Mayor Unveils Ambitious, Vague Plan to Make San Jose ‘Smart’

Mayor Sam Liccardo unveiled his “Smart City Vision” plan Wednesday, and anyone expecting a fleshed-out proposal absent of buzzwords and clichés needs to get the tech out of here. San Jose intends to become the “most innovative city in the country” by 2020 and that’s all there is to it.

But, you may ask, what does this mean exactly?

“Just as the world looks to Silicon Valley to provide the most creative, impactful technologies to disrupt industries and transform lifestyles, so too San Jose can become a global leader for civic innovation,” Liccardo said in a statement. “Becoming a ‘smart city’ means that game-changing technologies and data-driven decision-making will drive continuous improvement in how city government serves our community, and promote concrete benefits in safety, sustainability, economic opportunity, and quality of life for our constituents.”

OK, so the game is about to be irreparably changed—for the better, of course.

Everyone would agree that the city’s permitting system needs a complete overhaul. Many renters would also argue that they need better protections. And a city that utilizes technology to address climate change and provide a more sustainable infrastructure should be applauded.

But beyond intending to use data analytics to pinpoint crime before it happens, or installing 1-gigabit broadband Internet in select neighborhoods, most of the initiatives and methods of implementation still seem very much in a whiteboard phase. The shortage of real-life human bodies also poses some issues, as safer streets and fewer potholes won’t come from code alone.

And it’s not clear how the recent resignation of the city’s IT director, Vijay Sammeta, will help or hurt efforts to become more technologically savvy. We can only hope the newly announced efforts are more successful than the city’s Wickedly Fast Wi-Fi Network, which on this St. Patrick’s Day remains wickedly awful three years after its launch.

Saying all of that, this is just the first step. The mayor plans to bring his Smart City Vision to the City Council on March 29.

Below is the full press release: 

Building upon a key pillar of his 2nd State of the City Address, Mayor Liccardo formally unveiled his Smart City Vision—a comprehensive plan designed to make San Jose the most innovative city in the country by 2020.

“Just as the world looks to Silicon Valley to provide the most creative, impactful technologies to disrupt industries and transform lifestyles, so too San Jose can become a global leader for civic innovation,” Mayor Liccardo said. “Becoming a ‘smart city’ means that game-changing technologies and data-driven decision-making will drive continuous improvement in how City government serves our community, and promote concrete benefits in safety, sustainability, economic opportunity, and quality of life for our constituents.”

Mayor Liccardo’s Smart City Vision is centered around the following five key goals that are designed to make San Jose:

  1. A Safer City: Leverage technology to make San Jose the safest big city in America.
  2. An Inclusive City: Ensure all residents, businesses, and organizations can participate in and benefit from the prosperity and culture of innovation in Silicon Valley.
  3. A User-Friendly City: Create digital platforms to improve transparency, empower residents to actively engage in the governance of their city, and make City Hall more responsive to the complex and growing demands of our community.
  4. A Sustainable City: Utilize technology to address energy, water, and climate challenges to enable sustainable growth.
  5. A Demonstration City: Reimagine the City as a laboratory and platform for the most impactful, transformative technologies that will shape how we live and work in the future.

In releasing his Smart City Vision, Mayor Liccardo cited how enduring financial challenges and citizens’ evolving expectations have created an imperative for City Hall to fundamentally change the way it operates. At the same time, he proclaimed that living in “the most innovative community on the planet” provides a unique opportunity for San Jose to embrace technology to vastly improve city services.

“Together, these factors drive us to conclude that the City cannot continue providing the same services in the same ways,” continued Mayor Liccardo. “As we rebuild and restore service levels, we must embark on new approaches and new ideas. To thrive, San Jose must innovate.”

