Volunteers Come Out Smelling Like Roses

City Hall Diary

At the evening meeting last Tuesday night (Sept. 25), the San Jose City Council discussed prevailing wage and volunteers and how this relates to city jobs for parks.

I am sure most of you have volunteered your time at some point, whether in your children’s school, as a coach or to pick up trash, etc. Most of you did so because it made you feel good to do something that benefits something larger than yourself.

For example, two weeks ago Terry Reilly and Beverly Rose-Hopper, community leaders and longtime residents of the Rose Garden neighborhood, coordinated a “deadheading” for Rose Garden Park. “Deadheading” is another name for “shearing” which is when you cut a rosebud so that another can emerge while the weather is still warm.

Over 140 volunteers came to shear roses at the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden. Folks came from Los Altos and Morgan Hill, but the majority of volunteers were San Jose residents from Rose Garden, Willow Glen and Almaden.

Deadheading was an annual event; however, because of the lack of volunteerism to help maintain the roses, the Rose Garden Park was put on “probation” from the All American Rose Society due to the lack of maintenance. 

I am happy that this year community members organized volunteers and came out to help. I support volunteer events like this and hope to see more in the future. I also support corporations who promote volunteerism for their employees. 

At the council meeting, the memo regarding prevailing wage and volunteerism included groups like Our City Forest, Habitat for Humanity and KaBoom as examples of organizations that do good volunteer work. The city also funds some of the groups who provide this volunteer work.

Although I supported the memo as it was written, I noticed that one of our greatest local volunteer resources was left out: corporations. The memo lacked the clarity that I was looking for that would allow a corporation to have its employees spend a day volunteering for something that belonged to the city, like a park for example.  Therefore, I asked for an amendment that would allow people who work for corporations who wanted to volunteer their time be allowed to do so. My amendment was unanimously accepted.

It appears that we want companies to be philanthropists, but the way the memo was written, we would not allow them to donate their human capital for volunteer services. I found this to be unfair. 

Large corporations often have team building and/or volunteer days which allow teams or divisions from a company to take a day or half a day off from working at their “regular job” and clean up a park. Companies will pay their employees for a regular work day, but the employees get to lend their time to a volunteer effort. Many Silicon Valley companies are known for lending their time to cleaning and pruning the Guadalupe River Park and Gardens.

There was concern that if large corporations paid their employees for spending one day cleaning up a park, they would somehow take over all the park maintenance. I understand the concern, but it is invalid.

As I shared at the meeting, folks who volunteer their time for a day are not looking to go into the park maintenance business. For example, Junior Achievement sends business people into high school classrooms to supplement curriculum. They reach over 7 million students a year. They do not put teachers out of work. Volunteers do not take away jobs; they supplement much needed park maintenance.

The acreage in parks keeps growing and, because of the structural deficit, we may not have enough gardeners for many years. We should not pass up the opportunity for volunteers, paid or unpaid, to lend a helping hand. City workers and volunteers go together and can accomplish much more by working collaboratively.


  1. Volunteering to clean up a park is a great project for schools, scouts and other youth groups, but not for a corporate event. If a corporation wants to volunteer, let them do it where they will spread their particular expertise. Have the scientists spend time in the classrooms, libraries, the Tech and Discovery Museum. Have the software experts look at our public safety dispatch system and also the software the police department uses in patrol cars to see if they can fix the many problems that exist. Have the business experts come in and audit how our city administration and council conducts business to what fixes are needed. There are many experts in the corporate world and this expertise should be tapped if they want to volunteer and not just to clean up a park. Of course, by using volunteers from these corporations there is always the risk of the perception of a conflict of interest and maybe these businesses would indeed expect something in return.

  2. Well, Steve,

    In my day, we were fortunate to have volunteers like Al Ruffo and George Starbird and Ernie Renzel, gentlemen who gave of their time and money to advance their city. Are you so cynical that had you been around in those days you would have refused their help?

