A Conversation with San Jose Mayor-Elect Sam Liccardo

The following is an interview San Jose Inside editor Josh Koehn had with Mayor-elect Sam Liccardo on Friday, Nov. 21, in his City Hall office. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Josh Koehn: In four years what are you going to point to as your accomplishments?

We will have launched a significant initiative to reach thousands of kids, engage them in after-school programs. Overwhelmingly kids in neighborhoods who have no access to—

Lower-performing school districts?

Yeah, East Side; Central San Jose. We will have made San Jose the safest big city in America again.

And what does that mean exactly, because despite what you and Dave Cortese were saying through the campaign, San Jose is still a pretty safe city? Can we acknowledge that now?

I wasn’t the one. Go through all my mail. Go through everything I said publicly. I was the guy telling everybody in the media, ‘Hey, please look at the data before you buy this stuff about somehow or another we’ve become Detroit.’ We had the lowest rate of violent crime of any major U.S. city last year. Now on the other hand, if there’s been a burglary on your street or worse on your own home, as far as you’re concerned crime is up 100 percent. So, I can assure you the fear mongering wasn’t coming from my campaign. What I was talking about was solutions. … I want to see a significant expansion of job opportunities for at-risk teens. In the book I talk about ways that we can do it that are within our budget, leveraging existing resources that we’re using today and essentially kill two birds. We can do things that are beneficial for the public, like restoring parks, and engage teens in doing some of that work and giving them the first three sentences of their résumé.

When you talk about restoring services, there’s also a restoring of relationships that has to occur. How does that work? Are they coming to you with demands, or are they coming to you hat in hand almost?

Nobody is coming hat in hand. Within 48 hours of Election Day, I reached out to several folks, including Ben Field and (police union president) Jim Unland and others, and said, ‘Let’s find a way to work together.’ We’ve got a lot to do. I do think that existing officers have done an incredible job. We’ve seen crime rates drop significantly in the last few years—

Despite the shortages in staff and the acrimony.

Despite what you may see in the mail from the police union. But we are perilously low-staffed right now as a department and it’s affecting everything from investigations to patrol. And so I’m hopeful with new leadership in the (police) union, we’re going to be able to find some small wins relatively quickly, that we can immediately utilize for retention and to attract new officers.

You should hear some of the things these guys have called you. I mean, you probably hear it through back channels. I doubt they say it to your face.

Well, I grew up in a family of five kids so they haven’t called me anything worse than I’ve already been called before. The best lesson I ever got in politics, believe it or not, it came from a Catholic priest. He said the beginning of all theology is recognizing that it’s not about you. I think it’s true in politics, too. If there’s success it’s not about me. And if people are angry and they’re burning me in effigy, it’s not about me, either. There are bigger issues here and we’ve got to work on them together. It’s a big city. I recognize not everyone is going to agree with me. That’s the way it goes. But I need to work with everyone.

This housing impact fee that was passed by the council—five years exemption I believe for downtown high-rises. How do you think that’s going to shake out not only in the short term, but also the long term?

So the exemption and reduction for high-rises started back in ’06 when Cindy Chavez proposed it. At the time, they couldn’t get any high-rises out of the ground. For all the reasons that I’m sure you’ve heard already—you’ve got an airport that prevents developers from making sufficient profit; you’ve got a high water table; and the market hadn’t been proved out. So, they cut the fees. We got the four towers out of the ground; two of them went through bankruptcy/receivership. That didn’t exactly prove the market. We’ve now got some more underway. If we get through this cycle and we say that three, four or five towers are up, and they’re all solvent, then I think it’s fair to say this whole things goes away and we move on and the market’s proved out. I guess I’m giving you an answer to a different question, which is why need it. I’ll tell you why we need it. This is the only way we can build housing in this city—the most fiscally sustainable way to build housing—because you don’t have to have fire and police and sewers in far-flung parts of the city. It’s the most environmentally sustainable way to build housing, certainly. You’re promoting alternative transportation by building on transit corridors and getting people close to work. And you’re significantly reducing the likelihood that folks who are living there are building freeways. All of those reasons—this is a critical, critical goal for us in our general plan. It’s all of those reasons, plus the revitalization of the downtown depends on it. So, there’s no question that people will continue to criticize me for saying we need more affordable housing. I’m advocating for a fee that should be on everything except for this kind of housing. But what’s important to recognize is I didn’t exempt all housing in the downtown. Most of the housing being built around here isn’t high-rise; it’s mid-rise. They have to pay full freight. We have a lot of mid-rise development underway right now and we’re going to keep having mid-rise.

