SJDA Director Highlights Council Division, Calls for Strong Mayor System in Annual Speech

As San Jose’s core transforms with taller buildings, BART’s extension and Google’s pending mega-campus, San Jose Downtown Association Executive Director Scott Knies says it’s time for the city to govern itself differently.

Knies delivered the consortium’s annual state of the downtown Friday morning to a packed room of residents, business owners and elected officials at First United Methodist Church. Attendees listened attentively as Knies highlighted the division on the City council, the union-backed fair election initiative and the need for a strong mayor system.

Our lumbering city bureaucracy cannot keep up with the speed of change in markets and society and we find ourselves perpetually in reaction mode,” he said. 

In an impassioned address, Knies conveyed the political tension through stories of the contentious December 2018 land sale to Google where protestors were arrested and the council made a unanimous decision in front of a shuttered and empty chambers.

But most dismaying of all was having the issue of race invoked by some city council members on the losing side of two 6-5 votes earlier this year,” Knies added. “Is this the new pattern for San Jose with public discourse being made in anger and fear?

The “losing side” he referred to includes council members Maya Esparza, Sergio Jimenez, Raul Peralez, Magdalena Carrasco and Sylvia Arenas, who have cast dissenting votes on two recent policy proposals: a tax break for high-rise developers and an attempt to re-align the city’s mayoral election with the presidential election cycle.

None of those five councilors attended the the Friday morning SJDA event, but Jimenez told San Jose Inside in a phone call afterwards that Knies’ thoughts come from a place of privilege and act as the very wedge he says others have created.

This applies to many people in the city,” Jimenez said. “They come from a position where they don’t need to think about race. That divisiveness, it’s born because we have a lack of leadership in San Jose.”

The District 2 councilman added that the lapse in leadership owes to Mayor Sam Liccardo, whom Jimenez described as having an “inability” to bring people together enough to understand why inequity occurs. 

In his state-of-downtown remarks, Knies also called out South Bay Labor’s proposed fair election initiative, which would shift San Jose’s mayoral race to the presidential year and bar certain developers, their consultants and lobbyists from donating to city political campaigns. Business organizations have been highly critical of the 2020 ballot measure, which they say exempts some special interests, such as unions, but not others.

Labor wants to dupe San Jose voters into thinking this is about special interest money in local elections,” Knies said. “If the labor unions truly wanted campaign finance reform they would have included all special interests instead of excluding themselves.

Make no mistake: this devious measure would give organized labor a headlock on all future San Jose elections” he added. “Where is the equity in that?

The initiative Knies railed against won a number of endorsements from union-aligned state and federal officials Friday morning, including Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose), state Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose) and Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) and state Assembly members Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) and Kansen Chu (D-San Jose).

Another priority in the business community has been giving San Jose’s mayor more power. Unlike other big-city mayors like Oakland’s Libby Schaaf and San Francisco’s London Breed, Liccardo lacks a number of powers including the ability to hire and fire department heads and veto policies. Instead, City Manager Dave Sykes leads the charge in what’s typically referred to as a council-manager system. 

Some local politicos have been trying to make the change to a “strong mayor” form of government for years, with little success. 

The weak mayor system may have worked for San Jose in the days of Dutch Hamann when our population was less than half it is today,” Knies said referring to San Jose’s city manager in 1950. “But in 2020, we need strong leadership, bold strategy and a mayor unshackled from mind-numbing 10-hour council meetings who can promote the city, take risks and drive citywide issues.

If business leaders opt to put the strong mayor on the ballot, it would most likely not go into effect until 2022, when Liccardo terms out. Knies argued that the timing will give the city the ability to use data from the 2020 Census to redraw electoral maps to include a new 11th council district.

North San Jose Councilman Lan Diep—one of three elected city officials at Knies’ state-of-downtown gathering—said he agrees with the executive directors sentiments.

Im surprised that he said it, but Im glad he did, Diep told San Jose Inside. I dont think that theres any single one way to solve San Joses political future, but I do think theres an argument to be made that a strong mayor system would address some of the issues that we have—chiefly the accountability issue.

Grace Hase is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @grace_hase.

29 Comments

  1. Strong Mayor? What’s the check and balance to that?

    It seems that out mayor thinks highly of his office and needs to have the ability make decisions without input from the people that live here. Mr Licardo has done nothing for the residents of the city. It appears that he only concerns himself with the profits of corporations (Google & developers) and power for him and his cronies.

    It seems that he has forgotten that he works for us. He doesn’t need more power, he need less.

