Sam Liccardo: The New York Times Interview

As the new year began, California’s third-biggest city got a new mayor.

Matt Mahan took the helm in San Jose on Jan. 1, vowing to curb homelessness, reduce crime and make the city more affordable. The former San Jose councilman won the mayoral election in November with 51.3% of the vote and succeeded Sam Liccardo, who couldn’t run again because of term limits.

“Sam texted me just after midnight on New Year’s Eve and said: ‘Tag, you’re it. Don’t screw it up,’” Mahan told NBC Bay Area.

Liccardo, 52, is also a former city councilman and led the Bay Area city for eight years — through a pandemic, a mass shooting, a homelessness crisis, a horrific flood and more. Just before Liccardo left office, I spoke to him about the city’s housing shortage, his proudest moments and what’s next for him.

Here’s our conversation, lightly edited for clarity and length:

What are you proudest of from your years as mayor?

I think a lot about the next generation and what we’ve been able to do to invest in first-generation college students and young adults. To give you one example: SJ Aspires — we’re using a digital platform to help guide first-generation students on the path to college, and we provide micro-scholarships to reduce financial barriers to college. We completely eliminated the digital divide for low-income students by providing free broadband to more than 150,000 residents. A program we launched called the Resilience Corps is helping hundreds of low-income young adults make their way into the work force through work that dramatically improves our communities’ resilience to climate change and the pandemic and other challenges we face.

Frankly, as we look at what we’ve left our next generation, they have a lot of reason to be pretty upset with us, whether it’s climate change or billions of dollars of unfunded liabilities in pension obligations, or a whole host of other things. It seems to me that it’s the investment that we make in their future that’s going to be our greatest legacy.

Let’s talk about homelessness. In 2013, the year before you were elected, there were approximately 4,770 people in San Jose who were homeless. As of 2022, there are around 6,740.

I think, for every big city in the western United States, this is enormously daunting. And there are much bigger forces at work here than those within City Hall. The two largest forces appear to be supply and demand. What we know from the data is that lots of high-poverty cities don’t have a lot of homelessness. But really expensive cities like San Jose and San Francisco and L.A. have horrific levels of homelessness. So that should tell us something about the extent to which the supply and demand of affordable housing has a really large role here.

Fundamentally, for cities, the task has to be how do we dramatically expand that inventory of accessible housing. And that’s a bigger problem than any one city can solve alone. There’s no question we need a much larger role for the state and the federal government to embrace this as a national crisis if we’re really going to tackle it.

Do you see homelessness as your successor’s biggest challenge?

Yes, that’s the largest crisis for every big city in the West. We’re not unique in that regard. The challenge of our generation is this growing economic divide, and homelessness is one very severe symptom of that growing divide. That divide is driven by very large forces — globalization of technology, of automation. We can all see that more and more of our residents are being left behind in an economy that does not value the same skills as it did 30 years ago, and as a result more will struggle unless we can dramatically accelerate our investments in people. So I think that is going to be the generational challenge for our city, and for every tech-heavy city in the country.

What would you say was your most difficult moment as mayor?

As mayor, you have a lot of experiences with residents in their deepest moments of pain. I think particularly about the time we were at the Red Cross center talking to family members of V.T.A. employees who were slain in the mass shooting in May 2020. The coroner could not confirm the identity of the victims. We sat there for hours with families who were not being told that their husband or son had been lost. That was an intensely painful moment.

You haven’t announced what’s next for you. What will you be doing after you step down?

I’m going to duck that question. My wife and I committed that we’d get away and take some time and make some decisions after I’m out of office. I haven’t really had the time to focus on it.

Soumya Karlamangla is a reporter with California Today, The New York Times. Copyright, The New York Times.


  1. Why didn’t this interviewer not settle for Mr. Liccardo’s sound-bite-filled glop and do at least some basic real-world investigation related to this subject, which is to learn what San Jose really is like? Why not visit the city incognito, just go through it and see and hear and smell for one’s self, in addition to any interview that is done? Why not listen to people talking, in various parts of the city, or act as a report and just ask questions of people at random, what they believe their city is like, in stores, on the San Jose State University campus, as well as in restaurants and the like, downtown and in East San Jose and along the Alameda and other places, in addition to Santana Row, perhaps? (See the difference there versus downtown while at it) I wouldn’t count on that from today’s N.Y. Times, which is not only often ridiculously out-of-touch Woke now, but notably ignorant about California and other places in a new kids’ way rather than stuck-up older city-centric and regionalist way the remaining older people can still exhibit.


  2. JUst an Observation,

    SJSU is STATE land, the City cannot touch it. It even has its own police department. The fact is SJSU is not in any way managed by San Jose. All CSU campuses are controlled by the CSU system.

    You simply do not understand so much, I cannot go into every detail.

    In any event, the NY Times are far more reliable than an anonymous poster with no credentials, nor any research, just a complainer. This is another MAGA attack on the so called MSM from the people that don’t understand they are being conned by grifters like Donald Trump.

