San Jose council to mull workforce standards and new billboards
San Jose City Hall is pictured in this file photo.

    After a month-long summer recess, San Jose lawmakers on Tuesday will discuss initiatives that strengthen a recently-approved wage law for workers on projects that receive tax breaks and a plan to place two new billboards on city property.

    Headlining next week’s City Council meeting is a proposal that adds protections for construction workers on city-subsidized development projects. The proposed ordinance — the private development workforce standard — will mandate prevailing wages and additional labor standards that include specific requirements for apprentices, local workers and “underrepresented” workers.

    The council approved the prevailing wage provisions on June 25, but the newly-drafted policy left off protections for a local hire policy and apprenticeship requirements on private construction projects.

    In a June staff memo, city administrators said adding those protections raise “numerous challenges.”

    “These include legal, administrative, enforcement, and resource challenges that still need to be fully analyzed,” wrote Public Works Director Matt Cano and Economic Development Director Kim Walesh in a joint memo.

    The ordinance also sets a goal for how many apprentices can work on a construction site — one for every five construction workers — to provide more opportunities for local entry-level workers and local apprentices.

    The labor movement secured a big win in June after lawmakers approved prevailing wages for contract workers, but they say exemptions to the ordinance pose a risk to workers.

    Matt Mahood, president of the silicon valley organization, said the incentive program is “critical” for several large housing projects to break ground, especially as San Jose grapples with a housing shortage. He said two major projects — 27 South 1st Street and Starcity’s co-living project on Bassett Street, which would provide 374 and 803 residential units, respectively — are at risk. They need “the fee structure lowered” to secure financing and move forward, he said.

    “The current wave of economic prosperity is bound to decline at some point, so we must act with urgency to get more cranes in the sky on high-rise residential projects while we still can,” Mahood added in a letter.

    Top labor advocates have been leading the effort to secure more rights for workers under city-subsidized construction projects since accounts of wage violations and squalid workplace conditions were discovered at Silvery Towers two years ago. They are concerned that the proposal does not go far enough in securing stronger standards, citing that workers are subject to exploitation without them.

    “We want the city to incentivize downtown development that benefits the entire community and creates good quality, career-path construction jobs for local community members,” Ben Field, executive director of the South Bay Labor Council, and David Bini, executive director of the Santa Clara & San Benito Counties Building and Construction Trades Council, wrote in a letter. “Subsides to bad actors create an un-level playing field and signal responsible developers not to invest in San Jose.”

    Electronic billboards in San Jose

    After nearly four years of debate, councilmembers last year approved an amendment to a land use policy that allows billboards on city-owned property.

    Now, lawmakers will solicit proposals to decide where the two billboards should go. Several approved sites include the McEnery Convention Center, San Jose Museum of Art, the Center for Performing Arts, the Second and San Carlos Parking Garage, and a parking lot on North San Pedro Street. In total, 17 city-owned sites have been cleared for advertising on city-owned property, though they won’t all be included in a request for proposal.

    A list of the 17 sites environmentally cleared for new billboards. Courtesy of city of San Jose.

    The city will release a request for proposal this month for companies interested in displaying their message on the new billboards. If approved, one sign will be mounted in an environmentally-cleared zone in downtown and the other on a company recommended site.

    Amid concerns, lawmakers last year outlined goals for billboards including enhancing commercial vibrancy, reducing clutter or blight by taking down signs that are “unsightly” or “incompatible,” and generating revenue  to support city services.

    In a joint memo, Vice Mayor Chappie Jones and Councilmembers Sylvia Arenas and Raul Peralez pushed for reducing blighted signage by taking down “the most problematic billboards.”

    “We have an opportunity to reduce existing blighted billboards by incentivizing a take-down or replacement element for stand-alone billboards,” the lawmakers wrote. “We have heard from both the mayor and the community on how blighted paper billboards have been a sore issue of frustration and our extensive, compliance-driven enforcement process only adds to that frustration.”

    City leaders propose an initial term of 10 years for the new signs at each site with two additional 5-year term options.

    The City Council meets 1:30 p.m. Tuesday inside the council chambers at City Hall, 200 East Santa Clara Street in San Jose.

    Contact Nadia Lopez at [email protected] or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.

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