Critics of yours would say that’s basically a handout to big developer buddies. What would you say to that?

I guess I would say there is no question I’ve always been an advocate for high-rise housing. And there’s no question that developers of high-rise housing have seen me as an advocate. No question about that. I think those same critics should take a hard look and see who has been taking the most bullets from the development community for pushing impact fees, inclusionary housing fees—and it’s consistently been me. The reason why I’m an advocate for high-rise is what I just described: the fiscal benefit, the environmental benefit, the incredible importance of high-rise housing and the revitalization of downtown; the fact that this is the only place where you can build 200 or 300 units to the acre and not have a neighborhood burning down City Hall; and critically recognizing the realty of the future of growth in this valley. We’re going to add 400,000 people in the next quarter-century. I don’t know where we’re going to put them if we’re not building incredible high-density in the core. It means we continue a pattern of sprawl, which has degraded our environment, filled our freeways with traffic and is eroding the fiscal position of the city. I don’t want to continue that pattern. That means you have to be for something if you’re against something else.

Do you support legalization of marijuana in California?

I want to look at the data and see what happens in Colorado and Washington and now Oregon and some other places where we’re seeing it pop up. … The most dangerous drug on the planet is alcohol. Do I think marijuana is as dangerous as alcohol? Of course not. Do I want a world in which we have more drugs that look like alcohol? No.

Alcohol makes you do funny things and act a little wild. Most people who smoke pot—

End up at Taco Bell.

If they even get off the couch. It’s more likely it’s a frozen pizza.

And I agree. For the great majority that’s the impact, it makes people more lethargic.

Or relaxed. Moving on. Where do you differ in your management style from Mayor Reed and how do you think it will be different over the next four years?

I have the benefit of having a lot more opportunities than Chuck ever had coming in. We had a about a year to get anything done and then we ran head-first into the worst recession of the last three-quarters of a century. The bottom fell out and then all of the conversations were about eliminating and reducing. As a Democrat those are hard conversations to have. Just by nature of the different circumstances that we have, I can talk about new initiatives like supporting after-school programs that Chuck could never talk about.

Rose Herrera. Is she going to be your vice mayor?

We’ll make a decision in mid- to late-December.

Lew Wolff. Baseball. How many more years are you going to give them until you give up (on the A’s coming to San Jose)?

The good news is we don’t have to give them anything.It’s not like we’re spending money. We’re making money on the option as we speak. We’re not paying for the lawyers to litigate this thing. So, it’s not like there’s a huge opportunity cost. It’s house money. Let’s let it ride. And by the way, they’re paying us some money for a piece of land that nobody else seems to be interested in currently. I don’t know many other cities that have a set of private investors ready to make a half-billion dollar investment in their city. It’s something that can produce an attraction for at least 30,000 people for at least (81) days a year. I know there are detractors, just like there were detractors of the arena. But I’m an unabashed supporter because 10 years from now, this thing gets over the goal line, everyone is going to look back and say, ‘Of course I was a supporter.’

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


  1. I’d be more than happy to tell Liccardo, to his face, what I think of him, but he apparently doesn’t like direct confrontation with cops. He certainly didn’t want to face the former SJPD Chiefs who endorsed Cortese. It seems he’s only comfortable with the lap dogs who currently head the department.

    Another hard hitting set of questions for Liccardo from Josh Koehn. The interview reads like Koehn was giving Liccardo a neck rub while they talked.

  2. Liccardo states regarding crime and Detroit, “Go through everything I said publicly. I was the guy telling everybody in the media, ‘Hey, please look at the data before you buy this stuff about somehow or another we’ve become Detroit,’” yet it is he and Reed who has repeatedly compared San Jose to Detroit when convenient for him as a reason to break contracts with public safety workers, because we are on the road to being another Detroit. What a hypocrite.

