Why are you running for re-election to council?
I'm running for re-election to help ensure that we: 1) continue pursuing our systemic ideals and aspirations; and 2) have the capabilities to achieve them in an honest and sustainable fashion. It's not always easy or pleasant, but we are not going to reach the point of open dialog and optimized results in an increasingly diverse and connected world by not having any disagreements. I stand for an honest conversation because that's what we stand for systemically, and because I believe that this is both achievable and something that leads to the best results, if we follow through with the work. And so, that's what I'm doing; I'm following through with this work.
What are your three highest priorities?
My priorities are based more in approach than in specific targets or projects. I do my best to be honest and responsive to anyone who asks for help. Particular projects, to me, are much less important than cultivating a civil and effective dialog and encouraging everyone to volunteer and help rather than find ways to undercut each other. This is especially true with regard to how an elected official responds to residential requests. We're not always going to all get everything we want, and so, for me, identifying particular wants is not as constructive as thinking about, for instance, how we continue the effort to resolve the concept of tyranny of the majority by building a more functional and democratic system where the point is found more in the dialog and the listening than it is in the binary nature of on-off switch-style results. But if you really want me to identify three specific things, I would say that the following are what I support as particular projects: 1) Library expansion so that extremely popular community programming can be supported; 2) A sincere effort to expand park space in areas of the City that lack it; and 3) Improved public transit so that we can re-take the mantle of innovation in this space rather than playing catch-up to old technologies, and done in a manner that does not forcibly require that we build around it. Compelling preferences simply doesn't work. For this and other issues, we should be looking at needs and actual usage patterns and addressing those.
What got you interested in entering politics?
When I moved to Cupertino, I felt a strong inclination to participate in and give back to the community and society generally.
Why should people vote for you?
I'm intelligent and have honest intentions to help our community. I have experience, and I have the patience and perseverance to assess and respond to community concerns, and help us parse through various underlying motivations and their several manifestations in a manner that ultimately leads to broader consensus brought about through an open dialog.
Where were you raised and educated?
I was born in Columbia, Missouri and raised in Overland Park, Kansas. Prior to moving to Cupertino, I graduated from Harvard College where I was a pre-med majoring in biology. After a bit of soul-searching over life and career, I decided to enter the legal profession. I received my juris doctorate from Harvard Law School.
Are you married? What does your spouse do?
Yes. My wife, Sharon Lee, is a corporate banker and holds the title of First Vice-President at East West Bank.
How old are you?
I'm 42 years old.
What do you do for a living?
I'm an attorney.
What are your thoughts on the affordability crisis for housing?
I think that an affordability crisis exists and that we need to do something effective and complete about it. I think that in order to do this we need to be very honest and very analytical about the various factors, and that we need to acknowledge and address the role that building spaces that create more jobs has upon housing pressures. In Cupertino, we have been statistically balanced especially compared with nearby jurisdictions, and no one should attack us for stating that fact. At the same time, we do have a housing shortage and homes are very expensive. While it’s nice to say that everyone should have affordable housing, it’s even nicer to figure out how we manage to pay for that without making the problem unnecessarily worse. From an infrastructural level, I’d like to put serious efforts into mass transit.
For too long, we have all embarrassed ourselves, not just regionally but nationally, when it comes to the area of mass transit. We need to re-take the mantle of innovation in mass transit rather than wasting a lot of time and effort on playing catch-up to technology that is now many decades old. To the extent that we are doing the latter and have passed a point of no return, then let’s get those projects done. At the same time, if we make a commitment to forward-thinking mass transit, then I know from direct experience that we’ll get widespread support and buy-in. It won’t be easy, but it is eminently achievable and it needs to happen because we are unnecessarily losing many collective hours in transit, and this inefficiency, in addition to unnecessarily exacerbating our collective housing crisis, also comes with many serious and negative environmental impacts.
As for housing stock, the fact of the matter is that stopgap fixes will only fix some problems and address some needs in the immediate. Longer-term, if we create just enough stock and affordability to appease some current voices while in exchange we make concessions that will make the basic problem much worse in the future, then we are not really addressing our responsibility to future generations and we are not helping to solve problems in the longer term.
We have to be smart and honest about the various factors and pressures. We need balance and good infrastructure. We can't afford in the long-term to conduct conversations about housing that ignore factors like poor transit infrastructure and the role that lucrative office space plays on the need for more housing. And it's neither a crime nor something that justifies name-calling to consider quality-of-life issues. Communities need to do their part, but so do developers and politicians, as well as self-described housing non-profits and in particular ones that subsist largely on developer patronage and which purport to support solutions.
