City Council OKs Strong Neighborhoods Plan

The San Jose City Council gave unanimous approval to an updated Strong Neighborhoods Business Plan that will focus on neighborhoods with the greatest needs and provide residents in other neighborhoods with the resources and training to take action on their own.

The plan update, which was forced by cutbacks in funding and staffing for the 10-year-old program, is aligned with four goals developed through conversations with residents:  Stabilizing Neighborhoods in Crisis, mobilizing neighborhood action, removing barriers to neighborhood action and connecting resources to priorities.

For the first time, Strong Neighborhoods’ efforts will extend outside the boundaries of the Project Area, with the help of a reinforced Neighborhood Development Center, now a part of the Strong Neighborhoods division. The program is still a joint venture of the San Jose City Manager’s Office and the San Jose Redevelopment Agency.

Here’s how the plan will work:

Neighborhoods in crisis – determined by crime and foreclosure rates, income levels and gang activity – will be supported by staff assigned to Neighborhood Solutions Teams. Besides staff members of Strong Neighborhoods, the teams will include staff from Police, Code Enforcement, Housing and other departments.

 The goal, said Strong Neighborhoods Director Kip Harkness, is to make these neighborhoods “cleaner, safer and more engaged than they are today.”

Deputy City Manager Norberto Duenas told the council that a Strong Neighborhoods Steering Committee, comprised of representatives from key departments, would b e re-engaged to meet regularly to keep strengthen connections within City Hall.

“By doing that it puts us in a much better position to leverage resources and take the best practices we’ve experienced in the past 10 years and put them into play once again,” he said.

For other, more stabile neighborhoods, Strong Neighborhoods would continue to support residents through training, grants and resources, Harkness said. For example, residents and staff could work together to find more meeting space for neighborhood groups.

Other stakeholders also could be brought in to forge partnerships to bolster neighborhood partnerships, he added. 

Several council members praised the new plan and offered suggestions.

“I want it to succeed like no other plan we’ve ever had,” said Vice Mayor Judy Chirco. “This does not have great resources, but it is a great strategy to assist neighborhoods that are struggling.”

Said Councilmember Sam Liccardo, whose District 1 includes several Strong Neighborhoods areas: “We see a real transition now out of necessity from an emphasis on physical assets to a emphasis on human assets. If we’re in an era of diminished expectations to some extent, I think there are still great possibilities.”

Councilmember Nora Campos requested that staff members keep in mind that not all residents have computers in their homes.

“We still haven’t closed that gap where everyone has access to the Internet or email,” Campos said. “We want to see that they don’t get left out of the communications process because they don’t have the latest technology.”

Harkness said community engagement would use Internet tools as well as “solid word of mouth” and other grass-roots methods traditionally used in neighborhoods.

Communication is the key to involvement Pete Kolstad, Market /Almaden, told the Council.

“Two years ago, we found the piece missing was lateral communication – the ability to talk to each other, one neighborhood leader to another neighborhood leader. There’s a lot of knowledge in each individual place that is not shared with other places.”

Kolstad and Sandra Soellner, South University Neighborhoods, are co-founders of CNAC, Coalition of Neighborhood Action Councils, a new group for neighborhood leaders to work in tandem with Strong Neighborhoods staff to work on the four goals.

Working together to solve common problems is essential, Soellner said.  After visiting other Strong Neighborhoods areas, she saw residents who “live daily with the fear of gangs…with negligent landlords that let their properties fall into disrepair.  As someone who feels m y neighborhood was saved by SNI, let SNI continue the work to save other neighborhoods.”