    • You know what, I have more reason to be sour about this race than you do.

      Let’s all put down our pitchforks and torches, bury all hatchets, and give the man at least a year or two in office before we crucifie him. Shame it’s not Dave, but it is what it is. Sam, congratulations.

      • While campaigning, Liccardo said if elected he will go ahead with the portion of Measure B that implements another 16% paycut over the next 4 years to the police department. Every police officer at the SJPD knows this and this specter hangs over their collective heads. Many more will now be leaving via going to other departments.It will not take a year or two in office to know what Liccardo’s position is on this. If Sam wants to “bury all hatchetts,” he should have come out with an immediate statement saying he will put this on hold, and negotiate legal pension changes, as your cousin was going to do. If Liccardo does this, then I will agree to give him a chance.The SJPD officers that are left are working 6-7 days a week trying to make ends meet, and Liccardo has publicy said many times he will take away another 16% per Measure B. Come July of 2015, SJPD officers will be making what they were making in 2008. Liccardo is the one who brought up the Detroit comparison with Koehn.

        • Politicians put out statements doesnt do crap – he is reaching out to police and unions instead. Election is over and hopefully his reaching out will pay dividends for the city. We will see what happena, however I am glad that we are having people on different sides actually talking to one another and no more damn statements.

        • While campaigning, Liccardo said

          While campaigning, a lot of people say a lot of things. A lot of people pay people to say things about other people, or issues. What you say is a confloundering thing. I’ve seen politicians take the damndest extremes on issues because it’s what gets votes. Had either Dave or Sam taken a moderate stance on anything in this race, I don’t believe either of them would have made it to the general election.

          Sam is what we wound up with. Now stop poking that dragon, for thou art crunchy and goes well with ketchup.

          • By your logic, Sam won because he told the biggest and best lies. I think that is precisely why he won, couple with Dave Cortese being very passive in responding to Liccardo’s lies. If Dave had been more vocal with the truth, and stood up to Sam’s lies, your cousin would be mayor.

          • By your logic, Sam won because he told the biggest and best lies.

            Now hold on, there’s a huge difference between a lie and a false promise. Neither candidate would actually have implemented their plan to the extreme they promised. There’s a saying, goes something like, “Promise the moon and deliver the (blank)”

            It’s unfortunate we’ll never know what Dave’s “Blank” would have been. For Sam’s “Blank” we will know in the next few years, but it’s too early to say if he will holdfast on the “blank” he promised, good or bad.

            He might just grab the council by their lapels and say to them, “Uhh Chuck is gone now, let’s fix this”

      • After 3 warning bells sounded from the crow’s nest, the captain and crew of the Titanic did everything they could to save the ship but it was too little, too late to avert the disaster. In the past 5 years, while “Lapdog Liccardo”, a rabid mayor Reed supporter, was on the City Council, San Jose has slipped from the #1 safest big city in America to #5, and falling fast. (This, according to the usual source, Washington, D.C.-based CQ Press).

        The good ship “City of San Jose” has hit the crime- public safety iceberg, is hemorrhaging police personnel at an unprecedented rate and those few who remain cannot bail water fast enough. The ship’s stern is rising. Homicides are higher than they have been in 2 decades, as are traffic fatalities with cars killing bicyclists and pedestrians at record rates. Gang violence is up. Property crimes are up, including an increase of more than 70% in car theft alone! What is “Captain” Liccardo’s solution? Rearrange the deck chairs!

        Liccardo wants to continue the huge pay cuts for public safety personnel while continuing his support for the disastrous effects that Measure B had on public safety, which has caused the destruction of a once great police department. Liccardo wants to impose a housing impact fee, for which he had wanted an exemption for high rise building downtown, in an attempt to appease developers who he will otherwise alienate and he wants to continue pursuing the building of a baseball stadium that no major league team wants!

