San Jose officials have deferred discussion about a work plan for advancing several key infrastructure and public safety projects using voter-approved bond dollars.
The City Council was scheduled to hear recommendations Tuesday for using funds from Measure T—a $650 million bond measure approved by voters in 2018 to pay for disaster preparedness, public safety and infrastructure projects. Councilmember Sylvia Arenas asked for a deferral.
Recommendations for public safety include $5 million to cover potential construction increases for four stations, $9 million for a patrol unit to occupy a San Jose Police Department station and more than $2.2 million for an upgrade to police headquarters.
Additional recommendations include maintaining a reserve fund to cover unexpected cost overruns in several pending projects, such as the police headquarters upgrades and the rehabilitation of several fire stations. Councilmembers also will be asked to approve the proposed site of a new fire station, Firehouse 36, at Capitol Expressway and Tuers Road.
Public Works Director Matt Cano said a brief deferral would not be an issue, although he cautioned against a lengthy delay on a $250,000 upgrade to the San Jose Police Department’s gun range. Councilmembers approved the upgrade.
Despite the delayed hearing, councilmembers appear to be on board with most recommendations. Several officials keyed in on the firehouses and water quality issues.
“In passing the bond measure, the voters reaffirmed the importance of investing in our public safety infrastructure,” said Councilmember Dev Davis and Mayor Sam Liccardo in a memo. “Our city will need future measures to make major investments like these, to be sure.”
Davis and Liccardo want to keep $3.5 million in a public safety reserve account to make sure several critical infrastructure projects are built, including the replacement of Fire Station 23 on Capitol Avenue in District 4.
“That’s a very big concern for us—we want to be able to ensure we’re going to be able to build all the fire stations we said we were going to build with this bond measure,” Davis told San José Spotlight, adding San Jose has fewer fire stations per 1,000 residents than Mountain View. San Jose has one of the lowest ratios of firefighters to residents of similarly sized U.S. cities, the memo stated.
A 2020 city audit found the San Jose Fire Department suffers from short staffing, which led to a backlog in fire inspections. A county health order requiring firefighters to get vaccinated and boosted for COVID-19 as a condition of employment raised concerns that SJFD and its county counterpart would lose a significant number of personnel.
Fire Chief Robert Sapien, Jr. told San José Spotlight Fire Station 23 is the last scheduled station to be replaced with Measure T funding.
“Funding for this project is currently available,” Sapien said. “However, if for some unforeseen reason that station does not come to fruition, there would be no diminution of coverage as that project includes the replacement of Station 23 and not the addition of a new station.”
Councilmembers Arenas, David Cohen and Magdalena Carrasco recommend the city continue using funds to support local water quality projects. They emphasized in a memo the importance of continuing a water quality study of Lake Cunningham, an artificial body of water near the Eastridge Mall.
“The effort to save Lake Cunningham is in a critical phase. The study, and a subsequent strategy are the opportunity that remains for our East Side families to have access to a healthy and usable lake,” they wrote. “We recommend that the city manager continue with this critical work, and return to council with a study and strategy, as unanimously recommended last June.”
Measure T funds have already had a significant impact on other parts of San Jose’s infrastructure. City Department of Transportation spokesperson Colin Heyne told San José Spotlight Measure T funds have helped rehabilitate 197 miles of streets.
“Typically, we would stretch our budget by treating streets that had not yet slipped into ‘poor’ or ‘failed’ condition with less-expensive surface sealing,” Heyne said. “But with Measure T’s clear mandate, we have prioritized paving zones that comprise some of the city’s most deteriorated roads. The funding allows us to grind those streets down and bring them back to like-new condition.”