How to watch and participate in San Jose City Council meetings
San Jose City Councilmembers sitting at the dais of the council chambers during a meeting in 2019. File photo.

Many San José Spotlight readers told us in our 2021 reader survey that they want to be more civically engaged and involved in local policymaking. A lot of you said our coverage of local government has motivated you to get more involved in the city’s decisions but don’t quite know where to start.

One of the simplest ways to have your voice heard in San Jose is by keeping up and participating in the city’s council meetings.

In this guide, we’ll show you how you can watch, learn and make your voice heard at San Jose City Council meetings.

Watching City Council meetings

The San Jose City Council meets every Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. Sometimes the council will schedule special meetings on different days. Twice a month, the council will have what it calls “evening sessions,” which is essentially another meeting that occurs after the 1:30 p.m. meeting, to discuss land use items. You can find every City Council and city commission meeting schedule (more on that later) on the city’s legislative calendar.

San Jose must comply with the Brown Act, which governs how public meetings are run and aims to make them more accessible and transparent. The city is required to post its agenda at least three days before every meeting. A preliminary draft of the council’s agenda will usually be posted by the Friday before the meeting and will be continuously updated until Tuesday when the council meeting takes place.

If you want to watch the meeting live, you can do the following:

  • Zoom: You can find a Zoom link to the agenda on the city’s meeting calendar.
  • YouTube: City Council meetings are streamed on the city’s YouTube channel.
  • TV: Meetings are broadcasted and replayed on Comcast channel 26.
  • Phone: Dial in using one of the phone numbers provided below. Be sure to enter the webinar ID and password found on the meeting’s agenda:
    • US: +1 213 338 8477
    • +1 408 638 0968
    • 877 853 5257 (Toll-free)
    • 888 475 4499 (Toll-free)

Participating in City Council meetings

City Council meetings have a public comment period for people who wish to voice their opinion on items not on the meeting’s agenda. Public comment is usually taken at the end of the meeting for items not on the agenda.

Remember: Public comment is only for items not on the council’s agenda that day. If you have a comment for an item on the agenda, save it until the item is heard and the mayor asks for comments on that item.

You can submit comments in the following ways:

  • In writing: You can submit comments using the eComment link on the city’s meeting calendar or to the City Clerk at [email protected] by 10:00 a.m. the day of the meeting. Be sure to list the agenda item number in the subject line of your email. Emails will be attached to the council item under “Letters from the Public,” but will not be read aloud during the meeting.
  • In writing during the meeting: You can also submit written comment during the meeting by emailing [email protected]. Again, make sure to list the agenda item number in the subject line of your email.
  • While using Zoom: When public comment starts, you’ll be instructed to click the “Raise Your Hand” button at the bottom of the Zoom window. Your name will be called when it’s your turn and you’ll be unmuted. You’ll typically have 1 minute to speak. If you’re tuning in by phone, you can do the same by pressing *9. You’ll have to unmute yourself when you’re up by pressing *6.

Navigating City Council meetings

City Council meetings might be confusing (and long!) at first, but they all follow a particular order—some of it regulated by state law, some by city charter, some by convention and some by “Roberts Rules of Order,” the Bible of parliamentary procedure.

Meetings usually begin as close to the posted 1:30 p.m. time as possible. They open with a call to order, invocation and the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by ceremonial items and then proclamations—declarations in celebration of Women’s History Month or Cesar Chavez Day.

Next comes the “consent calendar” or “consent” for short. This is a list of usually non-controversial items that are passed by a single vote of the council. Any councilmember or resident can comment on any consent item. Councilmembers can pull it off of the consent calendar for a broader discussion.

Now comes the big parts of the meeting. Any items after the consent calendar are items of broad public interest. They’re usually categorized into broad topics like “public safety” or “economic development.” Each item opens with a presentation from city officials and sometimes comments from the councilmember (or councilmembers) who proposed it.

Once the presentation is complete, the mayor usually calls for comments from the public, where residents can voice their concerns about the planned item. These items can be proposed ordinances, which change city law, or resolutions stating a proposed council policy. Often agendas include reports from staff that don’t require a vote. After the mayor closes comments from the public, councilmembers debate the item. They can also ask questions of city staff, representing various city departments, who presented the item or the city attorney for clarification.