  2. Chuckles Reed was about a strong of a mayor than SJ could take. He summarily helped destroy a city once known for its innovative ideas and exemplary staff with his idiotic pension scheme, since modified to be like other cities, so all for nothing. We lost so many good people. And you want to give the mayor even more power???

  3. “And YOU want to give the mayor even more power???”

    YOU is not me. Make him work in the trenches with the rest of us. The only people that want the government to have more power is the government.

  4. Minor edit: Bob Wieckowski is currently a State Senator like Jim Beall. He was a State Assemblyman before that.

  5. Jimenez’ retort to Scott Knies’ comments makes no attempt to address the truthfulness of the comments themselves, but instead does EXACTLY what Scott Knies is decrying, indirectly citing Knies’ whiteness as the reason why he is wrong. So who is creating the wedge — the side that is trying to directly discuss a complicated and emotional issue, or the side who is saying that they’re the only ones whose opinion is valid?

    If Knies is missing something because he has a different perspective, in good faith explain to the rest of us what he is missing. Don’t act like the only white people who can have an opinion on this issue are the ones who agree with you.

    Saying Sam Liccardo is the reason people in SJ don’t think about race is a grasping, desperate attack. The reason we don’t think about race is because people like Jimenez try to keep the conversation as one-sided as possible. I’m not a “race realist,” I love living in a multiracial/multicultural city, but just look at what we are talking about — a minority of the Council made accusations of racism against their colleagues because they refused to discriminate against white applicants, and now anyone who disagrees with that only does so because they don’t think about race? Give me a break. Jimenez is not trying to make the world a better place by changing hearts and minds, he’s trying to score cheap political points.

    If we want to REALLY “think” about race, that means a willingness to be offended by differences of opinion, but our unwillingness to be offended in recent years has stunted and prevented any sort of back-and-forth dialogue. Even what I’m writing right now, I wouldn’t be comfortable saying publicly, because almost any deviance from the current dogma means judgement and alienation. I hate Trump, and I’ll gladly take the Left over the Right, but it’s obvious that there are revanchist sentiments within the Left that are helping to drive the polarization this country is seeing.

    I say this as someone who has called out racism against non-whites in the past, in public and in private. Racism is complex, and it’s much more pervasive in the private sphere than we like to acknowledge. Some of the most explicitly racist comments I have heard have come from non-whites who grew up without white privilege. Let’s get serious about loving each other and stop judging each other by the color of their skin.

    • I hear you Let’s be clear. I hear you when you say you hate Trump and you’ll take the Left over the Right. I’m the opposite but I feel we could have a discussion re SJ and racism. Back in the 80s my black college professor said racism is alive and well. It can be subtle but it’s there.

      I agree the planning commission needed some representation from the EastSide. Before that the council all voted for white commissioners. I’m all for the best qualified period. But I guess that’s old school thinking. We must be PC!

      Why weren’t the minority CMs at the Downtown Assoc mtg? Oh yeah the DA is Business and the minority CMs are Union. You all need to get over yourselves! We voted you in to work on solutions for us SJ residents; esp., the TAXPAYERS. Am I wrong but does it appear to you that since Sergio became a councilmember, racism has reared its ugly head?! I know I read on NextDoor that there is divisiveness in our District 2. I don’t see Sergio making any attempts to help his constituents get along. I do see him playing the victim and in the process trying to gather minorities to support his agenda. San Jose Action has had Sergio come to a few mtgs; the consensus is always the same. He doesn’t listen to us. He has his on agenda. Yeah when you believe capitalism doesn’t work then……

      • Sergio Jimenez has been a very polarizing influence on District 2. He turns any type of meaningful discussion into a perceived attempt to attack him personally. D2 is growing weary of his “poor me” persona. Stop whining and get down to business! Represent all of the people who elected you. DO something besides community feel-good events. Yes, racism does exist, but the constant comments by Jimenez just creates more division. He is not a unifier, he divides and pits people against each other, going for the sympathy vote. He ends his communications with “In Community”. The only community that Jimenez cares about is his own – people of like background. How about the rest of San Jose? A true leader works for all. It is about time our entire City Council starts working for the people – as Patty 262 says, “Get over yourselves”!

    • Hi Grace: Your reporting on Sergio’s comments are raising some eyebrows. But I notice on a close read that this part of your story:

      Jimenez told San Jose Inside in a phone call afterwards that Knies’ thoughts come from a place of privilege and act as the very wedge he says others have created.