    I presume that you would not allow any corporations to clean up the freeways, because their signs give them advertising!

    I sure don’t see the central labor council out there volunteering ANY time or people to help the parks out of the mess:  there is money for building new parks, but nothing to maintain them – you figure out why!


  3. #1, Your idea may work for single volunteers but it’s not inclusive.  In focusing on Corporate events, it brings out people of all skill levels, from admins, to PhD’.s that may work together and team build (either departments or Staff days).  At my old Tech company, we really enjoyed doing the park days.  Everyone from the receptionist, the lab tech, HR, Admins to the engineers contributed something, together.  It was a good bonding.  Then, we’d hang out afterwards usually with a game of volleyball.

    So #1, don’t just think the corporate world is filled with “experts”, they are filled with the everyday working people that keep the corporations running and they can give back to the community just as your experts can.  Volunteering in parks is a great way for everyone to get involved.

  4. Pierluigi:

    I think that volunteering is a good thing.  Having said that, I don’t think that the citizens of San Jose should be asked to volunteer for duties that have (in theory) already been paid for.  You see, no one is talking about reductions in spending or refunds to the taxpayers for the jobs that will presumably now be done by San Jose residents.  What a joke!  The MERC News recently waxed poetic about how we will all appreciate public facilities and services more if we all volunteer to help out.  Fine then, gives us all a refund on our taxes!!

    Let’s take a look at why the city government has to rely on volunteers to provide even the most minimal of city service levels.

    Pete Campbell

  5. Jerry,
    Unfortunately I am too young to have known the gentlemen you referred to but I would not have turned down their past contributions. My point was that if corporations are going to offer volunteers, why not put these people in places that match their particular skills and not just a park? There already exists a plethora of ways to do corporate team building. If they truly want to make a difference these corporations can offer their people resources and money to schools, community events, public safety, and wherever else their expertise may be. 

    If the communities clean up their own parks where they live, they would take a vested interest and ownership in the problem and solution. If these communities organized a clean-up day this would be their own ‘team building’ and a way to know each other. They would not tolerate those that cause problems in their neighborhood park.

    You are right that I do not like companies throwing up a sign on a freeway telling the world they are cleaing up a certain area of roadway. If a company wants to have team building by cleaning up a road great. Let them do it without another distracting sign on a freeway. There are already too many signs and ads on the freeways which are distracting and look terrible. Besides, this is a great job for inmates from our jails to do.

    I know nothing about the volunteering efforts, or lack of, with the South Bay Labor Council. I bet if you look at the individual members of the South Bay Labor Council, there are hundreds if not thousands of their members who volunteer their time in individual ways which never get the fanfare of a corporate event. I’m sure there are many volunteer sports coaches, scout leaders, military reservists, PTA members, school field trip drivers, candystripers, docents, etc, etc. I am a union (not South Bay Labor Council) and volunteered 20 years of free service as a reserve police officer for a local city. I have also coached Little League, volunteered for numerous school activities, been involved with scouts, and made numerous safety presentations to schools bringing a police car and in uniform. All was for free. No company pay to go do it.

    The essence of volunteering is that the motivations comes from an individuals heart, and this person is not looking for any recognition.

    Jerry, you started off your post by stating “In my day, we were fortunate to have volunteers like Al Ruffo and George Starbird and Ernie Renzel, gentlemen who gave of their time and money to advance their city.”

    This only makes my point that these fine men were individuals who volunteered out of the goodness of their heart, and not associated to promoting a corporation.

    I think the city should be cautious if they accept organized free help or monetary donations from a corporation. I think it is a natural progression that a company, who has provided thousands of dollars of free help to a city, would perhaps expect the wheels to be greased for a future favor. In a perfect world this would not be the case, but look at the mess we just went through with Mayor Gonzales.

  6. So Councilman, did you leave your camel in the City garage?  Was it double parked out in front of the City Hall?  Was it the whole camel?  Just it’s severed and cryogenically preserved head?  Or was it just the nose of the camel?  By the way, don’t you need a permit to pitch a tent in this city?

