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What’s going on with Milpitas? Political shift underway amid raucous politics
by Ramona Giwargis
Oct 19, 2017 | 441 views | 0 0 comments | 45 45 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Milpitas City Council is pictured here in this file photo
Milpitas City Council is pictured here in this file photo
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MILPITAS — The city manager has left, the latest in a string of City Hall staff departures. A councilman’s daughter faked a kidnapping. The mayor — knocked for lifting parts of a speech from a former president — just got a tattoo of the city’s name. What’s going on with Milpitas? The Silicon Valley suburb of 80,000 is no stranger to raucous politics — like the public feud in 2012 over whether a mayor gifted City Hall access for a private wedding. But change is afoot after restless residents swept a wave of new faces into City Hall out of frustration over growing water bills, development and traffic. “I think people wanted some new energy,” said former City Councilwoman Carmen Montano, who lost the race for mayor to Richard Tran last fall. “It’s usually the same old revolving-door of people who get elected — I think they just wanted a change.” Tran — at 32, the youngest mayor in Silicon Valley — was elected last fall over Montano and another veteran council member, Debbie Giordano. Voters also elected newcomers Anthony Phan, 23, and Bob Nunez, 62, for two open seats on the five-member City Council. Reading this on your phone? Stay up to date with our free mobile app. Get it from the Apple app store or the Google Play store. “Maybe it’s like the people who voted for Trump — they wanted something new and different,” said Ilias Perivoliotis, the longtime owner of a Milpitas staple, Mil’s Diner. “To me, the past council hasn’t accomplished much. My bill for water and sewer has doubled. It takes customers 25 minutes to get from east Milpitas to here because of traffic congestion. They don’t tell people what’s really going on.” Montano said voters were angry about a potential expansion of the odorous Newby Island landfill, soaring rates from the municipal water system that was blamed on rising wholesale costs and infrastructure repairs, the City Hall executive turmoil and rapid new housing development. “You’re talking about high-rise condos in Milpitas, and it was a shock,” Montano said. “It was too fast too soon.” Milpitas has shared in the demographic changes that have swept Silicon Valley — more racial and cultural diversity, an economic shift from blue-collar manufacturing to white-collar technology jobs, and an increasingly liberal political lean. Tran, a social worker, Air National Guard member and progressive Democrat, couldn’t be more different from his predecessor, Jose Esteves, a conservative Republican on the non-partisan council. Tran is driven by social media, posting often about city happenings and hosting a TV show to recap decisions on everything from pot holes to affordable housing. Esteves at the time didn’t even have a Facebook account. “I’m not a classic politician,” said Tran, who lifted part of his acceptance speech earlier this year from former President Barack Obama. “I’m a rookie in the game, but I’ve always had the best intentions. No one loves the city of Milpitas more than me and I’m going to work my hardest.” Under Tran’s leadership this year, the council agreed to raise minimum wage ahead of the state, outlaw foam food containers and ban the flag of communist Vietnam on city property. Milpitas may soon declare itself a “sanctuary city” for undocumented immigrants. Though several local political consultants faulted former city manager Tom Williams for the City Hall staff exodus, the council under Esteves gave Williams raises and new job protection in his contract. City Attorney Michael Ogaz and Human Resources Director Carmen Valdez both left City Hall in 2015 and alleged Williams threatened their jobs after they told the mayor and council about a complaint against Williams by former planning director Steve McHarris. Williams disputed the retaliation claims. The Milpitas council last year agreed to settle Valdez’ retaliation claim for $100,000 and earlier this year settled Ogaz’ claim for $975,000. After taking office, Tran called for a review of Williams’ performance by a third party. Williams has claimed $1 million in damages for “harassment, discrimination and retaliation” by Tran and sought to arbitrate the dispute. The council placed Williams on administrative leave in May for allegedly misusing city funds to pay for his personal attorney fees. Williams resigned and retired in September. Amid all the turmoil in City Hall, Tran said his city built more than 6,000 high-density units in the last five years — and some residents wanted to slow down. Find original text here
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