      …is a paraphrase, not a direct quote. Did he really use the terms “thoughts come from privilege” and “the wedge he says others have created” or is that your interpretation? This kind of matters because, the way it reads puts Sergio in a bad light as Sergio appears to be psychoanalyzing Knies (knows where this thoughts come from) and accuses him of creating racial wedges by opposing racial wedges, which is kind of upside down.

      Thanks for clarifying.

      • I think Ellen Rosen hit the nail on the head concerning Jimenez: he has implied many times that he knows better than the people in the district he claims to represent. He refuses a fair discussion of ideas if those ideas do not align with his. As far as divisiveness goes, Jimenez has managed to divide his district more than it has ever been by implying some residents are NIMBYs. Since when do people who have legitimate questions and concerns deserve to be labeled by their representative? He makes ethnicity and economic standing an issue when it is only one in his own mind.

  6. This guy Knies has been mooching off the backs of downtown residents long enough. He has zero credibility. He’s over paid and we are no better for him and his role. Liccardo is proof that the strong mayor would make the city more third world than we already are. Scott. Please move in to another role. We don’t need you talking nonsense when you can’t even keep a hamburger stand running in this city. And you still get paid. And business never gets better. What do you do all day? Since 1998 you have been in this role. Downtown. You are just as guilty as the politicians. You are a mooch and a useless addition. For decades now. Thirty years of nothing. How do you sleep at night. Is it pride in the pressure washing on the streets that fills you with pride. Get outta here you mooch. You don’t have any respect in D3.

  7. I 100% agree with a Strong Mayor system. Why? Because 1) it is a better practice for a larger City like San Jose 2) it can hold department directors more accountable when their department doesn’t meet outcomes and lacks leadership on major issues 3) with the right leader, it is a defense against an indecisive council that is confused and ill-equipped to address that major issues facing our City.

    Sam Liccardo aside, as I agree he has been a disappointment as Mayor, after a strong run (in my opinion) in City Council for D3 — we need a decisive, knowledgeable and strong leader in a position of decision making. Currently, the Mayor position, in this system, is ceremonial…just another council member essentially. That has to change, as our council constantly fumbles on issues, and takes forever to get moving — mainly because they, and many department directors lack the knowledge and expertise to move funding and programs in the right direction. If they move at all.

    A strong mayor system makes sense for San Jose — and Sergio’s comment is ridiculous. Yes, the Mayor has had a hard time unifying the council and City — but Sergio and the other council-members need to take accountability for that too. They are just as bad, and share that responsibility. It’s not about privilege, as a Mayor can be from any walk of life, it’s about installing proper leadership in San Jose City Hall — because enough is enough. If the council and Mayor have issues with each-other, and want to air it out in the media…fine. But let the voters make the choice at the ballot box on what system they want to see. Watching council meetings is sometimes worse than getting teeth pulled because of the constant back an forth, and confusion – this council has divided themselves, and that is why we need strong leadership. And Sergio, you’re not leading by example either.

    • I totally agree with you that good leaders must be a “benevolent dictator”; however, this only works with a homogeneous population, like Apple or Microsoft in the early days. In a city with over 1M people, not everyone is going to want the same thing.

      As for “…decisive, knowledgeable and strong leader…” – Licardo is exactly that and it’s great if you are Google. For the actual residence of SJ, we just don’t agree with him and that is the problem.

      There was another “decisive, knowledgeable and strong leader” in Germany during WWII. He was loved by his people and propelled Germany into spotlight of the world.

      It’s all about checks and balances, be careful what you ask for.

      • It is important that you know what you’re talking about before saying such outrageous things. The vast majority of big cities have a strong mayor system – and for you to somehow insinuate they are like Nazi Germany is just moronic. Plus, in the city manager- council, weak mayor form of government, the City Manager is what I suppose you would classify as the dictator?

        Clearly you dislike Licarrdo – which is your right – but a strong mayor system is a system where the mayor can still be held accountable and is elected through a democratic process – they just operate more like a CEO, which makes complete sense in a city this large. And in a city that has such a weak group of council members.

        I suggest you do research before sounding so outlandish.

        • Dear Ms. Transparency and Accountability is Needed in San Jose.

          We can all certainly tell from your use of the word “moronic” that you are well educated and respectable. When your adversary has to resort to school yard insults and bullying, you have won the argument because there is nothing left. So I shouldn’t need to reply, but for interest of truly open minded discussion I will include a few comments.

          Your argument that everyone else does it, is not a reason for us to follow suit. I have been to a more than a few large cities (SF, Portland, Seattle, LA, NYC) that have adopted similar models, and they have the same problems we do only worse. Affordable housing, homeless, drugs, gangs, etc…

          City managers are expected to be nonpartisan and politically neutral as they carry out the decisions of the council or mayor. They do not make political decisions, they are executors of orders, functionaries, or workers.

