Breland: Creating a better normal
An aerial view of downtown San Jose. File photo.

When San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo convened the Silicon Valley Recovery Roundtable during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was honored to have been invited to participate. While the challenge was daunting, the work that the roundtable was charged with was vital to our region’s ability to weather the worst impacts of the pandemic while also ensuring that our recovery would be quick, sustainable and equitable.

Initially, the 59-member roundtable—comprised of leaders from across the public, private and nonprofit sectors in the fields of business and industry, government, education, the arts and more—were tasked with developing policy recommendations and practical strategies for helping people get back to work, helping students get back to classrooms, supporting small businesses and ensuring that the region’s most vulnerable residents were not left behind.

We soon realized, however, that we had an even greater opportunity in front of us: The chance to ensure that our new normal would be a “better normal.”

A better normal means a more equitable and sustainable economy that is accessible to individuals and communities that have historically been kept from participating in and benefiting from all that Silicon Valley has to offer. It means housing equity, health equity and educational equity.

The only way we, as a community, will be able to make progress toward these ambitious goals is by putting aside differences and shifting the focus away from our own best interests and toward what is truly best for our community. This roundtable was a microcosm of what we can accomplish when we work together and focus instead on what is best for our community.

Silicon Valley is renowned throughout the world as the global epicenter of technology and innovation. If we are to fully recover from the economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, we will need to rely on the thought leadership and innovation for which we are known, but that alone won’t result in the changes outlined in the roundtable’s “Building a Better Normal” report.

Yes, some of our region’s best known and most valuable companies must step up and play a bigger role in our recovery, but I am heartened by the fact that some have already begun to do so, perhaps most notably Google, which has made a major commitment to the community as part of the plan for its new downtown San Jose campus.

But that alone will not be enough. Our public agencies can—and must—do more as well. Whether it’s local governments, K-12 and community college districts, or other public agencies, we need to work together more effectively and efficiently. We need to forge partnerships and share resources (human resources, land and facilities and financial resources when possible and practical).

As public agencies, we need to take a page out of the book of Big Tech and be bold and innovative. We can’t continue the status quo, but need to take a new, creative approach to community service that includes identifying and developing public/public and public/private partnerships.

I encourage everyone to read the roundtable’s full report. But don’t stop at just reading it; take it a step further and identify how you can become involved and participate in the regional effort to create a better normal.

There is a lot of work to be done. The only way we are going to be able to accomplish it is by rolling up our sleeves and doing it together.

San José Spotlight columnist Dr. Byron D. Clift Breland is chancellor of San Jose-Evergreen Community College district, which operates San Jose City College, Evergreen Valley College, the Milpitas College Extension and the Community College Center for Economic Mobility. His columns appear every first Wednesday of the month. He can be reached at [email protected]

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