As we approach the advent of vote-by-mail in San Jose’s municipal primary election, it’s hard to find a policy proposal without an undercurrent of political “strategery.” With crime on the rise and cops fleeing in record numbers for greener pastures, mayoral and council candidates are falling all over each other to announce their respective plans to return San Jose to “Safest Big City in America” status.
While I won’t debate that public safety is far and away the number one issue on everyone’s mind—with good reason—it seems to be the only issue being addressed in this critical election year. And that myopic obsession has effectively forced other important issues off the radar. Luckily, we have a series of opportunities in the week ahead to shift the focus.
A recent report on installed solar power from the Environment California Research & Policy Center ranked San Jose fourth among major cities nationwide. This is not surprising given the number of sunny days in our neck of the woods. But it’s also a testament to the environment we’ve created for protecting the environment.
In 2007, the City Council adopted a Green Vision for San Jose with 10 ambitious goals to “transform San Jose into the world center of Clean Technology innovation, promote cutting-edge sustainable practices, and demonstrate that the goals of economic growth, environmental stewardship and fiscal responsibility are inextricably linked.” Pretty lofty language, but this new report reveals we’re putting our money where our values are.
The target date for San Jose’s Green Vision is 2022, right around the time the next mayor will be terming out of office. And I don’t know about you, but I’d like to hear the candidates define a clear vision for achieving even half of these goals. Perhaps it will happen at a forum hosted by local parks advocates tonight at San Jose Stage Company.
Arts & Culture
As a city of San Jose arts commissioner, it’s my duty to point out that arts and culture play a vital role in supporting our local economy. According to the Office of Cultural Affairs, in 2012, Sharks hockey generated $113 million worth of economic impact in San Jose. In the same year, San Jose’s nonprofit arts industry generated $123 million. Additionally, San Jose boasts 2,500 arts-related businesses and organizations employing nearly 8,000 people.
Creative industries also make San Jose an attractive destination for employers and employees alike, and that’s one of the guiding principles behind the Cultural Connection plan adopted by the City Council in 2011. More culture means more people means more tax revenue means more services. This is not a difficult equation to comprehend. We’ll see how well the mayoral candidates do at a forum on arts and culture this Wednesday night at the San Jose Repertory Theater.
Mayor Chuck Reed swept into office in 2007 on the back of his Reed Reforms, 34 steps for improving transparency in city government that he nailed to the doors of 200 E. Santa Clara Street like Martin Luther’s 95 theses. This made a lot of sense in the wake of the scandals that plagued the Gonzales administration. But although Reed’s website claims he’s achieved progress on 32 of the reforms, there are at least 34 adjectives most of us would use to describe San Jose before “transparent” ever came up.
The majority of City Council and committee meetings are held during the workday, when a limited number of residents can attend and voice their opinions. The cash-strapped city has struggled to master digital outreach that is well suited to generating an open and accessible dialogue between residents and City Hall. And the city budget continues to be the most obtuse document known to humankind, confounding even the bravest financial experts who have attempted to discern its inner workings.
I imagine Code for San Jose will develop solutions to these problems before a city staff that’s already overworked and overwhelmed. In the meantime, we can ask one of the mayoral candidates about it at a community forum on Thursday at Starlite Banquet Hall (680 Minnesota Avenue in Willow Glen). All of these forums start at 7pm.
Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list. There are dozens of issues, hundreds of neighborhoods, and what seems to be a candidates forum for each of them. It occurs to me that we could save everyone some time by filling the Shark Tank for a two-hour, free-form debate in front of 5 percent of the June electorate. We could take our pet issues out of silos and force the candidates to discuss them in the context of the city’s priorities and goals. We could get a sense of their holistic visions for San Jose.
But until then, we’ll have to take what we can get. See you on the campaign trail.