San Jose’s Neighborhoods Commission, which was created to strengthen residents’ connection to City Hall, took its last action as a volunteer advisory body with a unanimous vote on its annual budget message.But that doesn’t mean the members will stop working for their neighborhoods. At least that was the sentiment of the 17 members who attended the Wednesday, June 13, meeting.
“Even as the commission sunsets, this is still a group of committed neighborhood advocates and as individuals and as a group they can continue to network and inform neighborhoods,” said Beth Shafran-Mukai, who served as the commission’s first chair and represents District 3. “Nothing prevents individuals in this body to do good work.”
The 30-member commission, currently with seven vacancies, will sunset on June 30 after 2.5 years of service and two years of waiting to be seated.
The commission was the city’s first advisory board elected by residents of their council districts through caucuses. First proposed by the Project Advisory Committee, a legally required resident body elected to guide the Strong Neighborhoods Initiative, the commission was approved by the city council in 2007.
In limbo since a December 2011 proposal on consolidating some of San Jose’s 40-some boards and commissions recommended that it cease to exist, the commission was told Tuesday night that it was meeting for the last time. The final recommendations on consolidation from the City Clerk’s office have yet to reach the council for review.
“I’m not sure at all what the policy direction will be,” Kip Harkness, assistant to the City Manager told the commissioners.
The council could vote to revive the commission in the fall in its present structure or it could approve the commission in a revised form. Or it could take no action and leave it disbanded.“I think the Neighborhoods Commission provides a great avenue for residents to provide input in the city,” said District 1 Councilman Pete Constant in an interview. “The problem is we have so many boards and commissions, it was set up in a way that their work couldn’t overlap with other boards and that’s really constricted them to a narrow purview. I just wonder if they’re being as effective as they could be with those constraints.”
The commission was extended for six months starting in January 2012 so its future could be part of a reorganization and consolidation of boards and commissions. A working document released by City Clerk Dennis Hawkins at several community meetings drew fire for its proposal, which was aimed at cutting the costs of support staff and meeting facilities. The proposal calls for maintaining 13 commissions, eliminating the Neighborhoods Commission and consolidating 22 commissions into six.
“You don’t know what the future is going to hold,” said Ernest Guzman, executive analyst in the city manager’s office. “This (the commission) is a great idea, and keep your fingers crossed.”
Some commissioners were disappointed at the announcement.
“I feel like I’ve just been kicked in the gut,” said Tom Paramo, representative of District 8.
“I feel a sense of loss for the neighborhoods,” said Jim Cantore, who represents District 9. “I would hope the city does come up with a recommendation to keep the Neighborhoods Commission. If we don’t what is the voice of the neighborhoods? Where do they fit in? I would hope that this isn’t just something that disappears.”
Some questioned the point of submitting a letter recommending spending priorities that commissioners believe are in the best interests of the neighborhoods. The San Jose City Council will take its last vote on the budget on Tuesday, June 19.
“This particular letter could be the last communication from the commission,” said David Biagini of District 4. “I think there is important information in the letter. Whether or not it’s too late for budget consideration or not, it’s still important.”
Lorii Kahn of District 1 agreed. “This is not a moot letter,” she said. “Points made in this are not just for this budget. It’s how we’re going to send a message that we’re still working together and we still have opinions and we still have a voice that we want the council to hear.”
Budget Recommendations From the Neighborhoods Commission
- Restoring Neighborhood Services: We support the Mayor’s 2012-2013 budget proposal restoring neighborhood services. Opening Seven Trees, Bascom, Educational Park and Calabazas libraries, opening the Bascom Community Center, funding San Jose BEST, and the other neighborhood initiatives that will contribute to restoring the quality of life in San Jose.
- Structural Deficit: The continuing structural deficit problem must be resolved through changes to the city’s retirement system. We strongly support collaboration with the city’s employees to find long-term solutions, but also recognize that other strategies may be necessary to address this crisis. The city can no longer delay fixing the problem. It must be addressed and resolved immediately.
- Revenue Growth: Pursue Sales Tax and Parcel Tax to raise additional revenue for the general fund and for infrastructure improvements.
- Selling Neighborhood Assets: We recognize that there are assets that are owned by the City of San Jose that can be liquidated to eliminate a financial burden on the city or raise needed revenue. We do not support the selling of assets that enhance the livability or qualify of life for a neighborhood or community or the city as a whole. These assets should be preserved for generations to come.