San Jose mayor tough on crime in first formal address
San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan takes the stage at San Jose City College for his first State of the City address on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023. Photo by Ben Irwin.

Drawing on violence in the Middle East, San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan on Saturday doubled down on a promise to bolster public safety by hiring more cops, holding repeat offenders accountable and cracking down on drugs during his first formal address.

“We’ve recently collaborated to update the booking process to ensure that the DA and Superior Court judges have sufficient information when making critical decisions about prosecution and release or detention,” Mahan told a crowd of more than 500 attendees gathered at San Jose City College for his first State of the City address. “While we should never return to the era of mass incarceration, San Jose and cities across California need and will continue to demand new and better tools for holding repeat offenders accountable for getting the help that they need while we keep our communities safe.”

Mahan said during his speech that he’s committed to ensuring San Jose can once again be called “the safest big city” in America.

As part of his plan to get there, the mayor is using tech-like license plate readers and speed cameras to deter crime.

A controversial new bill, AB 645, legalizes the state’s use of surveillance cameras in school zones and “safety corridors.” San Jose is one of six cities participating in the state’s five-year pilot, and could receive up to 33 cameras.

San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan at his first State of the City address on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023. Photo by Ben Irwin.

San Jose faces an understaffed police department with slow response times. One in every three of nearly 1,100 police officers received some type of misconduct complaint in 2022, a three-year increase.

Mahan said under his watch the city has increased funding to double the recruitment and hiring rate of police officers. But as of August, the department had little to show for its efforts with a high percentage of recruits dropping out of police academies.

The mayor also touted his “zero tolerance” policy for open drug dealing and use and a plan to work with social media companies to stop dangerous side shows that have frustrated residents for years.

He criticized Prop. 47 for enabling thieves to take $950 worth of goods each day with “little to no consequence.” He said the city secured a recent multi-million state grant to address the rise in retail theft, but did not elaborate how the plan would work.

On the topic of mental health and addiction, Mahan lauded the city’s push to modernize California’s mental health conservatorship laws with the signing of SB 43 last week. He said the law will compel those with severe mental illness into receiving in-patient treatment.

Public safety isn’t the only priority for the first-term mayor facing reelection next year. Voters passed Measure B last year to move mayoral elections to line up with presidential elections to encourage higher turnout.

“What we need is so simple,” Mahan said. “A city that is safe for everyone, a city where everyone has a place to sleep indoors and where everyone can find a job that pays the bills … our work together has been about getting San Jose back on track.”

A crowd gathered at San Jose City College on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023 for San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan’s first State of the City address. Photo by Ben Irwin.


Mahan’s focus this year has been to add as much temporary housing as possible. His council colleagues earlier this year shot down his plan to shift tax revenue from a voter-approved measure from long-term affordable housing to fund quicker solutions to move homeless people off the streets.

Mahan said this year the city has added 269 temporary homes or parking spaces for homeless people. More than 1,000 homes are on the way, including a 150-bed, quick-build site in South San Jose called Via del Oro, thanks to a land donation from philanthropist John A. Sobrato.

He also touted the city’s efforts to build affordable housing with “over one thousand more in the pipeline.” San Jose has seen 5,519 new affordable houses since 2014, just 26% of its goal over the last 10 years.

According to San Jose’s state housing plan, it needs to build a whopping 62,200 affordable homes over the next eight years, with nearly a quarter of them pegged for very low-income people.

“We all know we haven’t done nearly enough yet,” Mahan said. “(We’ve) declared a shelter crisis in our city … (to) allow us to cut red tape and streamline procurement as we work to quickly and efficiently stand up basic shelter for everyone living outdoors, and then require that they come indoors.”

Mahan has supported creating sanctioned encampments and safe spaces for homeless people to live indoors. It’s not just a campaign promise for the mayor. His push to require unhoused people to move indoors stems from a court ruling that has defined California’s homelessness response. The case of Martin v. Boise, which began in 2009 and was resolved in 2019, established that governments cannot criminalize homelessness if they don’t have enough shelter space to house them.

Despite political leaders previously denouncing the idea, Mahan is considering sanctioned encampments to allow homeless people to sleep outdoors with rules and support services. The idea could overhaul the city’s shelter bed count and provide another way to move homeless people into temporary housing. He said San Jose has been a pioneer in the homelessness response.

“We’ve seen many elected officials offer excuses for our state’s failure to adequately address homelessness,” Mahan said Saturday. “It’s time for the blame game to end.”

Alex Shoor, executive director at Catalyze SV and a San Jose City Council District 6 candidate, lauded the mayor’s focus on homelessness. He said nearly 70% of voters he’s talked to say it’s their top concern. He’d like to see Mahan take measures to prevent people from ending up homeless and focus on marginalized communities.

“When I went to (Mahan’s) inauguration speech, the word ‘equity’ was not mentioned,” Shoor said. “The level of inequality we have in San Jose is not sustainable … we need a mayor and a council that’s talking about addressing equity issues. The difference between the haves and have-nots has gotten so wide.”

Resource booths are pictured at San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan’s first State of the City address on Saturday, Oct. 21. Photo by Ben Irwin.

Call to action

Mahan painted his first 10 months in office as filled with action. He urged residents to volunteer their time to help the homeless, clean up blight and encourage youth to consider careers in public safety.

Booths were available for attendees to pick up graffiti clean-up kits, emergency preparedness tools and sign up to volunteer for public service.

“We all want the same basic things for ourselves, for our children and for our neighbors,” Mahan said. “I want to task the residents of San Jose … to stand up and take collective action that will make our city a cleaner, safer, more compassionate place.”

San Jose resident Connie Rimroth appreciated Mahan’s push to end homelessness but hoped he would address dire conditions at the city’s animal shelter.

“I think they’ve got some issues down there that need to be addressed,” Rimroth said. “I was hoping to hear something today but I understand there’s so much going on. I’m really happy with what I heard today.”

Read the full text of Mahan’s speech.

Contact Ben at [email protected] or follow @B1rwin on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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