The following is Part I of an interview San Jose Inside editor Josh Koehn had with San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed in his City Hall office Friday, Aug. 8. The second half of their conversation will be published next week.
Josh Koehn: What do you think were the political dynamics in neither a general sales tax nor a public safety tax being passed by the council?
Mayor Chuck Reed: First, most people didn’t notice that I managed to get two Republicans to support a tax increase going on the ballot. They were willing to support special tax (for public safety). They weren’t wiling to support a general tax. Needing to get to eight votes made it awfully difficult to do anything. So, the fact that we had bipartisan support for one but not the other is notable. Second, of course, you wonder why the four people who wanted a general tax wouldn’t say, ‘OK, I can't have a general tax, I’ll take the special tax, because it will fund some of the things I think are important.’ That was purely a political move, because the police union—for whatever reason—didn’t want to support, heading into the campaign, they didn’t want to do anything that makes it look like (Sam) Liccardo is doing something good.
What’s the next step then if you’re not going to bring in more revenue through a sales tax measure? How does the San Jose Police Department start bringing more officers back, or at the very least cut off the attrition?
Well, we need more money, but we have a plan that we can do. There is a plan Sam came up with in 2013—
Two hundred more officers.
Two hundred more officers. So we set aside some money in this budget cycle and we dedicated the savings from the second-tier officers for staffing. First, you got to get to full staff. You don’t work [on] expanding until you get to full staffing. And that means we need to increase the recruiting, while at the same time trying to slow down the resignations and the retirements with the pay increases. We’re trying to give them more money, but the police union refuses. …. But we’ve begun to set aside some money to (hire more officers) and I would anticipate in the next budget cycle the mayor is going to try and identify some additional funding sources to build that up, because if you don’t start committing them in small increments you never get to the big increments. … Certainly it would be quicker if you had a tax increase.
What if you said, we’ll take this $2 million and if voters approve, we can take that $2 million to Las Vegas and bet on black one time. Could you actually do that?
I don’t think we would need voter approval to do that. (Laughs)
Let’s take pension reform off the board. If there was one thing you wish you had done, in hindsight, during your time as mayor, what would that be?
The one category we really would have liked to have done more on is data analysis and analytics, the Big Data. We’re 20 years behind New York City. … It’s one of the things we would have preferred to focus on but we had to deal with fiscal problems. That’s one regret. I think there are huge opportunities for efficiencies and better service suing data analysis.
What have you enjoyed more: your time as a councilman or mayor?
My time as mayor, because being mayor is a very different job as a council member. It’s something I didn’t really understand until I was in the office. It’s a completely different mindset. … As a council member I have to focus on my district. I have this issue in front. I vote left or I vote right, whatever, issues as they come by and I don’t have to worry if we get to six votes on Tuesday. I have a different view on the world. But as mayor it’s not just 10 times more people, it’s really 10 times more thinking about the bigger picture things; things that as a council member I never even thought about, or worried about. There’s the state government, federal government, the economy—really it’s a much different level of thinking. How do you move an entire city on one or more of our issues. As a council member you don’t really have the responsibility to think globally. There are many instances where, as the mayor, I’m the only person in a position to look at all of it. The city manager always has to look pretty big, but he’s focused on that part of the organization, the administrative part. Let him handle the administrative part, but still I’ve got to think about it. I also have to think about the political part, relationships with other governments, the economy, what’s happening in China and Japan. It gets bigger and bigger and bigger with things that I never really thought about. And things I had to do whether I liked it or not.
I would think it makes your brain hurt after a long day.
There’s a lot of variables that you have to think about, that you never worry about as a council member.
How do you turn that off then?
I don’t know. (Laughs)
Sometimes stories just stick with me. Little things just irk me. And then I’m just lying awake at night and I’m trying to go to sleep but it’s not happening.
Exercise. Diet and exercise.
How drastic a difference do you think it would be depending if Sam Liccardo is mayor or Dave Cortese is mayor?
(Walks over and grabs a sheet off his desk)
Dave says he wants to go in a different direction. So those are the choices. The path we’re on is seven years of relatively flat and modest improvements in services. We’re back to cutting services to balance the budget in Dave’s case. Because of his close relationship with public safety unions, I guess they’re going to close libraries and community centers and give all the money to cops and firefighters. I don’t know how he’s planning to do it. We’re on a fiscally sustainable path. There’s not a lot of money there but we can restore services a little bit. It’s drastically different than it was and we paid a very painful price to make this shift, but it would be disastrous to go back. Sam will keep us on a path of fiscal sensibility and David has made some pretty big promises to a lot of people that will be very costly. I think that’s the difference. I like Dave, personally. He was my vice mayor. I got to know him pretty well. Affable guy. But I think he’s made some promises that will be pretty difficult for the city.
Mayor, you probably read all my articles.
