San Jose lawmakers set their top priorities for the new year
San Jose City Hall is pictured in this file photo. Photo by Nadia Lopez.

The San Jose City Council is grappling with scores of pressing issues, but with little time and limited resources, lawmakers each year must decide which priorities to push forward.

Following hours of pitching policy proposals they consider the most imperative for the city’s progress, elected leaders on Tuesday voted to add seven new policies to the city’s growing priorities list, which includes ideas from previous years, such as anti-displacement, wage theft, smoke-free housing and a downtown zoning code update.

The seven items will now be included in the city’s top 12 new and existing priorities for the current year, but there are 22 total priorities the council settled on.

The councilmembers initially submitted 25 policy initiatives for consideration, but one — Mayor Sam Liccardo’s gun harm reduction priority — was removed as a gun study led by Santa Clara County is already underway. The second component to the policy — a proposal to require all gun owners to insure their weapon — will be discussed later this year during budget talks. That left lawmakers with 24 policies to choose from. 

For nearly 10 years, the City Council has held priority-setting meetings to determine the city’s top initiatives for the year. During the annual process, councilmembers vote twice — first to determine which items make the priority list and a second vote to decide how the items are ranked.

To be considered, a policy nomination usually needed six votes. But since Councilmember Sylvia Arenas was absent Tuesday, the lawmakers reduced the requirement to five. Councilmembers were not allowed to put all their votes toward one item.

From the 24 proposals that made the cut during the first round, lawmakers chose seven ideas to add to the top of the city’s priority list Tuesday.

The City Council’s new priorities are as follows, ranked in order by the ones with the most votes:

    • Anti-displacement preference ordinance: 6 votes

After a series of discussions on displacement in San Jose the past year, lawmakers prioritized crafting a citywide anti-displacement policy. Bay Area residents are plagued with a turbulent housing crisis that continues to raise rents and increase displacement, predominantly driving out communities of color.

To curb the effects of the city’s burgeoning crises, city officials are in the midst of developing a policy promoting the “three P’s” of housing policy — production, protection and preservation — strategies focused on solving the city’s affordability woes.

The city is deepening its scope of its protection initiatives. A policy is expected to come to council later this year.

      • E-cigarette use and flavored tobacco: 6 votes

In a win for parents and anti-tobacco advocates, lawmakers voted to prioritize a proposal from Councilmembers Pam Foley and Magdalena Carrasco to implement stronger enforcement of e-cigarette sales by preventing retailers from selling e-cigarettes and flavored products within a one mile radius of schools and finding new ways to confirm a consumer is of legal age.

“I learned about access and use of ‘e-cigs’ — the students are attracted to the flavors and the size of the vaping devices,” Foley said. “This is unacceptable. It’s attractive to the kids because of the flavor. It’s attractive to the kids because of the size. Nicotine is highly addictive, we should not make it easy for these kids to get access.”

The new priority means teens and underage adults will not have easy accessibility to addictive vaping products.

      • Update to traffic calming policy: 5 votes

The city’s existing traffic calming policy will be expanded to ease concerns in residential neighborhoods.

The policy, proposed by Councilmember Sergio Jimenez, intends to “provide greater opportunities for streets and intersections to qualify for appropriate traffic calming measures, particularly in areas near parks, schools, libraries, and community centers,”  Jimenez said.

      • Update the council’s wage theft prevention policy: 4 votes

One of the initiatives to receive support from councilmembers two years in a row was wage theft prevention. The city has made significant strides in expanding its wage theft policy this past year to protect construction workers and city-funded public works projects, however, labor advocates argue that it’s not broad enough. Many workers across several industries such as hospitality, continue to be left out from the same protections, they said.

      • Power safety shutoffs: 4 votes

In the wake of two power shutoffs that affected more than left more than 850,000 customers across 36 counties in California without power during last year’s fire season, Liccardo proposed evaluating bond financing to develop renewable energy storage and generation facilities, such as microgrids, to protect critical city facilities. The new policy is expected to provide the most at-risk neighborhoods with improved “energy resilience, reliability, and low costs” in the event of a new series of power outages.

      • Citywide transit first policy: 4 votes

To reduce traffic and increase public transit ridership, councilors prioritized Foley’s idea to enact a citywide transit policy in traffic dense corridors. In a car-centric San Jose, many residents opt to drive instead of using public transit because it takes too long. The new transit policy would help make public transit faster by setting a transit speed goal in areas with high light rail and bus use.

“Fast transit is good because it causes more transit, it gets people out of their cars, it decreases San Jose’s greenhouse gas emissions and removes inefficiency,” Foley said.

While some items were not included on the priority list, that doesn’t mean they won’t be implemented. Items such as Jimenez’s equity in sport field rentals and Arenas’ children bill of rights, have been green-lit by the city and officials have begun researching those ideas.

Other items, such as Carrasco’s equity task force and Councilmember Maya Esparza’s no blight zones, will need to be evaluated for resources and staffing during the budget process, or be decided on at commission or committee meetings.

Eight initiatives – disadvantaged business enterprises, accessory dwelling units and garage conversion, safe parking programs, family-friendly city paid family leave, sanctioned encampments, hiring crossing guards, food and clothing distribution at city parks and graffiti abatement — were removed from the priority list as they’ve been deemed completed.

Contact Nadia Lopez at nadia@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.

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