San Jose officials discussed a new program to help residents with overdue utility bills at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, as well as opposition to a water district ballot measure and looking at better ways to use public dollars to combat homelessness. Here are the highlights from the council’s April 12 meeting:
Measure E funding priorities
San Jose officials want to change how Measure E money is spent and allocate 15% of funds, or $6.2 million, toward homeless services for assistance with employment, housing and safe parking. A portion of the funds would also go toward the construction and operation of interim housing.
When passed in 2020, the roughly $45 million generated was set to be spent on affordable housing development and homeless prevention services, but city officials say adding these new services are an essential tool in keeping homeless numbers down.
“We know it is more expensive to get people back into their homes and less to keep them there,” Housing Director Jacky Morales Ferrand said to councilmembers.
Community members from groups like Silicon Valley at Home and Working Partnerships USA called in to voice their support, however the City Council deferred the vote to next week at the mayor’s request because he was out of town.
Low-income water program
The City Council unanimously approved plans to provide $2,000 to qualifying low-income households to help with unpaid water bills.
Officials recommended allocating $500,000 for the program—of which $170,000 will be used for administrative costs including staff and marketing the program.
Councilmember Maya Esparza urged the city to identify ways to cut down on administrative costs and suggested employees work with nonprofits already doing the outreach.
Currently, it is unclear how many households will qualify for the program. Applications are not yet available.
Valley Water ballot measure
Councilmembers unanimously agreed a new ballot measure put forth by Valley Water to extend term limits for board members is intentionally deceptive and wasteful. But they disagreed on how to respond.
At the direction of Councilmember Matt Mahan, the city officially took a stand against the measure, voting 7-3-1 to publicly condemn and oppose it. Mayor Sam Liccardo was absent.
Vice Mayor Chappie Jones and Councilmembers Sergio Jimenez and David Cohen opposed an official condemnation. They said it was not the city’s place to make such motions, and it would negatively impact relations with the water district. They saw this as a ploy for political points.
“We could have taken a policy position to oppose this to prevent it from going on the ballot, or to oppose the spending of the money. But we’re past that point,” Jones said. “I’m not (supporting this memo) because it crossed the line between policy and politics.”
Jimenez called it political grandstanding.
“I think the trade-off is going to be that we further exacerbate the relationship and damage that relationship with a crucial body,” Jimenez said. “Why would we do that? For political reasons to score some political points? I’m just not interested in going down that road.”
However, Mahan said it was the only way to combat a measure that uses misleading language to trick voters into believing it places term limits, when in reality it extends current board member terms. Other councilmembers agreed and said this was the best opportunity to inform residents.
Mahan said the $3.2 million Valley Water is spending to put this measure on the ballot could be better spent to forgive water bill debts for about 6,000 families in San Jose or to purchase about 30 acres of land in Coyote Valley for water retention.
“I firmly believe that we ought to make clear that we oppose this wasteful and misleading ballot measure because our residents, who are Valley Water’s largest set of ratepayers, deserve to understand what they are voting on, and they should have confidence that we are looking out for their interests,” Mahan said.