The Smart City Vision provides a comprehensive framework that aligns over a dozen key initiatives to fundamentally improve the way the City of San Jose serves its residents over the next four-and-a-half years. This include initiatives to:

  • Expand use of data analytics to improve public safety, such as: more effectively deploying our limited police resources via “hot spot” crime prediction and prevention, better targeting code enforcement, and identifying homes with the highest fire risk for preventative measures.
  • Digitize, automate, and integrate city services to be “user-friendly” such as by enabling online submission of all city forms and permit applications, and electronic payment for city fees.
  • Broaden access to basic digital infrastructure for all residents, especially our youth, by enabling free or low-cost, 1 gigabit or faster broadband service in several low-income communities.
  • Utilize open data in easily-usable and understandable formats to inform public dialog, policy-making, and management decisions, and to enable bright minds in the community to use that data to create service-enhancing applications.
  • Build an “Internet of Things” platform, in partnership with innovative companies, which utilizes smart sensor technologies to improve safety, mobility, and optimize our transit system.

“We are embracing a holistic digital strategy that will become a core part of how we do business and help us serve our residents better,” said Shireen Santosham, Mayor Liccardo’s Chief Innovation Officer. “In particular, our vision focuses on initiatives where we can leverage technology and data analytics to truly drive performance and outcomes in public safety and other key areas that impact our residents. It’s an exciting time at San Jose City Hall.”

To drive his Smart City Vision, particularly in a time of limited resources, Mayor Liccardo has focused on leveraging the skills and expertise of the private sector, universities, foundations, and other outside organizations. See below for a list of partnerships forged to-date.

Mayor Liccardo will be bringing his Smart City Vision before the City Council for its consideration (tentatively set for the March 29 City Council meeting).

Upon adoption of the vision, the Mayor’s team will work with the City Administration to develop a detailed workplan for the upcoming year. In addition, a number of Smart City projects are already underway and will be formally unveiled in the coming months.

You can read Mayor Liccardo’s Smart City Vision at: http://www.sanjoseca.gov/index.aspx?NID=5001 (view a PDF version of the Smart City Vision)

The City of San Jose’s current Smart City partners:

Bloomberg Philanthropies, White House MetroLab network, Code for America and the San Jose Brigade, Microsoft, John S. and John L. Knight Foundation, Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Silicon Valley Leadership Group, San Jose/Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce, Citi Community Development, Robert Half International, Beeck Center for Social Impact & Innovation, PricewaterhouseCoopers, SPUR, Socrata, Trimble, Silver Springs Network, Phillips, anyComm, Prospect SV, Results for America, Sunlight Foundation, Behavior Insights Team, NextFlex, San Jose State University, Carnegie Mellon University, Santa Clara University, Stanford University, Harvard University, San Jose City College.

Josh Koehn is a former managing editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley.

14 Comments

  1. Sounds like Mr. Liccardo is planning to spend a good portion of the 1/4 cent sales tax (if passed) on gizmos and software instead of hiring sworn police officers. We need to hear from Mr. Liccardo how much of the new tax revenue will be dedicated to solving SJPD’s severe staffing problem.

  2. This tax will not be marked for anything specific. Its the San Jose way. Always has been. The only people that will benefit are Sam and The silicon valley chambers buddies. Oh and of course Tom McEnery. San Jose continues to be a laugh… Thank god crime is down, there are no pot holes in the road and the best potential employees are knocking the door down to work here. Sam disgusts me

  3. How about we try to improve our already dreadful situation, our just stabilze it first, before starting with new services and goals which are not attainable, and which we will already under deliver.

  4. How about fixing the roads and infrastructure first before you spend taxpayer money on your pet “look at me” projects?

      • What? So you guys are saying that we should not try to reinvent the downtown pavilion again? LOL Perhaps the third time could be a charm. There are still other little buddies of SAM that need to make money from a “project”…. Do you know the way to San Jose?

  5. Worthwhile noting that San Jose is *not* listed on Code For America’s Government partners website http://www.codeforamerica.org/governments/

    I believe CFA requires at least $75,000 and a dedicated staffer commitment to apply. The upfront cost may be offset through grants CFA receives, but not guaranteed. San Jose must commit by April 29 in order to be eligible for a calendar year 2017 project. This seems unlikely as not mentioned in any approved Council spending I’m aware of. A CFA project must be completed within 12 months. Typical CFA project lifecycle is 6 months of planning, testing, and training coupled with about 6 months of development – somewhere in the neighborhood of 1-2 full time equivalents I’m told.

