City Should Get its Priorities Straight

I was a little bummed out Tuesday afternoon. I had my popcorn ready. I had my browser pointed to the City of San Jose website. I was keyed up to watch the council discussion of an update on progress with the city’s economic development priorities.

Essentially, the city’s current economic strategy has been condensed to a five-point plan—as if we don’t have enough of those. In short order:

1. Be More Efficient
2. Fix the Sign Code
3. Add More Flights at SJC
4. Sports!
5. Follow the General Plan. 

To be frank, it should really be a one-point plan starting and ending with No. 5. But hey, why make the rules if not to break them later, right?

Alas, the report was postponed to next Tuesday’s Council meeting. But that just means I get to dissect the memo here for you, and hopefully entice the wonkiest among you to watch with me when it finally gets its moment in chambers.

For the most part, the outlook appears sunny. Seems like staff has had a lot of meetings with a lot of local businesses, and the council has approved a lot of well-intentioned projects—some that will create jobs and economic impact, and others that will create more traffic.

The city got around to updating its Sign Code Ordinance, and the good folks at the airport added flights to Tokyo and Maui. (Have to admit that’s not much of a toss up for a last-minute getaway.)

The council also granted AIG—that’s Athletics Investment Group to you—an option to purchase (some of) the land under the future home of the A’s and aided Lew Wolff in his quest to get an honest-to-god soccer pitch built for Los Terremotos.

But keep reading, and you come to the part about the challenges ahead, wherein lies the rub. This particular line made me stop and read twice: “OED’s entire ongoing operating budget for business development (non-personal resources) is less than $300,000 for the entire city.”

The city doesn’t have the resources to solve its own fiscal mess through economic development. So, instead, it’s charging full bore at the one thing it thinks it can control: its own employees. Hence, the recent dust-up over pension ref… sorry, modification. But that’s another matter entirely.

San Jose needs to get back to doing what it does well. Companies aren’t choosing to locate here because of expedited permits or reduced parking fees. They’re moving here because this is where their employees live. They live here to take advantage of our world class parks, libraries, and public safety—all maintained with relatively little funding. I’d like to see what our libraries could do with $300,000.

The city’s memo says in no uncertain terms that “external partnerships are essential” to the future of our local economy. Nowhere is that more obvious than the new BART extension to Berryessa. As noted by numerous public officials during the recent groundbreaking ceremony, Carl Guardino and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group did more to make this epic “public” works project a reality than anyone at City Hall or 70 West Hedding.

Let’s continue to work with innovative organizations like the Leadership Group to build a 21st century local economy and use our limited resources to build a city that a 21st century workforce wants to call home.

As luck would have it, there’s a blueprint for such a city. It’s called the Envision San José 2040 General Plan Update. I think I have a copy floating around here somewhere ...

Peter Allen is an independent communications consultant and a proud native of San José.


  1. Reed and Company have a different “General Plan.” The Reed Plan has 5 Points. They are:

    1) Destroy Public Employee Unions
    2) Give More Land to Wolfe/Swenson/Sobrato/McEnery
    3) Raise Taxes
    4) Drive business to Cities other than San Jose
    5) Destroy Public Employee Unions

  2. I agree with the general plan but how about responsible spending.  This major and council must be printing their own money as fast as the can.  Humm, 10 million surplus next year, how about paying down some fiscal responsibilities like RDA or general fund before we start looking at a MLB park that has not been approved.  This city seems to have all these hidden funds when it comes to spending.

  3. Mayors priority: Generate city related litigation that results in maximum billable hours for his lawyer colleagues at the law firm of Meyers Nave. The law firm with a long proven track record of hiring retired city managers, mayors, and city attorneys.
    Information all verifiable on the firms web page.

  4. I find it amazing that the city can meet with business owners in san jose and QUICKLY reach agreements ,  But when it comes to its own workers ………………….. No agreements can be reached ! even though Labor offered up savings greater than what the City had asked for! 