We can use our systemic advantages rather than turning them into tools for inefficiency and ineffectiveness, but we need to be honest and be willing to do the work of being complete about our consideration of the various factors, rather than kowtowing to the highest bid. And in spite of it all, I still maintain that we can all have everything we want, and I will keep challenging us to keep thinking about what that really means given our perpetual work-in-progress status, if we maintain a commitment to our democratic system.
I also support the delivery of affordable housing for the developmentally disabled. From a public-policy perspective, we should think about creating more incentives for delivery of this category of units such that, for example, jurisdictions get additional credit above the very-low income category for below market-rate housing, as there are some added monetary costs for developers and the community.
What are your thoughts on the Vallco issue?
I have stated that, as Mayor, part of my job is to support the will of the majority, and I have done that, even though I disagree with its approach and its decisions on this topic. As Mayor, I do the work of reviewing majority decisions as prepared by our staff, and I sign resolutions and enact ordinances upon conclusion of those reviews. But as a candidate and as a dissenting vote, I have both the right and the obligation to present my perspectives and the reasons for my positions, which I do here.
In late 2014, after I was elected to the Cupertino City Council, our Council was having its first meeting of the new term. This meeting ran for two consecutive nights, with each meeting going well past midnight. On the second night of the meeting, after midnight, our Council voted in a 4-1 vote to allocate a provisional 2 million square feet of office space to the Vallco site. This allocation was provisional because it was premised upon an approval of a specific plan by Council on this site.
I was the opposing vote. I opposed this allocation because we had not had sufficient amounts of time to evaluate the request from the landowner, and because of the strain that office space places upon a community insofar as the need for adding more housing is concerned. Where a community fails to add requisite amounts of nearby housing when significant amounts of office space is built, strains on infrastructure take place. This is especially true in the absence of adequate mass transit. These strains on infrastructure are straightforward. Where there are not enough places for workers to live, workers then need to travel further and further from home to work and back, depending upon how far away available housing happens to be.
The result of these imbalances can be seen in various areas around the Bay. Locally, the severest imbalances are where traffic moves towards in the morning, and where traffic emanates from in the evening. Earlier this year, in my State of the City speech, which I worked very hard to deliver on time and in a well-considered manner, I pointed out that, in Cupertino, we are not the location of the severe imbalances as far as City jurisdictions go. In fact, prior to the opening of Apple Park, our housing supply, insofar as the balance between jobs and housing located in Cupertino is concerned, cut in the direction of having more housing than needed to balance out the jobs present here. In other words, we were, on the balance, a bedroom community, where people go to live while they work in other places.
Now, this should not have been a particularly controversial position to take. However, in the interim, between that very late and multi-day meeting in 2014 and the beginning of this year, we as a community went through two ballot measures in the November 2016 election. Both measures related to the Vallco space. One was a measure brought forth by residents. This measure sought to keep the Vallco space exclusively retail. The other measure was brought forth by the landowner. This measure sought to build a multi-use development which included 2 million square feet of office, approximately 900 units of housing, and 600,000 square feet of retail.
Vallco, as it currently sits, is a mall that contains 1.2 million square feet of retail space. After both measures failed to pass in the November 2016 election, efforts were made in early 2017 to form an advisory committee to give recommendations as to the future development of Vallco. I knew that this was not an approach that our community would accept on a widespread basis. The reason for this is that voter enfranchisement and engagement are very high in Cupertino, and I knew that an approach more deeply rooted in outreach and neutral information-providing would be much more consistent with community preferences. And so, this year, while I’ve been Mayor in 2018, we have engaged precisely in that process.
Last year, in the Fall of 2017, our State Legislature passed a group of laws aimed at helping to alleviate the state-wide housing crisis. Some of those laws are very good and necessary. For example, for three years, I had been pointing out that inclusionary zoning is the best way to deliver affordable housing from an economic and social perspective. This is especially true if we have done the difficult work of building a fundamentally sound economy rooted in honest principles. AB 1505 provided the so-called “Palmer fix” that allows us as a jurisdiction to apply our inclusionary zoning requirement such that new-housing developments need to set aside a certain percentage of units of below market-rate affordable housing. This is good legislation, and I advocated for it from the dais for three years while also working to ensure that we build our economic foundations on sound principles. I’m glad that the State Legislature passed this.
