San Jose city officials and council members heard a familiar request at the Council District 3’s community budget meeting: Don’t cut services that keep youth out of trouble.
Community centers will close, libraries will be open only three days, fewer police officers will be on the street and grants that support nonprofits will be cut, noted Sacred Heart Community Services community coordinator Jose Horta, who works with the Washington/Alma area. “What is the strategy going forward in crime prevention?”
Mayor Chuck Reed, who had just delivered his presentation on escalating costs of employee pensions, acknowledge there would be cuts to the Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force, one of the city’s crime-fighting program. But he said it was not being eliminated.
“It gives us leverage with community-based organizations,” he said. “We can’t give up on intervention efforts, but there isn’t enough money. “
The two-hour meeting on April 20 at Roosevelt Community Center did reveal some positive budget news. Budget-makers have backed off a proposal to close up to five of the larger community centers called “hubs.” The hubs, including Roosevelt Community Center, will remain open.
“We will be looking at reducing hours at the community center hubs,” said Deputy City Manager Norberto Duenas.
But many of the smaller centers are still targets for closing, including those now in a “reuse” program where private operators are keeping them open by running programs in exchange for free rent. Some will be asked to chip in for the cost of maintenance and utilities.
Neighborhoods Commission Chair Beth Shafran-Mukai referred to the commission’s budget recommendations from last year that asked the city to maintain funding for “neighborhood supporting” facilities and programs, including community centers, community-based recreations activities, libraries, graffiti removal and police and public safety services.
The city is facing a $110 million deficit for thebudget and already is expecting a $70 million deficit for the following year. Four of the city’s 11 unions have agreed to a 10 percent cuts in pay and benefits, but the savings will be only $38 million even if all agree. The other cuts must come from programs and services, including layoffs. The proposed budget will be released on Monday, May 2.
“It’s not good,” City Councilman Sam Liccardo, who represents District 3. “There is no good cuts in this budget and the very worst are those to youth programs. But the reality is we can’t spare them.”
But he offered encouraging comments on the differences that volunteers can make, including a Washington neighborhood project in which mothers walk their children to and from Washington Elementary School in a group to ensure their safety. On the way, they look for graffiti and other problems on the streets.
“These are going to very tough time,” Liccardo told the group of about 120. “We’ve got to find a way to work together.
City employee and District 3 resident Gay Gale, who said she was expecting a layoff notice, noted that San Jose is the bedroom community for nearby towns that bring in more in sales and commercial property taxes.
“Next year, I’m going to have to move out of San Jose,” she said. “It’s not your fault. It’s not the employees’ fault. It’s the economy. “
At the District 1 community budget meeting on April 18 at Archbishop Mitty High School, the 115-member audience focused on more long-term solutions and pension costs rather than such cost-cutting measures as closing community centers and operating libraries only three days a week.
Reed and Councilmember Pete Constant, who represents District 1, fielded questions about how San Jose will avoid the crisis in the future by increasing revenue.
“We don’t really have a good revenue base in our city,” said one District 1 resident. “Santa Clara, Sunnyvale have a lot of industry to help support our city budget. We have a lot of home sin our city but not much industry. Why are we continuing to build homes in our city? Why don’t we put a moratorium on building until we get this budget thing resolved?”
Constant referred to the city’s “strict framework” of converting industrial land to housing, and that the Envision, an update of the General Plan, was taking an aggressive approach to the jobs-to-housing ration. “It will take longer for us to see the results,’’ he said.
Another suggested that perhaps furloughs could help close the funding gap.
“Our job is to provide services to resident,” Constant said. “If we achieve those savings through furloughs you would see even more service cuts.”
Returning to the current budget, Neighborhoods Commissioner Charles Jones, who represents District 1 on the commission, asked, “Is there a solution out there to close the budget gap without making dramatic cuts to our services?”
“No,” Constant replied.
“What’s the call to action?” Jones asked. “Are we giving out recommendation on how to rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic?”
Answered Constant, “Let me be blunt. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”
Constant also said, “I don’t want us to be a Detroit or Cleveland. We have to say we’re not going to kick the can down the road anymore. We’re going to take a comprehensive approach.”
The next community budget meeting will be 6 to 9 p.m. in Council District 6 at Hoover Middle School, 1635 Park Avenue.