2023 in review: The San Jose City Council’s major decisions
More than 100 residents spoke ahead of a San Jose City Council vote on an affordable housing preservation policy on April 25, 2023. Photo by Jana Kadah.

San Jose policymakers marked 2023 with a myriad of major political votes and debates—many of which will have lasting effects for years to come.

A newly seated San Jose City Council, which included a first-time mayor and six new councilmembers, made notable decisions to avoid what would’ve been the city’s largest worker strike, voted for homeless solutions and changed the direction of the city’s independent police auditor.

Here are the top policy decisions of 2023:

Appointing new councilmembers 

The city council started the year with two vacant seats it filled through a council appointment. It was a controversial process, met with backlash from the business community, which protested multiple times.

The South San Jose/Evergreen District 8 seat, vacated by Sylvia Arenas after winning her race for Santa Clara County supervisor, was filled by Domingo Candelas. His appointment passed 7-2, though it was marred by accusations that he cheated during the process.

Arjun Batra received six out of nine council votes, filling the Almaden District 10 seat vacated by Matt Mahan when he won his mayoral bid.

Newly-appointed District 10 San Jose Councilmember Arjun Batra shakes hands with Mayor Matt Mahan on Jan. 26, 2023. Photo by Jana Kadah.

Batra and Candelas were appointed to finish the remaining two years of the four-year terms. Both are running for re-election and are eligible for two more full terms.

Long-awaited housing policy dies

After years of deliberation and analysis, hundreds of public comments and heated jabs hurled between San Jose councilmembers, the Community Opportunity to Purchase Act (COPA), a controversial housing preservation proposal, died.

COPA would’ve given qualified nonprofits the ability to make the first offer on multi-family residential properties in San Jose to maintain affordable rents.

Councilmembers Sergio Jimenez and Omar Torres, who voted in favor of COPA, saw this as strategy for more affordable housing. The opposition said the policy would give too much power to nonprofits and affect a property owner’s ability to market their home.

Mayor’s housing plan fails 

The most contentious part of Mayor Mahan’s budget plan—how to spend Measure E dollars—failed in a 6-5 vote. Measure E is a 2020 voter-approved property tax to fund homeless and housing solutions, and has become the city’s main tool to fund affordable housing development.

The mayor wanted to divert nearly $23 million from affordable housing development into temporary homeless shelters, known as interim housing, to more quickly address the city’s homeless crisis.

Instead, councilmembers voted 10-1 to approve a compromise between two plans that retains the majority of Measure E dollars for affordable housing. Councilmember Bien Doan was the lone dissenter. The new Measure E plan calls for spending 68%—or $93 million—on affordable housing instead of 75% of the measure’s revenues, as approved last year.

Worker strike threatened city shutdown

Nearly half of city employees threatened to strike earlier this year, which would have shut down city services. A compromise on salary increases stopped the strike at the 11th hour.

The city’s two largest unions—IFPTE Local 21 and AFSCME Local 101—were asking for an 18% increase over the next three years. The city compromised at 15%. For nearly a decade, city workers have shared concerns that raises have failed to match the increasing costs of living. It’s led to increased vacancies, workers becoming homeless and lengthly commutes.

San Jose workers prepare for a three-day strike while the city and unions try to find common ground. Photo by Jana Kadah.

Mahan was the only opponent against the compromise, noting the city cannot afford such increases amid a looming budget deficit.

Police auditor turmoil

San Jose’s former police watchdog, Shivaun Nurre, was allegedly set to be investigated for shouting at a police officer while drunk at a public event, before she abruptly retired in June.

Turmoil continued when Eva Roa, the city’s assistant independent police auditor, quit, in a story exclusively reported by San José Spotlight.

Roa sent a scathing resignation letter to city officials Sept. 8 airing her frustrations with city management for ignoring the Independent Police Auditor’s Office, which she said seems to be “struggling to want to officers truly accountable,” and criticized the interim IPA Karyn Sinunu-Towery for being too trusting of police internal investigators.

In November, the San Jose City Council rejected a proposal that would give the IPA’s office increased authority, including the right to directly investigate alleged police misconduct cases—despite recommendations from outside consultants and direction from the previous council.

Safe parking site opens

After years of planning and delayed construction, a safe parking site for homeless residents opened at the Santa Teresa VTA light rail station in July. It is currently the city’s only safe parking site.

A safe parking site for homeless people living in their vehicles has opened at the Santa Teresa VTA light rail station in San Jose. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

The parking lot provides 42 spaces for homeless people living in their vehicles, a slight decrease from the originally planned 45 spaces to allow for commuter cars. The city gave priority to those living in Districts 2 and 10, as well as RV dwellers living near Columbus Park.

Despite demand for safe parking spots, the site remained practically empty. Some councilmembers said it’s because restrictions to be accepted into the site are too stringent.

Cerone housing site wins approval

The VTA board of directors unanimously approved building 200 temporary homes for homeless residents at its North San Jose Cerone bus yard in October. The consensus by the 12-person VTA board—comprised of officials from across Santa Clara County—comes after deep political divides and ongoing disputes threatened the housing plans.

The vote allows VTA to lease 7.2 acres of its Cerone site to San Jose for five years.

It was a big win for San Jose, with councilmembers advocating since last November. Mayor Mahan, Vice Mayor Rosemary Kamei and Councilmembers Pam Foley and David Cohen lobbied for the Cerone site as the most cost effective option and the only site big enough to accommodate the tiny homes Gov. Gavin Newsom is building for San Jose.

San Jose Councilmember David Cohen urges the VTA board of directors to support building 200 homes for unhoused residents at the Cerone VTA Yard. San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan, Vice Mayor Rosemary Kamei and Councilmember Pam Foley, who sit on the board, also support housing there. Photo by Jana Kadah.

Wage theft policy reform

Labor leaders say issues of wage theft are rampant in San Jose. The most glaring example is the illegal and abusive labor practices employed during the construction of the now renamed Silvery Towers at 188 W. St. James St. in downtown in 2018, where immigrant workers were locked in shipping containers after spending the day working for little to no pay.

In 2019, after a federal court case brought those abuses to light, Councilmember Sergio Jimenez and some former colleagues fought to expand the city’s wage theft ordinance to include all public work projects. The city finally implemented it this year.

The council also introduced a responsible construction ordinance, which would allow the city to withhold certificates of occupancy for private construction projects if the owner, developer, contractor or subcontractor have any unpaid final wage theft judgements. The council deferred the vote until January because city officials said there wasn’t enough outreach to developers.

Contact Jana at [email protected] or follow @Jana_Kadah on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Comment Policy (updated 5/10/2023): Readers are required to log in through a social media or email platform to confirm authenticity. We reserve the right to delete comments or ban users who engage in personal attacks, hate speech, excess profanity or make verifiably false statements. Comments are moderated and approved by admin.

Leave a Reply