What is not sound is housing legislation that, as applied, results in exacerbation of the scarcity of housing. State legislators try to do their job to fix the housing crisis from a state regulatory perspective. We need to do our jobs on the local level, and we need to be allowed to do our jobs without being inundated by influences driven by money from the development community that motivates disregard for the underlying policy-based concerns. This basic pattern of a problem lies at the heart of many other problems as well, and if we don’t figure out how to resolve it, then any given issue or social problem you can think of will continue to be made worse.
At the end of 2017, I pointed out the fact that, under some of these new housing laws set to take effect at the beginning of this year, in 2018, the office allocation that we had provisionally provided to the Vallco area at the end of 2014 could potentially result in a set of entitlements for the landowner that included up to 2 million square feet of office. Now, the problem with this, if you’re concerned about the unavailability of housing, is that you have to examine the impact of office space upon the need for more housing. At these levels of office space, we are creating a need for far more housing than we are approving.
The real problem here has been systemic, but it’s not difficult to fix. We just need to step back and realize that a commitment to honest principles is not some sort of abstract requirement. In the context of this issue, if we end up creating many more jobs than housing units needed to balance them out, then even if those housing units are very significant in number, and even if some of these units are below market-rate, then we will have even greater problems in the future. This problem of being irrational and not doing the background work is then made worse by pointing out relatively small benefits while ignoring generalized harms of much greater magnitude.
The Vallco space needs to help us deliver balance. My general sense on the issue of the development of Vallco as pertains to voter sentiment in Cupertino is that we want resolution but we want accountability even more. And this sensibility of cultivating best practices is consistent with the foundation of a successful community.
And we also want civility in our discussions. I disagree in general with approaches grounded in dishonesty and highly personal and vituperative attacks. I have spoken out against this type of inflammatory and unproductive rhetoric, and through my actions and conduct in running our Council meetings, I balance out the spectrum of opinions with courtesy. We have seen as a result an improvement in the quality of our current conversation.
I believe in being fair to people and applying critical thinking skills to the job without insulting the intelligence of others. I apply these traits every day, and I have for four years, and in every basic way our community has benefited. If we elect a Council majority with the same mindset, then I know that we will do our jobs, deliver balance, and ensure accountability.
What is your reaction to not being endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce or the Mercury News?
Do you remember how Batman took the fall after making incredible amounts of enormous sacrifices for the sake of Gotham? That’s how this feels. The difference is that I’m not a vigilante. I’m very open about my positions and methods. I strive to like everyone. That’s why I don’t, on a basic level, malign others for doing what they believe that they need to do.
But I will say this, as a substantive response. I joined the Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors in 2010. At the time, the organization was quite close to insolvency. I was very glad to be able to do a lot of work to prevent that from happening. I chaired its Legislative Action Committee for several years, after which time, when the organization had recovered, a number of people and businesses started returning to it. Some seemed very happy to relieve me of those duties at that time, and they provided a similar type of support when I ran for Council, and I did get elected. I was very grateful when our major local newspaper endorsed me both in 2009 and in 2014, at times when I was not so very well known in the community.
At this point, I have served in public office, and I have overseen the improvement of our City’s financial systems and accountability, we have improved our parks spaces and I push for more, we are expanding Library services and I’m consistently advocating for more programming space, and I am leader enough to see that the core of the strength of our system lies within the ethos of volunteering, and I have put thought to action in that regard. In turn, we are doing extremely well as a community, and I am grateful for the opportunity to have provided the needed leadership through a recession and the kind of thinking respected by thoughtful and intelligent people paying attention. I know that motivations vary. Whether others want to emerge or emerge again to serve is their prerogative, and it is their right, and I very sincerely both commend them in the endeavor and wish them the best of luck.
However, my basic advice remains unchanged, as have my methods and my thinking from the very beginning of civic pursuits. Obtain and preserve the needed background to serve well, put in the critical thinking, have integrity in your positions, don’t rubber-stamp, and don’t cater to the most well-resourced or the lowest common denominator. As a leader, I've applied these principles for our community for over a decade. If we keep these practices in mind, then our community and our system is unsurpassed. If we effectuate these practices, then, I am convinced, we will solve all of our problems with thoroughness and integrity, and the possibilities beyond that are boundless.
What were the results of this election?
In November 2018, I was re-elected to the Cupertino City Council with the highest number of votes in the history of Cupertino municipal elections.
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