Full transcript: San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan’s 2023 State of the City
San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan is pictured at his first State of the City address on Saturday, Oct. 21. Photo by Ben Irwin.

Editor’s Note: This is a transcript of Mayor Matt Mahan’s  full 2023 State of the City address.

Welcome everyone! I see so many familiar faces here in the audience today. Thank you for showing up again and again to create the change we need in the place we all call home.

Over the past few weeks, as our community has grappled with shocking images and reports of violence coming out of the Middle East, I’ve visited faith communities and neighborhoods across our city.

As I visited synagogues I was greeted with Shalom aleichem.

As I visited mosques I was greeted with As-salamu alaikum.

I was raised Roman Catholic where we greet each other with Peace Be With You.

We share the same greetings. We share the same home here in San Jose. I know for the sake of our children we can share a safer, more prosperous, and peaceful future if we keep moving forward together.

Today in Israel and Palestine there are children – and other innocents – dying in a war for which they have no responsibility. Children are paying the price for a world that is not of their making.

As a father, I ask myself: How can we explain to our children what they might see on TV or hear about in school? How can we shield them from this horror?

What can we do? I know where I think we can start.

We have the opportunity and the privilege to call San Jose home. And our city is one of the most diverse cities in all of the world. We come from every corner of this planet, and we practice every faith. My own children have a grandmother who immigrated from Cuba. And a grandfather who immigrated from Egypt.

Their grandparents came to find freedom, opportunity, tolerance – and peace. And now it is our responsibility to work for freedom, opportunity, tolerance, and peace so the promise that brought them here is never broken.

The world is so complicated. But what we need is so simple. We need a city that works for everyone: A city that is safe for everyone. A city where everyone has a place to sleep indoors and where everyone can find a job that pays the bills. A city where we share the same opportunities today regardless of where we lived yesterday. A city that knows we have a hundred things we want to do, but a few things we must do to make the rest possible.

From the start of this year, our work together has been about getting San Jose back on track. And getting our city back on track means keeping City Hall focused on the basics. Basics like ensuring everyone is safe in their home, in their neighborhood, in their place of work, in their place of worship. This year, we have pushed hard to put San Jose on the path to being the safest big city in America once again.

This would not have been possible without the support of our City Manager Jennifer Maguire, Assistant City Manager Lee Wilcox, Police Chief Tony Mata, Fire Chief Robert Sapien, our DA Jeff Rosen – and all of you. My colleagues and I have attended hundreds of community meetings this year and seen neighbors take safety seriously. We’ve seen you launch Neighborhood Watch groups, connect with our first responders, and deepen relationships with each other – as Councilmember Davis and I just witnessed at the annual Neighborhood Conference.

We prioritized safety in the budget by allocating funding to double the rate at which we hire police officers. We have taken a stand against sideshows by enlisting the help of social media companies. We’ve embraced new tools like license plate readers and speed safety cameras. We have unequivocally declared a zero tolerance policy for drug dealing, drug buying and drug use on our city’s streets. And our Police Department recently secured a competitive, multi-million dollar grant from the State of California to address retail theft.

But we still need to do more to protect our small businesses and our families who are footing the bill for those individuals who under Prop 47 are able to steal $950 worth of goods every day with little to no consequence. That’s why we’re working with our District Attorney to hold those who repeatedly harm our community accountable for their actions. We’ve recently collaborated to update the booking process to ensure that the DA and Superior Court judges have sufficient information when making critical decisions about prosecution and release or detention. While we should never return to the era of mass incarceration, San Jose and cities across California need and will continue to demand new and better tools for holding repeat offenders accountable for getting the help that they need while we keep our communities safe.

We also made sure our City was a loud and important voice in the push for systemic mental health reform in Sacramento this year, which will make California safer and more humane. With the Governor’s signing of Senate Bill 43 last week, we will soon have a much-needed tool for compelling individuals with severe mental illness and addiction into in-patient treatment, including secure treatment beds for the most serious cases. By ensuring that no one falls through the cracks in our healthcare system, we can end the all too familiar and tragic cycle of homelessness, hospitalization and jail time, and get people the help that they need.

