weekly basis,” said Tran. “I don’t want our city to ignore the fact that there are people living outside on the street.”
This past October, Mayor Tran brought up the idea of suing all parties connected to Project Homekey in Milpitas, which will convert an Extended Stay America into apartment units for homeless individuals. Initially, all Milpitas City Councilmembers unanimously agreed to look into potential litigation against Santa Clara County and the state. However, after a couple of closed session meetings on the issue, Councilmember Karina Dominguez, Councilmember Anthony Phan, and Vice Mayor Bob Nuñez voted against moving forward with the lawsuit. Though Milpitas is no longer suing, a group of Milpitas residents — mentioning concerns about homeless individuals threatening the “health and safety of our children and community” due to mental health and substance abuse issues — have taken matters into their own hands, raising money for their own suit.
However, other residents feel differently, and believe that Milpitas should work with the County to move forward on the project and provide much-needed support for its homeless residents.
Tran supports the efforts of the residents who are unhappy with the project, saying, “I’ll always put Milpitas Families first. And I stand with Milpitas residents that are opposed to the homeless housing project. I do believe that it is an overreach from the state government that takes away our Milpitas residents’ fair and equal treatment. I am encouraged that the residents have banded together. These are families that I’ve known growing up here in that part of town. In the end, there’s a pretty solid argument that the judge will be going over, which is the case about the appraisal value of the property.”
As far as the biggest lesson he has learned from his first two terms as Mayor, Tran said, “…Change can’t happen alone on the City Council. You have to have support from the Council for things to get done.”
To that, he added that he’s thankful that Evelyn Chua won her race and will be joining the council in December.
“I believe for the first time in all my years here that the sky’s the limit for Milpitas,” said Tran.
Chua, who Tran campaigned for during the election, has served as a Planning Commissioner for the last several years. She’ll be taking Bob Nuñez’s seat after being sworn in next month.
After two more years, when his third term is over, Tran will be unable to run for mayor again. (One can only serve three consecutive terms as mayor of Milpitas, but can always come back after sitting out a term.)
Regarding 2022, however, Tran spoke of the possibility of running for a seat on the Milpitas Unified School District’s Board of Education.
“It’s no secret that I love our schools. When I first was elected, I put on my high school varsity jacket,” said Mayor Tran. “I have gone through a lot of education. So I value educational institutions. Everybody knows I love my Trojans on Friday nights. And so whatever is here in Milpitas, that’s where my heart is. And the school board, I see that as a blessed opportunity to serve.”
For now, however, Tran is locked in and focused on what can be done in the months ahead to restore stability and continue improving the lives of Milpitas residents during such a challenging time.
“In the worst of times, I’ve never been more hopeful for our residents because we have a very strong council,” said Mayor Tran. “And I’m ready, after four years of being in office, to be the leader that our city needs.”