By Harvey I. Barkin
MILPITAS – Six-term (2002-2008, 2010-2016) Mayor Jose Esteves ended his term last year. He was at one time the only Pinoy mayor in the Bay Area. His remarkable winning streak amazed many of his constituents and critics. Now that his new grandson gave him a reason to spend more time with the family, he says he isn’t done serving the community. He’s still dynamic and full of surprises as evidenced by this recent interview.
FAS: What’s going to happen now to the development projects you’re leaving behind: the sewer-like smell in Milpitas, the planned Pacific Mall near Walmart in Highway 237, the Bart station in Berryessa and the closure of some VTA bus lines, and the housing construction that may not be getting any more tech worker residents because of the travel ban?
Esteves: (About the sewer-like smell) The City has already decided not to use Newby Island as our disposal site. They have decided to use the Guadalupe landfill in San Jose for their disposal site. It was decided during my term to replace Republic Services which uses Newby. We decided to go with Garden City to collect garbage – this would be effective by September this year. They need lead time. The good news is that garbage will not be disposed in Milpitas. Of course, the legal challenge continues because Guadalupe landfill is in San Jose. The authority comes from the San Jose City Council and Planning Commission. That’s why we hired other agencies and Burke Williams & Sorensen Law Office to address this issue.
(About the proposed Pacific Mall modeled after the Toronto, Canada complex with mostly Asian merchandise and electronics) When I was still in office, we were about to approve their permit and everything for re-development. Unfortunately, the company did not have a successful negotiation with some existing businesses on the lot. They were not successful in getting their lease. Before I left, they were looking for another site. They believe in Milpitas and they want to be here. I know our City Manager and Economic Development Manager are supporting them to keep their location in Milpitas.
(About Bart and VTA) Before I left, we confirmed the opening for the Milpitas and Berryessa Bart station would be later this year, maybe November, September, even earlier. They were supposed to be done by 2018 but they are ahead of schedule and on budget. They are still doing the study to get rid of some of the VTA bus lines. Right now VTA needs to focus on: fare hike or recovery of costs, and operations versus service and coverage because they cover more in areas without much passengers. More money will be lost. But if they focus only on high traffic pedestrian areas, then they will have high fare recovery. We were at the cross roads in deciding but I will not be part of it. But if VTA chooses fare recovery, maybe not only Milpitas but the whole region will lose some bus lines. I think our transit station should be a service effort; not money effort.
(About the flow of tech worker home buyers that maybe limited by travel ban) Milpitas is one of the cities where we are able to address housing issues. The reason is that while we build job and commercial sites, we made sure we had accompanying housing development. For example, even before Bart comes, we re-zoned the whole area into a transit area specific plan and there is a proposed 7,000 homes to be built in the area. Right now about 4,000 are being built and more are coming. If you drive along Montague, you will see all this development. There are also commercial sections to serve the residents.
The groceries and self-service areas are nearby because it’s a transit-oriented kind of development so people can take the mass transit systems: the light railway train, the buses and soon Bart. At the same time, it’s pedestrian oriented so people can just walk to get by without their cars to get their needs. They will be focused on the Great Mall area and will not impact Central Milpitas.
Most of our tech resources come from India. If you come to Milpitas, you see a lot of H1-B visa holders who are Indians in the housing developments. My gut feeling is that most of our tech resources are Indian Americans, not Middle Easterners. My belief is that we should not be impacted at all (by Trump’s travel ban).
I would oppose making Milpitas a sanctuary city. If I were mayor now, I would oppose it. I don’t know about the current mayor (Richard Tran). But I’m not in favor of making Milpitas a sanctuary city. I would give due respect to the Federal government about their policies because immigration is more of a Federal issue. I would give them respect because they would have good resources to do a study and get basis for their actions. Whereas, at the local city level, we do not have the resources to look into if it’s good for the city. It’s not part of the city’s core services. If I were mayor, I would focus more on what our limited budget can do.
FAS: So, you agree with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte when he said he would not lift a finger to help undocumented Pinoys?
Esteves: I totally agree with Duterte. He should focus on Philippine issues and he already has too much on his plate. I don’t know how he can help in the first place. I don’t totally sympathize with undocumented immigrants. On the other hand, they can be very helpful to the US. I agree with Trump on the actions against the undocumented but only those with criminal records. This would be the dividing line for me because if you are undocumented with a criminal record, I would say you don’t have business staying in the city. At the same time, if you have a criminal record, you have no business staying in other countries. So I think it’s a good way to reduce the crime rate in our country. But of course, we have to look at contributing immigrants. We use the word ‘contributing.’ Contributing immigrants augment and enhance our economy.
FAS: Was there another Pinoy running in the November elections?
Esteves: There was another Pinoy candidate, Evelyn Chua. Her husband was Chinese. She served for many years during Henry Manayan’s time. And here’s a message to our kababayan: unfortunately she lost and the most likely reason is the very low Filipino voter turn-out. The estimate is likely only 30 percent. If only it were 50 percent, maybe she would have won by a big mark. She lost only by a small mark. She was running for City Council. And a Vietnamese guy who just moved to Milpitas won. As far as I know, he had no major involvement in Milpitas. Evelyn had the years. Sayang! This is a warning to all Pinoys. In San Jose, there are now two or three Vietnamese-American City Council members. They have strong Vietnamese supporters. Many Filipinos are active in San Jose but they don’t have such a support group. Pinoys continue to struggle to get a voice in government. I did not get respect from my fellow elected officials because they kept telling me my community does not vote. Why should they listen to me? We have the number but we don’t have the clout. We have the count but we are not counted. But this is not new. We’ve known this for a long time. I don’t know why our community is not waking up. In Daly City, Mayor Jim Navarro lost. Mike Guingona lost, too. And they have a big Filipino community.
FAS: So how is your typical day like now?
Esteves: Right now, I became more active in the Knights of Columbus, I’m community director. I’m also active in the FilAm Association of Milpitas and I continue to help anybody regardless of ethnicity. I lend a hand at City Hall when they need something and at their events. I continue to serve my church and I retired from my day job as systems specialist 2 two years ago. I liked my job but my family said I should retire so I could enjoy time with myself and be more flexible. I especially have more time for my family because I now have my first grandson. I would run again but I don’t know yet.
FAS: Looking back, what would you say are the best qualities that make Pinoys serve well in public office?
Esteves: Our good family values. We Pinoys try to protect our children and our grandparents – that’s important for somebody in an elected position. Another is our desire to be honorable because a true Filipino keeps his nose clean. Hindi pwedeng mapahiya tayo dahil masama yung gawa natin. Our reputation and out honor are first and foremost for a lot of us. The true Filipino is honest. Ayaw nating magnakaw. We work hard, we have honorable jobs, have clean lives and clean names. We are also religious. We are honest and dedicated in what we do. Whenever I’m asked what made me get elected, I always mention these and also accomplishments. Do something instead of nothing. Lastly, Filipinos really try to pursue excellence. Most of us strive hard not to be mediocre. And Filipinos focus on education.