SJ City Council to fill open seats rather than hold special election, despite public pushback

Tuesday, December 6, 2022
SJ City Council to fill open seats rather than hold special election
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"This is unprecedented, and I think it brings shame to our city," outgoing SJ Mayor Sam Liccardo said before the City Council voted to appoint the next two members instead of holding a special election, which was met with much resistance.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- The San Jose City Council decided in a special meeting lasting over six hours that it will fill two empty city council seats and not have a special election.

Mayor-Elect Matt Mahan, who represents District 10, will soon be leaving his current council seat. District 8 Councilmember Sylvia Arenas is also leaving for the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.

San Jose community members clashed inside the packed San Jose City Hall chambers Monday night.

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Hundreds attended the city's Special Meeting in-person, with hundreds more online. Up for debate was if people or politicians will decide who will next represent Districts 8 and 10.

Seven City Council members voted in favor of appointing replacements for the two seats. Four voted against it.

Among those voting against was outgoing Mayor Sam Liccardo.

"So yes this is unprecedented, and I think it brings shame to our city," Liccardo said just before the vote.

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The decision to fill the seats was controversial, as a majority in attendance agreed with Liccardo about wanting a special election, but not all.

"Each and every one of you earned your power seat through democratic process," one resident emphasized during public comment. "Not appointment, nor assignment."

"Let's not do this," Gail Osmer, a local homeless advocate, said in opposition. "I know everybody in the audience thinks it's wonderful, we should be doing it, freedom of speech... we have people sleeping on the ground!"

Osmer's comments were met with boos.

The city estimates a special election can cost between $1.2 and $2.9 million per district.

However, those in opposition argued previous low voter turnout is proof that the process would be a waste of taxpayer money.

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Earlier Monday evening, Mayor Liccardo, Mayor-Elect Mahan, and others spoke before a crowd of special election supporters.

"This is a political power grab with no historical precedent," Mahan told the crowd. "San Jose has filled the last five vacant seats with a vote of the people."

At the start of the Special Meeting, a city representative shared information about how city leaders responded to vacancies in the past. In 1994, the council appointed representatives. Special elections decided seats in 1995, 2000, 2005, 2006, and in 2014, where there was a special election after the council made an interim appointment.

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