Despite a $27.7 million city surplus, San Jose’s mayor is calling for a “constrained budget” focused primarily on homelessness and affordable housing, public safety and battling blight.
Mayor Sam Liccardo starts his March budget message with an optimistic tone: the city has been able to withstand two years of the COVID-19 pandemic that has ravaged certain communities and local economies and is coming into its third pandemic year with a surplus.
“The positive news about our city’s revenues provides us welcome relief from the anticipated cuts of the next budget cycle,” Liccardo writes. “(But) some significant disclaimers accompany an otherwise hopeful message.”
Homelessness and affordable housing
The mayor’s No. 1 priority is addressing homelessness and increasing the city’s affordable housing stock. In his annual address, Liccardo called homelessness the city’s “biggest failure.”
To alleviate housing problems, Liccardo wants to construct 1,000 more quick-build modular apartments; covert 300 more hotel or motel rooms to shelter unhoused residents and accelerate homelessness prevention by extending the 2018 rental assistance program.
“I propose that we double-down on our investments in three of the most cost-effective, proven solutions to combat homelessness—each of which was pioneered here in San Jose,” Liccardo writes.
Santa Clara County faced a reckoning in 2019 when it saw the number of unhoused people on its streets jump 31% compared to the 2017 count—from 7,394 people to 9,706. San Jose saw an increase of 42% over the same period. While Liccardo said 4,900 homeless residents have found permanent housing since the pandemic’s start, residents are still falling into homelessness faster than they can be housed.
Ray Bramson, chief operating officer for Destination: Home and San José Spotlight columnist, said he’s happy to see Liccardo prioritize homelessness and housing.
“We need more emergency and interim solutions right alongside with the permanent,” Bramson said. “So I think it’s good the mayor is looking for general fund resources to go to find some of those more emergency needs while we continue to use the dedicated resources that we have for permanent housing.”
The mayor also wants the city to allow construction of interim housing in parking lots of religious centers—an initiative called “Yes in God’s Backyard.” A similar concept has already been applied to a San Jose police parking lot.
It’s unclear how much this would cost the city. Rachel Davis, Liccardo’s spokesperson, said these numbers will come back in May.
“The point of this message is to tell the City Manager’s Office what we want our priorities to be, to kind of define them, so that’s why many of these items do not have dollar amounts yet,” Davis told San José Spotlight.
With an eye on public safety, Liccardo wants to hire 15 more full-time police officers in the next year and continue growing the police force over the next five years.
As part of the city’s plans to reform to the police department, Liccardo wants to spend $323,000 on officer training and $800,000 to implement recommendations born out of a committee tasked with taking up police reform. He also calls for one-time funding for new equipment and funding for a neighborhood/downtown walking patrol.
The mayor said San Jose police are the most thinly-staffed department compared to other major cities in the U.S., which is why he said he withstood calls to defund the police after the 2020 George Floyd demonstrations. However, those protests revealed major reforms are needed for the police department, especially in regards to use-of-force policies.
“Hiring additional officers to augment the most thinly-staffed police department in the nation is a worthy goal that we support,” said Sean Pritchard, president of the San Jose Police Officers’ Association. “Unfortunately, it takes 18 to 24 months for these officers to be recruited, backgrounded, sent through the academy and field training. We have an immediate need for additional overtime money now. Officers are being sent home starting this week to reduce their compensatory time banks and that means fewer police officers trying to keep residents and businesses safe.”
Part of public safety also includes combating the growing rate of traffic-related deaths in San Jose. To make some streets safer, Liccardo proposes using paint and plastic bollards on the most dangerous corridors such as Senter Road and Monterey Road. He wants to buy more cameras and license plate readers to catch those who are speeding.
“In a city with chronically understaffed police and insufficient capital budgets, we need to lean in on these and other innovations,” Liccardo writes.
Liccardo is also asking the city to continually fund programs that “empower the unhoused to become part of the solution” such as the San Jose Bridge program and Cash for Trash, which pays unhoused residents $20 per bag of trash they collect.
Liccardo calls for one-time funds to purchase a compactor truck and other equipment. He wants the city to design and install bollards along trails to deter illegal dumping from vehicles and clean up abandoned vehicles. Another priority is to fund environmental initiatives focused on drought recovery, microgrid development to ensure San Jose has access to power in an emergency and increasing the city’s tree canopy.
The mayor wants to create a dedicated city position that would focus on climate change threats—addressing wildfire risks, rising sea levels, earthquakes and other environmental issues.
Liccardo’s proposals will come to the City Council on March 15, where officials will be able to make budget requests of their own. A proposed budget will be released in May based on the mayor’s recommendations.
Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.
Editor’s Note: Destination: Home CEO Jennifer Loving sits on San José Spotlight’s board of directors.