San Jose lawmakers expected to approve city budget

After months of preparation, the San Jose City Council on Tuesday is expected to approve the proposed $4.3 billion budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year.

Since March, Mayor Sam Liccardo has released two budget messages that help shape how the city spends public dollars. The mayor’s first message focused on limiting spending to brace for a potential deficit. In his June message released last week, Liccardo called on the city to focus money and resources on portions of San Jose with the greatest need by creating an “equity screen” that relies on objective data, census tract and police beat information.

Liccardo credited a proposal from Councilmembers Raul Peralez, Sergio Jimenez, Magdalena Carrasco, Maya Esparza and Sylvia Arenas as a catalyst for exploring equity in San Jose. The councilors in April proposed creating an equity fund to help struggling parts of the city.

But on Friday, Peralez, Jimenez, Carrasco, Esparza and Arenas said in a memo that they cannot “in good conscience” support the mayor’s equity screen initiative, citing concerns that it did not go far enough.

“It is insufficient to say that we are going to apply an ‘equity screen’ to the allocation of funds this budget cycle,” the councilors wrote. “If we truly want to tackle the issue of equity in our city, then everything we do should be done through an equity lens.”

The group instead proposed that the city allocate resources to help understand inequalities in San Jose. They requested a study session so the council can learn about existing city tools, such as the Governmental Alliance on Race and Equity and the Social Progress Index.

They also criticized the mayor’s reliance on programs such as San Jose Works, the Digital Inclusion Fund and San Jose College Promise to address equity.

“These programs are heavily impacted, have waitlists, and are not sufficient in making systematic improvements,” the councilors wrote. “We need equity in basic city services for entire communities – such as housing, street pavement, neighborhood services – not just limited opportunities for a small percentage of individuals within our mayor’s selected programs.”

Esparza released a separate memo requesting clarification on the mayor’s proposal to fund a homeless encampment cleanup program. Liccardo’s idea for a pilot encampment cleanup program would provide “amnesty” or reprieve from abatements on up to four sites, located away from neighborhoods and creeks.

The freshman councilmember worried that the city might start using encampments as a solution to homelessness. Sanctioned encampments have caused debate recently among residents as the failed relocation of Hope Village to Willow Glen was met with backlash.

Esparza also requested that the city disperse its pilot program across council districts to avoid clustering encampments in areas that are already saturated.

Helping the “Missing Middle”

From construction of backyard housing units, to developing more housing in North San Jose and the rehabilitation of older apartments, housing officials on Tuesday were expected to discuss how San Jose plans to house its “missing middle.” The item, however, got deferred until June 25.

In Santa Clara County, the “missing middle” is considered families who earn between $85,050 and $135,250 per year, and individuals who make between $66,150 and $105,200 per year. That’s 20 percent of San Jose households.

The council recently dedicated funds to help meet the needs of the “missing middle,” allocating $10 million on April 19 to focus on middle class housing.

In a memo issued Friday, Councilmember Pam Foley is proposing that city officials explore the creation of a down payment assistance program to help moderate-income, first-time homebuyers afford a down payment.

“Many middle-income, first-time homebuyers searching in the San Jose market find themselves capable of making a mortgage payment, but struggling to save enough funds for a downpayment,” Foley wrote.

Foley added that the city has already implemented first-time homebuyer programs for teachers in which San Jose offered deferred-payments loans. Santa Clara County’s Measure A – a 2016 affordable housing bond – also allocated $25 million in first-time homebuyer assistance.

General Plan Review

As the city prepares for its second review of the Envision San Jose 2040 General Plan, councilors on Tuesday will decide what aspects of the plan a task force will review this fall.

San Jose’s 2040 general plan, which guides development and environmental sustainability, is projected to accommodate 470,000 new residents and 382,000 new jobs. City officials are proposing that the task force review four aspects of the plan: redistributing job growth in North Coyote Valley, re-analyzing urban village growth and its affordable housing goals, reducing vehicle miles traveled and integrating housing in underutilized business corridors.

Liccardo, Jimenez, Peralez and Arenas suggested exploring the creation of opportunity housing, which is the redevelopment of single-family lots to two to four units per parcel.

“A major strategy of our General Plan is planning for high-density multi-family and mixed-use housing along our commercial corridors through Urban Villages,” Liccardo, Jimenez, Peralez and Arenas wrote. “However, we can do more to create opportunities, and there remains a need for medium density “opportunity housing” that includes duplexes, triplexes, or fourplexes.”

In addition to looking at the job redistribution of North Coyote Valley, the lawmakers requested the task force look at the Mid-Coyote Urban Reserve, and explore how the city can preserve the space and wildlife living there.

Finally, the group asked the task force to re-analyze the Evergreen-East Hills Development Policy. The section of San Jose has exhausted its growth, and elected leaders want to examine how vehicle miles traveled could influence the area’s future growth.

The San Jose City Council meets 10 a.m. Tuesday inside the council chambers at City Hall, 200 East Santa Clara Street in San Jose.

Contact Grace Hase at grace@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @grace_hase on Twitter.

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