Editors Note: The Hatchet does not endorse Justin Sha. This is a candidate profile by a staff reporter from the Hatchet. You can find more candidate profiles at thefsjc.org.
About Justin Sha:
27-year-old Justin Sha was born and raised in Fremont. He attended Mission San Jose High School, graduating in the Class of 2011. According to Sha, he is the “only candidate who grew up in Fremont, and went to Fremont schools, so [he] really is a product of our community.” He earned his bachelor’s degree in history from Dartmouth College, and in 2018 graduated from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law with a Juris Doctorate.
Sha currently serves as a VP of Customer Success at Droisys Inc., an IT company, and as an adjunct instructor of Business Law at Ohlone College.
Sha sought a Fremont City Council Seat in 2018 but lost to Yang Shao, and is now running for Fremont Mayor. One of his biggest priorities as mayor would be to increase government transparency. “I really want to work with residents to get all input, regardless of whether you’re Democrat or Republican or Independent. I think everyone in America has the right to make their voice heard and have their opinions respected and have a respectful forum for these great ideas. And I would like to facilitate that,” Sha said.
Reopening Fremont and the Budget:
On the topic of reopening Fremont safely during the COVID-19 pandemic, Sha criticized Fremont’s lack of access to free testing, claiming that the city’s only free testing center was open for a mere month and a half at the start of quarantine. Therefore, to his knowledge, the closest testing center in Alameda County to Fremont residents at that time was in Hayward.
Now, there are several testing centers in Fremont, including the CVS on Driscoll Road, Bay Area Community Health on Liberty Street, and Washington Hospital on Mowry Avenue, as well as one in Newark at the AFC Urgent Care.
Sha also discussed creating a Fremont App which would include a COVID-19 section that would provide “residents with more information so that we can empower informed resident choices.” One feature Sha would like his app to include is a direct link to COVID-19 test rates by zip code. In fact, he would ask the county to break this data down further to show monthly and weekly data, not just the total aggregate number of positives. He wants to implement a platform where residents can anonymously report positive tests and their recent activities so that contact tracing can begin, later alerting others that they may have potentially come into contact with.
According to Sha, another major task in reopening Fremont further is increasing consumer confidence in local businesses. One idea he has to do so is requiring businesses to shut down and deep clean their buildings if any employees test positive, and only afterwards will they be allowed to reopen. “This issue is not going away. It won’t be here for two more years, for sure … It’s not an easy fix,” Sha said. He recognizes the lasting impact COVID-19 will have on Fremont, which is why he stresses the importance of being “more transparent about COVID-19 data.”
Additionally, Sha would implement new ways to educate the public about COVID-19, including “having the police educate the community by giving out masks, instead of saying ‘We’re going to keep fining you $100 [for not wearing a mask] arbitrarily based on whoever we decide to cite, according to our own preferences.’” He also considers partnering with businesses such as Facebook to provide masks to the public.
In regards to Fremont’s budget, Sha believes Fremont’s sales taxes have taken a hit this year, and recognizes that we “need to be cognizant of the fact that we are in a budget shortfall.” To solve this, Sha proposes pausing some of Fremont’s “pet projects”, such as repaving roads that don’t need to be repaved, “so, [we can] really focus on what people need to go about their daily lives.”
He also highlights what he claims to be the pension crisis, or a gap between the amount of promised funds towards state pensions and the actual amount of money allocated to that purpose. “We have a lot of unfunded liabilities, [for example], pensions like health care for retiring city employees. [This] includes the police’s pensions, who actually are the most expensive employees in terms of their health care costs down the road when they retire,” Sha said. “I would actually fund those [unfunded liabilities] so that we don’t have to keep kicking the can down the road to future generations.”
Housing and Homelessness:
“Fremont does not get as much money as [it] should from the county for homelessness, based on population size,” Sha said. “I’m a Democrat, and I would work well with Democratic leaders in the county to make sure that Fremont gets its fair share of the funds for homelessness.” Once the city receives these funds, Sha would focus on getting homeless people off the street as soon as possible.
One way Sha thinks we can do this is to use hotels that are not at full capacity during the pandemic as temporary housing for the homeless. Additionally, Sha believes Niles and Fremont residents were not included as much as they should have been in the case of the Homeless Navigation Center. “[We need to be] getting people more involved from the beginning, and having more people buy in [to the project] from the beginning.” Sha believes Fremont’s government needs to have meetings with the public before decisions are made, not just regarding homelessness, but about everything that affects our lives, instead of having “post-mortem” meetings where the government gathers the public’s opinions after the fact.
Sha also believes we should “try the very best if we can, to not have just one Homeless Navigation Center [in Fremont].” Fremont is the 12th largest city in the state based on land size, so Sha would focus on other areas besides downtown to add additional locations for Navigation Centers.
“My priority as mayor would be to make sure that if we do any new development, we really have to consider the impact on residents like the traffic impact, school impact and infrastructure impacts,” Sha said. One of his priorities would be to make sure the youth can afford to live here. In order to do this, “We need to build smart, [and] strategically for our future,” he said. Sha would change zoning laws to allow for smaller, denser, and more affordable units. The Fremont City Council decided a few years ago to reduce the ability of private property owners to expand their homes; Sha would reverse this decision.
