San Jose lawmakers approve a new office to address racial inequities
San Jose Councilmember Sylvia Arenas is pictured in this file photo.

    San Jose lawmakers took a major step Tuesday in addressing systemic racism in the nation’s 10th largest city by approving the creation of a new office to address racial inequities.

    But now the questions linger: how much will the cash-strapped city devote to the new office and how will it foot the bill?

    City councilmembers unanimously approved San Jose’s $4.1 billion budget for 2020-21 on Tuesday, opening the door for the creation of a racial equity office. However, councilmembers capped funding for the new Office of Racial Equity at $1.5 million and ordered city staff to reduce spending as the city creates IT infrastructure and hires staff to collect data on racial inequities in San Jose.

    “‘Not everything we face can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced,'” said Councilmember Sylvia Arenas, quoting author James Baldwin. “It’s so emblematic of where our city is because we need to face this item of equity. We need to face that there is structural racism within our institutions and that has led to some impacts in our community.”

    City officials cautioned spending too much money, especially as the city faces significant shortfalls because of COVID-19, and recommended allocating $975,000 to hire personnel and create data collection tools. About $650,000 will come from the city’s general fund.

    Now, city leaders are scrambling to secure ongoing funding for the office.

    “What we need time to figure out is how do we fund this ongoing,” said City Manager Dave Sykes. “It is one-time money and it’ll get us through next year, but how do we sustain this . . . we could be back here in the fall looking at major cuts.”

    Councilmember Maya Esparza cited concerns that lawmakers recently froze hiring of IT staff and pushed for more funding to be available for the racial equity office — capping it at $1.5 million.

    According to Assistant City Manager Jennifer Maguire, city administrators can come back to the City Council next fall and request an additional $500,000 for the newly-formed office.

    Esparza suggested the extra $500,000 could come from the city’s Police Overtime Budget until city officials can secure other sources of funding.

    Vice Mayor Chappie Jones and Councilmember Raul Peralez hesitated to allow funding beyond $1 million for the racial equity office, raising concerns that a higher budget could make future funding shortages worse.

    “We’re looking at the abyss in terms of our financial situation over the coming months and years,” Jones said. “We can’t afford to spend more money than is necessary because if we do we’re going to find ourselves in a situation where some of the programs that we want equity to take place are going to be cut.”

    Jones and Peralez both had proposals to raise money for police oversight move forward.

    Councilmembers accepted Peralez’s proposal to use $150,000 for a report on Black Lives Matter protests in San Jose and restoring $700,000 for community service officers.

    This was on top of the approval of Mayor Sam Liccardo’s proposed reallocation of $150,000 in police overtime wages for the city’s independent police auditor to review the police department’s use-of-force policies.

    The City Council also approved $15,000 for the police auditor to update its website for users to upload videos and photos on police use of force complaints.

    “After speaking with the (auditor), I have learned that the office has received over 1,000 complaints since the protests began and more disappointingly, that the website needs immediate upgrades to adequately accept uploads of videos and images,” Peralez said in a memo. “I encourage the City Manager to allocate these funds immediately to complete this important work.”

    Lawmakers approved Jones’ proposal for an additional $100,000 to be used for San Jose police to confront social issues and to recommend ways to reduce noncriminal social conflicts.

    Despite the funding complications, Arenas said addressing racial inequities should be a priority for San Jose.

    “We have to be able to heal our city before we can rebuild it,” Arenas said. “It’s generations and generations of folks who have missed out on generational wealth or education  – a myriad of things – so it’s up to us to undo what past generations have created for us.”

    The City Council will receive an update on the development of the racial equity office in October.

    Contact Mauricio La Plante at [email protected] or follow @mslaplantenews on Twitter.


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