Top county executive rebukes San Jose mayor’s claims about homeless encampments
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo is pictured in this file photo.

    While Mayor Sam Liccardo was talking about trash in December, it looks like County Executive Jeff Smith was dishing it out.

    In a Dec. 15 letter from Smith to Liccardo obtained by this news organization, Smith accused the mayor of misrepresenting the county’s stance on clearing homeless encampments.

    “We are not aware of any such orders,” Smith said in the letter.

    The Dec. 15 letter from Dr. Smith to Liccardo.

    The letter stems from a Facebook video posted by Liccardo on Dec. 10 in which he claimed federal, state and county officials forced the city to stop all encampment cleanups, known as abatements — an order that never existed.

    “We took that order quite literally for several months,” Liccardo said in the video.

    Liccardo said he “pushed back” on the county’s non-existent directive, increasing abatements in the name of public and traffic safety. Liccardo, however, said he left unhoused residents where they were due to feedback from critics.

    A spokesperson for Liccardo later clarified that the mayor was referring to the county, state and federal directions as “guidance,” and that Liccardo corrected himself in the video.

    “If Dr. Smith can specify evidence for his contrary assertion, we’ll be happy to comment,” said Rachel Davis, the mayor’s spokesperson. “Until then, we’ll refrain from responding to unsupported accusations from Dr. Smith.”

    Liccardo and other city leaders have taken heat lately from advocates over the city’s response to growing homeless encampments during the pandemic. Earlier this month, Liccardo was accused of allegedly orchestrating an encampment clearing near the Little Saigon Business District for a photo opportunity on the other side of the encampment — something his office has denied.

    Advocates likened the clearing to former President Donald Trump’s church photo-op controversy, calling it cruel and out-of-touch.

    To the mayor’s credit, no such photo-op took place.

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    Despite advocates’ pleas, abatements have continued under Liccardo’s administration, even when the CDC and Smith suggested such moves could spread COVID-19. The mayor’s Cash for Trash cleanup program, which was supposed to help with trash left by encampments, took a hit too: In December, the city failed to pay several unhoused residents until prodded by San José Spotlight.

    In his Dec. 10 video, Liccardo called the number of unsheltered people living in encampments “a real human problem.”

    Still, Smith said in his letter, it’s up to the city whether it continues clearing encampments — and the county won’t stop it.

    “Although we would recommend options other than abatement wherever feasible,” the CEO wrote. “There is nothing in our Orders that precludes the city from exercising its judgment to determine whether abatement is necessary to protect public safety or community health.”

    Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.

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