Santa Clara County District 4 Supervisor Ken Yeager
May 21, 2018

San Jose Mercury News: Who are the six candidates gunning for Yeager’s seat?


Cupertino Courier reporter Khalida Sarwari documented her impressions of the six candidates vying to replace Ken Yeager as Santa Clara County supervisor in District 4, after attending a May 16 supervisorial candidates’ forum organized by Silicon Valley at Home (SV@Home) and Destination: Home

SV@Home Executive Director Leslye Corsiglia and Jennifer Loving, executive director of Destination: Home, moderated the debate as part of Affordable Housing Week 2018 and solicited the candidates’ views on homelessness and housing.

See the original story at the San Jose Mercury News.

Who are the six candidates gunning for Yeager’s seat?

By Khalida Sarwari

After a top contender abandoned his campaign for Santa Clara County supervisor amid sexual allegations, the field of candidates jockeying to replace Supervisor Ken Yeager has suddenly narrowed to six.

Yeager can no longer run due to term limits, so for the first time in 12 years Santa Clara County voters will see a new face representing them in District 4 on the Board of Supervisors.

San Jose Unified School District Board president Susan Ellenberg and San Jose Councilman Don Rocha, who also is termed out of office later this year, are competing to represent the district, which spans the cities of Santa Clara, Campbell, and most of West San Jose and the unincorporated Cambrian and Burbank areas.

Jason Baker, the former Campbell councilman and mayor also is running for Yeager’s seat. Though he may be a relative unknown, he’s made a splash at home and throughout the region on transportation and housing issues.

Rounding out the field are the political novices: Maria Hernandez, a San Jose-based marketing consultant who says she wants to help restore transparency, accountability and fiscal responsibility in the county, and Mike Alvarado, an IT consultant keen to shake up an institution he contends has too long been represented by older white males. Both are Latinos who maintain they are not beholden to special interests.

But amid the charged atmosphere of the #MeToo movement, scandals have overshadowed the race. Once a front-runner, Dominic Caserta ended his campaign for supervisor and resigned from the Santa Clara City Council last week after former campaign volunteers accused him of unwanted advances and impropriety and complaints surfaced at Santa Clara High School, where he taught civics. He has been placed on paid administrative leave at the school, and a police investigation is ongoing.

And, Pierluigi Oliverio, also once considered a top-contender in the supervisor’s race, is facing renewed scrutiny over a 2015 settled sexual harassment claim by his former top aide, with the Santa Clara County Democratic Party condemning his actions and questioning his suitability for office.

Both Caserta and Oliverio have denied the allegations.

Larry Gerston, a political science professor emeritus at San Jose State University, believes Caserta’s decision to bow out not only changes the dynamic of the race, but could well trigger a ripple effect for Oliverio; a case of guilt-by-association.

“The #MeToo movement has just been explosive; there’s not other way to say it,” he said. “It has taken with it a sense of advocacy for people who have felt left out, minimized and ignored and it’s also had its share of victims and Caserta is an example of that.”

Caserta may be out, but, according to the county registrar’s office, his name will not be removed from the ballot and voters cannot change their votes once they’ve been cast.

The departure of Yeager, a leader on liberal causes who represented a swing-vote seat on the board, also leaves somewhat of a hole on the board, Gerston said.

“He’s one of the first openly gay people to be elected to the board so I think he serves as a role model for not only anyone that wants to get into politics, but particularly for people in the LGBTQ community,” said Gerston. “He also leaves 12 years of, let’s say, corporate memory — someone who knows how the board works… and that’s difficult to replace.”

In seeking Yeager’s replacement, Gerston said, voters will ultimately size up the candidates not only in how they address the issues, but also on their leadership capabilities.

Melissa Michelson, a political science professor at Menlo College, believes the controversy-riddled candidates have helped bolster the candidacy of Ellenberg and Hernandez.