    Isn’t interesting that some see a community coming together, wanting to help the city in a time of need; and others see the nose of a camel. 

    By the way, isn’t there an ordinance that deals with large domesticated beasts like that in the city?

    For all the problems San Jose has keeping parks, pools, libraries and trails and such open and maintained, the time spent arguing about the wording of a memo about camels seems a bit out of place.

  7. There are many ways we can help the City, and non-profits by volunteering. Many of us have the same skills that paid employees have, and I think that is why labor unions are having a cow over this. (In fairness to the park maintenance employees, I know the budget was drastically cut, and that is part of why the rose gardens became so dire.)
    I have always wondered why the City has been so reluctant to allow skilled volunteers to fix their pools, clean their parks, etc. That is until I started working in Community, and Small Claims Mediation, at the County. Woo! People are absolutely sue crazy! It never ceases to amaze me what people sue one another over. It is no wonder the City has so many rules about everything!
    Having said that, my fiancé works for PricewaterhouseCoopers, and they are wonderful about having their employees volunteer at homeless shelters, retirement and nursing homes, and many other worthwhile organizations. They do pay their employees to volunteer, but many of them decide to continue on volunteering on their own time, after learning about the needs of these worthy organizations. I think public/private partnerships are vital to our community.
    One thing that is rarely mentioned about volunteering is that many of us, and especially youth in our community, can learn new skills! It is also a way of educating ourselves on the kinds of problems facing our community, and on resources that are available.
    I recently saw a 20/20 that did a study on the health advantages of volunteering. It cited that many people suffering from high blood pressure, heart trouble, depression, and other illness actually started to show signs of improvement, once they began volunteering. There is no better high for me personally, than to see the smile of a child I spent time with, or a senior I helped get resources for, or a family that I helped find a lifetime friend, after adopting a pet, or two parties in conflict leaving a mediation with a fair settlement. I’ve got to tell you, volunteering is an awesome way to serve your community, and it feels good too~

  8. Mac #7,
    Thanks for making my point. Carter is an individual who has lead by example, not a corporation throwing its name out there. Habitat for Humanity is devoted to building houses for others at a low or no cost. They are in no other business and have nothing to gain by what they do for their community. My kids have gone to Mexico twice through their school to help Habitat for Humanity.

  9. #9- Steve, you’re right on. No one should volunteer to get noticed. It has to come from the heart.
    I do think there are many large companies that do encourage and participate in volunteering their employees because they do care about the needs of these organizations, or projects. Many of these companies also donate lots of money too.
    But you’re right when it comes to Former President Carter and his wife. They are beautiful, loving kind folks who really do care.

  10. Au contraire # 1 – you miss my point. If you apply what you suggest in your first blog to Carter, he should stick to the really big stuff and not waste his time hammering in nails.

  11. 11 Mac
    President Carter has not only driven a few nails, he has used his prior experience, skill and influence to contribute in many other ways; everything from brokering international treaties to counciling third world countries and developing nations on how to be more secure and selfsuficient.

    And by that argument, would it not make sense that some of Silicon Valley’s most skilled and brightest be allowed if not encouraged to volunteer their experience and expertise in everything from areas of law to deadheading rose bushes…  from IT to work flow analysis, and more practically, aiding DOT and law enforcement in desperately needed areas such as traffic calming, investigation, safety studies and who knows what else?

    Are we a not a community that comes together for the greater good for the greatest number?  Or are we. . . . . .

  12. Citizens volunteering to perform various tasks for the public good is a wonderfult thing, and should be applauded.

    That said, government being so far behind the eight-ball that citizen volunteers are REQUIRED to perform tasks not performed by highly paid/highly perked public employees should be given the Bronx Cheer.

