By Sharon McElhone
Amidst former Supervisor George Shirakawa’s trial for abusing public funds, three Latinas are running to fill the vacant seat in District Two. Teresa Alvarado, Cindy Chavez, and Patricia Martinez-Roach are candidates for Supervisor, and each plans to bring more gender equity to the board.
Endorsements for Cindy Chavez include Mike Honda, Evan Low, Nora Campos and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom among others. Mayor Chuck Reed, Vice-Mayor Madison Nguyen, Blanca Alvarado, and former Mayor Susan Hammer among others have endorsed Teresa Alvarado. Patricia Martinez Roach says she is running on her own merit as a school teacher for the last thirty-nine years.
What are some of the first steps you would take as Supervisor to restore confidence in the voters since Supervisor Shirakawa’s resignation?
Alvarado: I released a statement proposing a list of reforms focusing on transparency including publishing of online calendars for meetings, making it mandatory for staff reporting, posting at least 10 days ahead of time, and having evening meetings. Currently Supervisors don’t hold meetings in the evening and it is hard for locals to come to day- time meetings. Connecting with voters is another step. I would spend a lot of time visiting neighborhood associations and supporting them. I proposed five stores as one stop shop for county government. People can pay their taxes and receive information at a time and place that is convenient. I propose having an Annual Open House. People want to know about local government and it gives an opportunity to hear from the experts.
Chavez: I think what people want to know is that as an elected leader that you are in a deep and meaningful way paying attention. So, I think one of the first things is to make sure to be connected. That means going to community meetings and being present. A lot of people don’t know what the county is or what it does and a big part of that is the county saying, ‘This is what we do. Here is how you can access services.’ For example, right now we have room for almost one hundred thousand people to have access to Cal Fresh. How can we be leaving that much money and food on the table that could go to families? To me that means the organization is far too insular.
Martinez-Roach: The confidence of the voters has not been lost. Voters are so apathetic. They don’t know that there is a race for Supervisor. Those that know about it are disgusted with the political process. Voters are looking for someone to serve; they are not looking for someone who wants a job. The other candidates don’t have 39 years as a teacher in a public school and 26 years as an elected official.
In the last year, burglaries have increased dramatically in Santa Clara County. What kinds of strategies to you think need to be implemented in order to make San Jose one of the safest cities again?
Alvarado: We do not have authority over San Jose Police. The county has to partner with the Sheriff department to get mutual aid in case of incidences and partner on community policing strategies. The county has to focus on reentry programs for ex-offenders. It is really trying to find a way to keep tabs on ex-offenders and provide services and prevent ex-offenders from going back into old habits. Youth programs are also instrumental to helping youth grow up healthy and hopefully preventing them from going into crime, changing the mind-set of youth and family early.
Chavez: There is no way to reduce the way we’ve reduced and not see a rise in crime and that includes that we’ve cut a lot of after school programs. What can be done about it? One, as we get money, thinking very critically about were those investments are it means more police and after school programs. County Sheriffs patrol certain cities and those cities have contracts with the Sheriff’s department to be there. Each of the cities do memorandums of understanding with each other called “mutual aid” and one of the cities that benefits most from that is San Jose. With those mutual aid agreements cities need to reveal to each other and to the county what kinds of cuts or changes they are going to make to their departments… At the very least if the cities were open about the cuts it did it would have allowed or even forced a very public conversation about what the risks are. Some cities can also partner with highway patrol.
Martinez-Roach: We need to make sure there is adequate backing. There should be a memorandum of understanding that if a Sheriff is available to respond to a crime in another jurisdiction, that he or she can do so, that we can send San Jose police to an unincorporated part of the district if there is a need. Prostitution has increased in record numbers in San Jose. They are not dumb. They are moving to a city where there isn’t a strong police force. Santa Clara County and the City of San Jose need to join forces. We need programs in place to prevent and suppress crime and gang violence. We need to bring government to the people. I propose to open a satellite office in the district for voters.
The country is currently divided on gun control. What do you think we need to do to protect our residents from gun violence?
Alvarado: I’m disappointed that the Federal Legislation failed. It would benefit all of us to close loopholes and still give people the right to bear arms. The gun buy back program helps get guns off the streets. The programs are helpful, but it is more critical for background checks to happen. California has some of the strongest checks in the nation. Monitoring gun seller permits is important. Vendors should be following the rules and making sure that guns don’t get into the wrong hands.
Chavez: I think that mandatory checks for guns is critical. And I think one thing we’ve seen in our county around gun violence has not just been violence of young people shooting other young people, but it is also been a part of domestic violence. So that means we ought to take a look at limiting people being able to purchase guns, even at gun shows without a background check. I frankly think it’s deplorable that we are even debating whether or not someone who is dangerous should have access to a weapon.
