Neighborhoods Commission to Continue as Pilot; Other Commissions Consolidated

Neighborhoods Commission members Elsie Aranda and Ted Johnson

Disbanded and in limbo for four months, San Jose’s Neighborhoods Commission was revived on Tuesday, October 23, by a unanimous vote from San Jose City Council.

The council voted to allows the commission to continue meeting as a pilot project until the end of the fiscal year, June 30. But the council stopped short of approving a permanent Neighborhoods Commission.

The vote came after a lengthy debate and approval of a proposal to consolidate some of the council’s other 46 commissions, boards and committees to reduce costs and make the advisory bodies more efficient and effective. Staff support for 21 of the commission costs the city about $600,000, according to an analysis by City Clerk Dennis Hawkins.

Not only will the Neighborhoods Commission continue to meet, it will also be involved in shaping its future. On its work plan will be how a permanent commission would be structured, how members would be selected and what work it should do. The Neighborhoods Commission is the only advisory body whose members are chosen from their neighborhoods through caucuses, making it geographically balanced with three members from each of San Jose’s 10 council districts.

Deputy City Manager Norberto Duenas said after the vote the commission could meet as early as December. The council must first amend an ordinance to for the June extension and a work plan would need to be reviewed by the council’s Neighborhood Services and Education Committee.

Neighborhoods Commission at last meeting on June 12.

The two-year pilot project ended in June after a six-month extension approved by the council. Further council action was delayed as the council awaited a final report by Hawkins on consolidation. Hawkin’s first report suggested the commission be eliminated and geographic representation be achieved through restructuring other commissions.

At first, the council appeared ready to put off a decision about the Neighborhoods Commission until work on consolidating other commissions is completed and analyzed. But Councilmember Sam Liccardo argued against any further delays.

“I’m concerned if we continue to delay and delay it, the commission will die a slow death,” he said. “The farther we get away from its last meeting, the less relevance it has and there will be a sense among those who participate that the council is more or less avoiding a decision and letting it die on its own weight.”

Councilman Ash Kalra agreed, and suggested the commission could also be involved in the restructuring. Some say the commission is too large and needs a more specific definition of its content area. It was created under a mandate that its work could not overlap with other commissions.

“Let them be a major part of the process in determining how it’s going to work going forward,” Kalra said. “The commissioners should be part of the discussion.”

The four members of the Neighborhoods Commission who spoke asked the council to keep the process going and pointed to their advisory work on the city’s budget, tree policies, land use issues and community policing.

“We welcome the opportunity to work with the council and figure out what we’re going to do,” said District 6 Neighborhoods Commissioner Larry Ames. “We hope we can work on neighborhood issues.”

The council’s 9-2 vote on a commission consolidation plan came after nearly two dozens speakers, mostly commissioners, asked the council to vote against the more severe recommended in the city clerk’s memo that recommended eliminating one commission and consolidating 16 commissions into five.

Much of the discussion was focused on the city clerk’s recommendation to require each commission to have geographical representation through appointments by the city council members and the mayor. Some believed having people who had experience and knowledge of the commission’s subject was more critical.

The city clerk’s report showed that the majority of commissioners live in Districts 3 (downtown), 6 (West Central) and 10 (Almaden Valley). District 5 (East San Jose) is represented by the fewest commission members.

Councilman Pete Constant spoke in favor of district representation on commissions, which was endorsed in a memo signed by Mayor Chuck Reed, Vice Mayor Madison Nguyen and Councilmember Rose Herrera.

“I know there are areas where we need expertise,” Constant said. “But I think we can mine that expertise from different portions of the city.”

A memo signed by Councilmembers Nancy Pyle, Don Rocha, Sam Liccardo and Ash Kalra, discounted somewhat the importance of representation from all council districts:

“We believe that to the extent possible and responsible, commissioners should be appointed based on some level of geographic diversity, we would rather continue appointing the most eager and qualified applicants through the current council liaison process, rather than mandating that they come from each council district.”

The issues of geographic representation and fundraising by commissions will come back to the council in another report as the changes approved Tuesday are put into place over the next eight months.

Here are highlights of the consolidations approved by the council:

  • Airport Commission and the Airport Noise Advisory Commission will merge with nine members.
  • Appeals Board will be a nine-member consolidation of the Appeals Hearing Board, the Traffic Appeals Board and the Building Codes and Disabled Access Board.
  • Library and Early Education Commission will combine the Library Commission, the Early Care and Education Commission, the Library Bond Oversight Committee and the Library Parcel Tax Oversight Committee. The 13-member commission will include nine at-large members and four with an early childcare background.
  • The Housing Commission will be consolidated with the Advisory Commission on Rents, the Housing and Community Development Advisory Commission and the Mobilehome Advisory Commission. The new Housing Commission will have 11 members.
  • Parks and Recreation Commission will merge with the Parks Bond Oversight Committee to form a nine-member commission.
  • Human Services Commission will be made up of the Human Rights Commission and the Disability Advisory Commission with seven members at large, one to represent the disabled and one to represent domestic violence survivors.
  • Senior Citizens Commission will be maintained as it is with 11 members appointed by council members in each district.
  • Youth Commission will be maintained with 11 members appointed by district.
  • The name of the Elections Commission will be changed to the Ethics Commission.