        As crime rises, insurance rates, particularly for homeowner’s insurance, will rise in order to offset the costs of increased crime, not necessarily limited to burglaries, vandalism, and arson, as well as an increase in traffic collisions and fatalities. It’s already happening. Potential businesses and their workers will balk.

        Although former SJPOA president, “Crewman” Jim Unland sounded the warning bells, “Captain” Liccardo and the City Council have refused to make any course corrections, choosing instead to vilify Unland and the SJPOA.

        Nero would be proud.

        • > Although former SJPOA president, “Crewman” Jim Unland sounded the warning bells, “Captain” Liccardo and the City Council have refused to make any course corrections, choosing instead to vilify Unland and the SJPOA.

          A little insight into the way things work in the nautical world.

          Customarily, the Captain sets the course for the ship.

          When the crewmen try to set the course, it’s called a “mutiny”.

          • Mr. SJOUTSIDETHEBUBBLE, sir

            You would have made an excellent captain for the Exxon Valdez.

            As established at the Nuremberg Trials, crewman or soldiers are only required to obey a lawful order, and to resist an unlawful one. Whereas the court has already ruled that Measure B is unlawful, resistance to it or warnings regarding it would not be mutiny.

            A ship’s crew is also justified to mutiny when their captain has proven he is unfit to command. Whereas Measure B has devastated the SJPD and is obviously, in large measure, responsible for the current dramatic rise in violent crime, and whereas Liccardo has indicated that he will continue to follow the dictates of Measure B, the argument that he is unfit to command or govern is as clear and convincing as would be the actions of a ship’s captain who deliberately set course toward, or negligently allowed his ship to sail into, an iceberg, especially after ignoring clear warning signals.

  3. The City of San Jose is incredibly lucky to have Sam Liccardo as its Mayor! I have not agreed with Sam on every issue over the years, but he is always fair, thoughtful and is looking out for the best interests of the citizens of San Jose. We are all lucky that people like Sam (and Dave Cortese) are willing to contribute their time and energy as public servants.

  4. San Jose is not, never was and never will be Detroit. There is no point in anybody talking about another city. If Liccardo wants to be the Big City Mayor of the Big City of San Jose, then he needs to act like one, not like the fool that is just about out the door. Big City Mayors (and CEO’s of big companies) don’t get into litigation with their entire workforce past and present and expect their organizations to function properly, if at all. It’s time to end all this “test case” litigation and make deals with the people that actually provide the services to the citizens and taxpayers. That’s what Big City Mayors do. They sit down with the employee leadership and make deals that work.

    • Liccardo will be much more willing to negotiate than Reed…. so glad Chuckles is gone – the guy doesn’t know how to communicate, Sam (and Dave for that matter) actually know how to speak to people who disagree with them.

    • BD: SJ is not a big city, so it has no need for a “Big City Mayor”. It is a small town with a million folks living within its borders, 95% of whom are suburbanites, not city people. And those 95% do not give damn about downtown. Tom McEnery has been leading a failed charge to make SJ a big city with a downtown revolving around his family’s San Pedro Square holdings like the Earth revolves around the sun since at least the early 80’s. But despite $3billion in tax money and a lot of private investment in downtown, SJ still isn’t a city and the downtown remains moribund, since so few people live in the DT. Tom will not live long enough to see his dream come true. And now all the big money is concentrating on a new attempt at a downtown…in North San Jose. So, yes BD, SJ will never be Detroit.

  5. reed was never a people person. He always looks uncomfortable around people; a rigid person with no personality. As for herrera becoming vice mayor–well, that will be the best joke pulled on everyone. It’s not even April Fools Day. Talking about scraping the bottom of the barrel.

    • We are glas you are retired too….people change, elections are over and its time to get to work ans compromise. I bet youve never admitted you were wrong or compromised in your life. It may be generational but you come across as someone who mailed it in the last few years of work and was the cynical person who showed up a few mins late and left a few mins early…when the boss talked about changes in workload thats when your retirement countdown began.

  6. Sorry SJC I don’t know who “we” are to answer your comment, my last 5 years in investigations were my best, and no I was the supervisor in my unit and often came in on days off to make sure my officers were up to date on cases. Nice try though. Use spell check next time! My countdown started when I had less than a year to go to reach 30 years of serving this city. Life is good. The only bad days I happened when 7 officers died in the line of duty during my time working for this city.