    1) Destroy Public Employee Unions

    2)Give away land to Wolfe/Sobrato/Swensen/& surprise surprise ex Mayor McEnery

    3) Raise Taxes

    4) drive San Jose into the Ground , while setting them selves up for future consulting gigs

    5)Lie and cheat taxpayers , while blaming employee pensions

  5. Thank you, Peter, for alerting those of us who are not “urbanists” to the existence of SPUR, a nonprofit super-development planning group that has metastasized to San Jose from San Francisco.  Yes, “urbanists” is a new word from SPUR.

    Except for one mention about SPUR in the Mercury News by Sal Pizarro, the 99% wouldn’t have known about SPUR if you hadn’t included the link above to the entire “Economic Strategy Workplan Top Five Priorities” document of April 5, 2012.

    SPUR is mentioned once in the workplan (Priority #5) with this language, “In February 2012, SPUR opened their new San Jose office which provides opportunity to activate network of informed ’urbanists’ to promote good urban design in San Jose.”

    And then SPUR held a heart-pumping, drum-beating party for 500 in downtown San Jose on March 8, 2012.  This isn’t a secret organization because at least 500 people knew about the event, and so it appears transparent to them, but to the 99% of San Joseans who have been caught unaware that San Francisco has metastasized into San Jose it will be a big surprise.  So a special thanks to you, Peter.

    Check it out:

    • > SPUR is mentioned once in the workplan (Priority #5) with this language, “In February 2012, SPUR opened their new San Jose office which provides opportunity to activate network of informed ’urbanists’ to promote good urban design in San Jose.”

      How smart are these 500 metastasic SPUR people who are going to define and plan are urban environment for us?

      A. Are they smarter than the rest of us?
      B. Are they dumber than the rest of us but just imagining themselves to be smarter”
      C. Are they just plain dumber than the rest of us?

      This seems like an important question to answer before we start baking their ideas into our community’s future Economic Strategy Workplan.

      I would at least like them to show a photo ID and submit to a background check and a strip search.

    • Now why did yo have go and post a link to SPUR?  Add another developer to my list Leah Toeniskoetter from none other than Toeniskoetter And Breeding INC Development!

  6. A little bit more on SPUR for now.

    1) A gala party for 500 in March during this time of economic recovery is a little questionable, but the irony is that SPUR has managed to define the 1% for Occupy San Jose.  Never thought I’d believe in the 99% versus 1% paradigm, but it is very clearly drawn in the SPUR fiasco:  500 partying while the tumbrils draw near.

    2) If you think SPUR with its wonderful work in San Francisco is just what we need in San Jose, think back to your first view of the Tenderloin, a neighborhood bounded by the fine-dining & hotel district on one side, and the financial district on the other, and ponder this:  If SPUR is as hot as it claims on its web site, why hasn’t it worked with San Francisco agencies to clean up the Tenderloin?

    3)  If SPUR is anything, it is a lobbying organization, yet I do not see it listed among the lobbyists on the City Clerk’s list.

  7. As a taxpayer of this city, I have to admit I’m disgusted by the bitching and moaning between the city politicians and the labor unions. If someone has a reason to bitch, it’s the taxpayer.  Why is it that I have graffiti, street cracks, un-keep parks, and limited library hours in my neighborhood? Who should I complain to? The same people that want my vote?
    As election time approaches, I expect to get bombarded by the usual B.S. rhetoric from each candidate promising change as well as the nearby firehouse truck racing up and down the street blowing its sirens for all to hear.
    I can only hope that the majority of voters, who are from the tax generating private sector, enact their right to choose people, or measures that are going to give the taxpayer the most bang-for-their-buck!

      • I was hoping the city would wise up and start out sourcing this type of work. Why deal with a union, when a private company would be more than happy to complete this work on time at an affordable price? Why by saddled for life with the cost of someone’s retirement? Just does not make good business sense.
        What the city council needs is a few ex-CEOs to make good decisions for the taxpayers.

        • I totally agree with the need for ex-CEOs on the Council.  Our City would be far better off if it were run like a thriving business.  And outsourcing is the least expensive option sometimes, but not always. 