“I think it reminds people of this ongoing trend of men in power abusing that power and having to step down from their jobs and their candidacies,” she said. “(This is) going to give a last-minute boost for people who think this sexual harassment thing is out of control and that electing women will reduce it.”

With no single candidate expected to capture more than 50 percent plus one of the vote in the primary, the top two finishers will face each other in a runoff in the November general election.

Whoever wins this fall will oversee one of the most affluent counties in the country — that includes one of the nation’s largest homeless populations.

Here are how the candidates stack up on hot-button issues.

Perhaps the biggest divergence of opinions is on the topic of how much the county should mount an opposition to the Trump administration.

Baker would like to be a part of a board that would continue to take an aggressive stand against the federal government on issues such as the current crackdown on immigrants, while Oliverio believes in cooperating with the feds. Oliverio disagrees, for example, with the county’s policy on not honoring detainer requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.

“Supervisors voted not to cooperate with the federal government when it comes to undocumented individuals in jail,” Oliverio said. “That policy, I believe, is not a safe policy for the community. My viewpoint is, if elected, I would vote to remove that.”

Ellenberg, on the other hand, said she believes in protecting undocumented immigrants from illegal searches and seizures. “My preference is that our county addresses dangerous policies through ordinances, legislation and budget allocations,” she said, adding that lawsuits should be pursued only as a second line of defense.

Alvarado not only wants to keep ICE out, but said he’d like to see the Second Amendment repealed: “It’s a relic of the past we don’t need.”

Upholding citizens’ First Amendment rights is a foremost priority for Hernandez, who said she finds, for example, the current board of supervisors admonishment of clapping at meetings worrisome.


While nearly all of the candidates agree with the board’s priorities when it comes to the budget, some like Ellenberg, expressed concern about the county’s fiscal accountability.

Hernandez, too, wants to increase fiscal transparency. She supports regular audits of all county departments and surveying residents to find out what is important to them before the board votes to adopt plans and fund them.

Meanwhile, Rocha and Baker generally agree with the board’s priorities.

Alvarado said he believes the county can do more to address education, poverty, mental health issues and foster care.

Oliverio, too, criticized the county’s spending on statues, private attorneys and playgrounds for the disabled, saying he’d like to see those dollars directed toward homelessness instead.

“At least you should have the discussion on what that money could buy,” he said.


Baker wants to see the county pick up its pace on jail reform, calling for increased training and oversight for jail guards.

“I think we owe it to the public to have a lot greater sense of oversight and a lot more opportunity to bring sunshine into the jails,” he said.

Alvarado, meanwhile is calling for “total reform,” at the jails and thinks there’s a systemic problem. He lauds the European model that is organized around tenets of resocialization and rehabilitation. He would like to see the county jail system rebuilt from the ground up to closely mirror European prisons.

Alvarado isn’t the only one who sees significant cracks in the system. Hernandez calls the county’s jail system “self-preserving” and says taxpayers should be reimbursed for a jail reform report detailing any progress made following the 2015 beating death by county jail guards of mentally ill inmate Michael Tyree. “It would be nice if we would get reimbursed because that’s a lack of respect, honestly,” she said.

Ellenberg supports the board’s decision to hire an independent auditor to hold guards accountable for their actions. She touted her experience as a jail monitor at the county’s Elmwood Correctional Facility for helping her understand challenges faced by inmates. She says programming for women and behavioral and mental health training for guards need improving.

Rocha said one of his highest priorities as supervisor would be renovating the county’s aging jails. “An upgraded jail would provide a much better environment not only for inmates but for the guards that patrol them,” said the San Jose City councilman.

Taking a cue from Los Angeles County, which is credited with improving conditions for disabled inmates, Oliverio said he’d be “open and willing” to experiment with different solutions that could help rehabilitate the mentally ill.


Alvarado believes one solution to the housing crisis is to find vacant land that can be redeveloped into high-density housing and to promote policies that encourage cross-partnerships between developers and landowners.

