San Jose still lacks structure to collect gun fees
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo speaks about his gun harm ordinance at Next Door Solutions in San Jose on Jan. 24. Former Executive Director Esther Peralez-Diekmann stands behind. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    San Jose has an ambitious plan to curb gun violence by mandating gun owners pay an annual fee. But nothing is in place, and the clock to implementation is quickly winding down.

    Earlier this year, San Jose became the first city in the nation to require residents who own firearms to pay an annual $25 per household fee and purchase gun insurance to cover losses or damages stemming from negligence. The policy, championed by Mayor Sam Liccardo, designates a nonprofit to collect the annual fees and decide how to spend it.

    With the law set to take effect in early August, a group of community leaders recruited by the mayor to spearhead the efforts has only met once—in January. The group, made up of local nonprofit heads and a gun advocate, currently finds itself in limbo as it waits for direction, members said.

    Dave Truslow, a gun advocate recruited to help form the nonprofit, said the mayor told the group the city was looking to either create a nonprofit or recruit an existing organization to enforce its gun harm reduction ordinance. But neither has happened.

    “It wasn’t clear what would happen after that meeting, and it still isn’t clear what the path forward is,” Truslow told San José Spotlight. “I am clueless. There has been no follow up.”

    Shikha Hamilton, a vice president of Brady United, and Michele Lew, CEO of the Health Trust—both of whom are also involved with the group tasked with forming the nonprofit—confirmed the group has no update and referred questions to the mayor’s office.

    The mayor’s office initially told San José Spotlight the nonprofit is undergoing a leadership transition after Esther Peralez-Dieckmann, executive director of Next Door Solutions to Domestic Violence who was slated to lead the new organization, left before anything took hold. She accepted a job as chief of staff for Rep. Zoe Lofgren.

    The group is supposedly working on getting its nonprofit status, Liccardo’s spokesperson Rachel Davis said. Peralez-Dieckmann didn’t respond to inquiries about the status of the nonprofit.

    After learning that at least two members of group said they were waiting on direction from the mayor’s office, Davis said it’s not the city’s responsibility to manage and organize the nonprofit. She said the city manager’s office is working to implement the ordinance by August.

    “We’re not directing it and we’re not advising it,” Davis told San José Spotlight, noting the group is aware it has to be a separate entity from the city. “We’re just helping to facilitate it. The details fall back on the ones who are organizing.”

    More questions than answers

    Councilmember Dev Davis, the only one who voted against the gun fee and insurance requirement in January, said the policy would not help prevent gun violence and could be costly to taxpayers with the city being sued by three local organizations over the $25 fee. She also questioned whether the city would be able to enforce the ordinance if the nonprofit is not set up by August.

    “Most of the feedback (from constituents) I get about this is disbelief and also questions about how it’s going to work,” she told San José Spotlight. “And I don’t have answers for them because the process isn’t worked out.”

    The city’s public safety committee also has no update on how the gun fees would work, Councilmember Raul Peralez’s spokesperson said, referring questions to the mayor’s office. Peralez chairs the committee.

    Among a number of other concerns, Truslow said he’s worried the creation of the nonprofit would draw more lawsuits against the city’s policy and the nonprofit itself. It’s not clear to him if the city would help the organization fight litigation.

    Data security is another aspect that needs addressing, he said.

    “It will take a tremendous amount of work for a nonprofit to actually create a database that will be secure,” he said. “Because if that database is leaked, that basically helps any criminal know exactly where they could go to break into a house and steal guns.”

    Implementing the program is also bound to be tricky, as the city doesn’t have a list of all gun owners in San Jose. The program would need this data to send out information about the fee requirements and payment notices.

    “I’m hope I’m wrong,” Truslow said. “I hope they can have it up and running, but based on what I’ve seen, the scope of the work is pretty significant.”

    Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.

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