Residents Urge San Jose City Council to Spend More Money on Public Safety

San Jose residents are sending a clear message to city officials as thebudget season moves into full swing: We want you to spend more on public safety and we’re prepared to pay more taxes to help you do it.

Photo by Kymberli Weed Brady Transportation Director Hans Larsen explains the city's need for road repair at the priority-setting event.

Photo by Kymberli Weed Brady
Transportation Director Hans Larsen explains the city’s need for road repair at the priority-setting event.

At the Mayor’s Budget Priority-Setting Session with neighborhood and youth leaders and in the annual telephone opinion survey with 980 residents, public safety emerged as the top priority among the participants.

Public safety and how to pay for it was also a strong theme in Mayor Chuck Reed’s State of the City speech on Thursday, February 7, as Reed vowed to hire 200 police officers in the next two years. And at a study session on budget planning on Monday, February 11, council members indicated they heard the message.

“It’s clear public safety is a priority,” Reed said.

It was no surprise to council members or staff that the public is concerned about rising crime rates. Last year, the city suffered 46 homicides, the largest number in 20 years. And burglary rates have increased by 23 percent. Council members are hearing from their constituents at community meetings and through email and phone calls.

Courtesy of the Office of Councilmember Rose Herrera
Nineteen tables of participants set spending priorities.

At the study session, council members got a look at the numbers that back those concerns. In one of the findings, respondents ranked “a safe city” as the No. 1 priority in spending. “A prosperous economy” was not far behind.

In response to how the city should spend any extra money it might have for the next budget, 69 percent selected hiring more police officers as a the first or second choice. Increasing the fire department received 40 percent, followed by restoring city employee pay cuts at 30 percent, increasing library hours at 22 percent and increasing community center hours at 16 percent.

On the revenue side, the polling showed that 65 percent favored or were leaning toward a quart-cent sales tax dedicated to police services; and 64 percent favored or were leaning toward a quarter-cent tax for public safety services. There was also strong support for raising taxes that businesses pay to the city.

Courtesy of the Office of Councilmember Rose Herrera

The council will take a closer look at the telephone survey by the firm of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz and Associates at its 1:30 p.m. meeting on Tuesday, February 12.

But at the study session, West San Jose Councilman Pete Constant cautioned his colleagues not to count too heavily on survey results in making budget decisions.

“When you look at those numbers, leans to doesn’t mean going to,” he said. “We need to be cautious and restrained and don’t spend expect revenue sources until they’re secured.”

Evergreen Councilwoman Rose Herrera suggested council members look at public safety in the “holistic way” that residents do. “They realize that having a community center open of a library open counts, too,” she said, because children have a safe place to engage in positive activities.

Support for public safety and raising taxes also emerged from the January 26 priority-setting session, where 114 neighborhood and youth leaders gathered around 19 tables in the City Hall Rotunda to play Innovation Games’ Budget Game, the exercise that puts them in the hot seat on increasing revenue and funding services. They were guided by Innovation Games’ staff members.

In 2.5 hours, they needed to determine spending priorities and increase revenue to pay for the services. As a table, they had to agree unanimously if they wanted to raise revenue through a sales tax, business tax or parcel tax or by such cost-savings measures as reducing staffing on fire engines from five to four firefighters.

Photo by Kymberli Weed Brady

Of the 19 tables, 13 agreed to eliminate overtime for management employees, 11 favored a business tax increase and 10 wanted to raise a quart-cent sales tax.

At Table 8, participants didn’t waste any time zeroing in on the proposal to cut overtime for management employees, including police captains, at a savings of $1.2 million.

“In the private industry management doesn’t get OT,” said Tom Paramo, who represented Herrera’s District 8 at the table. “If you’re management, why are you getting OT?”

The short answer came from Assistant Police Chief Eddie Garcia, who was one of a dozen city officials on call to provide information beyond what was given the participants: “We expect more from our police captains than any other city. It would have an effect of possibly losing captains in light of the pay cuts they’ve taken.”

Said Table 8 participant Marilyn Rodgers of District 10 in South San Jose, “We could hire a lot of officers with what we pay in OT.”

The vote was unanimous in favor of that proposal. Similar to the decisions made at other tables, the group also voted for a ¼-cent sales tax to generate $34 million and a business tax increase to add another $10 million to their spending pot. Later, they added a $100 a year parcel tax for property owners that would generate $295 million for road repairs.

When it was time to start spending the money Table 8 had collected, Daisy Trullio, a member of a Youth Advisory Council, rounded up support for two proposals that would increase hours at hub community centers from 50 to 63 a week and add 20 to 45 hours a week to smaller centers in neighborhoods.

“We don’t have enough community centers and a lot of kids use them,” she said. “It’s an outlet for not going out on the streets.”

No argument from her Table 8 colleagues. In fact, 16 of the tables voted to increase hours at the larger community centers, and 17 tables eagerly spent money on increasing hours at neighborhood community centers.

Courtesy of the Office of Councilmember Rose Herrera
Tony Wolf and Pat Waite make a deal.

But the top three priorities chosen by most participants focused on public safety. Increasing funding for gang prevention efforts was chosen by all 19 tables, followed by 18 tables that chose to fund community service officers, who would perform such tasks as taking reports on home burglaries. Spending more money on crime prevention specialists was also chosen by 18 of the 19 tables. All 19 tables also voted to increase patrol officers in one of three proposals.

Table 8 also voted to fund senior services, including transportation, at 14 centers; increasing hours at branch libraries and restore education and information services at the Martin Luther King Jr. Library; add 60 officers to field patrol and investigation units; eliminate fire engine company brown-outs, in which some companies are temporarily closed to avoid calling back firefighters on overtime; and pay for pavement maintenance for neighborhood streets.

Only one other table voted to spend $18 million on sealing neighborhoods streets.

“They’ll hang me in effigy if I don’t fund this,” said Rodgers of her District 10 neighbors.