          Mayors run for office, they are permitted to engage in political activities and are often elected as a result of these activities.

          These are two separate jobs with completely different expectations.

          In the end, why would I let someone with a political agenda have more power? If the collective you is in agreement with the policies then it’s great and everyone else is left out. This is generally what I see in California these days. Close minded people that spew the party’s talking points. All you have to do is wear a MAGA hat in SF and you will get death threats. This in the city of peace and love?

          Finally I did not “somehow insinuate they are like Nazi Germany”, I thought I said it pretty clearly the concept is inline with totalitarian regime.

          Everyday both parties take a chip out of the constitution to further their own power and wealth. This is why we have checks and balances.

          • You are definitely a Trump guy — you say one thing, and when you’re called out on it, you say “that’s not what I meant.” Stating that a strong mayor system in America is like WWII Germany is always going to be moronic. I didn’t say you’re a moron — I simply said that was a moronic and ridiculous statement. Talk about ignorance — we have the pot calling the kettle black here. Take care, and do your homework.

  8. Just the name “Strong Mayor” is an embarrassing admission as to what this idea intends to achieve. If we go the route of Strong Mayor, why don’t we just call Liccardo our City King and be done with it. No need to be represented, the City King will make good decisions for everyone!

    • I don’t think that King would be enough. Perhaps Czar or Furor would be more fitting?

      Strong Mayor equates to the beginning of totalitarianism. Plebs be warned, the Furor has spoken.

  9. I will refer to Maya Esparza, Sergio Jimenez, Raul Peralez, Magdalena Carrasco and Sylvia Arenas as “the 5”.

    There is most definitely a division on the city council and it’s coming from “the 5” out of their own mouths. These council members have said they want female Hispanics in all positions now, including as Mayor, regardless of qualifications. One of them said directly to the Mayor during a council meeting, “You’re a white guy” because he wasn’t for changing the date of upcoming mayoral races. He had valid points and changed my views. Her comment used as an accusation was disrespectful, appalling and racist. “The 5” try to find racism in their colleagues where there is none instead of seeing it in themselves. Shame on them.

    Sergio Jimenez waffles on nearly every issue that comes before him as badly as a 2-year old on newly acquired skates. He has zero plans for his D2 or the city, except wanting to expand the safe parking, even after it was determined the pilot program was deemed to have failed the neighborhood and those who parked there. Even after hearing from residents living next to and around the safe parking in D7, a council member who pushed for it but is now against it because she listens to the concerns of her former neighbors, friends, those having used the D7 safe parking, and reading the city data as to the extent the pilot had failed, Jimenez wanted it EXPANDED throughout SJ!!!

    Jimenez believed Knies’ thoughts came from a place of privilege, as well as from many within the city who don’t have to worry about race. Those are Jimenez’ own thoughts about his District 2 and the SJ taxpayers. When you have no plan for your District, but enjoy receiving that $10,400 a MONTH salary from SJ taxpayers, you create racism where there is none. What has Jimenez done for D2 or even the city? It’s time for a change!!!

  10. I heard Jimenez was a proponent of no registration/no insurance for those who were using the Safe Parking Program. Is this guy serious? For a guy talking about inequality, how is this not inequality for the majority of San Jose residents who are required to have registration and insurance to legally operate a vehicle? By the way, since when do council members get to circumvent the DMV? As part of “the 5” does Jimenez believe he is above the law and can grant dispensations as he wishes? We need to get back to common sense, total transparency, and a leader for ALL, both in our mayor and in our council members. Let’s make the change in D2 – Vote Jonathan Fleming.

    • I rarely speak or write something I don’t know as fact. Sergio Jimenez, during a previous Council meeting said that he didn’t feel those who live in their cars or vans should have to pay DMV registration fees “because they don’t have money, right?” He said it twice, as I recall. I was FLABBERGASTED!! 1). DMV is STATE, NOT city! 2). When a police officer pull a person over they ask to see driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance. You can’t get a license without registration. Why would anyone have to buy insurance if they didn’t pay for registration?

      Sergio Jimenez, and a couple of others (I’ll address them at some point), is WAAAAAAAY over his head as a councilman. I watch every single council meeting. When it’s time for council members to speak or ask questions, he appears to be grasping for a question to ask, Instead of asking a question, he usually repeats what someone else has said and drones on & on. He has not only failed D2 as a councilman. but he has failed the city of San Jose. NO THANK YOU!! The fact that he receives $10,400 a MONTH from taxpayers for part-time work and fails them at every turn is appalling.

