San Jose Council Members Send TheirBudget Wish Lists to the Mayor

View the ProposedBudget in Brief

Suppose residents in each of San Jose’s 10 City Council Districts had $100,000 to spend on whatever they believed would make their neighborhoods better?

This democratic approach to allocating tax dollars was proposed by San Jose City Councilman Sam Liccardo. It’s one of 80 recommendations that council members sent to Mayor Chuck Reed to consider including in his final budget message, which is the framework for the city’sbudget. Reed will let them – and the public — know what proposals will move forward on Friday, May 31.

With the series of community budget meetings winding up this week, it was council
members’ turn to weigh in on how the city should spend some of its $934 million General Fund. They had until May 22 to submit their budget documents.

But there was a catch – each request for new funding had to be submitted with a suggested cut that would pay for the council member’s proposal, and from a “legitimate source,” according to Mayor Chuck Reed’s instructions.

For example, Councilman Xavier Campos, who represents East San Jose, wants hours at branch libraries increased from four days a week to 5.5 days, including Saturdays. To pay for the $2.6 million it would cost to staff the libraries,he suggests dipping into the deficit reserve fund of $13.7 million, a pot of money put in reserve to cover an expected shortfall in thebudget.

One of Councilwoman Rose Herrera’s proposals is to add a gang intervention team that would target girls in middle schools and high schools who are involved in gangs or may be joining them. The cost would be $264,180 in one time spending and $287,060 ongoing and would be pulled from the Essential Services Reserve of $2 million.

Also pulling from the Essential Services Reserve would be Councilman Don Rocha’s proposal to re-assign city staff to run one of the community centers in high-need areas that are now operated by nonprofits. They include Alum Rock, Alviso, Alma, Gardner, Starbird and Washington centers. None of them are in Rocha’s District 9, but he believes the negative impacts of crime, violence, foreclosures and cuts to education in these neighborhoods could be eased by providing more services at the centers. His idea would cost more than $500,000 over two years.

Councilman Liccardo’s proposed pilot project called Participatory Budgeting would cost $1.5 million and would also come from the Essential Services Reserve. Reminiscent of the city’s Strong Neighborhoods Initiative that funded neighborhood priority projects, this approach would also engage residents in the decision-making of spending tax dollars. But it would be citywide and without the legal restrictions of the SNI’s redevelopment project areas.

“More community engagement, but also something else,” Liccardo said. “Resourceful and creative ways of stretching public dollars. “

Each council district would be allocated $100,000, with $50,000 set aside for administrative costs. The money could be used for a one-time costs or to supplement a service in that district. Councilmembers who did not want to join the program, could allocate the funding as he or she sees best or partner with other councilmembers in a large project.

Liccardo said the Knight Foundation has expressed an interest in sharing expertise garnered from other cities using the method, and perhaps funding parts of the initiative. Other organizations that could also be involved include United Neighborhoods of Santa Clara County and CommUniverCity.

“I’m not proposing a specific method or mode,” Liccardo said. “I simply want to launch the initiative and allow more sophisticated folks like the Knight Foundation to convene our residents to make these decisions.”