Sha considers himself an environmentalist. He supports ideas such as reducing single-use plastics by switching to paper-based products. For example, he stated that the numerous boba shops in Fremont could make this switch. He also believes there are many opportunities in Fremont to invest in more solar and wind power, and he would aim to provide tax credits to residents who install solar panels. Additionally, he would set up community microgrids using these alternative technologies, so that when power is shut off, say because of a wildfire, Fremont wouldn’t completely lose power.
“I would like to reduce our carbon footprint in general,” Sha says. However, many decisions about environmental sustainability are made at the state level. “I have good relationships with a lot of people who are state legislators, and I would advocate for these [environmentally friendly] policies,” he said.
Sha added that, “The biggest pollutants in our country are these big corporations that basically buy our politicians through campaign donations … I think elected officials need to stop taking money from corporations [because] they are buying our elections, and that’s why we are in the crisis we are today, from fracking all the way to plastic pollution in the oceans.”
Policing and Public Safety
Sha is a strong supporter of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, and prides himself on the fact that he has been attending BLM rallies since 2014. Sha believes we need to think deeply about what “the purpose of our law enforcement and public safety is, and if those purposes are being met.” He said, “A lot of residents also feel targeted. Whether it’s true or not, we should acknowledge that some residents feel like targeted victims of crime, [and] that our police department really hasn’t responded to those concerns.” Furthermore, Sha doesn’t shy away from saying the Police Union has too much influence in Fremont. He criticizes annual budget increases that haven’t been met with any “tough questions” on the city’s behalf.
Sha does not support the presence of SROs on high school campuses, especially during COVID when they are empty. He believes that the city needs to “reimagine our police” and free up police funds by partnering with public health professionals. Currently, police are assigned to public health calls, despite not being trained extensively for these situations. Sha would rather have public health professionals respond to those calls. He would also like to implement a program similar to Denver’s The Support Team Assistance Response (STAR) program, which redirects 911 calls to a mental health center. He believes this program has proven that a police officer and a mental health professional do not need to both respond to a mental health call. “I want [Fremont] to be safe for everyone. Because at the end of the day, I feel like we don’t always need to default to [having] the police do everything. I don’t think that’s fair to the police and I don’t think it’s fair to the community,” Sha said.
Sha recognizes that Fremont has a public safety problem as crimes like burglaries, car break-ins, broken windows, and stolen Amazon packages have risen in recent years, and he believes it is because the police prioritize violent crimes over other crimes that affect the day-to-day lives of Fremont residents. “[The police] prioritize violent crime, for example, stabbing, or murder, where the police would drop everything [to attend to the call]. That’s the reason why Fremont is technically ranked a quote-unquote, safe city, because we don’t have those high murder rates or high violent crime rates. But the other things that really affect people, like stealing Amazon packages, the police don’t really search for the perpetrator.” Sha believes the police don’t take these problems seriously enough. “The police don’t really take a very big stand on this, or at least that’s the perception. So that’s why crime has increased under the mayor in the last four years,” Sha said.
Sha believes the biggest area of improvement for the Fremont government is increasing transparency between the government and city residents. “Our leadership has actually acted to make Fremont less accessible in the last four years. This even includes taking down the mayor’s email address from the [city] website,” Sha said. “Why do we have a government that likes to hide information from the people?”
Sha would “direct staff to not make decisions before seeking any public input.” He feels that Fremont does a lot of backtracking because they complete projects without enough public feedback. “It’s such a waste of energy and resources to then rehash everything like we should have from the get-go,” Sha said. “A leader is someone who will take everyone’s information and make a good informed decision based on that information to the best of his ability.” Sha would also use his app to create a one stop “Citizen’s Portal” where residents can get all the information they could possibly need about Fremont, ranging from COVID-19 testing to wildfires, in one place, instead of bits of information spread across several platforms. “We need to stop being afraid to solicit more opinion, maybe it’s more work, but maybe it’s worth it to do a better job, because we don’t have to go back and redo it.”
Sha would also create a data information pipeline to create a means for residents to give their input on city issues. He would create a new, free app for Fremont that is different from our current one which he claims does not work well and refers to as “a glitchy redirect to the Fremont website.”
He is also adamant about encouraging innovation within Fremont. To help realize his aforementioned Fremont App idea, Sha wants to offer internships to Fremont’s high school students, where they can compete to see who can design the best app. The winner’s work will become Fremont’s new, official app.
Advice for Voters:
“This is not my campaign, this is our campaign. The future is ours to seize. Not everyone can run for public office but we can all make a difference. This is probably the most important election potentially of our lifetimes, not just at the national level but maybe even for Fremont, too. Tell your friends and family to vote. Combat misinformation.”
To high school students: “Believe in yourself, believe in your own power and don’t let naysayers say you can’t do something, because they wish they could do what you’re doing. Follow your heart and try to make a good impact in the world. If we all did that we’d have a better society as opposed to what we are experiencing now, in 2020.”
For more information on Justin Sha: read his Mission Statement, visit his website, and follow him on Facebook.