The Santa Clara Weekly: Who is Doug Chan?
Who is Douglas Chan and Why Does He Care About Santa Clara Politics?
By Carolyn Schuk
That’s what the WEEKLY did, and we can report that Chan not only answers the phone, but he’s very happy to discuss anything from the BLUPAC “issues advocacy” group, to whether San Francisco’s instant run-off elections really result in more democratic results, to how the Giants blew a three-run lead and ended local World Series hopes.
Currently serving on the San Francisco Civil Service Commission, Chan has been involved in public life, governance, public policy, civil rights and economic development for almost 40 years. An attorney who specializes in technology and business law, Chan served on the San Francisco’s Human Rights Commission (2008-13), Police Commission (2004-06), Board of Permit Appeals (1993-95) Rent Stabilization and Arbitration Board (1983-87) and the Mayor’s Chinatown Economic Development Group, Inc.
In 1984, Chan was the principal author of “Asian Americans and the Presidency of the United States,” one of the first national position papers on Asian-American issues. He is also a founding member of the Chinese American Voter Association.
While BLUPAC isn’t focused on Asian-America issues, Chan readily admits it grows out of previous work he’s done with Chinese Americans, and attests to a concern that others have raised about Santa Clara’s City Council: It doesn’t look like the community it governs – ethnically, professionally or socially.
Demographic analysis done in 2010 showed Santa Clara’s population to be 39 percent Asian-American, 19 percent Hispanic-American, and 36 percent European-American (white).
But the Santa Clara City Council is 100 percent white, more than half have lived in Santa Clara their entire lives, and only one has ever worked in the technology industry. All but one live in single family detached houses, and none are renters. About half the residents of Santa Clara are renters, according to U.S. census statistics.
U.S. democracy “rewards those who participate,” Chan said. “Government should reflect the governed.” BLUPAC’s goal, he said is “to reach out to as many people as possible. It’s time for small town crony politics to end.”
Chan admits that Santa Clara isn’t the only place in California that fits that description. It’s merely the first place that BLUPAC is testing its model for informing voters and expanding voter engagement.
It’s not just the principle of broader participation that concerns Chan.
Santa Clara’s decisions have impact far beyond city boundaries, he said. “When you cast a vote for City Council, you’re making a decision about air quality, water, infrastructure, land use. The decisions made on a local level ripple out to the rest of the Bay Area.”
These decisions involve trade-offs that many voters don’t recognize. For example, higher density allows more open space, while lower residential densities and building heights will encourage sprawl that eats up open space.
His intention isn’t influencing local decisions, he said. “It’s to give people the information to make their own decisions. We lay out the issues.
“When you have more diverse representation,” he continued, “you’re going to have a higher quality of decision-making.”
One particular issue that BLUPAC is advocating for is a state-standard minimum wage. A varying minimum wage across municipal boundaries leads “to a race for the bottom,” he said. This impact not only can give businesses an incentive to leave progressive cities, it can add to Silicon Valley’s already mammoth traffic problems as people e commute from further away because they don’t make enough to live near their jobs.
Another issue BLUPAC is working on is getting San Francisco to live-stream the meetings of its boards, committees and commissions; which is where the nitty-gritty of that city’s government decisions are hammered out.
BLUPAC also conducts polls and does research on public issues, Chan said, and is supported by a base of volunteers and “a broad coalition” of donors, and community groups, whose identities he declined to disclose; although he would say, “This is not a real estate play.”
“We don’t undertake activities at the behest of any donor,” he said. Naming them “would detract from the issues we want to talk about. We don’t march to the tune of donors.”
As far as the 49ers are concerned, all Chan would say is, “The 49ers have provided plenty of personal disappointment to me over the years,” starting with the splinters in the benches at Kezar Stadium half a century ago. “I can’t control other people’s speculations.”
He also said that BLUPAC has no link to Citizens for Economic Council other than hiring the organization for BLUPAC’s slate mailer. The organization approached BLUPAC, Chan said.
Chan is also legal counsel for Robinson Communications, owned by Rich Robinson a long-time South Bay political consultant who has run many Santa Clara campaigns, including that of former Mayor Judy Nadler who defeated Lisa Gillmor in the 1990s. Chan and Robinson first met working for Sen. Alan Cranston in the 1970s.
The BLUPAC logo showing an apple is intended to symbolize education (an apple for the teacher, so to speak), Chan said, and has a bite taken out to form the ‘C’ in BLUPAC. He laughed, “It’s taking a bite out of small-town crony politics.”