          Graffiti abatement appears to be one example where the City-run program was more efficient.  The City Attorney’s Office is another.  Even considering the loaded salaries, hiring outside counsel is considerably more expensive. 

          And it would be virtually impossible to successfully privatize law enforcement.  This unique status of having no private-sector counterpart is one of the reasons that police personnel cannot be a part of a union.  Rather, they have formed a bargaining unit, with much less power legally than a union.  Labor unions have the large advantage that they can choose to withhold labor if they’re not happy with a contract.  Police (along with fire fighters, and others) cannot legally withhold labor.  (Remember what happened to the Air Traffic Controllers in 1981.)

          Regarding retirement, San Jose police officers contribute between 17 and 23% (depending on the year) of their salaries to the pension fund, with a 2.5% annual accrual rate.  Compare this to PERS, many of whose members contribute 0% of their own salary, or at the most, 9% and have a 3% annual accrual rate.  San Jose’s retirement fund is 84% funded, which is considered healthy.  This type of annuity (which is basically what a defined benefit plan is) can work out well if managed well (again, a need for ex-CEOs.)  Regardless of what plan is used (matching IRA plus Social Security, Annuity, etc.) retirement costs money whether you’re a private company or a public entity.  You pay whether outsourcing or not.

  8. Under this regime, we can only expect in the future what they do now.  Developers and corporations have clearly expressed a willingness to pay what ever service fee necessary to get their projects approved. They currently do this under “expedited” review programs, paying 50% over the full cost of the employees serving these programs including overhead. So what do they do? Under staff the operation for a constant fear of a downturn. The services have been booked out one month since last year. They assign less experienced people in some cases. Fees are diverted to other uses unrelated. What would you say to a corporation that has customers willing to pay what it takes but can’t deliver. Don’t be fooled by successes of the mayor’s pet customers who cut in line pushing back the process for many others. They are the Leadership Group privileged. Yes, a company like that would go bankrupt.

    Commercial customers are willing to pay even overtime to the project review staff, but the City will not allow, because… they are classified as managers and not qualified! So what in their wisdom does Development Services propose over round table discussions? Outsourcing the work to firms totally unfamiliar with the processes that hold up development.  This is total and complete mismanagement on the senior level.  So under the much touted “private sector” standard espoused by “speed of business” Reed, management would be fired ASAP. The only reason they get away with this is because there is no competition. The only solution thus available in my mind, is to not to outsource the front line worker, but City management, the Mayor’s Office, and Senior management of Development Services. Only if we could.

    • “Don’t be fooled by successes of the mayor’s pet customers who cut in line pushing back the process for many others…” sounds like the mayor is cutting the red tape B.S. that we taxpayers from the “much touted” private sector are sick and tired of!

      Good lord John, you sound as if the man is taking food from your mouth! Try being laid-off five times in your career; I wonder if you folks in the public sector realize how well you have it.

      • Unlike the private sector, we don’t receive Social Security, matching IRA contributions, stock options, bonuses, commissions, or the like.  My good friend, who works for a local tech firm, has a BS degree, like I do.  He is a line-level supervisor, like I am.  He has about the same number of years’ experience as I do.  He makes upwards of $30K a year more than I do.  Additionally, he received a $25K Christmas bonus in 2011.  He has a couple hundred thousand dollars in stock options.  He can take a free shuttle to work.  His company matches his IRA contributions.  He will receive Social Security when he retires.  As far as I know, he has never had to risk his life on the job.  And after he retires, he is free to take a different job with a similar salary and nobody will accuse him of double-dipping.

      • The Mayor has cut no significant red tape except as mentioned above.

        My Dad worked for a non-profit tech research company known for excellent work and employee regard. He helped me pay the high cost of Silicon Valley while he was in retirement.

        Private sector (13 years) twice (company closed due to owner retirement). Public sector, laid of once.

        Total number of scores of private sector colleagues gone to public service, 2. The carrot is benefits, not pay. So lets eliminate those too, good idea.

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