San Jose Councilmember David Cohen came out on top of a tight four-way primary in March 2020 and became the only candidate last year to unseat an incumbent. By ousting former Councilmember Lan Diep, Cohen’s victory shifted the City Council in favor of labor-aligned candidates.
Since taking office in January, Cohen, who represents District 4, which covers Alviso, Berryessa and North San Jose, has authored several homeless-related proposals, including a halt to encampment sweeps, COVID-19 vaccinations for homeless residents and proposals for transitional housing. His office is now working to identify encampments to provide sanitation and other city services to those sites.
“The primary objective is to find locations that are safe where we can provide services so that we can offer people places to go,” he said. “I don’t believe it’s the right thing to sweep people away unless they have somewhere else to be placed.”
Cohen said he spent his first few weeks in office creating a robust “customer service”-like outreach to residents to ensure messages and emails would be responded to quickly. He, along with colleague Dev Davis, also introduced a proposal to cut down on the length of council meetings to make them more efficient.
San José Spotlight sat down with Cohen to ask about his first 100 days on the City Council.
Q: What has been the most challenging part of the job?
A: The greatest challenge of the first 100 days has been starting up a council office during the era of COVID. We have had to ramp up without the benefit of having our team in the office together. That makes it hard to build a cohesive team, and we are missing out on building relationships with other council offices and learning from them. It also means our team can’t be out interacting directly with members of the community as much as we’d like.
Q: What has surprised you the most?
A: I’ve been surprised that as a council and as a city that we have had to combat the dramatic increase in acts of harassment and violence toward our AAPI community. In the wake of these alarming events, I’ve been reminded of how important it is to listen, learn and act with thoughtfulness, consideration and urgency. If there is a positive to be taken from all of this, it’s that our community has come together. I hope to continue to build on that foundation of connection and collaboration with the increasingly diverse constituents of District 4.
Q: What are some of your longer-term goals for your first term?
A: We have policy goals and development goals for our community. We also need to get people healthy and make sure everyone’s vaccinated. We’re working on providing access to services people need so we can get back to normal as soon as possible.
We will continue to be accessible and have public meetings with members of the community. In the next few months, our other big focus is the city budget, making sure we’re actively engaged in what the needs of our district are so we can use the budget process to provide resources to improve the lives of our residents. We’ve put a lot of time as a district office into Alviso, which is an underserved part of our community that often gets overlooked. We’re just as focused on making sure they have access to parks and resources as other parts of the district already have. It’s important for us to make sure that all parts of our community get the services that they need.
Q: What is the biggest challenge facing your district so far?
A: In general, issues of neighborhood safety, blight, issues of cleanliness, making sure we have good traffic management and enforcement of traffic laws and trying to minimize speeding cars through neighborhoods and the prevalence of homelessness throughout our city and throughout our district. Those are themes that resonate throughout the entire district.