Staedler: Do not lower expectations of elected leaders in 2021
San Jose City Hall is pictured in this file photo. File photo.

I want to wish everyone a Happy New Year and congratulate Ramona and Josh along with the entire team on the second anniversary of San José Spotlight. Please check out the celebratory event this month and donate if you can. It’s been a doozy of a year and one that we will never forget.

While we usher in the reality of 2021, we cannot fool ourselves. It will be a difficult year that will require vigilance by all to get the COVID-19 numbers down and rebuild our economy fairly across our region.

I have one small request: Please do not let last year lower your expectations of our elected officials, city staff and members of our community.

This won’t be accomplished by tag lines, slogans or broken promises of financial help that aren’t met, and then blamed on COVID-19 related issues. As we discovered at the beginning of the pandemic, some elected officials made it clear it was their intention to “never let a good crisis go to waste.”

We need to demand better across the board in 2021.

Elected officials and city staff hiding behind Zoom screens seem to have dehumanized the concerns and pain people are feeling. It is one thing to be in the room having to face someone and tell them their opinion doesn’t matter by ignoring them or inaction. It is another being in a video conference and turning off your screen and ignoring them.

As the national headlines keep banging out distrust and misinformation from a particular leader who won’t accept the reality of our national election, it has created a lower bar of bad behavior.

While local leaders in the past have had decorum and, at worst, passive aggressive tendencies, we have seen a year where San Jose City Council meetings devolve into a new territory of name calling and personal attacks.

It was one of the ugliest times in council history, one that could have been avoided by respecting the charter and its prescribed processes.

It is time to rebuild trust within our community and make a conscious decision that we need to hear all sides of complicated and delicate issues.

I suggest changing council meeting rules to require a three-fourths approval of the City Council to change the public comment time from two minutes to one minute at the beginning of the council meeting on each item individually.

Community members have been blindsided by being told at the last second that they will have to amend their remarks to one minute. This creates distrust within the community and puts out a message that San Jose does not want input from the public.

Another item that needs to be retired is putting a timer on councilmember comments and/or questions. The presentations by city staff do not have a time limit on them; we have seen staff drone on about the proposed Downtown West and Diridon Station Area Plan for over an hour and a half with no new information presented.

That process does not allow for a back and forth with the council on topics such as parks, transportation and more. Study sessions need to be broken up into multiple days to handle the complexity of it all, similar to the multitude of days that the budget is discussed.

As we have seen record-breaking voter turnout, we need to reach out to the public and get people involved in local government. It’s time to call upon our collective better selves to make this a reality. Onward and upward to a better 2021.

San José Spotlight columnist Bob Staedler is a principal at Silicon Valley Synergy, a San Jose-based land use and development consulting firm. His columns appear every first Monday of the month. Contact Bob at [email protected] or follow @BobStaedler on Twitter.

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