Should the City of San Jose Merge With Santa Clara County?

In an article published by the Mercury News, San Jose State Professor Larry Gerston advanced the argument that huge costs savings could be realized if the county’s many school districts were consolidated.  Great gains could also be achieved if police and fire services were re-aligned countywide.

Gerston cited a recent Grand Jury report that concluded that as much as $51 million could be saved annually if K-8 districts were aligned with high school districts. And, if police and fire services were reorganized on a county level, Gerston writes, “The dollar savings could be massive, and services could be coordinated to provide faster response times.  At a time of overstretched resources and abandoned services, nothing could make more sense.”

Gerston concedes that there would be heavy resistance to changing the status quo. “Consolidation will generate pushback from traditionalists and folks who want to leave things as they’ve always been…but when you see after-school programs shut down, senior centers eliminated, libraries and parks closed, and local streets in disrepair, just remember the funds for those things…are being sucked up by duplicate programs. We can no longer afford to pay the price.”

Let’s take Professor Gerston’s point a step further.  Why not follow the City of Sunnyvale’s model for public safety? “Sunnyvale is one of the few U.S. cities to have a single unified Department of Public Safety, where all personnel are trained as firefighters, police officers, and EMTs, so they can respond to an emergency in any of the three roles.” (Wikipedia).

Talk about more bang for the buck!


  1. How about we just eliminate all cities, and have one district per area run by a central authority?  Gee, someone was absent the day they taught federalism.  Ps, two other cities with separate fire departments near Sunnyvale were awarded honors for being a lot more efficient.  How about a cabineri set up with armed troops and the national guard doing all the work.

    Someone send Mao Tse Campbell back to Russia.

  2. This key observer gets paid to write this big government drivel?
    So we take the districts doing well, merge them with the ones doing poorly to save the jobs of the lazy guys?  If one city is losing money we infect the other citirs doing well with their management?

    How about we build our new mega city hall in my Aunt Bessie’s barn! We can get Pete to sew the costumes!

    Pundits who never meet a payroll always are the experts.

  3. I’ve said before that the county needs a single library system. Currently, the larger cities like S.J., Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View and Palo Alto have their own libraries while smaller cities such as Campbell, Los Altos and Milpitas belong to the Santa Clara County library system which is actually quite good. If you combine the lot you get rid of lots of administrative overhead and make it more convenient for the public, who will only need one library card and could return items to any library in the county.

    • Nooooooooooo!!! I live in Santa Clara and love our extremely well run public library. Why in God’s name would the residents of Santa Clara ever want to dilute their library service into a county system, any more than we would want to have other great city services in Santa Clara turned over to a much larger and poorly run county system? Also, our part time city council which are paid just a stipend do an infinitely better job than Santa Clara County Supervisors or San Jose City Council members who all make 6 figure salaries. No thanks to the County proposal…they are too busy banning toys in Happy Meals anyways.

        • The county library system is OK, but the municipal library systems in San Jose, Santa Clara, Los Gatos, and especially Palo Alto seem to provide their residents (or anyone else who chooses to use them; I had cards for all of them at one point) with a better system than the county ever would (based on my experiences with the Campbell & Saratoga branches of the county library).

        • I have checked it out and the county librarians do a good job. Like I said, I don’t want to give control of our own city library to county supervisors who are also monitoring toys in Happy Meals. I have much more faith in our city council.

      • smart decision.

        Santa Clara has some very long and contentious city council meetings, but at the end of the day, the city is run far better than San Jose or the County, where precious time is wasted on such nonsense as condemning toys in Happy Meals, and other such latte liberal drivel.

        • It’s great to read comments from so many passionate library users.  One clarification though, the Santa Clara County Library is governed by an independent Joint Powers Authority Board made up of one city council member from each member city (there are nine) and two members of the County Board of Supervisors for an eleven member board.

  4. Nothing like an academic to solve a real-world problem. Aside from being cost prohibitive, the problems with such an endeavor are countless. When the CSJ wants to train officers as firefighters and vice versa, and pay 15-20K more, I’m ready! BTW, where is that money coming from since only the Treasury Dept can print dollars?

  5. Should the City of San Jose Merge With Santa Clara County?

    THat gets my vote for dumbest idea of the year. The county is in even a bigger fiscal mess than CSJ, due in large part to unfunded mandates dictated by the state, which is in its own fiscal mess.


  6. Oh my gosh, Pete, you’ve overlooked the practical problem created by the merging of functions.  Throughout the county and cities, bureaucrats would contract the debilitating condition of “Rice Bowl Interruptus.”

    • Yes, Pete, this is simply a great practical idea. Look at how wonderfully our federal government runs things when functions are merged into one big mess.

