Mason and Tuttle: Building back better—a San Jose for all
A view of San Jose from the East-Evergreen side of the city. File photo.

Libraries, community centers, beautiful parks, traffic lights, safe and clean drinking water… These are some of the public services that make the foundation of a community.

It’s many of these essential services that have helped us get through the COVID-19 pandemic, but now they’re at risk. We need a new approach to San Jose’s budget that recognizes the value of these services to our community, and helps us lead an economic recovery for everyone in San Jose.

When the COVID-19 pandemic started, schools shut down. Businesses, day cares and other places followed. But for the frontline workers who provide essential services, we couldn’t just stay home or shelter in place. When someone calls 911, you can’t teleconference in to save a life or put a fire out from 50 miles away. We continued to go into work and followed our duty to serve our residents.

COVID has had a huge impact on our firefighters. Most people don’t know that we provide medical services, but every firetruck has a paramedic onboard. They perform life-saving procedures such as giving medications, starting IVs and intubating people who have stopped breathing. Those are all services we provide on a daily basis. And these activities all increase the risk of getting COVID because we don’t do these procedures in the ER, but in the field. At least 60 of our personnel in the fire department contracted COVID. Several were hospitalized.

Not only were we feeling the impacts of COVID, but our firefighters battled some of the most devastating fires in California history that were directly impacting our communities.

And it’s not just firefighters that have put our lives on the line.

Mary Morse, a senior manager in the Environmental Services Department, says, “My team was deployed as disaster service workers throughout the community. Some folks worked with Second Harvest Food Bank. Some delivered meals to homeless shelters. They stepped up to help their community, and that was really difficult, facing the risks of bringing COVID-19 back to their families every time they went into work.”

Code enforcement inspectors like Steve Solorio would go into the communities in San Jose that were hit hardest by COVID-19 to do his job. His team conducted inspections and verified that merchants followed COVID-19 guidelines set by the county to promote health and safety. Their group reached more than 2,000 businesses and retailers in San Jose.

Araceli Delgado-Ortiz, an early education manager in the library department, ensures that programs for children aged zero to five are high quality and accessible. With schools closed down, programming like story time and preschool education have helped busy parents and caregivers who are juggling being teachers and workers throughout the pandemic.

Tiffany Dong, who supervises the Almaden Community Center, implements these programs at her site. She said teachers and recreation leaders are “a lifeline for the kids” when they’re unable to see people in their life.

We’ve all felt the stress of COVID-19. It’s made our work challenging, but we still go in to serve our community with pride each day.

We’ve seen the value of our public services. Our frontline workers have put their lives on the line to alleviate hunger, provide educational support for families, respond to medical emergencies and more.

It’s time for a change.

While bankers got bailed out, the cuts to city services following the 2008 financial crash left us with staffing levels that never recovered. The 743 vacancies in the city represent services that aren’t being provided to our residents.

The mayor’s budget predicts a deficit as usual, but it’s really a question of priorities. We want our residents to be safe in our communities and to prosper. To build a better future for San Jose, it’s going to take resources.

With federal funding from the American Rescue Plan, we have an opportunity to invest in public services with approximately $223 million heading to San Jose. Public services have been undervalued for so long. Budgets are a reflection of our values, and we need to fully fund services now.

We can’t put away $80 million in the reserves at a time when people are just trying to survive. Let’s use this money to build San Jose back better and make San Jose a place for all.

Matt Mason is a representative and organizer with the International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers Local 21 union in San Jose. Matt Tuttle is the president of the San Jose Fire Fighters Local 230 union.

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