Landslide victory for police oversight, card room tax in San Jose
San Jose police reports an increase in certain crimes during shelter in place. Photo by Nicholas Chan.

San Jose voters have overwhelmingly passed Measures G and H.

Measure G, which will in part expand the oversight of San Jose’s civilian watchdog, was approved by 78.1% of voters in a landslide victory.

“I’m grateful to our San Jose voters and San Jose police officers who overwhelmingly supported Measure G,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said. “History will view Measure G as a critical step forward in our efforts to expand the authority of our Independent Police Auditor and boost police accountability and transparency.”

Meanwhile, 73.6% of voters approved Measure H, which will increase gross revenue tax for the city’s card rooms.

“It’s going to help us keep services strong in the city of San Jose,” said Councilmember Johnny Khamis. “In these times of COVID, we’ve had to cut back a lot and this tax will help us overcome some of those cutbacks.”

Measure G

Measure G will expand the authority of the Independent Police Auditor, broadening the office’s ability to review police misconduct cases and allowing the City Council to change the auditor’s duties without requiring a public vote.

“Given everything that has happened in 2020, there was no doubt that our community was looking for better oversight,” said Councilmember Raul Peralez, who is also a reserve officer in the San Jose Police Department.

The measure comes amid heightened scrutiny of police practices in San Jose and nationwide after the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by Minneapolis police, and the subsequent clashes between protesters and the city’s police offices.

While the IPA has been able to review complaints from the public against police officers to determine whether the investigation was complete, thorough, objective and fair, the measure will allow the office to also review certain investigations initiated by the Police Department against police officers.

“It allows the Independent Police Auditor a different voice,” said Councilmember Pam Foley.

“With the protests that we saw and the reforms that the members of the public are asking for, this is an absolutely important step,” as the measure will give the IPA more authority and review additional investigations, she added.

In addition, the measure will permit the auditor to review unredacted police records related to office-involved shootings and use-of-force incidents resulting in death or severe bodily injury without a complaint, and gain greater access to redacted police records under certain conditions.

“The passage of Measure G is the first expansion of police oversight through the City Charter since 1996,” said Shivaun Nurre, San Jose’s Independent Police Auditor. “We thank the voters for their solid support and confidence in the role of our office. We will be working diligently over the next months to accommodate our new duties and responsibilities.”

City officials expect the changes may take effect in January once the Secretary of State accepts the charter amendment.

“The voters have seen that we are trying to reform our police department, trying to make it more accountable and transparent,” Khamis said.

“Everyone wants our police to be accountable for their actions,” he continued. “This is a huge step in the right direction.”

In the meantime, city officials have stopped short of fulfilling the demands of many activists to defund the police and shift law enforcement money to social services. Nonetheless, the City Council has taken steps to explore police reforms.

In June, Mayor Sam Liccardo proposed a nine-point proposal for reforming the San Jose Police Department. The City Council also approved a plan in September to work with residents and local organizations in addressing use-of-force complaints, the hiring of a new chief and different approaches to public safety.

City officials have lumped separate issues in Measure G to save costs of introducing different measures for matters without significant opposition and require amendments to the city’s charter.

Amid calls to diversify the ethnic and socioeconomic makeup of the Planning Commissions following this news organization’s reporting, Measure G will also expand the Planning Commission, which advises the City Council on land-use policies, to 11 members from seven.

The City Council will appoint one member from each City Council District and one at-large member.

“The public has made it very clear that when it comes to representation within every aspect of San Jose’s government, they want to be represented,” said Rolando Bonilla, the only representative from East San Jose on the Planning Commission, who is also a vice-chair of the commission. “Through Measure G, the most powerful commission in San Jose will now have guaranteed representation from every corner of the city. Because of that, the decision-making process of the government will be better off.”

Measure H

Measure H — which officials say is a byproduct of legal battles between the city and Bay 101 Casino — will increase the gross revenue tax for Bay 101 Casino and the city’s other card room, Casino M8trix, to 16.5 percent from 15 percent come Jan. 1. It will also levy a new tax on companies that provide banking services at the card rooms. And city officials estimate that the measure will generate roughly $15 million annually for the city’s general fund.

Casino M8trix is one of two cardrooms in San Jose. Photo by Nicholas Chan.

The City Council voted 10-1 in August to place the measure on the ballot, with Liccardo, who has long opposed gambling in San Jose, casting the dissenting vote.

The measure will increase the number of tables permitted in each card room to 64 from 49. While Liccardo has said the expansion of card rooms will lead to social ills, councilmembers have noted the measure only allows for a modest growth, amounting to additional 15 tables for each card room in the city.

While officials at Bay 101 and Casino M8trix could not be reached for comments about the results, Casino M8trix previously said it has supported public and private programs that promote responsible gaming education and counselling. Officials have noted gambling is a legal business in California, and that maintaining this highly regulated sector is crucial for the safety and well-being of San Jose residents.

Peralez said the measure is a “no brainer” for voters. After all, not only is the city facing budget deficits and cuts in services due to COVID-19, it is also one of the most underfunded and understaffed big cities in the United States.

Officials from Casino M8trix noted these funds will support a host of services, including 911 emergency response, street repairs and assistance for unhoused individuals.

Contact Nicholas Chan at [email protected] or follow @nicholaschanhk on Twitter.

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