While Hernandez is concerned about how funds from Measure A — the $950 million bond measure voters approved in 2016 — are being spent, she generally supports the allocation of resources for land acquisition, dense affordable housing near public transit, tax incentives for developers and housing vouchers for low-income families.

Ellenberg said she sees numerous opportunities for public-private partnerships to make home ownership feasible for the county’s low-income individuals and families. She endorses bridge loans and support for first-time homebuyers, teachers and other low-income public sector employees. “We need systemic change,” she said, and a “more equitable legal process.”

Baker agrees with Ellenberg and supports Measure A, but believes “there needs to be strings attached.”

He also supports rent control, contending that while it doesn’t wipe away the housing crisis entirely, it is one of many solutions to the problem. “We need to stop the bleeding by putting on rent control now,” he said.

Oliverio believes cities play a bigger role in tackling housing than the county and that he would prefer to educate people about the importance of building high-density housing and leave land use decisions to cities. He’s also not a fan of the state’s environmental review process, maintaining that it is “one of the biggest barriers to affordable housing projects.”

Rocha opined that he’d like to see the state play a bigger part in helping local municipalities address housing, but that the county would have to step it up, too. “In some cases, I don’t see us acting like this is a crisis,” he said. “I’d like to see the county act more aggressively.”


Rocha wants to restore a regional commission similar to one that existed in the 1970s that deals with regional planning issues such as transit, jobs, growth and housing.

Alvarado supports extending freeways and mass transit. “Our mass transit is very skeletal,” he said. “We’ve got to put in a lot more infrastructure for buses and light rail.”

Hernandez supports modernizing Caltrain, bringing BART to San Jose and the development of additional parking adjacent to high density transit stations, as well as seeking partnerships to make transit affordable and convenient for county residents.

Baker is a proponent of tying transportation dollars to affordable housing to combat traffic congestion and reduce housing costs. He also said he’d like to emulate the success he had in transforming Campbell into a more bicycle and pedestrian friendly city by promoting programs that expand biking beyond the light rail crowd and building infrastructure to help cyclists feel safer.


Hernandez highlighted a number of things she finds problematic about the county’s safety net hospital, which comprises a quarter of the county’s $6.5 billion budget. Wait times are too long, she said, equipment has gone missing and the hospital has a “revolving door issue” with its nursing staff.

Conversely, Ellenberg said her experience has been dramatically different. Despite its issues, she believes the hospital is a “tremendous resource” for the community and she’d like to raise its visibility.

In the same vein, Baker pointed out that while the hospital has tremendous burdens, it also gets undersold on the things it does well.

Alvarado called for instituting more audits and better management of the hospital’s projects. “We need to keep track of every dollar,” he said. “Democracy doesn’t work on auto-pilot.”

Oliverio said he’d look into providing more beds for the mentally ill at the hospital, in addition to bringing back facilities that specifically serve the mentally ill and implementing Laura’s Law, a California state law that allows for court-ordered assisted outpatient treatment.

Candidates for Santa Clara County Supervisor, District 4

Mike Alvarado, 57, IT consultant, owner of a car wash in Santa Clara

  • Endorsed by: N/A

Jason Baker, 46, attorney, legislative director, former Campbell Mayor and City Councilmember

  • Endorsed by: Campbell Mayor Paul Resnikoff, Cupertino Mayor Darcy Paul, Mountain View Mayor Lenny Siegel

Susan Ellenberg, 51, attorney, San Jose Unified School District Board president

  • Endorsed by: Supervisor Ken Yeager, Santa Clara County Democratic Party, Congressman Adam Schiff

Maria Hernandez, 40, marketing consultant in the private sector

  • Endorsed by: N/A

Pierluigi Oliverio, 48, field application engineer at SupplyFrame, former San Jose City Councilmember

  • Endorsed by: Silicon Valley Organization, former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, San Jose City Councilwoman Dev Davis

Don Rocha, 49, San Jose City Councilmember

  • Endorsed by: State Sen. Jim Beall, Supervisors Ken Yeager and Dave Cortese, South Bay Labor Council