    • Someone who says ‘days I happened’ should not lecture people on spell check… You are coming across as a cranky and bitter former San Josean who takes no pride in their hometown. Maybe you are the person who backtalks their incoming boss before they even start their new position making you very unpopular in the office, but I think you should give Liccardo and this city you put three decades into a chance. I would have said the same thing had Dave been elected. Give the new guy a chance. If everyone in the city was as pessimistic and uncompromising as you – nothing would ever get accomplished.

      • Give the new guy a chance? He had four years of chance, and it looks like at least another two years of the same old thing. No interest in giving this guy a chance, fair shake, benefit of the doubt, or whatever you call it these days. Simple facts remain, he is all for pushing through an illegal ballot measure, destroying morale, good will and trust with the Employees of San Jose, and short-circuiting the retention and competitive hiring of good people. YOU give him a chance, i will continue to approach anything he has to say with healthy, self-preserving skepticism.

      • I served and lived in SJ for 30 years. Don’t like my comments then so be. I enjoyed my time serving YOU, if you even live in SJ. Do you? I do not like the direction that Chuck and Sam are taking the city. That is my opinion, like it or not. You judge a person you know nothing about. Maybe you are the person who protests in violence over issues that can be taken to council meetings and voice your comments. Yes, days I had to go to work when a fellow officer was killed in the line of duty, and I still protected YOU during my 10+ hour shift.

        You are welcome.

      • I agree that the working stiff is hurt by regressive taxes, but I have a hard time classifying an “affordable housing developer fee” as a tax break to “rich developers and big businesses”.

        It is just the political class’s sneaky way of getting money out of the system that is ultimately passed on to . . . the working stiff.

        The “affordable housing fee” provides a subsidy to a tiny number of lucky renters, while jacking up the rents of the overwhelming majority of working stiffs.

  7. It’s time for the Chuck and Liccardo bashers to accept the election results and STFU for a while. As long as folks remain entrenched in their positions, no chance for progress exists. I am as disappointed that Sam is the Mayor-elect as I would have been had Dave won…for different reasons, obviously; but I am willing to give Sam and a council with several new members a chance to work it out. And for the 60% of eligible voters who sat out the election, put a sock in it!

  8. Jack Slade here!

    First problem first. The crime rate is not down, crimes have not been investigated and have been reduced from serious classifications to low status. The FBI does this to make a good National showing. Police Officer crimes are overlooked at the rate this year of 85%. Police shootings are not classified as homicides, burglary is petty theft, rape is an assault etc.

    Your Police Department is top heavy with rank since many patrolmen have retired and resigned leaving Chiefs, deputy Chiefs, Captains, Lt.s and Sargs. They are above Patrolman status so no patrol or them. 2/3 rds of your Department are at PAB micro managing Federal Grant Programs. Your top brass are unable to lead a morally bankrupt group of men and women, who if not involved in time card and overtime fraud, are busy covering up for each other. When people take free meals, have their extra curricular girlfriends on “Ride -a-longs”, falsify evidence in Court and have a Police Officers Bill of Rights and a Copely v, San Diego, Those two items have kept the Public in the dark about their conduct for years. What happened? “We can’t discuss an ongoing investigation”, Who was involved, have they done this before? “We can’t discuss personnel records”. What was your findings? “Findings and punishment are a matter of personnel records and confidential”. So, I can’t know what happened, who did it, your investigative findings or the officer’s past as far as repetitive behavior. In other words I pay your $186,000.00 + salary/pension each year and have absolutely no control over who you are, your negligent retention or your conduct. You work 3-4 days a week with 3-4 days off. Every study shows an employee is basically worthless after an 8 hour day especially if they are dragging their tail from off-duty employment.

