San Jose mayor focuses on successes during final speech
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo gives his last State of the City address in front of a live crowd. Photo by Jana Kadah.

In his last formal address to San Jose, Mayor Sam Liccardo reflected on the city’s wins under his leadership over the past eight years.

It was the first time the mayor delivered his annual State of the City speech in person since 2018. More than 600 people attended the event at the California Theatre in downtown San Jose on Thursday.

The mayor characterized his biggest successes as helping San Jose emerge from a recession, settle its contentious pension battles and soldiering through major staff and service cuts. For the first time in 20 years, the city’s budget office projects modest surpluses for the next five years.

Those extra dollars enabled San Jose to extend library hours, repave or seal more than 400 miles of streets by the end of the year and pick up 9.2 million pounds of trash last year.

“San Jose has thrived by overcoming temporal myopia — fixing our focus on the future. Saving for the future. Investing for the future,” Liccardo said during his speech. “That is the ethos of the generations of immigrants that have shaped San Jose’s character: sacrificing in the present–even in the toughest of times–for a better future for our children.”

The mayor said he hopes the financial recovery of San Jose is how history books remember his legacy. The mayor took office under the cloud of a costly legal battle stemming from Measure B’s pension cuts, which he once backed, and was at the center of civil unrest in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, a turbulent Trump administration, an unprecedented global pandemic and a mass shooting that made national headlines.

“We’ve endured so much together through the pandemic, mass shootings, through droughts and flood,” Liccardo said earlier on Thursday.  “We were able to come together in tough times in the present and always keep an eye on the future… I think that’s the defining character.”

The mayor held his speech four months before he terms out of office. When asked about the timing of the speech, Liccardo said it was delayed to ensure it could happen in person.

Jesus Flores, president of the Latino Business Foundation, commended Liccardo for leading the city through its toughest times.

“Listening to all of the new programs made it clear San Jose did a great job,” Flores said. “I love that we brought broadband services especially to lower-income communities. I’m very happy with the work that has been done.”

Housing

Liccardo, who once called the city’s homelessness his biggest failure, struck a more optimistic tone about the crisis Thursday. He touted solutions like interim housing sites that have housed 686 people, more than 200 motel rooms converted to housing and the exponential success of backyard homes.

“After years of wheel-spinning, we’re finally seeing hopeful signs,” Liccardo said. “The latest census showed that we’ve finally begun to reverse the generational expansion of our unsheltered homeless population.”

Santa Clara County’s latest point-in-time count found that despite San Jose housing 6,000 residents since 2019, homeless in the city increased by 11%. Liccardo highlighted new approaches such as job opportunities for unhoused residents.

“Leaving this speech, I’m thinking (Liccardo) is a good man,” District 3 resident Anne Wilke told San José Spotlight. “It’s clear he forced some real changes and I noticed a difference. Homelessness isn’t his problem, it’s ours for years to come. But the street improvements is what excited me the most — things like bike lanes.”

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo gives his last State of the City address in front of a live crowd. Photo by Jana Kadah.

Safety

Despite staffing shortages in the police department and an increase in traffic fatalities, San Jose is considered one of the safest large cities in the U.S. — a fact the mayor shared beamingly.

San Jose hired 200 police officers in the last five years; it invested $100 million for 30 different traffic safety solutions last year and invested in better training and equipment for the city’s fire department.

But Liccardo said more needs to be done to build trust in the police — especially after civil unrest in 2020. His proposal to move officer investigations to the Independent Police Auditor instead of SJPD’s internal affairs is coming to the city council before the year’s end. “It’s not simply about having more police; it’s about policing better,” Liccardo said. “We’re restoring the legacy of community policing pioneered in San Jose, by launching regular shifts of walking patrols that build relationships and trust with residents.”

Liccardo also spotlighted his contentious and legally-challenged gun reform initiatives, such as requiring gun owners to carry liability insurance and pay annual fees.

For gun reform advocates like Sarah Bayrele and Julie Henig, it is the highlight of Liccardo’s tenure.

“There’s been some challenges to it, but we just really appreciate his innovative approach. And I think it’s a model for the whole country,” Bayrele, a volunteer with Moms Demand Action, told San José Spotlight. “It’s what brought us out here tonight.”

Environment

After serving through two droughts, Liccardo has pushed for major investments in water technologies. He said San Jose should invest in purifying recycled water — an idea that garnered applause from the audience. He would also like the city to explore desalination, despite its high price tag.

“We must confront our climate crisis,” Liccardo said. “The threat is not merely possible or probable, but palpable, as we routinely endure bouts of drought, fires, and extreme heat.”

San Jose has made its grids greener through the launch of San Jose Clean Energy which draws on renewable energy sources like solar. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a goal to decarbonize the state’s grid by 2045 — but San Jose will achieve that goal 20 years ahead of schedule. The city also invested in transit like the BART extension project and the electrification of Caltrain.

The council in December will decide whether to launch San Jose’s own public utility in partnership with Google — a move Liccardo said San Jose must do “to achieve a more resilient and dependable energy future.”

“In our remaining months, I (and my departing colleagues) will keep sprinting through the tape, doing everything we can to make our next mayor and next council successful in serving this great city,” Liccardo said at the end of his 40-minute speech.

Councilmember Sergio Jimenez said the event highlighted Liccardo’s accomplishments.

“The speech was an adequate recap of the many things the mayor has done,” Jimenez told San José Spotlight. “Although we don’t always agree, I appreciate his many years of public service to a city we all love.”

Read the full text of Liccardo’s speech.

Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

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