Fourth-generation Santa Claran appointed as mayor
THE SANTA CLARA
February 25, 2016
There’s no honeymoon period for Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor—she has to hit the ground running to address the whirlwind of issues facing the city and community.
“I am very outspoken, I fight for my city and my community and I don’t care who I’m fighting against, I put Santa Clara first, and I think that’s the main reason I’m sitting here now as the mayor of Santa Clara,” Gillmor said.
To shock of city council and the Santa Clara community, Mayor Jamie Matthews announced his retirement unexpectedly the day after Super Bowl 50. Vice Mayor Teresa O’Neill stepped up to the plate to fill in for his duties until Gillmor was appointed unanimously by city council on Feb 17.
“Everybody has been very surprised,” O’Neill said. “I wish him well and I thank him for his service. It did catch us off guard and we’ve been scrambling to fill the gaps.”
O’Neill said that Gillmor’s leadership style makes her confident that she is the best pick.
“She really has a really in-depth understanding of the community,” O’Neill said. “I think her style of governance will be much more collaborative and inclusive for members of the council and the community.”
Gillmor has city government running through her veins—she is a fourth generation Santa Claran, and her father was the city’s first elected mayor back in 1968.
“She’s really smart and she doesn’t do anything halfway,” said Michael Hindery, VP for Finance and Administration. “She’s very clear and direct and very engaged in things”
She studied political science and Spanish at the University of Southern California, and became a parks commissioner for the City of Santa Clara when she was only 22 years old. She was in the middle of serving her second term as a city council member when she was appointed as mayor. She currently operates real estate firm Gillmor & Associates and has a spouse and three children.
“I grew up in city hall watching my father over the years and so I knew that I would have some kind of a role in public service,” Gillmor said.
Gillmor’s deeply embedded connection to the city is crucial to navigating the push for Santa Clara to become more vibrant.
Santa Clara is a stone’s throw away from San Jose’s lively, bustling downtown. Young high-tech yuppies flock to San Pedro Square to hork down kobe beef hot dogs on their lunch breaks. Bay Area residents create massive traffic jams on weekends while heading to the latest Bacon Extravaganza or IPA Festival in downtown. Its flashy bars swell to maximum capacity during a regular Friday or Saturday night. Santa Clara pales in comparison.
However, Santa Clara is on the precipice of becoming a major Silicon Valley hub after decades of stagnation. After the NFL moved the 49ers to Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, where Super Bowl 50 was hosted this month, developers have expressed interest in raising up new commercial retail properties and housing to attract commerce and accommodate a growing population.
“I think this is the time we are going to see Santa Clara become a city that people are going to actually want to visit,” said senior Jason Back, the ASG parliamentarian, adding that he thinks that Gillmor’s leadership will help usher in this new era.
One of Gillmor’s first official actions as mayor was to approve a plan aimed at creating a lively downtown area. She presided over a City Council meeting on Feb. 23 in which council members approved the Mission Town Center Project after a contentious debate that dragged on until 1 a.m.
The Irvine Company will now build 318 rental apartment units and about 22,000 square feet of commercial retail space on six acres of property in Santa Clara’s Old Quad. The area is an industrial quadrangle of land beside the university enclosed by railroad tracks to the northeast, Newhall Street to the south and Scott Boulevard to the west.
According to Gillmor, ten percent of the units will be affordable housing. Seventy percent of those affordable units will be for low to moderate-income residents and the remaining thirty percent will be for very low-income residents. Gillmor said the retail space will include restaurants and other establishments that should appeal to the neighboring university community.
Santa Clara is also in the middle of a conflict with the NFL—they used a soccer park that Santa Clara kids play on as a media village for Super Bowl 50, which left a “tremendous amount of damage” to the fields, according to Gillmor. The NFL is replacing several of the fields but there is still a significant amount of damage that has to be repaired before the park is given back to the city. This has been a huge source of tension and conflict between the NFL and the community members that use the field, Gillmor said.
“The only way to truly resolve the situation is for the 49ers and the NFL to acquire some other property, build a new soccer park and relocate the Santa Clara soccer park,” Gillmor said. “That endeavor will be tens and tens of millions of dollars, but they have not stepped forward to do that.”
In addition, the 49ers have also requested a rent-reduction for Levi’s Stadium, which is allowed only one time in their contract—Gillmor said the city will address the issue in March or April.
Communication between the university and city council has also been of paramount concern to students and residents. Last year, the Neighborhood Protection Ordinance Committee pushed for a now-defunct ordinance that would limit the number of occupants in a single-family home.
During one city council meeting addressing the proposed policy, city council member and Santa Clara alumnus Dominic Caserta blasted the university for barely participating in conversations about the ordinance.
Back said that students have been concerned about the lack of transparency within city council with regards to issues related to off-campus student housing, and said he hoped Gillmor was committed to working with students and addressing their concerns.
“The university is one of the cornerstones of this city and it would be in her best interest to support students on housing issues,” Back said.
Gillmor acknowledged allegations that the city council lacks transparency and said she wants to involve more community members in conversations about city affairs.
“We’ve been criticized a lot for not being as open and transparent here at city hall as we should be and I want to change that perception,” Gillmor said. “Valid or not, that perception is there.”
Gillmor chairs the Neighborhood-University Relations Committee, a forum for community members and students to air their grievances. According to Hindery, Gillmor’s leadership has transformed the committee meetings from a gripe-fest into an environment that spawns tangible progress.
“Seeing the success with (the Neighborhood-University Relations Committee) makes me hopeful and encouraged now that she had taken this leadership role of the whole city,” Hindery said.
Gillmor’s term will expire in Nov. 2018—the period Mathews was supposed to fill. O’Neill said that the city council will most likely appoint someone to fill the vacant seat.
“It just doesn’t make sense to have a special election, Lisa’s term as council member was going to be up this November,” O’Neill said.
Contact Sophie Mattson at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4849.