After councilmembers are satisfied with the discussion, one of them can call for a “motion,” which usually means they’re ready to end debate and vote on the item. A motion requires a “second,” which is a second councilmember signaling concession to a vote. Items usually require a simple majority—six votes—to pass.

Even if an ordinance is passed at a meeting, it sometimes must come back for a “second reading,” or final vote, the following meeting.

Meet your councilmembers

The City Council consists of 11 members, all elected by voters. Ten of the 11 are councilmembers elected by the districts they live in. The mayor is elected citywide. As of 2021, the mayor of San Jose is Sam Liccardo, who took office in 2015 and was reelected in 2018. He is term-limited and will leave office on Dec. 31, 2022.

Councilmembers and the mayor are limited to two four-year terms. Seats in even-numbered districts are up for grabs in presidential election years, while seats in odd-numbered districts and the mayor’s seat are up for grabs in U.S. midterm election years.

The mayor also appoints a vice mayor, a largely ceremonial role in practice. The vice mayor chairs council meetings when the mayor is absent. The vice mayor is subject to council approval. The current vice mayor is Chappie Jones, who has been vice mayor since 2019.

You can find your councilmember by entering your address here.

Here are the 10 councilmembers and the districts they represent:

  • District 1 (West San Jose including portions that border Cupertino and Saratoga): Chappie Jones
  • District 2 (South San Jose including Coyote Valley, Blossom Valley and Santa Teresa): Sergio Jimenez
  • District 3 (Downtown San Jose, Japantown, Little Portugal, Luna Park and Naglee Park): Raul Peralez
  • District 4 (North San Jose, Alviso and Berryessa): David Cohen
  • District 5 (East San Jose): Magdalena Carrasco
  • District 6 (Central San Jose including The Alameda, Burbank, Rose Garden, Santana Row and Willow Glen): Dev Davis
  • District 7 (Central San Jose including neighborhoods around McLaughlin Ave., Senter Rd. and Little Saigon): Maya Esparza
  • District 8 (Southeastern San Jose including Evergreen, Meadowfair and Silver Creek): Sylvia Arenas
  • District 9 (West San Jose including Cambrian Valley): Pam Foley
  • District 10 (South San Jose including Almaden Valley and Hoffman Via Monte): Matt Mahan

And here’s how long they’ve been in office:

  • Chappie Jones: 2015-present. Reelected in 2018, term ends in 2022. Not eligible for reelection.
  • Sergio Jimenez: 2017-present. Reelected in 2020, term ends in 2024. Not eligible for reelection.
  • Raul Peralez: 2015-present. Reelected in 2018, term ends in 2022. Not eligible for reelection.
  • David Cohen: 2021-present. Term ends in 2024. Eligible for reelection.
  • Magdalena Carrasco: 2015-present. Reelected in 2018, term ends in 2022. Not eligible for reelection.
  • Dev Davis: 2017-present. Reelected in 2020, term ends in 2024. Not eligible for reelection.
  • Maya Esparza: 2019-present. Term ends in 2022. Eligible for reelection.
  • Sylvia Arenas: 2017-present. Reelected in 2020, term ends in 2024. Not eligible for reelection.
  • Pam Foley: 2019-present. Term ends in 2022. Eligible for reelection.
  • Matt Mahan: 2021-present. Term ends in 2024. Eligible for reelection.

Contact information, including phone numbers and email addresses for each councilmember can be found here.

Other things to know

Meetings usually start after the city council comes out of “closed session,” which occurs when the council meets privately. Here, lawmakers will discuss things like lawsuits, labor union negotiations and personnel matters.

San Jose operates under a council-manager system of government, one of the few major cities in the nation to do so. That means that all the administrative power in city matters is held by the city manager, who is appointed by the mayor and approved by the council. To put it simply: The council votes on and approves policy, while the city manager implements it. The current city manager is David Sykes, who was appointed in 2017. The mayor is one of the 11 votes and cannot veto policies.

Also present at meetings is the city attorney, a law professional employed by the city, and the city clerk, who keeps the meeting’s minutes. The city attorney provides legal advice to ensure the council is following the Brown Act, answers legal questions and explains city, county, state and federal laws. Both positions are appointed by the mayor and approved by the council. The current city attorney is Nora Frimann, who was appointed in 2020. The current city clerk is Toni Taber, who was appointed to the position in 2013.

Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.

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