From involving neighborhood organizations to creating a form for public feedback to reaching limited English speaking areas, city officials on Tuesday will recommend a series of improvements to help San Jose better engage the community over upcoming building projects.
The San Jose City Council will review eight sweeping recommendations on development noticing as prepared by the office of the city auditor. The recommendations include:
- Creating more realistic goals for delivering on-site notices and requiring evidence of on-site posting before setting a project hearing date.
- Creating a list of neighborhood associations and notifying them early about nearby development.
- Identifying the dominant language in neighborhoods to ensure that notices are translated in the correct language. This recommendation also requests that the city create guidelines for when it should provide interpretation services during public meetings.
- Clarifying rules around the radius of the project and which residents should be notified. The city currently notifies individuals anywhere from 300 feet to 1,000 feet from the project site, depending on the development. The auditor recommended creating consistency with the requirements.
- Making more information available online about projects prior to the meetings.
- Utilizing more common language and avoiding technical terms when sending out notices.
- Creating a guide for residents that outlines goals of the hearing process and provides them with information about submitting a comment before or during a hearing.
- Creating an online form for residents to submit feedback on the public hearing process.
The audit overall found shortcomings in the current public engagement process and recommended the city update its outreach policy for development projects. And while Economic Development Director Kim Walesh agreed with the recommendations, she noted in a memo that it could come at a cost.
“Updating the policy would be a significant undertaking, requiring significant commitment of staff and/or consultants, a budget allocation and community outreach,” she wrote.
Instead, she recommended that the City Council refer the issue to the 2020 priority setting session, which is used to help guide city officials in managing their workloads.
Catalyze SV, a nonprofit that focuses on sustainable development and growth, recently released a draft of 14 recommendations on how the city can better engage its residents.
Alex Shoor, the co-founder, said that the auditor’s recommendations aligned with some of Catalyze SV’s own strategies, like communicating in languages other than English and improving access to information online.
However, Shoor objected to Walesh’s recommendation to wait until 2020 to start implementing some of the changes.
“That is way too long to narrow such a wide gap between our current policy and the high-quality engagement our city needs and our community deserves,” he said. “As community engagement moves into a new era in cities across the U.S., San Jose can’t be stuck in the ice ages for another two to three years.”
Project Hope expansion
Councilors on Tuesday will also receive an update on Project Hope, a program that addresses crime and blight in struggling neighborhoods.
The project was originally launched in 2016 as a pilot project in the Cadillac/Winchester neighborhood in District 1 and last year expanded to the Roundtable and Welch Park neighborhoods in District 2 and 8, respectively.
According to a report from Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services Acting Director Jon Cicirelli, the program has launched monthly litter pick-ups, held numerous town halls and helped communities create their own neighborhood associations. As part of the update, city officials have recommended steps to help strengthen and expand the program, including:
- Launching future Project Hope sites in designated “hot spot areas” so resources are allocated to serve the greatest need.
- Investing in a multi-year program instead of a one-year pilot program because “building relationships and community takes time and sustained effort.”
- Identifying what resources are needed to meet the demands of the community.
- Developing a maintenance plan for the community after the initial program launch.
“As the Project Hope program moves forward, there are opportunities to scale and potentially expand the program to other Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force-designated hot spot neighborhoods,” Cicirelli wrote. “The department continues to grow in its understanding of the demand and need for an ongoing community empowerment strategy in neighborhoods that confront crime and blight on a regular basis.”
The City Council meets 1:30 p.m. Tuesday inside the council chamber at City Hall, 200 East Santa Clara Street in San Jose.
Contact Grace Hase at [email protected] or follow @grace_hase on Twitter.