San Jose lawmakers call on mayor to address inequity

    Five progressive San Jose lawmakers on Monday criticized Mayor Sam Liccardo for not going far enough in his proposed budget to address inequities that plague Silicon Valley’s poorest neighborhoods.

    “San Jose’s working families face issues of poverty, blight, crime and neglect that sometimes go back generations,'” said Councilmember Sylvia Arenas during a news conference at City Hall. “These are the same families who work two or three jobs to provide a better life for their children… They rent couches instead of homes.”

    Arenas, joined by Councilmembers Magdalena Carrasco, Raul Peralez, Maya Esparza and Sergio Jimenez, called on Liccardo earlier this year to create an “equity fund,” which would level the playing field by allocating funding and resources to the neighborhoods with the greatest need.

    While Liccardo proposed creating an “equity screen” to help filter city dollars more equitably, the lawmakers say his latest proposal falls short of what’s needed to address the city’s biggest problems in its most vulnerable districts, such as East San Jose.

    “Behind the percentages, behind the numbers, those are real families,” Jimenez said. “We firmly believe that the time is now to put our money where our mouth is. We need action.”

    In a memo released Friday, the lawmakers requested Liccardo allocate $500,000 to forming an equity fund on an ongoing basis, using money from the city’s marijuana tax or construction taxes. They also called for scheduling a public study session with the full City Council to discuss tools and solutions for “addressing inequities in resources, programming and access to city services.”

    Esparza on Monday alluded to the “tale of two cities” — comparing San Jose to its neighbor to the north. Esparza said San Francisco Mayor London Breed allocated more than $640,000 to creating an office of racial equity.

    San Jose has no such office, and Esparza pinpointed Liccardo devoting more than a million dollars for traffic calming and pedestrian safety measures in council districts 1, 4, 6 and 9 — primarily affluent and suburban areas. “This really does read like the tale of two cities and for us it’s not the best of times,” Esparza said.

    “There is a marked difference between Almaden, Willow Glen and East San Jose; it is not imagined,” added Carrasco. “We must make significant investments in these neighborhoods to develop vibrant, walkable, healthy and safe communities for our children’s future.”

    Longtime community leader Camille Llanes-Fontanilla said Monday that San Jose’s impoverished neighborhoods are being erased. “When there is one hundred years of oppression and racism and we’re not ready to talk about it, we can do better,” she said.

    Arenas said that San Jose City Hall often listens to the “squeaky wheels or the loudest voices” — instead of data. She also pointed to San Jose’s use of a smartphone application for residents to report illegal dumping, blight and graffiti — that’s only available in English.

    “This is the other San Jose that we don’t see or that we can’t see and too often our city departments can’t see them either,” Arenas said. “It’s vital that we make our budget decisions based on what will make the greatest impact.”

    When it comes to equity, Liccardo’s budget proposal recommended using tools such as the Social Progress Index and Government Alliance on Race and Equity to allocate money and services across neighborhoods. He also requested that officials rely on objective data over complaints, identify areas of need by census tract or police beat and not by council district and account for income disparities.

    But the councilmembers said the mayor’s method is “insufficient” and everything the city does should should be “done through an equity lens” to make a difference. The lawmakers said the equity fund could be used to address quality of life issues such as “language access, service delivery, cultural competency and other factors that have left vulnerable communities behind.”

    “It will allow us as a city to look at which areas have been underserved and under resourced, prompting to allocate our resources in an equitable way,” Peralez said.

    The San Jose City Council is expected to adopt the budget during its meeting Tuesday.

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