  7. Great if the whole merged entity is called San Jose.  San Jose would be the seat of San Jose county with city/county population being 1.9 million.  That’s a great idea. The fifth largest city in the country, and if we can annex portion of San Mateo to the mix-4th largest city in the country.  Would I love that.

    • In San Francisco, it made sense, since there was only one city in the county anyway, and very little (if any?) unincorporated land.  The fact that the San Francisco Board of Stupidvisors does such a lousy job is based on the oddball political proclivities of the San Francisco electorate.  I don’t support this idea here, but the fact San Francisco is dominated by a bunch of ultra-left wing voters isn’t really an argument against it.

      Although merging, say, the Campbell-Union Elementary School District with the Campbell-Union High School District (which both basically cover Campbell and the western half of San Jose Council District Nine), would seem to be a sensible proposal.  And we should at least look at what Sunnyvale is doing with the Department of Public Safety model as an alternative for San Jose.  It might not be practical for small cities like Los Gatos and Campbell, but if it works in a city the size of Sunnyvale, it might work even better on a larger scale in San Jose.

  8. Regionalism makes sense in a certain context.  Pool specialized talent and tools/equipment.  What does every city do?  Build and maintain roads, bike ways, traffic lights, etc?  Having a regional agency that handles this for multiple cities makes sense and could achieve economies of scale.

    Another area is HR.  Basically personnel “best practices” are similar at neighboring cities.  Training functions could be shared by a regional agency along with some recruitment and such.

    As far as governance, this is mediocre to poor across the board, so combining jurisdictions usually just disperses accountability even more and you get worse results.  I’d say there’s an argument for combining some functions in a stand along agency that could serve multiple jurisdictions, but I’m not in favor of mergers at this time.

        • Sorry, had a bad experience dealing with this federal agency where the work ethic basically involves being “paid for attendance” and not actual work.  People seeking services or help are just an unwanted nuisance.  SJ actually does have much better customer service and better employee performance than what I just experienced.

          Competition, while not obvious, does exist in the public sector.  If a jurisdiction is just lousy in how they treat business or residential folks, people can move their business or residence and still basically stay in the same community.

  9. **Virginia Budget Surplus Loosens Purse Strings
    For the first time in nearly four years, Virginia state employees are going to get a pay boost as Gov. Robert F. McDonnell announced an unexpectedly large budget surplus of about $220 million. The surplus makes Virginia one of at least 10 states that have reported finishing the past fiscal year in the black, and it provides hope that the recovery is real.**

    Timely news item showing that different governance and management practices yield different (better) results.  10 states are in the black, California and most of its cities and counties are bleeding out with structural deficits tied to pensions, wages and other practices that make the state inefficient from a public service perspective. 

    Greed and power drive this.  People that have it want more.  Unions and politicians are playing a sick game with our communities futures.  Individuals in uniform (police/fire) may publicly speak about how hard the job is and all the rhetoric about being heroes doing thankless jobs, but let’s be real.  Wage start high, end waaayyyyyy higher, and pension benefits are off the scale.  People are retiring earlier and end up making more in pensions (COLA’s every year) than they did when they were working.  Dishonorable individuals exploit the system for extra benefits (leave cash outs, stress disabilities, etc) with the implicit support of both staff and unions who are co-conspirators in the practice of defrauding the workers comp and pension systems to run up benefits beyond what someone has really paid in or deserves to draw out.

    And the people pay the bill.  Today we face reduced services as we cut back to preserve gold plated salaries and benefits for the baby boomers looting the coffers.  Tomorrow we’ll continue to pay as the discretionary portion of the general fund continues to shrink as it has in LA (where 80% goes to just police and fire).  In the future coming generations will have to work harder, for more years and enjoy second tier retirements because the baby boomers in public service screwed us and we’ll have to pay for their retirement and not just our own while they enjoy boats, RVs, vacations in mexico and all the other trappings of the wealthy class.

    End of rant.

  10. “Dishonorable individuals exploit the system for extra benefits (leave cash outs, stress disabilities, etc) with the implicit support of both staff and unions who are co-conspirators in the practice of defrauding the workers comp and pension systems to run up benefits beyond what someone has really paid in or deserves to draw out.”

    Staff are co-conspirators since they also receive   excessive pay and pensions     Any doubt look at to see 100’s non public safety city employees who get $150,000 or more

  11. I don’t think that San Jose should merge with Santa Clara County… that would create a big mess. True it “could” save money in the short term, but I believe it would cost us in the long term. Quality of life being one. If that suffers people leave, property goes down etc. I do think that the name “Santa Clara County” should be changed to “San Jose County or County of San Jose” similar to what they do in LA. It would be a big boost for tourism and the image of San Jose.

    • This would have to be put to a vote among all the people in the county, and it’d be lucky to get 25 percent.  Its just idle speculation.  Its about as likely as Barack Obama selecting David Duke to be the next Secretary of State.

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