San Jose says goodbye to its neighborhoods commission
The San Jose Neighborhoods Commission has been in limbo for months. Councilmembers have suspended the group and want to find a way to get it back on track. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    The San Jose Neighborhoods Commission is on pause, for now.

    The City Council voted unanimously to suspend the neighborhoods commission until it can come up with a better model to attract and retain commissioners. The 20-member committee—which allows residents and neighborhood groups to weigh in on critical votes and bring concerns to elected officials—has not met since last June because it lacks a quorum. The city hopes to come back with a newly-designed commission model by the fall so it can restart.

    “I think we worked out a good compromise,” Councilmember Dev Davis said. “I want to be really clear to everyone who commented, we’re not sunsetting the commission we’re just taking a pause and really it was on pause anyway.”

    The commission has only four sitting members, despite more than 200 active neighborhood groups across San Jose. City staff said the vacancy rate is due to a lack of civic engagement, as well as the convoluted process to appoint members. Several other city commissions also suffer from vacancies—but the neighborhoods commission has the highest rate.

    Councilmember Pam Foley said she believes the commission has been unsuccessful in part because of how it fills the seats. Unlike other city commissions, members are not appointed by councilmembers, but rather a caucus of neighborhood leaders.

    “It’s more of a popularity contest than a commitment to perform their duties as commissioner,” Foley said.

    Councilmember David Cohen said while the caucus method may work for some districts that have several neighborhood groups, it doesn’t make sense for his area in North San Jose.

    “We have three neighborhood associations in all of District 4, there is no critical mass for a caucus,” Cohen said.

    Deputy City Manager Angel Rios said the commission has structural issues that must be addressed. He said the caucus method must change in the committee’s next iteration, but what that change looks like is still unclear.

    At a Neighborhood Services and Education Committee in March, the subcommittee of councilmembers voted to temporarily suspend and reshape the commission in an effort to save it from sunsetting. Councilmember Bien Doan recommended membership shrink to 10 commissioners so it’s easier to fill seats and would require less time and resources from staff to train and aid commissioners.

    Councilmember Arjun Batra said instead of sunsetting the commission, the city should just base a quorum on the filled seats so the four members can continue to meet. He also suggested the city council appoint new commissioners moving forward.

    “I personally believe it’s a disservice that we are not acknowledging that great work this commission and some of the members who have done it. We are saying that, ‘Hey, this commission was not effective,'” Batra said. “It doesn’t send the right message.”

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

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