In annual speech, San Jose mayor says homelessness is city’s ‘biggest failure’
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo is pictured in this file photo.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo painted a realistic picture of the city’s failures while highlighting a hopeful future at his State of the City address on Thursday.

In his seventh annual address, and second virtual speech, Liccardo discussed the city’s biggest issues. He focused on homelessness, public safety, community resiliency and environmental improvements.

The city’s biggest failure in Liccardo’s eyes—homelessness.

“I take responsibility for that failure and for every unhoused neighbor who are in camps in our parks, our creeks and our sidewalks,” Liccardo said. “It’s the failure of decisions predicated on the belief that if we just keep doing the same things the same way, eventually progress would come, contrary to the palpable evidence in our streets.”

The city’s 2019 homeless count showed San Jose had more than 6,000 unhoused residents—a figure that rose 42% from 2017 to 2019. It’s also a figure many housing advocates believe is much higher after two pandemic years and the end of the state eviction ban.

Liccardo said the city helped 4,900 homeless residents find permanent housing since the pandemic’s start, but the proof of growing homelessness is in the streets as many roads, parks and creeks are still riddled with tents and makeshift homes.

Sandy Perry, a housing advocate and president of the Affordable Housing Network of Santa Clara County, said the homeless crisis is “without a doubt” the city’s biggest failure.

“The lack of affordable housing is the city’s problem, but I just don’t agree with their approach because they’re long on transitional housing or temporary housing and they’re short on permanent solutions,” Perry told San José Spotlight.

Liccardo touted new, innovative solutions like transforming motel rooms into interim housing sites and building additional prefabricated homes. His goal for next year is to construct 1,000 quick-build apartments and convert 300 motel rooms.

He advocated for quicker, temporary solutions to be more cost effective and get people off the street quicker—noting 2016’s Measure A “gave too many false hope that it would solve homelessness.”

“In reality, the first apartment complex funded with that 2016 measure didn’t open its doors in San Jose until 2020,” the mayor continued.

Public Safety

Liccardo spoke of solutions to improve public safety “without a gun or a badge,” like halting police enforcement in high schools and expanding the community service officer program. He also pointed to a program started this year that sends behavioral and mental health specialists on calls with police.

But advocates within the criminal justice system like Raj Jayadev from Silicon Valley De-Bug said the mayor has done the opposite by increasing funding to police through the purchase of different surveillance technologies without investing in alternatives.

“It’s really, quite frankly, insulting knowing that people are dying on the street and they’re buying new technologies that exacerbate the suffering,” Jayadev said. “We’re seeing just an escalation of people that are having more and more real interactions and dangerous interactions with police.”

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 didn’t listen to protestor calls to defund the police.

“Our neighborhoods invariably tell us that they want to see more police patrols in their neighborhoods, not fewer,” Liccardo said.

Environment and Community 

The mayor also discussed plans to create a more sustainable future—noting the recent vote to make San Jose carbon neutral by 2030— the first city in the U.S. to set such a goal.

He also pointed to the 400 miles of bike lanes recently completed and the installation of 2,000 publicly accessible car chargers for electric vehicles..

Liccardo celebrated the city’s investments to curb the digital divide. The city helped connect more than 100,000 residents to free Wi-Fi and equipped more than 60,000 students with laptops, the mayor said.

“We continue to pull together to confront unprecedented challenges,” Liccardo said. “For all our challenges, San Jose has never shone brighter.”

He concluded by saying San Jose is the envy of all other cities because of its innovations and opportunities.

“I’ve provided you with a glimpse of some of our work so far and of our work together in the year ahead,” Liccardo said. “I hold my service to you as my greatest professional honor I relish the privilege of continuing to serve you.”

Read the full text of Liccardo’s speech.

Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

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