While we continue to push for common sense reforms to our criminal justice and mental health systems, I want to ask for your help in keeping our neighborhoods safe – in getting us back to this most basic responsibility. Over in our Safety Supporters corner, there are several opportunities to make a difference.

I’d like to ask you to raise your hand if you are a young person or if you know a young person – perhaps someone in college or a recent grad exploring their career options – a person who is starting to make their mark on the world.

To those of you with your hands raised, I’d like to invite you to visit our police and fire recruitment tables and learn more about a career in service. I’d like to ask you to take this information with you today, and pledge to share it with someone who is looking to make a difference.

Now, how many of you have an emergency kit at home?

We can’t control when natural disasters occur, but we can make sure we are ready for them. We’re lucky to have incredible volunteer Community Emergency Response Teams here in San Jose who work to prepare our residents for emergencies. If you did not raise your hand, I’d like to invite you to visit the CERT table to pick up the start of an emergency preparedness kit that could save your life in a moment of crisis.

Speaking of crises, we all know we have one on our streets today. A crisis of homelessness. We have over 4,000 people living without a home right here in San Jose. This problem, like many we face, can be solved if we can muster the political will to solve it together.

After the 1906 earthquake, San Francisco quickly constructed over 5,600 cottages to house those made homeless by the catastrophe. City leaders didn’t say “a cottage isn’t good enough,” or “let’s wait until we rebuild permanent structures ,” or worse, “this is unsolvable.”

No, they recognized that in an emergency, you take emergency action – like building simple, decent shelter for everyone who needs it.

But recently we’ve seen many elected officials offer excuses for our state’s failure to adequately address homelessness. We’ve seen them blame the courts, blame the cost of building housing, and blame the homeless.

It’s time for the blame game to end. It’s time California created safe, decent and affordably-constructed shelter for everyone – and then required those sleeping outdoors to use it.

And here in San Jose, thanks to former Mayor Sam Liccardo’s vision, we’ve begun to do just that. We’ve pioneered an approach that we are already starting to see replicated across the state and country.

Just this year, between tiny homes, motel conversions and safe parking sites, we’ve already added 269 safe, dignified interim placements for individuals formerly living in an encampment. And because of your support and advocacy, we now have more than 1,000 new interim units and safe parking spaces under construction or in the pipeline, including the interim housing site at Cherry Ave that Councilmember Pam Foley championed and the Via del Oro movable cabin site Councilmember Arjun Batra and Councilmember Sergio Jimenez embraced in South San Jose to the Berryessa safe parking and Cerone interim housing sites pushed forward by Councilmember David Cohen in North San Jose.

We’ve also shown that we can continue to build affordable housing for working families while we embrace immediate solutions to homelessness. This year alone, we’ve issued permits for 842 new affordable apartments, opened over 150, and have over one thousand more in the pipeline.

And our efforts are beginning to show results. Between 2022 and 2023, we saw the number of people living on our streets drop by over 10%, and 70% of those who have entered one of our quick-build housing communities remain housed today!

But we all know we haven’t done nearly enough yet, which is why earlier this month, I, alongside Vice Mayor Rosemary Kamei, Councilmember David Cohen and Councilmember Omar Torres, declared a shelter crisis in our city and demanded that our actions match our rhetoric on homelessness. This declaration will allow us to cut red tape and streamline procurement as we work to quickly and efficiently stand up basic shelter for everyone living outdoors, and then require that they come indoors.

And we will need to be even more ambitious in this fight. Whether it’s piloting safe sleeping sites or using AI to identify families on the verge of falling into homelessness and helping them remain housed, we have to keep challenging ourselves to be bolder and smarter in the fight to end homelessness on our watch!

So many of you have spoken out in support of our homeless neighbors – and every time you speak out, you help us get back to basics. I want to thank you. I also want to ask you to continue to help those in need.