    AFAIK, San Jose’s CFA Brigade are all volunteers – not paid as are CFA workers. A glance at the project repository shows scant results since the Brigade was announced in 2014: http://www.sanjoseinside.com/2014/08/21/code-for-san-jose-converts-raw-data-into-civic-driven-missions/ Only 1 of the 14 deliverable projects (v. several listed as development aids) are designated as Released on the github site ( https://github.com/codeforsanjose ). It includes the helpful comment, “We are bucketed. Bitches.”.

    Then there’s TCO – total cost of ownership. Estimates vary, but 80% of TCO is often used for software maintenance. Brigade’s github shows code written 7 different languages. Brigade’s volunteer developer turnover is probably greater than Google’s 1.1 year average. Much of the code appears abandoned (no updates in many months).

    How does San Jose’s IT department maintain the software (do they have skills in all the 7 separate languages)? At what cost? Value of any projects? Unknown – no justification for any. Also missing are things like release plans, deployment, problem reporting, and other technical minutia required for production grade software.

    We’ve seen this movie before. Astute observers will recall Liccardo’s touted ‘education initiative’ prior to announcing his candidacy for mayor. Lots of photos showing him with engaged children. All smoke and mirrors. The site was barren of content and quietly disappeared after the election.

    Liccardo’s “Smart City” vision is analogous to The Emperor’s New Clothes. There’s no there there as Gertrude Stein remarked. No surprise that the City’s IT director bailed before the death march commences – or forced out as an apostate. Neither outcome has a happy ending.

    • I visited one day, and asked if you had a github repository I could browse. Blank stares. Someone was showing some neat GIS integration, I asked, “What did you make this in?” Blank stares.

      Now I can actually browse a github account with a few projects. Yay!

  6. > But, you may ask, what does this mean exactly?

    “Just as the world looks to Silicon Valley to provide the most creative, impactful technologies to disrupt industries and transform lifestyles, so too San Jose can become a global leader for civic innovation,” Liccardo said in a statement. “Becoming a ‘smart city’ means that game-changing technologies and data-driven decision-making will drive continuous improvement in how city government serves our community, and promote concrete benefits in safety, sustainability, economic opportunity, and quality of life for our constituents.”

    Uh oh.

    “impactful technologies . . . disrupt industries . . . transform lifestyles . . global leader . . . civic innovation . . smart city . . . game changing technologies . . .data-driven technologies . . . continuous improvement . . . yadda yadda yadda . . .”

    If the members of the English Teachers Union are anything like my English teacher, Liccardo’s life would be in danger.

    Trite-isms.

    Platitudes.

    Buzzwords.

    Cant.

    Cliches.

    AARRRRGH!!!

    ENOUGH ALREADY!!

    It’s more than ANY English teacher could be expected to endure.

  7. RMC,
    My observations are based on github entries, descriptions and status. I didn’t examine actual code. In fairness, I don’t know if it’s a steaming pile of . But if something looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck…well, you know the rest.

    One telling item about a year ago advised identifying the operational environment where the software was likely to be installed. No follow-up or related items. It seems as though no one checked to see if say San Jose was running Windows and Brigade was writing code for iPads.

    What’s been done since 2014? Roadmap? Or other Management 101 type items? All appear to be MIA.

    But the astounding aspect is that evidently no one from Sam Liccardo’s office checked. The mayor of the “Capitol of Silicon Valley” looks utterly clueless and gullible.

  8. I guess we can believe that like his promise to add 200 more officers to the department, right? What happened with that?

  9. As a down town resident the last thing that is needed is a tec city!!! sorry you missed the boat 20 odd years ago, quality people want to live in a quality built environment tec will not bring this.