Which San Jose city employees get a taxpayer-funded ride?
San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan gets into the car he uses for city business. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan has a new ride, courtesy of the city’s taxpayers.

    Mahan’s SUV—purchased at the start of his term—is part of his security detail, which is typical for the city’s top elected official. But it’s just one of thousands of cars city officials have at their disposal, which include vehicles to maintain parks and sewer systems, among other services.

    The city owns 2,666 cars as of this month. Mahan’s 2022 SUV is one of the most recent additions to the city’s fleet. At a price tag of $78,000 it is more than the average cost of a city-owned vehicle, which is $64,000. However, it’s a deviation from what former Mayor Sam Liccardo drove—a smaller sedan.

    The San Jose Police Department said the mayor’s upgrade was necessary because the former car used by Liccardo was worn out, and the new SUV is up to industry standards for security details.

    “Our mayor is also one of the first in many years to have a family with two young children that he often brings to attend city events and functions,” department officials said in a statement to San José Spotlight.

    The San Jose Police Department has the largest share of city vehicles, with 760 cars, but it’s not as costly as vehicles used by other departments. The average purchase cost of an SJPD vehicle is $34,500, according to city data. In total, the department has spent $26.2 million on cars since 1981.

    Each city vehicle lasts about a decade, but there are some trailers that have been part of the city’s fleet for at least 60 years.

    More than half of the city’s 25 departments use city-owned cars. The library owns 10 to transport books and technology equipment to-and-from different branches. The housing department has six vehicles for field work and assessments of different housing or homeless sites. There are also 25 electric vehicles, six of which are available at San Jose City Hall for councilmembers and staff to use for city related events or business meetings.

    Councilmember Dev Davis said most councilmembers don’t use the shared cars, opting instead for their own personal modes of transportation. But councilmembers do receive a monthly $500 gas stipend for travel to work, meetings and other events.

    “The $500 is assumed to cover it all,” Davis told San José Spotlight. “This is meant to save the city money and also saves council and staff time because then we don’t have to track every trip, fill out paperwork and get reimbursed using IRS mileage rates.”

    Matt Leosch, public works director, said the pool cars available to city staff are mostly used by those needing to drive to an offsite meeting or to get to another city building. The electric cars have about a 50-mile range, so those are meant to be used within city limits.

    The most expensive vehicles are with the San Jose Fire Department. Fire engines can cost close to $500,000, and SJFD also owns several boats and ambulances for other emergencies. The department used boats during the 2017 floods, for example, Leosch said. The average cost of each of its 245 vehicles is $236,000, for a total of $57.8 million.

    The transportation department is a close second in terms of vehicle costs, and has spent $33.1 million to buy 446 vehicles. Transportation vehicles include cars and trailers which are used to do street maintenance across the city, including traffic lights and storm pump repairs.

    The city’s parks, recreation and neighborhood services department has 357 vehicles—most are trailers, pick up trucks and other landscape maintenance equipment. It has cost San Jose $12.2 million to build up the department’s vehicle fleet to maintain the city’s outdoor recreational areas.

    Environmental services also has a notable fleet for maintaining the city’s water and sewer systems at $15.2 million for 322 vehicles. About a third of those are utility vehicles, similar to golf carts, that are used at the regional wastewater facility.

    Loesch said the city could use more cars to accomodate new hires. His office is assessing the performance of its vehicles and the annual fleet report will be published in November.

    “All fleet asset acquisitions are examined closely to provide the right tool for the staff to perform their jobs effectively, safely, and with prudent use of funds,” Leosch told San José Spotlight. “The Public Works Fleet Division works every day to keep all our assets available to our operating departments.”

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

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