    Public schools have to hold bake sales to get supplies for the school.  Yet we have how many dozen school districts in the Bay Area alone???, each with a bloated bureaucracy of Offices of Superintendents; school boards where egomaniacs like Dale Warner take $60+k away from student services to hold an unnecessary election; teachers’ unions whose primary goal is maximizing salaries/benefits, but fight like hell to avoid any form of accountability for their lack of performance; San Jose blowing millions on consultants because they seem to know that their staff does not have the expertise to do something as simple as repairing and opening swimming pools, and other seemingly easy tasks; oh, I could go on, but I’m sure y’all get the point—Government is bloated, inefficient, concerned primarily with re-election/maintaining the bureaucracy intact, maximizing benefits while minimizing work effort and responsibility.

    DAMN, another Boston Tea Party is WAY OVERDUE!!!

  13. I think the point of including corporations is to gain leverage and get an ever so small crack in the prevailing wage agreement in SJ.  Good job PO.  Maybe in eight years it might not exist.

  14. Pierluigi,
    While reading the news today, I saw that San Jose had it’s 25th murder of the year Saturday, a 15 year old boy, who was stabbed to death. According to this article, San Jose’s murder total this year will well exceed last year if we keep up this current rate.

    With all due respect, and I admire you for putting yourself on San Jose Inside, I think the murder rate in San Jose should be a much bigger concern for yourself and the council, than trying to get corporate volunteers to clean parks. Unless the people feel safe, they will not be visisting their local parks, no matter how nicely they are maintained. If the citizens don’t feel safe in venturing out, or that their kids are safe at school, nothing else matters much.

  15. KABKABIYA, Sudan – Former President Carter got in a shouting match Wednesday with Sudanese security services who blocked him from a town in Darfur where he was trying to meet with refugees from the ongoing conflict.

    Like I said Carter is involved with the “really big stuff” but he also enjoys building houses for poor people.

  16. 7K’s # 17:  Yes, I would.  How unrealistic of me, eh?

    The other day I’m heading out for a walk along the Mighty Guadalupe River and as I pass by St. James Park, I see two guys with walking lawnmowers mowing that great expanse of lawn that serves as a nice meeting place for drug dealers and their customers, and a lounging area for our dowtown homeless squad (no room for working folks and their kids to enjoy the outdoors).  An hour later as I return from my walk, they have managed to cut maybe 15% of the grass in the park, and have loaded the clippings into several garbage bags.

    It seems to me that one guy on a tractor mower could have done both sides of the park in the same amount of time these two guys did 15% of it, MAX.

    So, there must be a new rule in the collective bargaining agreement that allows this new, highly ineffcient procedure.  And the parks & wreck honchos complain they have too few employees to keep our parks maintained properly.  It’s all B.S.

    We need to have another Boston Tea Party, fire the lot of them, and start from scratch, hiring people who’ll give an honest day’s work for the far more than the honest day’s pay and perks they are getting now.

    San Jose has so many parks that could be so beautiful, if only they were maintained properly and consistently.

  17. “So, there must be a new rule in the collective bargaining agreement that allows this new, highly inefficent procedure.  “

    What “new rule in the collective bargaining agreement”  makes park grass mowing highly inefficent? 

    Did you call parks about this ” new rule ” that makes city employees use walking mowers before you make accusations?

  18. Why would any sane employer voluntarily choose a slower, more ineffcieint method to do the same job, unless it was required by a collective bargaining agreement?  That’s why I made that conjecture—since not even city government is stupid enough to slow work down voluntarily.  Well….maybe they are.

    They used to mow the grass in St. James Park with a tractor/mower that one worker sat on.  It took a couple of hours for the entire park lawn to be mowed.  Now they use two fat individuals with gas powered walking mowers, and they mosey along so slowly it takes all day.  The guy out there today on the side nearest the kiddie playground was moving so slowly he was almost at a standstill.

    Only collective bargaining agreements require more pay for less work.

    So, City Hall Person #20—you posted your remarks @ 4:05 p.m. on a work day.  So we’re paying you to post on SJI?

    That’s the attitude I’m talkin’ about.

    Get back to work, and post on your own time!!!!

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