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The 80,000 residents of Milpitas deserve better governance than they receive from their City Council.
For years, the city has been plagued by political infighting. Most recently, the constant verbal battles between Mayor Rich Tran and City Councilwoman Karina Dominguez have hampered the city’s ability to make progress on the critical issues of affordable housing and homelessness.
In March, during a heated discussion over an affordable housing project, Tran threatened to censure Dominguez. She, in turn, accused him of bullying and told a San Jose Spotlight
reporter that she wanted cameras installed outside councilmembers’ offices to protect her from the “yelling behind the scenes.” More recently, in September they jousted over Tran’s hard-line support for an ordinance designed to slow homelessness by restricting individuals from sleeping and setting up tents in public spaces from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Dominguez called the approach “extreme” and in a grossly inaccurate and inappropriate comment said it “frankly reminds me of Nazis.”
Tran is termed out after serving three two-year stints as mayor. Two of the four City Council seats are also contested.
Milpitas voters should elect Councilwoman Carmen Montano as mayor and Hon Lien and Dipak Aswasthi to the City Council. They offer the best hope to end the bickering and provide the experience and knowledge to make progress on the city’s most pressing issues..
Six candidates are running for mayor. None comes close to matching Montano’s political experience. In addition to being on the City Council, she has served on the Planning Commission, Parks and Recreation Commission and two terms on the Milpitas Unified School District Board of Trustees.
Montano has a history of being the “adult in the room” wherever she serves. Milpitas could benefit from her quiet, collaborative approach to working on issues.
Montano wants Milpitas to improve its homeless challenges by creating a housing navigation center modeled after Fremont’s program. She advocates pushing developers harder for extremely low-income housing. She also wants to elevate widening the Calaveras Boulevard bridge as a transportation priority. The clogged street used by commuters to connect with Interstates 680 and 880 has plagued Milpitas for years.
The other mayoral candidates include Dominguez, Ola Robert Hassan, Voltaire Montemayor, Franco Perez and Councilman Anthony Phan.
Dominguez and Phan are the two strongest alternatives in the race. Dominguez is knowledgeable, but her constant battles with Tran and her ties to labor give us pause. Phan was only 22 when he was elected to the council. He, too, is knowledgeable and passionate on issues. But the FPPC in May fined him $15,000 for multiple campaign-related violations. Earlier this year, Phan failed to acknowledge the ethical misconduct of registering a website using Montano’s name and then using it to redirect web users to his campaign.
Perez is a political newcomer who is the founder and president of Franco Mobile Homes, giving him great insight on affordable housing issues. But he needs to become better informed on a wider range of issues before serving in office. Hassan and Montemayor have run for office in past years but do not have the financial or political support to be serious contenders.
Hon Lien is the standout candidate in the field of seven candidates. She is serving her second term on the Milpitas Unified board and has been a member of the Milpitas Planning Commission and the Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Commission. Her knowledge of Milpitas’ financial and housing challenges surpasses the other candidates, and she has a reputation of working well with others, which would be a welcome addition to the City Council.
Dipak Aswasthi is a member of the Planning Commission and owns a mini-market in Milpitas. He has also served on the city’s Economic Development and Trade Commission. His business background is a plus, as is his knowledge of Milpitas’ financial issues. He wants to use his experience to help small businesses that have been hurt by the pandemic, which he says could drive up revenues and potentially enable the city to add to its police force.
Garry Barbadillo and Demetress Morris are the best options of the remaining five candidates. Barbadillo previously served a term on the City Council before losing his bid for re-election in 2018. Morris is a member of the Planning Commission, but she, for example, didn’t know whether Milpitas has a projected surplus or deficit.
Milpitas Unified board member Michael Tsai has tremendous expertise on transportation and housing issues. But his combative nature — he was censured by the board earlier this year in a unanimous vote — should eliminate him from consideration. Juliette Gomez shows promise as a candidate, but she, too, had yet to do her homework on Milpitas’ financial and housing issues. Isaac Stringer has a strong background on housing issues, but he does not have the financial or political support to run a serious campaign.