It was a momentous year for Santa Clara County lawmakers as they made major decisions on a wide array of policy issues, including immigration, homelessness, women’s health and foster children’s safety.
Here is a look at the top votes and policy discussions of 2019.
Sanctuary and ICE notification policy
Santa Clara County’s sanctuary city policy took center stage after board members asked the administration to consider changes on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement notifications during its April 6 meeting, which led to eight hours of passionate discussion from residents and local lawmakers.
The sanctuary city policy bars the county from notifying ICE agents when undocumented immigrants are released from jail or honoring civil detainer requests, which would hold immigrants until agents can arrive and initiate deportation. The policy came under national scrutiny after a San Jose woman, Bambi Larson, was brutally murdered by an undocumented immigrant and as President Donald Trump used a series of high-profile slayings to criticize sanctuary policies.
After 56 days of heated debate and finger pointing between the county and the city, the supervisors unanimously voted to leave the policy unchanged, citing law enforcement’s inability to determine whether someone is undocumented while in custody. That vote surprisingly included Supervisor Mike Wasserman, who first brought the referral to the board after Larson’s murder.
This decision to stand pat outraged some members of law enforcement. San Jose Police Officers’ Association President Paul Kelly said officers cannot protect residents if “violent, repeat offenders are continuously let back into our community.”
In April, Supervisors Cindy Chavez, Dave Cortese and Joe Simitian expressed concerns about limiting immigrants’ rights and accelerating the rate of profiling, but voted to explore changes to the policy. They later reversed that decision. Supervisor Susan Ellenberg voted to not consider any changes.
“I don’t believe we need to go back and study this issue,” Ellenberg said. “We want violent criminals prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. But we do not and will not have one system of justice for people born here and another for people born anywhere else.”
Moratorium on the Receiving, Assessment and Intake Center
This year, supervisors debated the safety and well-being of children at the Santa Clara County Receiving, Assessment and Intake Center (RAIC) and voted unanimously to phase out its operations. The key concern, they said, was getting already vulnerable children away from violence and drugs brought in by older youth.
RAIC was intended to be a last-resort 24-hour-hold placement facility for children who have been removed from their homes because of abuse and neglect. However, children would often stay for weeks or months at a time, before being placed with relatives or foster parents. Cortese said the RAIC initially opened in 2009 to replace the then-dangerous children’s shelter, but had become just as bad.
While the decision to phase out the center came swiftly, county staff asked that the RAIC remain open until alternative services could take its place. Reforms under consideration to replace RAIC include increasing recruitment of foster parents and tripling the support services budget to $1.4 million.
The supervisors hope to have solutions in early 2020 as the center is phased out. Proposals will be presented to the board in January.
Working to protect women’s health locally, Santa Clara County dedicated $5 million in May to support services for mental health, domestic violence, human trafficking and sexual assault, including support for two rape crisis centers and additional sexual assault training for law enforcement.
In September, the board approved one-time grants of $503,000 to the YWCA-Silicon Valley and $97,000 to Community Solutions. Chavez said the additional dollars would help bolster staff and services, especially after Gov. Gavin Newsom didn’t renew state funding for such resources.
The supervisors also started working to hire more victim advocates and expand medical exams to north and south county by February.
Although Measure A – a $950 million affordable housing tax measure — passed in 2016, the supervisors this year continued to spend revenue from the measure by approving housing projects countywide.
In August, 80 acres of vacant county-owned land was approved to be transitioned into affordable apartments for homeless residents. The five properties initially identified for this housing included sites near East Santa Clara Street, the Valley Health Center Gilroy, St. Louise Regional Hospital, DePaul Health Center and The Hub, the future site for a foster youth center.
The sites are located near hospitals and transit corridors, which offer more amenities and resources for the vulnerable populations they will serve.
Two more lots were approved a month later — at 425 Auzerais Ave. and the corner of Gallup and Mesa drives in San Jose. Combined, they will add 176 new homes for low-income and homeless residents, funded by $15.6 million in Measure A funding and $17.4 million from No Place Like Home funds.
As of September, more than 31 percent of Measure A’s $950 million had been committed to extremely low- and low-income housing. Earlier in December, lawmakers broke ground on Santa Clara’s first supportive housing complex, the 145-unit Calabazas Community Apartments, also funded by Measure A.