The Power of People

Minutes before the first election results were released on June 5, 2018, Brian Schmidt of Greenbelt Alliance reminded me, “We did everything we could.” He was right. For months, we had poured all our spare time, energy, and resources into the campaign to defeat Measure B and pass Measure C. And with a 20% margin, our months of hard work paid off.

Meeting the Threat

Measure B posed a significant threat to undeveloped space throughout San Jose, including Coyote Valley.  In addition to approving a 900-unit gated luxury home community on the open space of the Evergreen hillsides, it would have rewritten the General Plan to allow similar developments in many other places in San Jose. In November 2017, all polls indicated that the developers would win. Voters had been flooded with innocuous images of watercolor homes and assured by the developers that Measure B would benefit San Jose. Community advocates knew the importance of establishing a counter-narrative, but without available campaign funding, no one had leapt forward to lead an organized opposition.

Despite our odds, I decided to roll up my sleeves and call an emergency meeting at Pizza My Heart in downtown San Jose. Twenty passionate people became the early core of the campaign. This included Mayor Sam Liccardo, leaders of the Evergreen community – Wesley Lee, Robert Reese, and Jeremy Barrouse, Councilmember Sylvia Arenas, Former Vice Mayor Rose Herrera – and environmental nonprofit staff and volunteers from Audubon Society, California Native Plant Society, Greenbelt Alliance, and my own organization, Committee for Green Foothills.

Outspent but not Outnumbered

We hosted a community forum at Grace Church in Evergreen on December 18 to build up our base of volunteers. Nearly 100 people turned out. Bonnie Mace, a member of the Evergreen School District Board, volunteered that night to be our endorsement committee chair. Shortly after, Larry Ames, a local advocate who wears more hats than anyone I know (including one hat as a board member of Committee for Green Foothills), volunteered for that most important and legally responsible role, treasurer. We promised him that we didn’t expect to raise much money; in fact we would get $100,000 in donations and $150,000 in in-kind contributions before the campaign ended.

We knew our opposition would pour in millions in an effort to deceive San Jose residents with promises of abundant senior housing that were little more than blueprints for luxury condos. Final campaign reports tell us they spent $6 million — an unprecedented sum for a local ballot measure.

From November 2017 to June 2018, we engaged hundreds of people in our effort. Canvassers who got sunburnt knocking on doors, volunteers who made presentations to community groups and neighborhood associations three nights a week (shout out to Mackenzie Mossing and Alice Kaufman), people who stayed up until late in the night doing data entry (shout out to Laura Wells–thanks, mom!), and others who made themselves available 24/7 for anything that needed to get done. This field operation was led by two of the hardest working people I’ve ever met, Jordan Eldridge and Kat Baumgartner.

A Winning Coalition

By the end of the campaign we secured well over 1,000 endorsements, knocked on tens of thousands of doors, made ten thousand calls, hosted three press conferences, spoke in one radio forum, and participated in dozens of debates and presentations.

Our grassroots campaign was bolstered by parallel efforts from a Yes on C, No on B campaign committee Mayor Sam Liccardo created in the spring. His committee paid for two costly mailers in addition to ads on television and online, which helped counter the multi-million dollar media output from the opposition.

The No on B, Yes on C campaign united everyone: the entire San Jose City Council, every local environmental organization, and affordable housing advocates, veterans, senior advocates, and community leaders throughout the city. These groups didn’t just lend their names. They donated to the campaign, hosted precinct walks, participated in community forums, spoke at press conferences, sent emails to their networks, created mailers — the list goes on.

Lessons learned

I hope our win on June 5 encourages anyone thinking of getting a land use decision through the ballot box to instead work with elected officials and neighbors on development projects. Sprawl is no longer a winner at the ballot box no matter how much campaign funding backs it, especially if it’s up against a community-backed General Plan.

Thank you for everyone who united with us. San Jose owes you a huge debt of gratitude for years to come.

