How San Jose mayor will tackle trash, homelessness and crime
San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan speaks to the audience during his inauguration ceremony on Feb. 1, 2023. Photo by Joseph Geha.

    Like his late father who was a mailman, San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan said it’s time to “deliver” solutions in America’s 10th largest city – starting with the overflowing trash that’s plagued San Jose streets.

    During his nearly two-hour inauguration Wednesday, San Jose’s 66th mayor focused on three key areas City Hall needs to fix: blight, homelessness and public safety.

    Drawing roaring cheers from the crowd, Mahan zeroed in on people who dump trash and debris in San Jose. He said the city’s code enforcement department has a 22% vacancy rate while juggling a backlog of 4,000 trash-related complaints.

    “Actions must have consequences – it is unacceptable for one person’s negligence to burden the entire community,” Mahan told a crowd of more than 2,000 gathered at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts.

    In addition to filling those vacancies, Mahan plans to improve the city’s 311 app – which allows residents to report blight and dump sites – to ensure they receive a photo of the cleaned-up area once it’s done. He also invited residents to scan a code on their phones to volunteer for a series of trash pickup days – starting with District 7 this weekend.

    As San José Spotlight reported, the city app is riddled with problems including slow response times, language and disability inaccessibility and technological problems that make it glitchy and slow.

    Mahan also created a new “neighborhood outreach” team in his office to aid beautification efforts and wants to expand programs that pay homeless people to pick up trash.

    San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan speaks to members of the media shortly before his inauguration ceremony on Feb. 1, 2023. Photo by Joseph Geha.

    Public safety: Hiring more officers

    When it comes to public safety, the new mayor wants to double the city’s commitment of hiring 15 officers a year for the next five years to 30 officers per year. He plans to allocate city funding for recruitment efforts and to ensure cadets are paid – allowing young people with financial difficulties to work in law enforcement.

    Mahan also wants to reinstate the bonus given to officers for recruiting new hires and increase outreach to minority communities to hire more officers of color.

    A report by the city auditor found that San Jose is failing to meet police response time goals. For priority two level calls, which are property or personal damage when the suspect has already fled, officers took an average of 23.9 minutes to arrive on scene – the goal is to be under 11 minutes.

    To reduce delays and boost officer morale, Mahan promised to invest in better reporting tools, digitize cumbersome forms and find ways to speed up in-takes at the county jail.

    Mahan also lamented that San Jose officers find themselves arresting the same people again and again. One individual, he said, was put in handcuffs 27 times in two years. Mahan wants to end this cycle with early intervention programs.

    “I’m committed to working with our county leaders to ensure that when an officer takes someone to jail or Valley Medical Center, they are not simply returned to the street a day or two later  when their situation demands further intervention,” he said.

    Councilmember Bien Doan, a political ally of the mayor, said he wholeheartedly supports his plans – especially the emphasis on public safety.

    “The basics of security, cleanliness, and taking care of our unhoused residents create more businesses, bring in more jobs, so people can survive around here,” Doan said. “When you solve the basics, everything else will fall in place.”

    Despite being on opposite sides of the political aisle, Councilmember Sergio Jimenez said Mahan was effective in highlighting his key goals.

    “I look forward to evaluating the details of how he intends to meet those commitments while doing all the other important work of the city,” Jimenez told San José Spotlight.

    Homelessness: An emergency crisis

    Homelessness is a “humanitarian crisis,” Mahan said during his inaugural speech, and it’s time the city treated it that way.

    If an earthquake displaced 4,975 residents – the number of people sleeping on San Jose streets – FEMA would have shelters lined up on public lands, Mahan said. The city must handle homelessness the same way.

    Mahan spent the past year on the campaign trail advocating for putting pre-built homes for homeless residents on public land – costing far less than building homeless housing elsewhere from the ground up.

    “We know that by using basic, pre-built modular units placed on government owned land, we can create safe homes for a fraction of the current cost,” he said.

    He plans to double down on former Mayor Sam Liccardo’s plan to build 1,000 new tiny homes. San Jose nearly reached that goal, with roughly 1,000 in the pipeline. Mahan hopes to see them built by 2024. He also wants to find sites for another 1,000 units after that.

    Mahan drew the loudest applause from the crowd when he would end “San Jose’s era of unmanaged encampments.”

    South San Jose residents Chris and Jessica Turk, who attended the event Wednesday, said they avoid taking their preschool daughters on walks because of the rampant homelessness.

    Jessica said she hopes Mahan will create homeless housing that caters to people with mental health issues, drug addiction and economic troubles.

    “I like that he was talking about mental health, and trying to rehabilitate people instead of just putting them in houses,” Turk told San José Spotlight.

    After watching Mahan’s speech, South Bay digital political marketing consultant Christopher Higgenbotham said it remains to be seen how much progress the new mayor might make.

    “I think if you’re going to bring the whole common sense idea and say that you are going to be unique and innovative, and run this city as a business, you’ve got to show us what it is,” he said. “Any public business opens up their books and shows what’s going on and we get to judge if they’re doing good or bad.”

    Drawing on his background as a businessman and tech entrepreneur, Mahan wants to use data to track the city’s progress toward these goals.

    He announced he’ll soon unveil a public “Dashboard of Results” showing how the city is tackling blight, homelessness and crime.

    “My father taught me that a mailman always delivers,” Mahan said. “I believe our government should too.”

    Read the full text of Mahan’s speech.

    Reporter Joseph Geha contributed to this story.

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

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