  3. That’s certainly noteworthy. You’re in more decline than from an earlier already-poor state.

  4. Just an Observation,

    Well, that goes to show that we cannot have a constructive conversation. This forum is becoming nothing but an echo chamber of complainers.

    This also demonstrates that the so called social media hype is going to collapse. Like the Trump Social Media Company “Truth Social”.

    His social media company Truth Social has not worked out well.

    The extra time to complete the deal still doesn’t mean it is a certainty.

    Federal prosecutors have been investigating potentially improper communications between representatives of the companies before Digital World’s listing last October and the unusual trading in Digital World securities before the merger announcement. The Securities and Exchange Commission is running its own investigation. Their findings could torpedo the merger.

    Insider trading I bet.

    In any event, you can BELEIVE what you want on FAITH. Because faith is something you cannot reason with. It is impossible to alter faith no matter what evidence you can have to disprove it.

    Trumps Trading Card Company is dying too here is that news

    So much for Donald Trump being such a successful business person

  5. You were told. Good luck. It might make things more constructive.

    There is plenty bad and wrong about San Jose and the South Bay, and more, to criticize.

  6. Just an Observation,

    Criticizing is NOT LEADERSHIP, it is complaining.

    What is your SOLUTION? If you don’t have one, than you are wasting time and energy, because you are NOT CONSTRUCTIVE.

    Many criticize ACTIVISTS, because they are DOING SOMETHING rather than CONSERVATIVES that are just watching the systems breakdown.

    Which is what we are facing right now, multiple business systems models that are not applicable to today.

    Like Theranos, Crypto, Social Media, and NFT.

  7. Liccardo made a good point about rich cities having more unhoused people than poor cities. I hadn’t really though tof that.
    The imbalance of housing supply and demand is certainly a problem, but the unrealistic pay many make also drives housing prices up to levels that those who do necessary but “unskilled” work can’t afford, no? Do some make too much and some too little?

  8. Liccardo’s basic point about that large forces–forces beyond the control of municipalities–are responsible for the crisis of houselessness is correct. This is especially true for the large and wealthy cities of the West. If the Times reporter were at all up to the task, or in even in the ballpark regarding knowledge of conditions in western cities, she would have compared San Jose’s lethargic and reactionary approach to houselessness to that of other wealthy West coast cities. For example:

    1. San Francisco: In 2018 San Francisco voters, in a city of about 883,000 at the time, passed Proposition C that imposes a 0.5% tax on business revenues above $50 million. This has yielded and will continue to yield at least $300 million per year into the future and is dedicated to expanding affordable housing (;; This initiative is paid for by large corporations exclusively with no additional burden on taxpayers. Neither small businesses nor households are taxed and, because there is no borrowing in the capital markets, there are no interest payments, commissions or fees paid to the wealthy lenders.

    There were an estimated 7,500 unhoused people in San Francisco in 2017, the year before Proposition C was passed ( On a per capita basis, an average of $300 million per year sums to $40,000 in potential expenditures per unhoused person in 2017.

    2. Portland: In May 2020, the voters of metro-Portland, an area with 1.83 million people in three counties, approved Measure 26-210, a ballot initiative that imposed a 1% tax on income above $125,000 per year for individuals and over $200,000 for couples plus a 1% tax on profits from businesses with gross receipts greater than $5 million per year. These strongly progressive taxes are expected to bring in approximately $250 million per year in additional revenues for programs for the houseless, even though an estimated 90% of residents and 94% of businesses are exempt from the new tax. The taxes were set to begin in 2021 and to expire in 2030 (see,_Oregon,_Measure_26-210,_Income_and_Business_Taxes_for_Homeless_Services_(May_2020); local/politics/article/Portland-area-voters-approve-taxing-the-rich-to-15283824.php).

    As in the case of San Francisco, such progressive taxes do not involve any borrowing or underwriting costs. There were about 5,700 houseless people in the Metro-Portland region in 2019, the year before the new income and profits taxes ballot initiative was passed. This yields about $43,859 in potential spending per houseless person in the region in 2019 and similar sums for a ten-year period (

    3. Seattle: In July 2020 voters passed a progressively structured payroll tax on businesses with more than $7 million in annual payroll outlays, a tax expected to yield some $240 million annually to address houselessness. Distributed among an estimated 7,800 houseless persons in Seattle in 2019, that amounts to $30,781 in potential per person initial year housing assistance (; View.ashx?M=F&ID=8679816&GUID=B8F087D2-07FD-4996-B1CF-1EFD261D7D01;; Like San Francisco and Portland, the Seattle initiative does not entail debt or debt financing or higher taxes on working and middle class people.

    Can Liccardo point to any initiative during his tenure as councilmember and mayor that even approximates these three from big West coast cities to the north, even though San Jose’s population and median household incomes were higher than each of these and whose houseless population was smaller than those of San Francisco and Seattle at the time? I didn’t think so. What’s more telling, as a verdict on Liccardo as a politician, than the above comparisons?

    What passes for journalism, even from a so-called “newspaper of record,” is in reality shoddy stenography.

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