Martinez-Roach: I don’t think the country is divided on gun control. I think the country is divided on how to control guns. I do believe we should have background checks for everyone. When you apply for a credit card, you have a background credit check. If you work for a school, you have to have a background check. It is a person’s right to have a gun, but there is no equity. The gun buy back program is great, but the guns we want off the streets are not getting off the streets.
Are marijuana dispensaries helping or hurting the local economy?
Alvarado: They came upon local communities very fast once state law passed. There has been very little oversight. While I believe there are medicinal uses for cannabis, there were very little rules established. The saving grace is that many communities have chosen to ban dispensaries and won’t give land use permits.
Chavez: I didn’t support the legalization of marijuana. It sends a really bad message to children….I personally don’t believe that it’s not addicting and the reason I don’t believe that is with all the chemical enhancements that have happened to that drug over the years that it is in my mind an entry level way into drugs. And I think it makes it more accessible to young people, and I don’t think that is a value. I think it is hard to look at something and determine if it helps that local economy until we look at the whole cost… what is the true cost in lives.
Martinez-Roach: They are hurting the local population. Since the dispensaries, we’ve had more kids getting cards from doctors and buying cards off the streets. Drugs are more readily available. The expulsion rate from school has been horrendous. Drugs are everywhere. They need to be taken out of the city, and they need to be regulated.
San Antonio, Texas recycles a lot of its water with state of the art environmental technology. What environmental challenges would you like to see Santa Clara County topple?
Alvarado: My background is environmental. The number one issue is water. We have a fluctuating water supply in California, and we are extremely dependent on the Sierra snow pack. Fifty-five percent of our water is imported from the Sierras. If snow pack is shrinking and we have two or three years of drought, we are going to have problems. Santa Clara Water district and the City of San Jose have partnered on the Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center, which purifies water. Another problem is that we can’t store solar power. We need to develop the technology so we can store power when the sun isn’t up.
Chavez: Public policy has to be thought about with climate change being the overall arching theme and so that means we need to get more people in electric vehicles instead of powered by gas. It means Bart is really important. It means Light Rail is really important… As it relates to water… to be able to look at how to purify water and then what are the real uses you can use it for… My thought is that we have to look at other cities and get on it pretty quickly… And with climate change, people are going to be moving to the places that have water and if we think about our kids, they’re going to be looking at how to survive in a world with more people and less resources.
Martinez-Roach: The biggest environmental challenge is transportation. The east side never had equitable transportation. We need to reduce the number of vehicles on the road. The city for years has been recycling water, and I think we need to notify voters about what kind of water we are drinking. The reports are so complicated. The literature needs to be simplified and in written in more languages. I have twenty-four students and twenty-two of the students’ parents speak Vietnamese or Spanish. We should also include Environmental studies at the elementary school level. For years I tried to get recycling bins. It was a big struggle. Our world and our environment have changed.
Could Environmental businesses be the next wave for Silicon Valley? Why or Why not?
Alvarado: Absolutely. We have the brainpower, the public will, and commitment to environmental stewardship here in the bay area. What’s required is the advancement in our technology. We should once again claim our brand as the Green Capital of the United States. When I was an intern at the office of environmental management, we had an amazing reputation for our environmental program.
Chavez: What is happening in our community is growth in knowledge jobs and growth in service sector jobs, which is essentially meaning the whole center of our community is left out of an opportunity to have life/family sustaining wages. What I think is happening locally is manufacturing is shrinking globally because of new technologies being invested in manufacturing. You don’t have as many people putting cars together, you have machines involved in that… So what is happening is a lot of manufacturing is setting up approximate to the communities they are going to be serving… I think that our future is rooted in the knowledge industry, which may or may not fall into the environmental industry and the only way we will stay competitive is if we are educating our local population to get into those knowledge jobs.
Martinez-Roach: We have already started that in the region, but companies should not be funded with tax money. They should be funded privately. We need to have these companies. There are companies in Europe making cars that get 35-40 mpg. We need to look at those companies. All the high schools are going solar. The East side Union School District went solar. We were the largest school district to put solar panels in.
Are female mentors readily available to you in the local political arena or is there a current shortage? Can you talk about the importance of mentors for women candidates to help them enter politics and stay there. Who are your current mentors and what advice would you give to women starting out in politics on how to make sure they gain equal footing.
