San Jose mayor’s budget targets homelessness, public safety
San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan speaks to the audience during his inauguration ceremony on Feb. 1, 2023. Photo by Joseph Geha.

    San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan’s top issues—homelessness, public safety, growth and blight—haven’t changed since he took office, but tackling them is going to require an aggressive approach.

    Mahan released his budget proposal this week, which outlines how he plans to allocate millions of dollars to address the city’s top problems. The proposal, which the San Jose City Council will discuss March 21, will help the city manager create a budget for the upcoming fiscal year starting in July.

    San Jose has an estimated $30 million surplus this upcoming fiscal year. However, while main sources of revenue like sales tax and airport services look strong, the five-year forecast warns of tougher times ahead, including persistent inflation threats, as well as the end of federal stimulus funds like the American Rescue Plan (ARPA). If San Jose elects to maintain 50% of the current services provided by ARPA, the budget would incur a shortfall of $32 million for the next fiscal year, according to the city’s analysis.

    Despite the scaling back of some pandemic-era services in the past few months, Mahan’s proposal doesn’t mention any cuts just yet. Rather, the mayor wants to invest more in technology, staffing and innovative approaches to solve San Jose’s woes.

    “The road ahead requires tough decisions to be able to counteract potential economic declines,” Mahan wrote in his message.

    Reducing homelessness and blight 

    When residents were surveyed, 89% ranked homelessness as the top issue the city needs to address. While the homeless population continues to increase with more than 6,650 homeless people, San Jose is seeing some success in reducing the rate of residents living on the street. The number dropped from 84% in 2019 to 75% currently, and Mahan said it’s because of the increased supply of interim housing. He hopes to double down on those efforts.

    But that isn’t good enough, the mayor said. He wants to expand staffing to ensure 500 interim homes are built and sites for an additional 1,000 homes are identified by the end of this year.

    “This will require serious focus from staff and in our budget allocations, but it will be well worth the effort when we achieve what we otherwise thought was impossible,” Mahan told San José Spotlight. “I hope the council will sign up City Hall for this critical goal.”

    Mahan wants to hire someone to identify privately-owned properties and other lots the city could lease to build out temporary housing for homeless residents. The budget proposal also suggests leveraging county-owned land for additional safe parking sites, temporary housing or sanctioned encampments.

    Mahan is also proposing San Jose implement “no encampment zones” in areas where homeless camps create unsafe conditions or are in key commercial districts like downtown. A team of trauma-informed specialists embedded within the San Jose Police Department would enforce those zones.

    “I know there are people in the public who want that to happen, but I’m not convinced we’re at the stage where we can do that,” Councilmember David Cohen told San José Spotlight. “I’m concerned about how we’re going to designate which parts of the city are no encampment areas and then what other parts of the city will end up bearing the burden as more people move into those parts of the city.”

    That’s not the only controversial part of Mahan’s homeless plan. The mayor’s budget proposal calls for setting aside Measure E funds to build a mental health facility with the county—something Cohen believes isn’t the best use of those dollars. He would rather keep Measure E funds as intended, to support affordable housing construction and rent stabilization programs, which Mahan already plans to do.

    To combat blight, Mahan recommends the city increase funding to improve the 311 app, where residents can report blight. He also wants to create two waterway teams that clean trash along creeks weekly; a “beautify your block” program to train and support residents and local businesses to clean their own neighborhoods; and create a graffiti fee program that allows private property owners to pay an annual fee to proactively give consent and access for the city to remove graffiti on their properties.

    Public Safety

    At the center of last year’s mayoral election was how San Jose’s top leader would support the city’s shrinking police force. Today, the department has 1,157 full-time sworn officers—201 fewer positions than the 1,358 in 2000—despite the city’s population growth. The staffing levels have forced mandatory overtime for officers and led to longer response times for calls ranging from stabbings to property damage.

    Mahan hopes to double the hiring rate of police officers and allocate funds to hire 30 police officers. He also wants to utilize technology to increase efficiency in recruiting officers and responding to crimes—a cost that won’t exceed $250,000, he said. Mahan suggests allocating more money to continue funding 76 automatic license plate readers that help officers identify those who commit crimes.

    In addition to crime, the mayor wants to address unsafe roads. Last year, 65 people died from traffic collisions—a record-breaking high. He wants to hire someone who can find additional grants to fund infrastructure safety projects like the reconstruction of Monterey Highway.

    Economic development

    The mayor said the city needs to change its approach to permitting process. Long delays have sent jobs and housing to neighboring cities were the permit process is friendlier.  San Jose needs to recapture this tax revenue. To make that happen the mayor wants to speed up the city’s permitting process. Currently, there is a five-month backlog with more than 500 building permits awaiting review.

    To close the backlog, Mahan wants to make the process more flexible and raise salaries for those in the planning, building and code enforcement department to improve retention and fill vacancies. The mayor also wants to hire a California Environmental Quality Act consultant to speed up the planning process.

    The budget proposal calls for dedicated project managers for specific, high priority projects like affordable housing to avoid delays. There are currently 16 affordable housing projects in the works. If these projects move forward, there would be more than 2,500 affordable homes.

    The mayor also wants to explore adding kiosks to help visitors navigate downtown, provide a platform for advertising and offer Wi-Fi or charging services. Mahan wants to consider waiving fees to host events in downtown San Jose to help generate more downtown traffic to local businesses.

    “I’m confident that we can move the needle on these issues if we focus our attention, our creativity and our resources on them,” Mahan said. “When we do, San Jose will be a better city for all of our residents.”

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

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