Dev Davis may be known as the District 6 council member, but she is also the mastermind behind the San Jose council curfew, the originator of the Star Trek meeting costume, and–as you will hear–a skilled actor in medical dramas!
Q: I would like to start with the April 18 council meeting of last year, when you all invited Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak into city hall. What stood out to me was what you were wearing. Would you describe your attire that day?
A: I was wearing a traditional Star Trek female crew member dress.
Q: How did you conceive of that?
A: Well, all Comic Cons are celebrated–at least in the United States–by having many of its attendees wear costumes. I thought it would be in the spirit of celebrating Comic Con for the city council to have costumes.
Q: I see your logic but don’t you think it sets a dangerous precedent to have council members putting on costumes for meetings? I mean, what’s to stop your mayor now from wearing assless chaps during Pride?
A: That would not only be a great homage to Pride but also to Prince, who is one of my favorite artists. But our mayor is quite conservative and would never don assless chaps.
Q: Well, Mayor Liccardo, if you were to make that fashion choice, just know you have two supporters of that right here. We will validate your choice. Dev, let me ask you about a procedural oddity in San Jose: does your council not have ordinances or bills? You have “memos?”
A: We do have ordinances, but we have the Brown Act in California, which means that we can only communicate with a minority of our colleagues prior to voting. So the way that we communicate with everyone is through these formal memoranda that get attached to each agenda item. We can say what our thoughts are and basically what motion we’re going to be making on the floor.
Q: There seems to be this dance every few months when your council considers affordable housing at a meeting. Renters say, “we cannot afford to live here and it’s too easy to evict us.” Landlords say, “we need to be able to evict people and raise the rents.” And other people say, “this is all beside the point. We need to build more housing!” Then your council around midnight votes to side with the renters. Do you feel good after those meetings that you’ve accomplished something? Or are you frustrated that, okay, we put a Band-Aid on it. In a couple months, we’ll have another midnight meeting on housing again?
A: I do feel frustrated after those meetings. I feel emotionally drained. The reason that we continue to have these discussions is because it took us decades to get into this mess. It’s not something we can solve in one city council meeting and one year.
Q: Logistically, is there any way to structure these meetings better so that you all are not forced to make a decision very late at night after you’ve been yelled at for four hours, and maybe you’re not in the freshest mindset?
A: The only reason we have a midnight curfew is because Councilmember [Chappie] Jones and I asked to have a midnight curfew. Prior to the curfew last year, there were multiple meetings that went until 2:30 in the morning. As we get more and more tired–whether we want to or not consciously–subconsciously our brain starts shutting down and we don’t make the best decisions.
Q: Have you ever felt that you voted the wrong way because of all those stress factors on your brain when you were going to those extremely late meetings?
A: I’ve never regretted any of my votes, but I’ve often wished we had more time to think about the sausage we were making to get to six votes after a long meeting like that.
When I saw that half of the San José city council was wearing Star Trek uniforms at last week’s council meeting, my first thought was, “sounds about right.” My second thought was, “get [Councilmember] Lan [Diep] on the line!”
Q: Thank you for joining me on the holiest of high holidays: Silicon Valley Comic Con. What do you have planned?
A: I have the Great American Litter Pickup in the morning.
Q: Uh, I’m sorry, the “litter pickup?” Is that from the Marvel Universe or the DC Universe?
A: I think it’s one of the independent ones!
Q: Okay, on April 18 I had some downtime between watching the Milwaukee city council meeting and the Tallahassee city council meeting. So, like usual, I flipped over to San José and I saw you say this:
LD: Thank you, captain. Government: a fickle frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship San José. Its four year mission–possibly extendable to eight–to explore wonderful new policies. To seek out better quality of life…to boldy innovate where no municipality has innovated before!
Q: Uh, okay, “Starfleet Commander,” what was all that about?
A: Prior to that meeting, Councilmember Dev Davis hosted a flag-raising for the Silicon Valley Comic Con. We created our own flag for it. I’m not sure if the city did it or Councilmember Davis did or the Comic Con did. She invited Steve Wozniak and she got the entire city council involved to dress up in Star Trek uniforms. So we were there and Steve Wozniak was there and a bunch of Star Wars and other cosplayers showed up. Fun was had. We presented a commendation to Steve Wozniak for being a great ambassador for the city of San José. Councilmember Davis and myself and a few other people showed up wearing our Star Trek uniforms from the previous event.
Q: I noticed there were some different colors going on. Some people wore gold, others wore red or blue. What was the logic behind that?
A: My understanding is that red are the engineers. They get things done. The blue is the science group and the gold is the command group. A lot of us wore gold–we did not coordinate that!
Q: You and the mayor were both wearing gold. So if a disaster were to befall San José, would you two be on the same team?
A: I mean, everyone assumes that I was trying to be Kirk. But maybe I was just playing a type and being Sulu, the Asian on the Star Trek fleet!
(And if you want to skip ahead to the fun radio play we did, here it is:)
You may recognize Lan Diep from his city council swearing-in ceremony during which he held a replica Captain America shield:
It was an inspiring moment. But let’s keep our eyes on the prize: he’s a freshman council member in San José (yes, it’s spelled with the accent mark) who is new to the city council meeting game. That’s why I asked him about his “jitters,” his boisterous first meeting, and who his amigas are on the council.
Q: Before your first meeting, you tweeted this:
I'll sit on the dais for the first time in about 30 minutes and boy, I gots the jitters. You got this, Lân… you got this!
A: You campaign for this thing and until you actually get up there, it’s this abstract idea. You can’t anticipate what the job will be like until you’re actually there. There has been a bit of an awakening–not good or bad. Just different.
Q: Is there some glaring disconnect between us watching you on the city council meetings and what you experience?
A: What I didn’t anticipate is that this would be a lifestyle. You can go to an event and see your mayor or your council member get on stage, say some nice words, and shake people’s hands, then leave. And you think, “wouldn’t it be great to have my name called out to be on that stage!” What you don’t realize is you’re still at that event, but the council member probably has three or four or five more events that day. The physical toll of that was a surprise to me.
Q: Your first council meeting was a doozy. You had a full house of mostly Vietnamese and Vietnamese Americans and the topic was whether San José would fly the flag of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (communist Vietnam) or the Vietnamese Heritage and Freedom Flag. A hundred people came up and talked emotionally about what the communist flag meant to them. Did it surprise you to have that be so controversial?
A: Um, no. San José is home to the most Vietnamese people in any one city outside of Vietnam. Whenever they can, they do things like get their city government to oppose flying the Red Flag as a way to say to the government in Vietnam, “we reject your rule.”
Q: Is there someone on the city council you consider a best friend?
A: I have two people I feel close to. One is Council Member Dev Davis, who I jokingly call my “work wife.” [We] go around to events together. The other person I’m close to is Council Member Sylvia Arenas, who I’ve jokingly called my “best friend at work.” We made a video together reviewing the crab sandwich at McDonald’s that’s being offered for a limited time in San José!
Q: Lan, can you tell the listeners what you put in front of you on the dais during the council meetings?
A: [Laughs] I have a little Captain America Funko POP! figurine that I put in front of my computer monitor so when I’m speaking, he’s hanging out with me. I’m owning the Captain America thing that I unintentionally thrust upon myself. It was a surprise to me that a lot of people tweeted at me saying that I was cool or wished I was their council member. Some people called me an embarrassment. But what was really touching and unexpected were the people who said I presented to them some symbol of hope–I reminded them to look past party lines.
Follow Councilmember Lan Diep on Twitter at: @LTDiep