Plan to Consolidate Volunteer Boards and Commissions Draws Fire at Meeting

The first community meeting on a cost-savings plan to consolidate dozens of San Jose boards and commissions drew sharp criticism and passionate pleas to reconsider the idea.

Neighborhoods Commission members

City Clerk Dennis Hawkins has set two more meetings to get public opinion on the proposed plan — 1:30 p.m. on Friday, January 27, and 6:30 p.m. on Monday, January 30, in Room 120 in the City Hall Wing, 200 East Santa Clara Street. The first meeting was Wednesday, January 18.

The plan, which is aimed at cutting the costs of staff support and meeting facilities, would maintain 13 commissions, eliminate one and consolidate 22 commissions into six.

The plan also calls for standardizing agendas, as well as better training for new commissioners. But it’s unclear how much money consolidation would save the city. An analysis should be ready for the February 29 Rules Committee meeting, Hawkins said.

“Boards and commissions are a vehicle for public participation in local government,” said Clark Williams, who has served on the Appeals Hearing Board. “This really guts something that is a core value of our city, which is public participation in government.”

The most controversial 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.

Several speakers complained that a panel that took on so many interests would get nothing done and the smaller numbers of advocates would weaken representation. Others noted the hundreds of volunteer hours and valuable networking with the community that commissioners bring that are more valuable than any costs savings. And they objected to the proposal some commissioners would be chosen by their council members to represent their districts rather than by their level of expertise.

“I’d much rather have people who are expert in the field rather than someone just because they’re in a geographic area,” said Planning Commissioner Edesa Bit-Badal.

Hawkins said the plan is a starting point, and he’ll include public comments in his final report to the Rules Committee. The San Jose City Council will make the final decisions on commissions.

Barring further action by the San Jose City Council, the 30-member Neighborhoods Commission, a pilot project, would sunset on June 30. But the memo from the city clerk doesn’t state that directly.

That was a surprise to Neighborhoods Commissioner Tom Paramo, who represents District 8, or Evergreen.

“Are we being put out to pasture?” he asked. “The council was supposed to vote on it a long time ago to make us permanent. We’re not a pilot that was meant to serve as a pilot and then fade away. “

But Commissioner Marie Arnold, who represents District 2, took another view. “We never had any authority or didn’t know the scope of what we were supposed to be doing,” she said “I’m ambivalent about continuing with the Neighborhoods Commission.”

In light of the city’s projected budget deficit to be projected as $25 million instead of $100 million, Neighborhoods Commission Chairman Mauricio Astacio, said the cost-savings argument was weaker now.

He and others commissioners are eager to know the estimated cost savings, and “what are commissioners capable of doing and willing to do on their own to take off the plate of city staff.”

Support from meeting attendees, mostly commissioners, was strong for keeping the 13-member Arts Commission as a stand-alone panel. Supporters included Ted Lorraine, of the Silicon Valley Arts Coalition; Karl Toepfer, dean of Humanities at San Jose State University; and Tamara Alvarado, director of Community Access and Engagement for 1stACT Silicon Valley.

The arts commission, said Alvarado, supports not only visual arts but also performing arts and entertainment, including the many festivals that bring in attendees who spend money in downtown San Jose.

“We have the ability to attract people to come and do something interesting,” she said. “It becomes a little less interesting when you have five other important things to get done in a meeting. What kind of work are we going to get done?”

Complaints also came from a plan to combine the Disability Advisory, Human Rights, Senior Citizens and Youth commissions into one Human Services Commission.

“That really doesn’t give us much of a voice at all,” said Sandeep Peddada of District 1. “There are 180,000 youth in San Jose. One or two people would be the entire voice for all those youth? It’s a huge disservices to youth and the city of San Jose.”

Martha O’Connell, chair of the Seniors Citizens Commission, told the audience of about 60 that consolidation “is going to happen.”

“I believe the administration has the votes,” she said. “We’re all concerned about citizen participation, but I think we need to be reasonable and say half a loaf is better than nothing.

Commissions/Boards to Remain

  • Board of Administration, Police and Fire Department Retirement Plan
  • Board of Administration, Federated City Employees Retirement System
  • Civil Service Commission
  • Council Salary Setting Commission
  • Deferred Compensation Advisory Commission
  • Downtown Parking Board
  • Elections Commission
  • Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force
  • Redistricting Advisory Commission
  • Schools/City Collaborative
  • Treatment Plant Advisory Committee
  • Traffic Appeal Commission
  • Work2Future Board

Commissions to be Eliminated

  • Small Business Advisory Commission


  • Airport Commission would be combined with the  Airport Noise Advisory Committee
  • Appeals Hearing Board with Building Codes and Disability Access Advisory Commission
  •  Housing and Community Development Commission with Advisory Commission on Rents and Mobilehome Advisory Commission
  • Human Services Commission with Disability Advisory Commission , Human Rights Commission , Senior Citizens Commission  and  Youth Commission
  •  Parks, Educations, Arts, Recreation and Library Commission would be comprised of 19 members from the Arts, Early Care and Education, Library, Neighborhoods, Parks and Recreation and Public Safety Bond Oversight Committee
  • Planning Commission with Historic Landmarks Commission