      When attempting to go into his achievements “in-depth” in a newsletter and only posted photos of an ice cream social, that was enough for me. Instead of being a council member, he would serve SJ better as a party planner.

      • “Sergio Jimenez, and a couple of others (I’ll address them at some point), is WAAAAAAAY over his head as a councilman. ”
        we must be watching different Council meetings. Sergio is both thoughtful and courageous. As for a strong Mayor system – be careful what you ask for – it will come back to bite you when “your candidate” does not win the election. No on a strong Mayor system. Yes on checks and balances.

        • You are defending the guy who is still a proponent of the Safe Parking program even while other council members agree it isn’t working as they hoped, the guy who wanted to waive the state vehicle registration law for those in the SP program, the guy who said he didn’t know where the CVS Store was at the “4 corners”- probably one of the most prominent intersections in his own district, the guy who supports and defends the Charities Housing project for seniors when CH continues to evade the most important questions from citizens & said project (for SENIORS) is located in an area of rampant crime in D2, a guy who authors a memorandum for the Council and then votes against his own memo, and the guy who is the first person to bring the idea of racism to the table in order to divert attention in discussions he wants to avoid…need I go on? What is thoughtful about a council member who will say he listens to his constituents but then also says he knows better than they and will vote the way he thinks is best? Courageous?? This representative for D2 who looks around for security if a resident happens to disagree with him because he anticipates trouble that doesn’t materialize? He had one heated exchange 2 years ago at a very large meeting (which was very poorly planned by he & others) which he still refers to when he says if things get out of line he will “shut it down”.
          This man, an elected official, seems fearful of any conversation that doesn’t agree with his personal opinion. I will end by saying that when Jimenez recently cried he was wronged by the Business San Jose Chamber PAC (who endorsed Jonathan Fleming) that organization came back immediately to refute his claims. Seems Jimenez can be a bit loose with the truth.
          District 2 deserves and needs so much more than a guy who spends much of his time planning social events with cute photo ops. D2 is worse off than it was before Jimenez took office. He may be a nice enough guy but we need a strong leader and someone who fights for all who live in his district, now more than ever before. Jimenez took a shot at it with limited success. Now, it is time for a change.

    • CORRECTION: Sergio Jimenez receives OVER $10,400 a MONTH in salary as a part-time councilmember, but he also gets additional perks and paid trips paid for by TAXPAYERS! The question I would like to ask D2 residents and the SJ taxpayers is this: are you/we getting your/our money’s worth?? I say, “NO!!!” AND, in case he reads this, it has ZERO to do with your race or ethnicity, but EVERYTHING to do with your inability to listen to your own constituents, or even the very taxpayers who pay your $10,400+ A MONTH salary, benefits and trips.

  11. Politics is fundamentally very simple. There are two contrary “ethoses”:

    1. the primitive TRIBAL FORAGER ethos, those who think they are in a state of permanent tribal warfare with other tribes, fighting for [FREE] roots and berries and anything else to eat in their sacred tribal lands.

    2. the modern PRODUCER ethos, those who know how to use their big brains to produce food for future needs, and trade surplus food with other producers and achieve societal harmony and peace.

    So, WHO in the Scott Knies’ narrative is a tribal forager, and who is a producer trader?

  12. IMHO the Tribal Foragers are Sergio, the Five, and Unions.

    The Producer Traders are: Sam, Business and Unions.

    I have to include union in both groups. Without labor there is no one to pick/make produce/products. Unfortunately the politics of it stinks! Both sides need to use their Big Brains.

    I watched some City Council meetings and I’m shocked by the ignorance of some of the councilmembers. They know what topics are coming up and I’m sure they’ve already unofficially voted. So please be ready for a intelligent discussion.

    Trading surplus food with other producers is a plus. It’s good to be mature and share your goods. We all know about the back scratching, back patting that goes on behind closed doors in San Jose politics!

    Neither group is achieving societal harmony and peace. Pointing the finger at Donald Trump is a cop out. Be responsible for your own actions!

    I’m willing to vote that Jonathan Fleming would set a good example on how to conduct yourself on the City Council in a mature manner. And to keep the focus on the needs of the San Jose residents.

    • > The Producer Traders are: Sam, Business and Unions.

      Working men are producer/traders.

      Unions are tribalists.

      Unions need working men. Working men don’t need unions.

      Unions were a creation of the tribalists to try to “turn back the clock”.

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