San Jose City Council Considers Expanding Sister City Program

Earlier this year, as San Jose celebrated the opening of the new Samsung campus, the city seemed poised to strike up “Sister City” ties with Suwon, South Korea, home to Samsung’s global HQ. But a City Council subcommittee asked to hold off on expanding the program until it gets an overview of the sister city ties already in place.

The council on Tuesday will hear a report on its Sister City program and consider whether to double the number of committee members for each city to 20.

“Staff’s experience in working with new and existing Sister City organizations is that 10 is not a sufficient number to build and sustain a strong program,” said Joseph Hedges, who oversees the program through the city’s Office of Economic Development. “Existing Sister City organizations with fewer than 20 members are being asked to increase their membership incrementally annually.”

San Jose, which will host a Sister Cities anniversary party at City Hall this week, was one of the first American cities to forge a diplomatic bond with an international counterpart.

The idea for sister cities arose in Europe after the devastation of World War II. In the hope that international diplomacy would help avoid future conflict, world leaders formed the United Nations and the Marshall Plan. Average citizens struck up diplomatic ties of their own, creating unofficial “twin towns” or sister cities between those in post-war Europe and the United States.

By the 1950s, governments began to formalize those ties. In 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the U.S. Sister Cities program as part of a White House conference on citizen diplomacy.

Fifty-five years ago, San Jose became a charter member of Sister Cities International, the nonprofit that promotes international partnerships between cities, counties and states.

While the Sister City programs were born out of a desire to promote peace, they have become a tool for economic growth by promoting tourism and trade. Today, some 570 American jurisdictions have 2,300 sister city ties in 150 nations.

San Jose maintains ties with eight sister cities:

  • Okayama, Japan, since 1957
  • San Jose, Costa Rica, since 1961
  • Veracruz, Mexico, since 1975
  • Tainan, Taiwan, since 1977
  • Dublin, Ireland, since 1986
  • Pune, India, since 1992
  • Ekaterinburg, Russia, since 1992
  • Guadalajara, Mexico, since 2014

Each sister city link is considered permanent and maintained by a nonprofit committee, according to Hedges. The Office of Economic Development oversees those agreements and pays up to $2,500 a year to support each one.

Though the city tabled a vote on whether to strike up a sister city alliance with Suwon, the South Korean city of 1.2 million sent 11 delegates to visit San Jose this week. Irene Suh, co-chair of the Silicon Valley Korean American Committee, said her group has continued to foster the relationship between the two cities.

More from the San Jose City Council agenda for October 25, 2016:

  • Carbon credits for the San Jose-Santa Clara Regional Wastewater Facility—as called for by the state’s cap-and-trade laws—will cost the city up to $310,000.

WHAT: City Council meets
WHEN: 1:30pm Tuesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. What tangible benefit has ever come from such ridiculous drivel? Have any of our “sister cities” offered to take care of our homeless, or ease over-crowding at the jail by taking a few inmates off our hands or helping out with our housing problem by subsidizing affordable housing with their OWN money!?! What exactly are these “diplomatic bonds” and what exactly results from “citizen diplomacy”?

    If politicians want to travel on the taxpayer’s dime, just be honest. Why can’t they just tell us they are tired of making up contrived excuses to travel at public expense under the guise of actually doing anything constructive. There is however one way I would enthusiastically support “sister cities”; If they provided our political elite with a one-way ticket to a sister city then pulled their passport once they got there.

  2. Trolls, trolls, trolls.

    Any evidence of a single taxpayer dime spent on these corrupt junkets? No. But that doesn’t stop the trolls, trolls, trolls.

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