    Sam Liccardo has to start at the top with the Brass taking thousands of dollars worth of 49 er tickets, food, transportation and their financial involvement in the Card Clubs. Someone has to be brought in from the outside, if you can find anyone who would take the job and work with these people. It’s simple, you need a hatchet man. Someone who can spend a month reviewing and interviewing police personnel. Someone with full authority who can step over the paralyzing MOA’s that make these people self-employed and answerable to no one except the people they have dirt on. Arrange for Law Enforcement Coverage by the Sheriff’s Department under contract and commence to release these people via Retirement, Lateral Transfers to other departments or firing. It is critical to bring in Criminal Prosecutors and staff Internal Affairs with an independent staff. Your $169,000.00 a year IPA is useless and you can’t reach her in her office. She’s allowed to travel the state doing Civil Arbitrations at $5000.00 a crack while her staff answers the phone and inquiries about Stats or cases is met with “LEGAL DODGES” and no information.

  9. There have been some responses here stating that the Cortese supporters should stop complaining and give Liccardo a chance. We would be happy to, but it is up to Liccardo. The problem is simply that the unions offered legal negotiated pension reform that indipendent actuaries said would work. Reed and his allies, including Liccardo, refused our offers and pushed measure B through EVEN THOUGH THEY WERE TOLD IT WAS ILLEGAL! Since it has passed the city has spent OVER 2 MILLION DOLLARS defending it in court. A court declared most of it illegal but Liccardo supported and still supports the current appeal, which is costing the city hundreds of thousands more. Now the Public Employee Relations Board has recognized that the city never negotiated in good faith and has INVALIDATED ALL OF MEASURE B! Sam says he will appeal that ruling! So, if he appeals, he is lying when he says he wants to mend fences. If he drops the appeals and negotiates with us, than he is telling the truth. We shall see.

  10. > A ship’s crew is also justified to mutiny when their captain has proven he is unfit to command. Whereas Measure B has devastated the SJPD and is obviously, in large measure, responsible for the current dramatic rise in violent crime, and whereas Liccardo has indicated that he will continue to follow the dictates of Measure B, the argument that he is unfit to command or govern is as clear and convincing as would be the actions of a ship’s captain who deliberately set course toward, or negligently allowed his ship to sail into, an iceberg, especially after ignoring clear warning signals.

    So-o-o-o-o-o-o . . . . mutiny it is!

    • Those few that are left at the SJPD are some of the most dedicated, hard working, and decent people around. They are not interested in “mutiny,” only doing their jobs to the best of their ability, and safely going home to their families. They work long shifts 6-7 days a week. Many other officers have decided to get off the sinking ship and go to other departments or private industry. They did not commit mutiny either; they simply left the ship.

      • > A ship’s crew is also justified to mutiny when their captain has proven he is unfit to command.

        Mr. OBSERVATION:

        You and Mr. Robillard need to talk.

        You’re sending mixed signals to the crew. Is the mutiny on or isn’t it?

        • Mr. SJOUTSIDETHEBUBBLE, sir,

          I don’t think it is a matter of OBSERVATION and me talking. “Mutiny” is your term and just another instance of your “straw man” approach to debate. I was merely trying to draw attention, to how history has proven time and again that warnings which are ignored by those in authority, or who should know better, often lead to disaster.

          It seems that every time the SJPOA brings forward an issue, or sounds a warning bell, or questions the wisdom of a policy or intention or the hypocrisy of your favored politician, you seem unable to respond with anything other than by vilifying the SJPOA or its leadership and proclaiming that the SJPOA is somehow trying to usurp city government, is making unreasonable demands, and is acting in their own self-interest to the detriment of all city residents. The SJPOA is not some sort of bloated monster intent only on gobbling up taxpayer money to no good purpose, as you constantly imply. Indeed, if Reed and the Council (which included Liccardo) had listened to SJPOA president Unland, the City would likely not be experiencing the largest increase in violent crime since the “PCP craze” of the late 70’s and early 80’s or have a police department that is wasting away like a terminal cancer patient.

          I anticipate your standard “pull quote out of context” retort but feel free to surprise us all with an actual cogent argument or idea and try to do so before FINFAN squishes you (rhetorically) again under the intellectual weight of rational commentary. I’m rooting for you in that regard but then, I always pull for the underdog and I dislike watching a small creature suffer.

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