San Jose council divided on core budget issue
San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan at a news conference at Shady Oaks Park in San Jose on April 3, 2023. Photo by Joseph Geha.

    San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan sought to reduce the number of votes needed to pass his Measure E spending plan. Councilmembers resoundingly said no—partly because there are two alternative plans, widening the gap between Mahan and his colleagues.

    On Wednesday, Mahan released his $5.2 billion budget proposal for the next fiscal year. In it, he snuck in an unassuming paragraph that requests the San Jose City Council reduce the number of votes needed to change how it spends the 2020 Measure E parcel tax dollars—the most controversial aspect of his budget plan. Hours after its release, councilmembers on a subcommittee unanimously voted against it.

    Mahan’s goal throughout the entire budget process has been to move away from Measure E’s original spending plan—which allocates most dollars to affordable housing development—and instead invest the money in quick-build homeless shelters. But to do that, he needs a supermajority vote, or eight of the 11 councilmembers. Mahan now wants his contentious plan to be passed with a simple majority—or only six votes.

    “The crisis on our streets is so significant. The need to act with urgency is so great,” Mahan said of his push for short-term housing solutions.

    Mahan may have suggested changing the vote requirement for simplicity’s sake, since the overall budget only needs six votes to pass, or because he may not have the votes to get his plan passed. Five of his colleagues have openly opposed his spending plan. Two weeks ago, Councilmembers David Cohen and Sergio Jimenez released an alternative Measure E spending plan.

    Mahan said he believes he can get the eight votes anyway, even without the switch to a simple majority. More broadly, he said council should be working to change policies “that block us from changing what we’re doing.”

    “I think a policy that was set by a majority vote of the council should be changeable by a majority vote of the council,” Mahan said.

    Another plan

    But Councilmember Dev Davis, the first to speak out against Mahan’s suggested change, said a simple majority would violate the trust of voters.

    “We took this to the voters and promised them that we would keep this money for affordable housing, and that the allocations would be set in a way,” Davis told San José Spotlight. “If they were changed, it would be with a supermajority of the council.”

    Her criticism of the vote change after Mahan released his budget on Wednesday was a calculated one, because she and Councilmembers Peter Ortiz and Omar Torres released their own Measure E spending plan today. They want to maintain the same allocations set by council last year, in which 75% of dollars went to affordable housing development. And because Davis would be keeping the same allocations for funding as the previous year, her memo only needs six votes to move forward.

    “It’s just too dangerous to play around with Measure E funds as we’re just starting to see these investments pay off,” Ortiz told San José Spotlight, emphasizing that affordable housing is the fundamental solution to homelessness.

    The Measure E spending memo spearheaded by Davis’ office directs the city to alert affordable housing developers of new public money to help subsidize housing development for very low to moderate income levels. It also emphasizes the need to work with the county and other community partners to flesh out a five-year plan to curb Santa Clara County’s homeless population.

    “We haven’t forgotten about that plan,” Davis said. “We are all in this together.”

    Measure E vote next week

    There are now three different Measure E spending plans that show different ways of how the $137 million could be spent in the next two years—one by Mahan, another by Cohen and Jimenez and a third that maintains the previous council’s direction by Davis, Ortiz and Torres. On Monday, the city council will hold its second public hearing on Measure E spending. The council will only listen to residents and there will be no discussion or vote.

    On Tuesday, the council will vote on Mahan’s June budget proposal and will approve one of the three spending plans.

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

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