San Jose City Council Weighs Measures on Salary-Setting, Construction Bids, $950M Bond

San Jose officials are debating a few measures to bring to voters this fall: a $950 million bond measure and charter amendments related to citizen initiatives, elected officials’ pay and construction bidding.

The first initiative up for discussion Tuesday at the first City Council session since summer recess would ask voters to up their property taxes to authorize nearly a billion dollars in bonds to fund public safety, road repair and housing.

The council directed city staff to study the possibility of placing a general obligation bond on the fall ballot to help address a continued shortfall in funding for 9-1-1 dispatchers, emergency services and policy facilities in addition to fire stations and maintenance on streets, bridge and storm drains. San Jose’s infrastructure repair backlog still amounts to about $1.4 billion.

A survey conducted this summer indicated that “a solid majority of voters—at least three in five” would support such a bond measure at this time, according to a city memo. Placing it on the ballot would cost about $1.28 million.

Mayor Sam Liccardo suggested breaking the proposed tax into two measures, one for affordable housing and the other for public safety and infrastructure.

“After reviewing the polling data, it appears this approach gives the city the best opportunity to win both or either of these measures, and provides voters with the greatest transparency regarding how their votes will affect how their tax dollars are spent,” he wrote in a memo to the council.

The second ballot measure up for discussion would amend the city charter so that a salary setting commission and not the council authorizes raises for elected officials.

Another proposed charter amendment would allow the council to place competing measures on the same ballot as a citizen-backed initiative. Council members Sergio Jimenez and Don Rocha wrote a memo opposing the idea, pointing to Mountain View as an example of how wasteful the dueling-measures option can be.

In 2016, Mountain View’s council backed an initiative meant to compete with a citizen-led rent control measure. The citizen initiative won.

“It was a political maneuver on the part of the council, the overwhelming majority of which opposed the citizen initiative,” Jimenez and Rocha wrote. “The competing measure came at great expense to the city.”

San Jose already has the tools to fight measures, they said, as evidenced by the successful defeat of a controversial developed-backed initiative on the last June primary ballot.

“During this same primary election cycle the city placed Measure C on the ballot which was established with the intent to mitigate the harm proposed by the Evergreen development,” the Jimenez-Rocha memo stated. “Measure C was successful and passed with 60 percent voter approval. Measure C was not a competing ballot measure, but a result of good policy created by government and community stakeholders.”

Liccardo disagreed with his colleagues’ take on competing measures.

“I trust San Jose voters to discern between two competing ballot initiatives, and, frankly, I also trust them to hold their elected council members accountable if we were ever to place an unwise or disingenuous competing ballot initiative in front of them,” he wrote in his own memo.

Finally, the council will consider revising the charter to raise the bidding threshold for public works projects from $100,000 to $600,000 and to allow the city to select the contractors based on more than just the cheapest bid.

Under current bidding rules, contractors are chosen solely based on offering the lowest price. But that has led to cost overruns when the most affordable bidder turns out to be less qualified than some of the other contenders. To avoid that scenario, the proposed ballot measure would allow a panel to come up with a “qualification score” based on factors beyond just the price of the project.

More from the San Jose City Council agenda for August 7, 2018:

  • An audit of the city’s Public Works Department, which oversees infrastructure projects, has struggled to retain qualified workers. According to City Auditor Sharon Erickson, the department’s project delivery division has lost more than 1,600 years of experience in the last five years. In the first quarter of 2018 alone, the department lost upward of 300 years of city experience because of retirements. “Public works uses various knowledge-transfer strategies to train new staff and capture knowledge of department staff, such as job shadowing, mentoring and lunch trainings,” per the audit. “However, more can be done to ensure that experiential knowledge is retained and continues to benefit the department and its employees.”
  • Tuesday’s meeting will be adjourned in memory of Paul Mayer, a WWII veteran whose eviction prompted the city to adopt new eviction controls that now protect tens of thousands of renters. He died on May 24 at 93 years old.
  • Independent Police Auditor Aaron Zisser is up for a closed-session performance evaluation.

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

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


  1. Council should give a full accounting as to the cost over-runs at the Water Pollution Control Plant’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP).

    The Digester rebuild aspect of the CIP has a unique “Delay of Performance” issue that should figure prominently in such a report.

    The Treatment Plant Advisory Committee (TPAC), who oversees expenditures at the WPCP is currently engaging “open warfare” with the City of San Jose. Several litigants are praying for relief from having their monies misappropriated due to Grand-mal incompetence from Environmental Services Department’s administrative appointments.

    To the Rate-payers: It is only going to get worse.

    David S. Wall

  2. How about doing away with the “Green Bike Lanes”? Those are SUPER expensive, and what do they get? Maybe 10 riders a day? Waste of tax payer money.

    • > Those are SUPER expensive, . . . .

      I don’t doubt it.

      I strongly suspect that they are also SUPER dangerous. The local oligarchs have been very secretive and evasive about accidents and injuries associated with bicycles and bike lanes.

      • Everything they are doing is to choke down traffic and get you out of your car, accidents and injuries be damned (much less the tax payer). They have a planet to save you know.

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