The San Jose City Council unanimously supported Mayor Liccardo’s new spending plan which aims to rebuild the economy and help San Jose recover from COVID.
On March 9, the mayor released his annual March Budget Message with recommendations for the city’s 2021-2022 budget.
Liccardo’s main focus is on creating jobs, helping local businesses get back on their feet, and addressing the homeless and housing crisis, which has worsened amid a COVID-driven recession.
“With the anniversary of the nation’s first stay-home order fast approaching, we can see ample signs of hope, but many challenges ahead,” Liccardo said. “This is a marathon, not a sprint. We will need all of our collective focus, fortitude, and resilience to overcome this pandemic together.”
Business, blight and housing
The mayor’s spending plan will provide additional funding to programs like San Jose Al Fresco which help businesses open safely outdoors during the pandemic.
Frank Nguyen, owner of local business Academic Coffee, thanked the city for its ongoing support of Al Fresco. He hopes it continues “as long as possible.”
“We don’t participate in the Al Fresco program but we’ve seen how beneficial it is to our neighbors,” Nguyen said. “It keeps our streets alive and it keeps our neighborhoods vibrant and it benefits our everybody whether they’re part of it or not.”
Liccardo’s plan also tackles blight. Residents have expressed concerns that illegal dumping is tainting San Jose’s landscape. The mayor proposes expanding programs such as San Jose Bridge and Cash for Trash, which pay unhoused and low-income residents to collect trash around the city. People who participated in the program said they weren’t paid for weeks until after San José Spotlight asked about it last year.
To help San Jose’s unhoused residents, Liccardo wants to create more emergency and transitional housing with the help of grants and philanthropic funding.
Councilmember David Cohen said investing in transitional housing is just one of many solutions the city needs to consider when addressing the housing crisis.
“We have to invest in proposals that will keep our unhoused residents safe,” Cohen said. “We have to invest in other social service programs to assist them. There’s a lot of different things we have to do, but I think temporary and transitional housing is going to be a key component.”
Liccardo also wants the city to put at least $80 million in federal relief funding in the Budget Stabilization Reserve to prepare for future budget shortfalls. Both Davis and Cohen agree the city needs to save in anticipation for a long-term recovery.
“We don’t know how long the recession is going to last,” Cohen said. “We obviously have to use that relief money wisely, because I suspect this is the last relief bill coming from the federal government with aid to cities, so we have to make sure that money lasts us over the next couple of years as we go through our recovery.”
But Councilmember Raul Peralez said the city should consider using the relief money to help current pandemic needs.
“I’m not against ensuring we have adequate reserves to move forward,” Peralez said. “But I don’t think I would be as conservative as he is considering that this is the emergency we’ve saved up for.”
Liccardo said the city could be facing a $78 million deficit this upcoming year, and he is trying to plan for the unknown.
The mayor’s strongest push is getting residents back to work through his Resilience Corps proposal. It would employ 500 young, low-income adults. The new jobs would support pandemic response, disaster preparedness, the environment and students who have struggled to learn during remote instruction.
Jennifer Malutta with San Jose State University praised the Resilience Corps and looked forward to a partnership between the city and the university.
“We support the Resilience Corps and what it could mean for our students and their families,” she said. “The jobs and paid internships that our students need and rely on are not available in the same numbers as they were pre-pandemic. This impacts not only their career pathway but their ability to provide for their basic needs month-to-month.”
Liccardo’s proposal also hopes to increase construction jobs to build an airport connector to major transit hubs. To crack down on crime in local parks, he aims to fill vacant park ranger positions with members of the Resilience Corps and volunteers.
“Among the many crises wrought by the events of the last year, an entire generation of young adults have grappled with dimming life prospects under the crushing weight of poverty and extended unemployment, at a rate double that of the rest of our workforce,” Liccardo said. “These same young people have the energy and talent to help us tackle many of our greatest challenges — from the pandemic to climate change to widening gaps in educational and economic outcomes. In the Resilience Corps, need meets opportunity.”
Councilmembers Sylvia Arenas and Maya Esparza urged the city to use data to ensure residents in poor areas of the city get equal access to opportunities and resources that come from this year’s budget process.
“The mayor’s message is a sound beginning,” Arenas said. “Our community’s needs are great, and we must embrace the opportunity to vigorously discuss how best to address them.”
Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.