Naming names

So many hundreds were vital to carry us to the finish line. Our core team alone included several dozen incredible people. I’d like to recognized 100+ people who went above and beyond for this campaign. Based on my best recollection, they include:

Carol Allsup

Teresa Alvarado, SPUR

Former County Supervisor Blanca Alvarado

Liv Ames

Larry Ames, Campaign Treasurer, Committee for Green Foothills Board member

Garnetta Annable

Deb Arant

Councilmember Sylvia Arenas

Robin Ash

Jeremy Barousse, SIREN

Kat Baumgartner, Field Director

State Senator Jim Beall

Bryan Beck, Committee for Green Foothills Board member

Annie Belt

Steve Bennette

Lars Bourne

Stephen Bunn

Fred Buzo, AARP

Norma Camacho

Jeffrey Cardenas

Anthony Cardott

Vice Mayor Magdalena Carrasco

Brandon Chapman, District 6 Captain

Helen Chapman, District 6 Captain

Dan Chapman, District 6 Captain

Claire Chiara, District 4 Captain

Gloria Chun Hoo

Leslye Corsiglia, SV@Home

Tito Cortez

Councilmember Dev Davis

Cynthia Denny

Councilmember Lan Diep

Sandy Dilling

James Eggers, Sierra Club

Laurie Eldridge

Jordan Eldridge, Campaign Manager

Susan Ellenberg

Michael Erickson

Norene Esti

Juan Estrada

Hugh Fahrner

Shay Franco-Clausen

Jacquie Heffner, District 2 Captain

Mandy Henry

Former Vice Mayor Rose Herrera, District 8 Captain

Barbara Hing

Rick Hing

Melissa Hippard, District 6 Captain

Khanh Hoang, District 8 Captain

Leslie Holder, Committee for Green Foothills

Virginia Holtz

Bill James, Santa Clara County Democratic Party

Councilmember Sergio Jimenez

Councilmember Chappie Jones

Sean Kali-Rai

Assemblymember Ash Kalra

Lisa Kang

Kris Karnos

Alice Kaufman, Committee for Green Foothills

Councilmember Johnny Khamis

Jamal Khan

Shani Kleinhaus, Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society

Deb Koope

Paul Kumar, Save the Bay

Marc Landgraf

Karen Lattin, District 2 Captain

Wesley Lee, District 8 Captain

Lauren Lee

Bob Levy, District 1 Captain

David Lewis, Save the Bay

John Leyba

Mayor Sam Liccardo

Ava Lindstrom, Committee for Green Foothills

Pilar Lorenzana, SV@Home

Bonnie Mace, Endorsement Chair and District 8 Captain

Andrea Mackenzie

Brandi Maldonado

Ada Marquez

Diego Martinez, District 5 Captain

Patrick McGarrity

Eileen McLaughlin

Marianna Moles

Chris Mossing

Mackenzie Mossing, Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society and District 10 Captain

Sharon Ngo-Tran Bang Nguyen

Vy Nguyen, District 7 Captain

Councilmember Tam Nguyen

Bob Nunez, Santa Clara County Republican Party

Gail Osmer

Mitch Oster

Smita Patel, District 2 Captain

Surjet Patel

Ravi Pathak

Councilmember Raul Peralez

Dave Poeschel, District 10 Captain (walked 27 precincts!)

Former Councilwoman Nancy Pyle

Leslie Rearte

Jim Reed

Robert Reese, Fundraising Chair

Daniel Reyes, Co-Treasurer

Rosa Reyes

Councilmember Don Rocha

Linda Ruthruff

Tim Ryan

Pearleen Sangha

Brian Schmidt, Greenbelt Alliance

Justyne Schnupp, Committee for Green Foothills

Erik Schoennauer

Burt Smith

Shelley Smith

Jason Spitzer

Chris Sturken, Committee for Green Foothills

Kathy Sutherland

Omar Torres

David Tran

Matt Vander Sluis, Greenbelt Alliance

Ru Weerakoon

Laura Wells, the queen of data entry

Kevin Whalen

Helen Wolter, Committee for Green Foothills

Bill Wong

Kiyomi Yamamoto, Greenbelt Alliance

County Supervisor Ken Yeager

Beckie Zisser, Save the Bay


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