Neighborhoods Commission Weighs In On Consolidation Plan; Cost Savings Unknown

Janice Rombeck | NeighborWebSJ

Neighborhoods Commission may be eliminated.

San Jose’s plan to consolidate volunteer boards and commissions is aimed at cutting the costs of staff support and meeting facilities. But how much money would it save?

That’s what the plan’s critics would like to know. City Clerk Dennis Hawkins told the Neighborhoods Commission at a recent meeting that a report on cost savings still won’t be available until the Wednesday, February 29, Rules and Open Government Committee meeting at City Hall. He said available data fromwas outdated and more research needed to be done.
“The city has undergone a broad reorganization across many departments and so staffing patterns that were in existence at that time are no longer in existence,” Hawkins said.

The plan, which has been presented at three community meetings, would maintain 13 commissions, eliminate two and consolidate 21 commissions into six.

The plan also calls for standardizing agendas, as well as better training for new commissioners. But the debate has been focused on the concern that putting too many interests together will weaken the voices of commissioners and the public.

The 30-member Neighborhoods Commission itself is scheduled to sunset on June 30, unless the city council takes further action.

Jim Cantore

“For some of these commissions, if you do a lot of consolidation it’s going to dilute the focus,” said Jim Cantore, who represents San Jose City Council District 9. “I’m worried about the voice of the community being shut down to some degree.”

Ted Johnson, representing District 5, commented on how consolidation would affect the people who served on the commissions.

For example, one proposal would combine the Arts, Early Care and Education, Library, Neighborhoods and Parks and Recreation commissions and Public Safety Bond Oversight Board into one 19-member advisory commission. Currently, 79 people serve on the five commissions and the board.

“I’d hate to see qualified people that are on those commissions get knocked off the commissions because we have a quota of how many people are going to be in the commission,” Johnson said.

Mauricio Astacio

Even though the Neighborhoods Commission, a two-year pilot program, may not survive, Hawkins said the city might use its geographic representation model – members represent their council districts — in selecting future board and commission members. But the plan does not include the Neighborhoods Commission’s caucus elections in their districts for member selection.

“If you look at the current commissions, there are many commissions that are frankly not very geographical diverse,” Hawkins said. “There a variety commissions that have the majority of its members from one district.”

Hawkins pointed out that having one person from each council district serving on the district would “ensure there is greater geographical diversity.”

But Marie Arnold, who represents District 2, noted that some commissions served different functions, such as the Arts Commission, and expertise was necessary.

Commission chair Mauricio Astacio, who represents District 3, acknowledged that some of the public might see the consolidation of some commissions as a good thing, but also voiced concerns.

“What was most problematic was the council appointment process, because they felt there was a danger of commissions being politicized,” Astacio said.

Astacio also expressed concern over the effectiveness of what he called “super commissions,” commissions that would be consolidated into three or four functions.

“Different commissions might have different needs in terms of their composition and how they will carry on their work,” Astacio said.

Astacio said that some commissioners who worked on the arts might not want to take on the added work of three other commissions.

Neighborhoods Commission meets 10 times a year.

Commissioner Tom Paramo, who represents District 8, has been a strong critic of the plan.

“I won’t pretend I’m happy about the consolidation,” Paramo said. “It makes my blood boil quite a bit.”

“I personally think this is a power play,” Paramo said of the proposal. “I don’t think the commissions need to be consolidated. I think it was a bad idea that was conceived.”

Paramo also questioned the need for massive consolidation in the wake of information released about the city’s improved financial picture.

“The deficit was very high and now it’s very low,” Paramo said. “So that situation has improved. So why are you going ahead and amputating the leg? The antibiotics are working on the infection. Why chop off the leg?”