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District 3 candidates diverge in approach to city’s pressing issues

The race is on for the open City Council seat in downtown San Jose.

With District 3 Councilmember Raul Peralez terming out and seeking higher office, five candidates with various political backgrounds and experiences are vying for votes.

District 3 encompasses neighborhoods from Vendome and Naglee Park to Japantown and Spartan Keyes. It’s also home to San Jose State University and several theaters and music halls. As the city’s center, San Jose’s woes — homelessness, blight and small business closures — are glaringly visible.

All the candidates point to those concerns — how they plan to solve them differs.

Here are your District 3 candidates in alphabetical order.

Elizabeth Chien-Hale

Elizabeth Chien-Hale, 60, is an intellectual property attorney who hopes to use her background and expertise in technology to solve city problems and bridge the private and public sectors.

Chien-Hale is registered as No Party Preference. She did not provide names of endorsers, but said she has support from the Japantown business community and several Cupertino elected officials. She’s raised $11,950, according to her latest filings.

Chien-Hale, who is president of the San Jose Downtown Residents Association, said:

“I started this whole journey by being a resident advocate. I want to stay true to my roots of community advocacy. Ideology can get in the way of that.”

Her top priorities are addressing homelessness, increasing code enforcement, small business revitalization and transportation.

She said San Jose is in the perfect position to do so with so many coworking spaces and SJSU in the heart of downtown — whose innovation center she hopes to revitalize. She sees the Google Downtown West project as a good template for continued business growth in San Jose.

The former engineer pointed to using autonomous buses that meet residents at their homes and take them to transit hubs for free, as a means of solving the connectivity issue, and as an example of how technology can help.

Chien-Hale said:

“I understand the relationship between innovation and economic growth. … Technology has a major role to play in all of this. The potential hasn’t been fully exploited.”

Joanna Rauh

Joanna Rauh, 40, is an attorney for the accounting firm Deloitte, where she leads the legal team’s pro bono and philanthropic work. She is ready to jump into the political scene to focus on solving what she says is District 3 and San Jose’s top issue: homelessness.

Rauh told San Jose Spotlight:

“The biggest challenge is to create real and lasting change in addressing the homelessness crisis. It is a complicated problem that will require complicated solutions.”

To make immediate changes, she calls for more shelter beds, and long-term planning that leads to more affordable housing, Rauh said. She pointed to utilizing vacant space and public city and county-owned land as places to build.

In addition to homelessness, Rauh wants to incorporate more public art in downtown, improve public safety by increasing staffing in the police department and address housing affordability.

She is a Democrat who has received endorsements from Mayor Sam Liccardo, former Mayor Tom McEnery and the San Jose Police Officers’ Association. Rauh has donated $20,000 to her campaign, loaned another $20,000 and has not disclosed other campaign contributions.

Rauh said her experience as a lawyer gives her the negotiation skills to get things done in City Hall. Her experience as a mom of three young children has highlighted how challenging it can be to raise children in San Jose.

Rauh said:

“It is not acceptable that our own community members, including essential service providers, cannot afford to live in our city, and that our sons and daughters cannot afford to move back home.”  

She added:

“We need to usher in investment in jobs and housing.”

Irene Smith

Irene Smith, 61, is another non-politico jumping into the council race to combat problems she said have continued to worsen over the years.

Smith said:

“I am completely laser focused on undoing the legacy of bad decisions that has just really damaged the quality of life for residents and small businesses.” 

She is an independent with the support of the Silicon Valley Business PAC, small businesses like Casa Vicki and Peanuts, and nonprofit Families & Homes SJ. She’s raised $59,538, according to her latest filings.

Smith has had an array of jobs, starting off in finance at IBM and working inside a mental health facility in downtown before getting her law degree. She then opened her own mediation business and serves as a volunteer attorney with Santa Clara County’s Pro Bono Project. Smith also owns and manages several properties in San Jose.

Her priorities are homelessness, increasing police officers to improve public safety and small business revitalization.

To reduce homeless numbers, Smith wants to create sanctioned encampments to humanely triage unhoused residents, provide rental vouchers so people do not fall into homelessness and create city-owned public housing, or a city-led version of Section 8. She also wants to bring staffing levels up in the city’s planning department to streamline development.

Smith said:

“Downtown won’t be a gem, it won’t thrive until our families and our small businesses thrive. … These are my neighbors and I want to help.”

Ivan Torres

Ivan Torres, 38, is a health care worker turned candidate after volunteering with Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign. Torres unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 2020 to replace Rep. Zoe Lofgren.

Torres is a progressive who has gotten endorsements from Berniecrats, a volunteer-run organization to support progressive candidates, and anticipates an endorsement from the Progressive Democrats for Social Justice. He has not disclosed campaign contributions.

To him, San Jose’s biggest problem is income inequality, which can cause homelessness, crime and small business closures.

Torres said:

“The unfortunate thing is that our response to an influx in crime is automatically more police instead of looking at the root problems.”

He added:

“We have to understand that homelessness, mental health and crime — they’re all intertwined with each other.”

To combat the stark income inequality in San Jose, Torres wants to fund public housing, make community colleges free and provide grants to small businesses.

He said it may seem costly, but $5.5 million for free community college is not a big drop in the bucket compared to police spending, which was close to half a billion dollars in 2021. He said $5.5 million is how much San Francisco pays for their free community college program.

Torres said:

“My policies are new and they’re different; and as a result, they’re controversial. But at the same time, this is a fight for all of us. Education is one of the biggest and most effective tools on combating income inequality.”

Omar Torres

Omar Torres, 40, calls himself a pragmatic progressive and a lifelong Democrat who has gotten support from the South Bay Labor Council, mayoral candidate and Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez, the Santa Clara County Democratic Party and other local progressives. He has not disclosed campaign contributions.

He has been part of the San Jose political scene for years, currently serving as a San Jose-Evergreen Community College District trustee, regional director in the California Democratic Party and the business resiliency manager of the San Jose Downtown Association. He was also Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco’s chief of staff for seven years.

Torres’ priorities are homelessness, public safety and the revitalization of downtown.

Torres said:

“I am the only candidate who has created solutions on all these fronts. I have worked with our police department to create safer, stronger neighborhoods. I helped save small businesses through my work at the downtown association and have created policies at the city level. I know how it all works.”

Torres said if elected, he would hire staff focused on each of downtown’s problems. He would also push for policy on his first day to plant 10,000 trees in San Jose throughout his term.

As one of two District 3 candidates living south of Interstate 280, Torres said it’s important for the district to have a representative who does not come from an affluent background.

Torres said:

“I am running because it’s time for people like me with lived experiences to have a say in our city’s policies.” 

This story was originally published by San Jose Spotlight. 

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