San Jose Reconsiders Proposal to Relax Gift Limit for Politicians

San Jose may keep its $50 gift limit for politicians after all.

Earlier this summer, the City Council voted 8-3 to up the annual limit to $470 from a single source. Mayor Sam Liccardo, Vice Mayor Magdalena Carrasco and Councilman Don Rocha opposed the idea, which was pitched by Councilman Lan Diep.

On Tuesday, the council will decide whether to walk back the gift limit increase by keeping the $50 cap set in 2004.

Diep, who originally suggested the $470 limit because it aligns with state law, has apparently changed his mind on the matter as well. In a memo drafted last week, the freshman policymaker says the city should keep the $50 restriction in place to avoid adding “cumbersome reporting requirements.”

San Jose set its gift limit lower than the state’s to avoid the optics that high-priced gifts could sway votes. Exceptions include gifts from a spouse or partner and funeral flowers or wedding presents.

Liccardo, Rocha and Carrasco signed a memo opposing the gift limit increase, which city staff recommended raising to $250 from a single source in a year. The council members said they appreciate the desire to “better align” the city’s rules with the California Political Reform Act—with exception to the gift limit.

“Before the council seeks to increase the gift limit for themselves and other city employees, we should ask ourselves what problem we’re trying to solve,” they wrote. “If the problem relates to potential confusion about the amount of the limit that might lead to a ‘gotcha’ moment for an unsuspecting council member, it’s not clear how increasing the limit will provide a solution. We've had the same limit for more than a decade. It’s more likely any change will create more confusion than it will solve.”

Though smaller cities generally follow the state law instead of adopting their own, bigger cities tend to set stricter gift policies. San Francisco forbids gifts valued at more than $25. Los Angeles caps it at $100. Oakland sets its single-source limit at $50.

Click here to read a side-by-side comparison of the state’s and San Jose’s gift policy.

More from the San Jose City Council agenda for August 15, 2017:

  • Wage theft. Labor advocates are urging the city to reject a settlement with Republic Services, which shorted its workers by millions of dollars. Despite a city rule requiring its contractors to pay workers a living wage, Republic was found to have been underpaying employees since 2011. According to public records, the multi-national corporation paid its workers as much as $7 less than they were supposed to earn under city policy while maintaining a guaranteed 17 percent profit margin and lobbying for rate increases. The city ordered the recycling company to pay up $2.6 million in back wages, but Republic resisted and San Jose angled for a compromise. “Today, the city has abandoned its leadership role on this important issue, turned its back on these workers, and is sending a terrible message to other companies that they can get away with violating the Living Wage Ordinance through subcontracting and obstinance,” Rome Aloise, president of the Teamsters Joint Council No. 7, wrote to the city. Nikki Fortunato Bas, head of the Partnership for Working Families, echoed the Teamsters’ concerns. “The proposed settlement is particularly galling because (1) the amount of restitution paid to workers falls far short of the amount that that the city unequivocally and properly determined was owed to the workers,” she wrote, “and (2) it obligates the city to use taxpayer funds to subsidize a wage increase for a company that, under the franchise agreement, owes the city damages that some calculate as running in to the tens of millions of dollars for failure to properly pay the living wages that the company owed to workers. We therefore urge you to reject the proposed settlement in its current form and pursue a new agreement that better respects workers and taxpayers and establishes a strong precedent of zero tolerance for companies that seek to contract out of their obligations to pay living wages.”
  • Affordable housing. City officials will decide whether to endorse a pair of twin state bills that would extend inclusionary housing rules to rental developments. AB 1505 and SB 277 would restore the power of local governments to require developers to set aside 20 percent of new rental units for very low- to moderate-income tenants. The bills aim to settle a conflict from a 2009 court decision, Palmer/Sixth Street Properties v. City of Los Angeles, which held that inclusionary housing rules were unenforceable on rental developments because of the state’s Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act. Costa-Hawkins is the same law that prevents cities from imposing rent controls on buildings constructed after the mid-1990s. “Overturning the Palmer ruling is critically important to San Jose as it will help to create additional vitally needed on-site affordable housing in market-rate rental developments for lower-income families that is integrated into neighborhoods,” San Jose Housing Director Jacky Morales-Ferrand wrote in a memo to the council. “The Palmer ruling has irreparably hurt the city’s ability to economically integrate neighborhoods over the past seven years as neighborhoods grew during San Jose’s rental construction boom.”
  • Transportation infrastructure. Some $52.6 million in federal grants and matching funds is headed to San Jose for road repairs to improve traffic safety and build up the city’s bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.

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. This is a no brainer. NO do now allow more gifts. Or does medical insurance, retirement benefits and on and on not count as gifts?

    • Insurance and retirement aren’t gifts because they are paying into it too. Don’t forget they’re taxpayers too.

  2. > Earlier this summer, the City Council voted 8-3 to up the annual limit to $470 from a single source.

    What’s the big deal? Didn’t voters just pass a ballot initiative upping the threshold for felonious larceny to $950?

    If a lobbyist is prevented from giving a $470 gift to a council member, the council member can just steal it with almost no consequence.

    The lobbyist can probably claim credit for thinking of something the council member should want to steal. Almost as good as a gift.

      • > Nope, they’re considered bribes and payoffs.

        Just a friendly reminder.

        Bribes and payoffs are considered by the IRS to be income and must be reported on your income tax return.

  3. Lan Diep says…

    …the city should keep the $50 restriction in place to avoid adding “cumbersome reporting requirements.”

    After thinking about his quandary for the past day and a half, I believe I’ve come up with a solution to Councilcritter Diep’s Gordian Knot of a problem:

    Don’t accept any gifts!

    Problem solved!

    Send me the bill. And about that upcoming vote…

  4. Can you explain why anyone should be worried about receiving a damn gift? If you are serious about trying to make this city a better place, you wouldn’t be voting to increase how much more someone can gift you. The nonsense of this damn city has become so frickin insane, I seriously have no idea how there remains any progress or cohesion in this society. Even government workers, elected or not, show the same mentality as most millennials, give me give me give me, I deserve it just because. Truly sickening. Even Trump looks better.

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