Milpitas' seven City Council candidates – who are vying for two open spots come November 6 – gathered on Wednesday evening for an Elections Forum at City Hall from 7 to 9 p.m. All were grilled by the Chamber of Commerce for about 45 minutes on how to reduce the budget deficit, attract businesses and overall make the city a more desirable place to live.
All candidates had different ideas of how to trim city finances. Carmen Montano, a local teacher, felt that the city budget should be analyzed in order to pinpoint where there is waste, and that the salaries of upper management should not be raised.
For Mark Tiernan, a local business owner, the answer to bringing down the city's deficit is creating more jobs and recruiting small or medium sized companies to come to Milpitas. “That’s what I’ve done in the past; that’s what I’ll do in the future,” he said.
The candidates were mostly against outsourcing the Police Department, stressing that it could compromise public safety.
“We can renegotiate salaries, but will not compromise on outsourcing,” said Deepka Lalwani, a business woman.
Rajeev Madnawat, an attorney and engineer, also stressed that police costs needed to be brought down, but without outsourcing. For Carmen Montano, only Milpitas police could thoroughly protect locals.
“Our city police know the community, they know our community members,” she said.
Garry Barbadillo, a consumer attorney, still felt that the city could have to “cede to some points” before the city reaches bankruptcy.
All the candidates had different suggestions of how to increase business in the city. “The rules and laws all favor big companies,” said Madnawat pointing out that it should be easier to establish a business of any size in Milpitas.
There should be incentives and a tax-break in order bring in more businesses, said Debbie Giordano, a business woman herself. She also suggested the city could reach out to top research institutions such as MIT in the hopes of attracting entrepreneurs. She thought BART, when completed nearby, would also play a big role in bringing in companies.
For Tiernan, “We should also reach out to commercial real estate brokers to find what space is available," he said.
The candidates were also asked how can Milpitas do a better job of promoting itself. Tiernan said the city should do a more thorough job of emphasizing what a safe place it is to live. “I didn’t realize our police force has a response time of two minutes and 41 seconds until I did the research,” he said.
Garry Barbadillo was also for marketing the city and bolstering its online presence. “Let’s tell people that investors can trust us in any way,” he said.
Giodano stressed multiculturalism and community events as a way of giving Milpitas an image boost. “We’re probably one of the most multicultural cities. We should have an event to bring city together,” said Giordano, pointing out the city should revisit the idea of building a convention center.
Ola Robert Hassan, a local entrepreneur, wanted more attention focused on bringing in outside businesses. “We need to explore ways of how other businesses can operate in the city. We are not doing that,” he said.
But for Lalwani, the answer lies in bolstering businesses that are already in town. “Should I get cosmetic surgery or improve my natural beauty?,” she said, eliciting laughter from the audience. “We should reach out [to existing businesses] through word of mouth, and improve local businesses.”