San Jose’s $4.1 billion budget will be finalized this week, a major annual decision that comes this year in the midst of a pandemic that’s caused enormous projected deficits. But Mayor Sam Liccardo’s focus in a recently-released proposed budget was first on police reforms and inequality.
Liccardo’s annual June budget proposal addresses head-on community calls to “defund” the police in the wake of international outcry over police brutality and racism sparked by the death of George Floyd, a black Minneapolis man killed after a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Though he proposed a set of initiatives to address police oversight, Liccardo didn’t throw his weight behind a mission to defund the local police department.
He agrees “with those who interpret ‘defund’ to mean that we should use this moment as a catalyst for discussion about how we could reduce police involvement in social problems for which they may be poorly equipped or trained,” he said.
But defunding the department would hurt the very people most affected by systemic racism, Liccardo claimed.
“If ‘defund’ merely represents a mechanism by which we slash police budgets as a means to express protest, I disagree strongly,” he added.
Liccardo’s budget message instead calls for the city manager and the independent police auditor to review “use of force” policies. It also reallocates $150,000 in police overtime wages to the police auditor to do that work, which would include community engagement.
The proposal would also allow the city manager to reallocate more funds for the effort if needed, and calls for expanding the city’s racial equity work by hiring a new full time employee in the city manager’s office to address structural racism through a partnership with the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.
Addressing the “purgatory ahead”
But there won’t be many new employees added in San Jose, given the economic constraints brought on by the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting shelter-in-place orders that have slowed or halted business in the region.
The coming months and years will be hard ones, Liccardo warned. His budget reflects reallocations of funds from some services, including the Housing Trust, Essential Services funds and the CARES Act, to efforts at reinvigorating the economy.
“As we think about our budgetary priorities, … we should have no delusions about the duration of our purgatory ahead,” he said in his budget message. “Each of the last two recessions has resulted in painfully elevated unemployment rates and severe budget-slashing for several years following the initial downturn. This one will likely be worse.”
To that end, Liccardo’s proposed budget calls for reallocating millions of dollars to resident and small business assistance, including at least $7 million in federal CARES Act funding to the Silicon Valley Strong initiative.
That initiative, which has raised about $27 million so far, was launched this year to assist with families, nonprofits and small businesses facing hardships due to COVID-19.
The budget proposal also sets aside $1.5 million for loans and grants for home-based and small childcare providers that serve needy families.
“With limitations on summer school, child care, and potentially fall schooling imposed by public health orders, the lack of available child care remains a huge obstacle for thousands of our parents—particularly of modest incomes—needing to work outside the home,” Liccardo said.
It also redirects nearly $1 million to efforts to help small businesses.
Those initiatives include the city’s new Al Fresco program, which allows restaurants to expand into public spaces, and the Silicon Valley Recovery Roundtable, a committee made up of top business, education, labor and nonprofit leaders tasked with making a plan to get people back to work in the region.
The proposed budget would offer new funding to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Silicon Valley, the Silicon Valley Black Chamber of Commerce and the Nation Business Foundation. In addition, the San Jose Downtown Association would receive funding to offer a wide range of services to small businesses in the city’s urban core.
San Jose officials will host a virtual public hearing on the proposed budget Monday at 1:30 p.m. Residents can tune into the public hearing Monday online and ask questions or offer comments by emailing [email protected] by noon on Monday.
City lawmakers are set to vote on the budget Tuesday during the City Council meeting.
Contact Janice Bitters at [email protected] or follow @JaniceBitters on Twitter.