I do read a lot of them. Whether it’s all of them I don’t know.
Well, I did write one about getting a parking ticket I didn’t deserve.
It was a malfunctioning Smart Meter. And it made me think Mayor Ed Lee, up San Francisco, he gets quite a few tickets. He just kind of parks wherever he wants. And I was curious, in your time as mayor have you ever received any tickets aside from the one that went viral?
I have received two overtime parking tickets for not putting enough money in the meters, I think. Maybe two.
Did you just blow them off?
I paid them. I have the receipts just in case they didn’t process it properly. That’s been it other than the famous one.
What kind of dance did you break out in when you found out Xavier Campos was not re-elected to the council?
I don’t think it has a name. (Laughs) It’ll make no difference to my term, because we’ll both be leaving office at the same time.
Yeah, but I think we can both agree that the city is better off.
It’s an important difference to the next mayor.
It was reported that you recently met with Lew Wolff. Did he tell you in that meeting that he plans to stay in Oakland?
Well, he plans to stay in Oakland until he can move to San Jose.
So, he’s still actually open to it? Because the reports I’ve been reading, he’s meeting with an architect over there.
Lew is still optimistic that the commissioner is going to give him the green light to move to San Jose, and I’m optimistic that the next Circuit Court of Appeals is going to make the commissioner do that. But Lew and his team need a place to play and they’ve got provisions in there that basically would make them continue to pay the rent during the course of the lease, OK, a million dollars a year or something like that. If we can get a new stadium authorized for San Jose, built in San Jose, the A’s will make money in San Jose. They’re a drag on Major League Baseball now and they’d be profitable here, and Lew recognizes that.
How much longer could the city realistically hold on to that property over there by SAP (Center), for that stadium? Is it beyond five years?
It’s in the Successor Agency, so we have a plan that has to be approved by the state, a property management plan, and the plan is to hold it for future development. We could sit on it for quite some time.
I wouldn’t think you want to (do something), because it is such a good property and the sooner it’s developed the sooner you can start bringing in revenue.
If you want to have a baseball stadium, you probably are going to have to hold on to it for a while. How long could that be? I don’t know. Until people get tired of it. But ultimately you don’t get very many opportunities for something like a baseball team. You have to be prepared for it, and we’ve been working on this a long time. I would say we can hold it indefinitely. What happens though at the end of October or November—I can’t remember exactly—when the option that the A’s have on [the land] expires, so that price and those terms go away unless the option is exercised, which means you’ve got to renegotiate the deal. But depending upon what the state says about our long-range property management plan, there isn’t an outside date on when you’ve got to be done and sold everything.
Who’s the tenant of the Peery Arrillaga site?
Company X. Brand X. They do Brand X.
If it’s Google wiggle your ears.
It’s Brand X.
Brand X is like the worst brand. That’s the brand that they compare to the better detergent.
Just Company X.
OK. When do you think that will be announced?
I don’t know. They’re intending to file lots of plans for the next phase of construction of their buildings. Probably the first of September. But that doesn’t mean they’ll have to put a name on the building.
What advantages are there to not naming the tenant?
Well, I don’t know. I’ve never had that conversation with the tenant. … [Peery Arrillaga] said they don’t want the name out there and I said fine. I wont tell anybody. That’s the only way to keep a secret—not tell anybody. There’s many opportunities for people to decide there’s a project moving and they should get something. … I wish they would [announce the tenant] today. The sooner they get the name out the better. But that’s their call.
Changing gears a little bit, you recently endorsed (Ashley) Swearengin down in Fresno (for state controller). There’s always consistent talk about your political leanings. I wanted to offer you the opportunity to finally admit you voted for the McCain-Palin ticket in 2008 and even worse you actually thought Mitt Romney had some charisma.
Neither of those is true. Well, charisma is not the right word for Mitt.
Money is the right for word.
There’s an aura.
Yeah, and the aura is the glow of cash.
It’s not charisma.
People continue to challenge if you are truly a Democrat, and I think you told me—in this room—I think you said that you were a Kennedy Democrat?
A John Kennedy Democrat.
A John Kennedy Democrat. Yeah, (not) that hippie Bobby.
I have been around. There was a Kennedy Democrat group and I found out they were all Teddy Kennedy Democrats. There weren’t many John Kennedy democrats in that group. Although the democratic group I am a member of, the Santa Clara County Democratic Club, many of them are Kennedy era Democrats. And older.
Explain that to people. Because when you look at our politics in the South Bay, there are two very distinct brands of Democrats down here. Is that what we’re talking about here when you say Kennedy Democrat?
No, I say Kennedy Democrat because I became part of the Democratic Party because of John Kennedy. And his aspirational goals for the country and what people ought to do was a way of public service. That’s why I joined the Democratic Party. I’m stubborn and I’m not leaving.