This week, four of six candidates vying for two seats in the Cupertino City Council shared their views on housing, taxes, rent control and green building standards with members of SILVAR’s Cupertino/Sunnyvale District. There appeared to be no stark difference in each candidate’s stance on these issues.

Left to right: Rod Sinks, Donna Austin, Marty Miller and Gilbert Wong.

Donna Austin, a staunch supporter of mixed-use development, believes the city needs to step up and provide more housing and retail. She would support higher density and height along the transit corridor. She described herself as “fiscally very conservative,” not too keen on Measure C, but said it’s a tax that will not hurt residents. Measure C, which is on the November 8 ballot, proposes to raise the city’s transient occupancy tax (TOT) paid by hotel guests from 10 percent to 12 percent. There are other ways to obtain revenue, she said. She is for more housing, especially since Apple is expanding. Austin is against rent control because she does not believe renters or landlords would be motivated to renovate. She believes the city is already one of the greenest communities in the region and residents should be free to follow green practices that best suit them. A former San Jose teacher and an active community volunteer, Austin has served on the city’s planning commission and was honored by the Cupertino Chamber of Commerce as this year’s citizen of the year. She believes with her teaching skills, she would bring a different perspective to the council and benefit the city.

Marty Miller, who is a REALTOR® and SILVAR member, wants the city to be more friendly toward businesses. He is in general opposed to all taxes. He believes Californians are overtaxed and that the state tax system is badly in need of reform. By raising the cost for travelers to stay in Cupertino, Miller said the passage of Measure C will ultimately hurt businesses and the city. More housing is needed in Cupertino and there should be a better balance of jobs and housing, he said. If more people lived closer to where they worked, there would be even less traffic, he noted. Miller is opposed to rent control and called it “misguided government policy.” He is also against imposing green building standards on the community. Incentives are the way to go; not mandates. There are two things that kill jobs and growth, said Miller – taxes and excessive regulation, so government should leave the market alone. A REALTOR®, who has been on the planning commission for the past nine years, Miller said the “real power is in the city council.” It is why he is a candidate. He said he would be an appropriate representative of the business community, especially REALTOR®s.

Rod Sinks is frustrated at city projects that have stalled, especially Vallco Shopping Mall, and he is running because he wants to push them through. The city needs to create things that cater to the people. More housing and development are keys to making Cupertino a destination place, so people will shop here and dine here, he said. Sinks said he worked as a volunteer to pass the parcel tax because he saw it as a strengthening measure to improve property values, but he is not a supporter of other taxes. He, too, said California needs to reform its tax system, which he feels inhibits mobility. He is opposed to rent control because it creates a disincentive. As co-founder of Bay Area for Clean Environment (formerly No Toxic Air), a grassroots environmental organization, Sinks said he is very excited about greening the community, but does not believe it should be mandated. Having launched successful high-tech start-up companies, Sinks believes he has the vision and the skills to bring a team together and make the council function more efficiently, especially at its meetings.

Gilbert Wong, who currently serves as mayor of Cupertino and is the lone incumbent in the race, said he would like to continue his work on the council. Born and raised in Cupertino, Wong served five years on the planning commission, prior to his election to the city council in 2007. He said the city has a great future with its excellent public schools. There are more things to come and he would like to see the development projects continued. Wong believes taxes should be the last resort and placing Measure C on the November ballot was just that. He explained Hewlett Packard’s departure left a $1 million dollar hole in the city’s finances. The TOT could raise $450,000 additional revenue for the city. He said he would support anything to protect Cupertino’s schools as long as it is reasonable, such as a school parcel tax. Wong noted, as a property manager, he too does not support rent control. He believes Cupertino’s green building standards should not raise the cost for builders, especially during these hard economic times. The city should stick to the minimum standards currently in place and review them next year, Wong said.