Robinson: Powerless mayor says problems won’t be solved overnight
San Jose resident Howie Blumstein speaks with Mayor Matt Mahan on Feb. 15, 2023. Photo courtesy of Rich Robinson.

    San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan addressed over 200 people at the Villages on Feb. 15 in an event sponsored by the Senior Academy. His presentation was professional and polished. His analysis was cogent and his recommended solutions for homelessness, affordable housing and public safety were well-received. But his overall message was pessimistic: “It’s not going to happen overnight.”

    For many of us who grew up in this city, it’s not going to happen at all. The mayor is not at fault, neither is business or labor, two scapegoats often blamed for the current morass San Jose finds itself in.

    No, Mayor Mahan revealed the real problem in an answer to another question and the previously uninformed crowd reacted with huge surprise. Mahan admitted he does not have the power. He is not a “strong mayor.”  His policies must be approved by a council majority and implemented by unelected bureaucrats because San Jose has a city manager form of local government.

    Moreover, he can’t immediately fill positions in the police department, planning department or any other city department. He can’t reorganize a bureaucracy that is out of control, he can’t prioritize his agenda and he doesn’t control the $6 billion budget. He doesn’t have the power.

    Mahan then pleaded with his audience to put pressure on newly-appointed Councilmember Domingo Candelas to support his agenda. It was a tacit acknowledgment the current council majority, who opposed his election, are people he needs to make change happen.

    San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan meets with residents of the Villages. Photo courtesy of Rich Robinson.

    San Jose has long needed a reorganization of its government. It has too many administrators, too many rules, it takes too long for services to be provided and costs are out of control.

    Ironically, Mahan said his biggest regret during the campaign was his criticism of the city manager. He now reports the city manager, Jennifer Maguire, is a dedicated public servant doing a great job under difficult circumstances.

    Again, his analysis is correct. But no city manager who must keep a majority of city councilmembers happy and inherits an entrenched bureaucracy can make the necessary changes to address the significant issues facing San Jose.

    San Jose needs to reorganize. San Jose needs a “strong mayor,” a new organizational chart with less bureaucracy, more police officers and line workers, fewer rules, less cumbersome and duplicative policies, a one-stop shop for businesses with costs shown up front and it needs to eliminate antiquated and irrelevant ordinances. But until you change the system, the major problems will continue unabated.

    Nobody expects change to happen overnight, but without a systemic reorganization, the solutions most agree upon will never be implemented.

    San José Spotlight columnist Rich Robinson is a political consultant, attorney and author of “The Shadow Candidate.” His columns appear every fourth Wednesday of the month.

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