SAN JOSE -- The race for the downtown City Council seat is as packed as the city's oldest neighborhoods and as fresh as browned churros at a street festival.
Six candidates are running in the June primary for District 3, which also features the best and worst of San Jose. A huge homeless camp called "The Jungle" keeps popping up not far from million-dollar condominiums downtown. Three air-polluting freeways circle the district, but its new, green bicycle lanes aim to even the score.
All of the candidates are running for council for the first time. Leading the pack in fundraising are neighborhood leaders Kathy Sutherland and Don Gagliardi. Joining them are businessman Mauricio Mejia, public schoolteacher George Kleidon, emergency medical technician John Hosmon and San Jose police officer Raul Peralez.
At election forums or in ballot statements, most have said they want to improve public safety and services, build more affordable housing, promote the arts and grow the city's economy. Where they differ is on their highest priorities and approach. If there's a wedge between them, it's the ongoing fight over Measure B and pension reform. A judge upheld the 2012 measure's smaller new-hire retirement plans and cuts to retiree medical care and bonus checks that have saved millions of dollars, but blocked changes for current worker pensions, which city unions say cannot be changed during their careers. Appeals are expected.
Sutherland says she has experience at the neighborhood level and at City Hall. She started the Delmas Neighborhood Association, has served on city development panels and was chief of staff for former councilwoman Nancy Pyle.
"What separates me from the others is the breadth and depth of my experience," Sutherland said.
Neighborhood needs, such as public libraries, are high on her priority list. She wants more affordable apartments downtown, not just condos for the rich, and she'd provide "micro-housing" units for the homeless camped in the creeks -- tents, recreational vehicles and even modified shipping containers that can be organized into healthy, temporary housing sites. To help pay for such things, Sutherland suggests a temporary sales tax.
On Measure B, Sutherland would tweak it but does not favor repeal, as municipal unions want.
Gagliardi, a downtown attorney, says the end of big redevelopment was "a blessing in disguise." Where the agency favored big-ticket condos and office towers, Gagliardi would work smaller and cheaply by smoothing out the permit process for homegrown restaurants, retailers, arts groups, technology start-ups and affordable-housing builders. A more vibrant downtown, he says, would create the jobs and revenue to hire more cops and improve neighborhood services.
"We have the weather, creative people, the energy here to create an exciting downtown environment that will bring more people and businesses," he said.
He is a longtime member of the Northside Neighborhood Association and also sits on city planning panels. A fan of soccer, he supported a new stadium for the San Jose Earthquakes and the effort to build a youth soccer field house.
Gagliardi would expand library hours with a dedicated parcel tax but opposes new sales taxes as regressive.
Like Sutherland, he likes micro-housing as a temporary fix for homelessness and already has a location in mind -- the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds -- knowing it would face fierce opposition.
Gagliardi favored Measure B and would defend it.
"We can't move forward as a big city without pension reform," he says. "If you repeal it, you're flirting with what happened in Detroit."
Detroit has filed for bankruptcy.
Mejia, owner of California Labor Force, a personnel staffing business, says he was inspired to run for office after battling City Hall's thick permitting process when he opened a nightclub a few years ago.
"It was discouraging," he says. "I thought to myself, 'This is how you're treating me?'"
Mejia wants more businesses, small or large, that would provide more jobs and city revenues. He criticizes the city's pension reform.
"Measure B dented our police and fire services," Mejia said, "and put our people at risk."
Hosmon says his highest priorities are improving public safety, housing the homeless and promoting fitness -- if elected, he wants to walk or run once a week with constituents to not only get "the people out running" but also "talking to me about their neighborhood and the city."
Hosmon believes focusing on smaller, "broken-window" criminal behavior can prevent felony crimes down the road.
"I know we're stretched thin," he says, "but there are ways to improve public safety without hiring a lot of new officers."
He would ask the police department to bolster graffiti and gang enforcement. He favors a multi-agency approach to homelessness.
Hosmon said the city should ask businessmen who survived the city's permitting process to suggest changes in the system.
George Kleidon was born and raised in the Northside neighborhood but never thought of running for public office until moving back from Houston a few years ago.
"The spark was rising crime," the public school teacher says, "not being able to go to the park and feel safe."
He and his father, Bill Kleidon, started the volunteer Northside Youth Sports League, which has grown to about 1,000 kids playing baseball, flag football, basketball and soccer.
Kleidon's priorities are improving public safety and services, with an emphasis on recreational activities for troubled youth. His municipal experience includes service on the Mayor's Gang Prevention Task Force and the city-sponsored Brookwood Terrace Neighborhood Action Committee.
"Just because we're lacking in money doesn't mean we have to shut down services," he says. He would rearrange staffing at the police department to bolster anti-gang efforts. "That would be my number one for public safety."
To bolster youth and senior centers, he would have the city partner with outside groups and recruit volunteers.
Kleidon would repeal Measure B and believes a temporary sales tax increase would bring in enough money to cover pension costs until a deal is struck.
In a written response to this newspaper's questions, Peralez says his top priorities are "public safety, economic vitality and restoring public trust in city officials."
On public safety, he says he would bring "real proposals" to keep youth in schools and put more cops on the streets, but did not offer specific ideas.
Peralez says Measure B was "never the answer to the problem" and like Kleidon favors a negotiated deal with city unions, but did not offer alternatives if that doesn't happen. City officials put Measure B on the ballot after months of talks with unions failed to yield an agreement.
Peralez blames the decline of public services on "the loss of trust amongst our elected officials, public employees and our residents." His solution: "I will be a council member that focuses on building bridges between these broken relationships."
Contact Joe Rodriguez at 408-920-5767 and follow him on Twitter.com/JoeRodMercury.
Occupation: Community leader
Education: Studied at UC Santa Cruz
Hobbies: Reading, gardening
Education: Stanford Law School
Hobbies: Soccer fan
Education: Studied at San Jose State
Hobbies: Auto and motorcycle riding
Occupation: Emergency medical technician
Education: UC Santa Cruz
Hobby: Motorcycle riding
Occupation: Public school teacher
Education: San Jose State
Hobbies: Coaching youth sports
Occupation: Police officer
Education: San Jose State