San Jose lawmakers propose giving low-income areas more public funding
A view of San Jose from the East/Evergreen side of the city. Photo by Kyle Martin.

Instead of giving San Jose’s affluent, privileged neighborhoods such as Almaden Valley and Willow Glen the same amount of money as struggling areas such as East San Jose and Meadowfair, five city lawmakers want to make the budget process more equitable.

They’re calling for the city’s public funding to be divvied up based on each district’s needs.

“Instead of dividing funds equally among the ten council districts, an equitable budget commits more resources to areas and populations where needs are greater, and where there exists a disparate impact on our neighborhoods,” wrote Councilmembers Raul Peralez, Sergio Jimenez, Magdalena Carrasco, Maya Esparza and Sylvia Arenas, in a new proposal.

“It is not by coincidence that large pockets of poverty and high numbers of minorities are coupled within our districts. The public policies of the past institutionalized the disparity that we see today,” the proposal said.

The proposal asks for the city manager to create a first-of-its-kind equity fund, which would allocate resources to address “disparities among blight, vehicle abatement, education, community programs, parks maintenance, environmental mitigation, public safety, code enforcement, and economic development.”

For example, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf proposed a 75-25 split, with the majority of road funding pegged for denser, low-income communities.

San Jose’s equity fund, according to the proposal, could also be used to improve quality of life in vulnerable communities, such as language access and cultural competency. The idea, the lawmakers said, is to support equitable distribution of city resources and services to “bridge the gap between the city’s under-resourced, diverse communities and prosperous neighborhoods.”

They suggested funding the equity fund through marijuana sales tax or construction taxes.

“As we distribute our City’s limited funds, equity must be incorporated into the budget process,” the proposal added. “It is undeniable that neighborhoods in San José look and feel vastly different depending on where they are situated, this is not acceptable.”

The five councilmembers represent Districts 2, 3, 5, 7 and 8. They ask that city funds be allocated in greater quantities into districts that need more resources than others.

Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco said in an interview Friday that struggling neighborhoods often get left behind. Certain areas lack basic amenities, such as parks, community centers and traffic safety measures, and some neighborhoods have been paying for amenities that they never received.

Her district, for example, is barely now getting its first dog park, Carrasco said.

“It’s no coincidence that people of color and that poverty tends to live in certain communities, whereas affluence tends to live in other sides of the city,” Carrasco said. “It is no coincidence that beautiful streets and beautiful homes tend to live in certain areas, whereas dilapidated streets and dilapidated homes live in others.”

She said areas in District 3, 5, 7 and 8 all stick out as areas of concern, in need of resources from an equity fund. She said “it’s not anecdotal, it’s factual.”

“You just need to drive through the city to see the differences between one side of the city and the other,” Carrasco said. “You need to simply drive through and understand that this is a city of two tales, if you will.”

Councilwoman Sylvia Arenas, who represents the Evergreen area, agreed.

“My colleagues and I wrote this memo to open up the conversation about how to address the issue of equity in city services in San Jose,” Arenas said. “Our memo builds on many of the goals that the council and mayor are already championing, including many parts of the mayor’s budget message this March.”

“This Equity Fund is an important and necessary tool, to create safe and equitable neighborhoods throughout San José, ensuring that our residents no longer feel the burden of poor quality of life issues,” Peralez said via email.

“District 3 receives many calls about blight, vehicle abandonment, park maintenance, public safety, and the list can go on,” he added. “I know these issues are not unique to our District. I am sure that there are many communities across our city that would greatly benefit from an inclusive and equitable approach to solving these issues.”

In addition to establishing an equity fund, the proposal calls for exploring opportunities to bring “an equity lens when determining resources, programming and access to neighborhood services in diverse communities throughout the city.”

“Each of our neighborhoods have pockets that need attention,” said Councilmember Sergio Jimenez in an interview Friday. “Often times, some of these parts of the city were forgotten. We’re still trying to remedy that.”

Jimenez also said that “this is not an attempt to divide” the city, but rather  “it’s really just an attempt to acknowledge the vast differences we have throughout the city.”

Contact Kyle Martin at kylebmartin96@gmail.com or follow him @Kyle_Martin35 on Twitter.

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