Alvarado: I think women are judged very harshly. They are judged on their external attributes in addition to their ideas and capabilities. Just the way women communicate is different than the way men communicate. We need to value women’s communication styles. It would be help political discourse. My mom joined the city council in 1980. She was part of a majority female city council. Susan Hammer was the mayor. Santa Clara county had a majority female board of Supervisors. I was in my teens and that made a lasting impression on me. Susan Hammer has endorsed me and she is often remembered as one of the best mayors with one of the best councils in the history of San Jose. They took on quality of life issues and neighborhood issues, libraries and parks and schools. Voters want to see our officials find solutions too. There are good organization now that focus on women in political leadership: HOPE, Emerge, IGNITE, and the Latina Coalition of Silicon Valley 2012 Project.
Chavez: I think women wait to be asked and I think most men don’t. One thing we need to stop doing is waiting to be invited to the party and create our own. The second thing is running for office is difficult and governing is challenging but if you are skilled enough to run a household or to run your own business or run the PTA at your school, you are skilled enough to run for office. So believe in yourself because people can’t believe in you unless you believe in you. Third thing is find mentors and friends who will be both honest and encouraging. When I was very young and got involved in politics I took an internship at San Jose State and I signed up to work on this campaign. These women sat me down and would ask me to lunch…and sure enough the first job I got was from a volunteer on that campaign who knew someone who ran a sign company. I got my first job from a woman connecting me to an opportunity.
Martinez-Roach: I was the first Mexican-American woman elected in 1983 to Alum Rock School Board. I was also the only woman on the East Side Board for 14 years. I started LatinasNow.com to empower women in politics. We need to support women who are progressive. We are so underrepresented. I was discriminated against as a single mother, as a Mexican American, as an immigrant and for being smart. Men don’t like smart women. I’ve been able to carry my own weight. We as women look at problems differently then men do. We tend to be more compassionate and not as pragmatic. We need acceptance that women are equal and capable of being effective leaders.
Latin women have struggled for many years to gain equality in a culture with a lot of machismo men. Where do Latin women fair in politics today compared to other cultures?
Alvarado: Latin-American women are doing well in other countries like in Brazil and Argentina. It’s interesting here in the U.S. that we haven’t made gains for Latinas. It’s not just machismo; a lot of it is how politics are run in this country.
Chavez: I think that there are very few cultures where women are lifted up by their male counterparts. So, one is the myth that some group does it great. I don’t think it’s true…when I ran for office the first time there were a small group of Latino men who were very involved in politics, and I did not get help from Latinos as a group… there was two men, one in particular, that sat me down with a bunch of men and they were not supporting me, they were supporting my opponent, and he explained to them why what they were doing was wrong and old-fashioned.
Martinez-Roach: There are barriers that have been passed on from generation to generation that women are submissive and men are dominant. The young boys need to be educated on how to treat women. That is why I started LatinasNow.com.. We need to have a common core of respect and understanding.
What do you see are the challenges for women in regards to childcare and is there enough support for women to transition from home after having children back to the office or enough support at home in order for them to stay in office during their child birthing years?
Alvarado: I think it’s a big challenge and huge barrier. We desperately need to provide more affordable childcare services for working women. It’s a tremendous barrier to women’s economic self-sufficiency. The Hispanic Foundation provides scholarships to women who want to return to school after having a family. Also, I am very passionate about teen pregnancy prevention. I was a pregnant teen (my daughter was born stillborn) and want to connect with young girls and encourage them to find their inner power, confidence and strength and pursue their dreams.
Chavez: No. First thing is we should have universal pre-school and it should be available and should be focused on getting children ready to learn. Quality preschool that isn’t so costly that you can’t afford to put your children in it especially if you have more than one. We should really be a partner with a parent trying to be a good parent. There are many countries in the industrialized nations, and we are the weakest in supporting family development and family connections. So there is just so much we can do.
Martinez-Roach: It’s worse than it has ever been. We have a growing population in need of childcare and we don’t have the resources. The satellite office would address the issue of people not being poor but they can’t afford childcare or preschool. We need to make resources available. I wasn’t poor enough, but I didn’t have a husband and didn’t have childcare support. I found the non-profit 4C, an agency that provides childcare support for women. I want to revamp the Head-Start program. Charter schools are offering longer days to help parents who work. I’ve been very involved in the issue of childcare.
What role does your partner play in supporting you and your political aspirations. Do they help at home? Help with the children?
Alvarado: I have an incredible husband who has lifted me up and has encouraged me to be all I could be and all I wanted to be. He is the person who does the dishes 90% of the time. It really is a true partnership. He is Latino.
Chavez: I always tell young people this: If you are going to get married to whichever a man or a woman, if you are going to choose your life partner, choose somebody that you believe in as much as they believe in you and that they can express it in many ways. The single best decision that I made of my entire life was to marry my husband.
Martinez-Roach: I still have a son at home who is my campaign manager. My family helps me and my son has been instrumental in supporting me.