This week, my team and I had the opportunity to volunteer at Martha’s Kitchen. It was an experience that I don’t think any of us will soon forget. We worked together to serve and, most importantly, get to know our neighbors experiencing homelessness.

Before you leave today’s event, I’d like to ask you to visit our Homeless Helpers corner to hear how you can help address this crisis. You can learn more from our Martha’s Kitchen and Dignity on Wheels representatives about how you too can volunteer or become a sustaining member to support their efforts.

Now it won’t come as a shock to most of you that I’m asking you to use your Saturday to make a difference. Saturday’s have become a day of service for many of us here in San Jose.

Since taking office, my team has hosted a clean-up nearly every week, activating 2,914 volunteers and taking nearly 200,000 pounds of trash off our streets and out of our creeks. Raise your hand if you are one of our 2,914 volunteers. Thank you. Every time you show up, you help us get back to the basics.

Thank you to our many partners in this work – the list is far too long, but I want to especially thank Caltrans, Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful, the South Bay Clean Creeks Coalition, and our incredible city staff within Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services and Beautify SJ, as well as each of my Council colleagues who co-organized one of our weekly clean-ups. Councilmember Peter Ortiz, I think we’ve got the record with 8 clean-ups in our beautiful East Side this year!

Seeing so many of you come together, roll up your sleeves and take action has been truly inspiring. And while we’ve cleaned up blight in nearly every corner of San Jose, worked to hold negligent property owners accountable, made our BeautifySJ Team a permanent rapid-response blight-fighting team, and finally got rid of the plastic wrap on our historic Downtown Church (thanks Jim Salata!) – we still have a long way to go.

Every morning, I drop my kids off at school. And some mornings, we play “I Spy”. And frankly, I’m tired of my kids spying with their little eyes so much graffiti. So much so that I now carry a graffiti kit in my car so that I can take matters into my own hands.

And I’d like to invite you to do the same by picking up your very own kit over in our Graffiti Guard corner.

The way our city looks impacts how it feels. It makes us feel less safe. It makes us avoid taking visitors down certain roads, and keeps businesses from setting up shop.

But that’s not the only thing that keeps business away. Part of it is government getting in its own way. It’s slow plan checks, delayed inspections, and overly complicated processes that leave builders, small businesses and homeowners waiting on approvals that should take weeks – but instead leave projects on the drawing board for years. Projects that could address our affordable housing crisis, provide high-wage jobs and increase our tax base to fund all of the other things we want to do.

City Hall must streamline our permitting processes and ensure our Planning Department is fully staffed, which is why we’ve brought 75% of permit application types online, recently launched a program that allows licensed design professionals to self-certify more of their plans, and in a just a few weeks we will open a new portal for building permits that gives greater transparency and certainty to everyone involved. And it’s why we have started a fellowship program with San Jose State’s Urban Planning Department to expand our talent pipeline.

That’s City Hall’s job, but it’s all of our job to frequent our small businesses, shop local and bring life to our city by getting outside and coming together in community. You can visit our Small Business Buddies table and pick up a map of your Councilmembers’ favorite local spots. You’ll be following the lead of Councilmember Bien Doan and Councilmember Domingo Candelas who have made it a priority to invest in the creation of new small business associations in their districts!

By coming together and supporting our small businesses, tackling trash and graffiti, helping our homeless neighbors, and keeping each other safe, you’re doing your part to get San Jose back to the basics and create the city in which we all want to live. And by being here and staying involved in our civic life, you are helping to keep City Hall focused on these priorities and accountable for delivering on them.

While there is so much violence abroad that threatens to turn us against one another, there is so much opportunity here at home that brings us together. We all want the same basic things for ourselves, for our children and for our neighbors. I want to ask the residents of San Jose to stand strong and stand together. To stand up and take collective action that will make our city a cleaner, safer, more compassionate place. And when we’ve done that together, there is no stopping what San Jose can become!

Read our coverage of the State of the City here.

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