San Jose officials hoping to travel out of state next month almost violated city laws, until one of them dropped out.
Six members of the San Jose City Council were set to join the annual trip organized by the San Jose Chamber of Commerce. This year it’s happening in Phoenix, Arizona on April 18-21. But their actions would have violated a local law, enacted in 2018, which limits the number of councilmembers traveling at one time to five. Councilmember Sergio Jimenez dropped out on Tuesday to prevent the violation.
“The basic problem is we can’t have a quorum of the council, so we have to be under six (councilmembers) so that other city business can occur,” City Attorney Nora Frimann said at Tuesday’s meeting.
The city enacted the policy after half of the city council, members of their staff and family members took a “Sister Cities” trip to Okayama, Japan in April 2018, sparking a wave of controversy. The city had to cancel multiple legislative meetings because there wasn’t a quorum.
Mayor Matt Mahan along with Councilmembers Peter Ortiz, Omar Torres, Bien Doan and David Cohen will represent the city in Phoenix. The trip costs roughly $4,000 for each official and will be paid from their respective office budgets.
Jimenez said he wanted to attend the annual trip because it provides unique insight on how to solve the city’s top problems, but bowed out because he went last year to San Diego.
“As leaders of this city, it’s incumbent upon us to learn how other cities approach similar issues and these trips provide just that,” Jimenez told San José Spotlight. “A space to learn through tours, lectures and interviews of leaders in those cities.”
Jimenez, the only councilmember to attend last year, said his main takeaway was how public art could add beauty and vibrancy to downtown.
San Jose Chamber of Commerce CEO Derrick Seaver said the trip to Phoenix will focus on downtown resiliency. Downtown San Jose has felt the impact of empty storefronts and blight, and has long borne a significant brunt of the region’s homelessness crisis. The pandemic exacerbated the already existing problems and downtown has been slow to recover. Seaver said San Jose and Phoenix are similar and local leaders can learn from its approach to tackling downtown problems.
“Both have large downtown public universities, both are dealing with housing crunches and also the transportation and infrastructure growth of both areas is the same,” Seaver told San José Spotlight. “But they’ve solved the downtown problem better than we have.”
He hopes San Jose can replicate the way Phoenix energized its downtown core through public art and a partnership with the local public university. Attendees will be able to tour Roosevelt Row, a public arts district, as well as different repurposed developments like Park Plaza. There will be presentations from the city’s director of economic development and meetings with local education, nonprofit and city leaders to learn about best practices in working together.
“This is the largest amount of councilmembers we’ve ever had attend at a single time,” Seaver said. “There’s a lot of new faces coming and I think that shows they know past councilmembers got some value out of the trip.”
About 50 people are expected to make the trip, including Charlie Faas, vice president and chief financial officer of San Jose State University, Dennis King from the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and lobbyists Richard de la Rosa and Eddie Truong.
Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.
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