San Jose to Launch Neighborhood Engagement Program With Small Grants

A new San Jose program to help neighborhood groups organize and fund projects that make their areas cleaner, safer and more attractive will official launch later this month. But the planning process has already started with South San Jose’s Coyote Creek Neighborhood Association.

Gay Gail plays the Budget Game.

Great Neighborhoods, a partnership with the nonprofit Every Voice Engaged and the city, will launch its program citywide at the Neighborhood Development Training Conference at San Jose State University on Saturday, September 29. But Coyote Creek started the process in months ago as a pilot group.

“It (Great Neighborhoods) created tremendous amount of new energy and commitment,” said Darryl Ospring, CCNA’s secretary and longtime member. “A lot of new people came that had never been involved before. And everybody has something they want to work on.”

Using a game similar to the Budget Game led by Innovation Games in San Jose’s annual budget workshop for neighborhood leaders and youth commissioners in January, participants list project ideas in four categories and enlist volunteers who make a commitment to get them done. The city is providing a $500 as seed money to fund the projects.

At the NDTC, San Jose neighborhood associations will attend two training sessions to develop ideas, create action plans and 60 groups can apply to receive $450 grants to start the projects, mostly in the “beautify” category. The other categories are clean, safe and engaged.

“It’s played like a game,” said Steve Dodds, founder of Every Voice Engaged and leader of the NDTC Great Neighborhoods workshops. “We’ll Introduce overall program and go through the process and end up the day with a project that the city will fund.”

Participants weigh options at budget workshop.

In playing the game, participants write ideas on the image of a tree in the four categories, Dodds said. Dividing into groups, residents choose the best ideas, decide what it would take to make them into projects, engage volunteers to commit a number of hours to the projects and use seed money to launch into action.

Unlike the days of the Strong Neighborhoods program when the San Jose Redevelopment Agency pumped money into neighborhoods from big projects, the economic reality of today means associations will need to leverage small city grants to find larger funding sources.

The seed money will be provided by the city and Every Voice Engaged, Dodds said. For every $2 he raises, the city will contribute $1. San Jose State University students from the Service Learning Program will help lead neighborhood workshops in the next phase.

Coyote Creek Neighborhood Association has been active for 30 years s and successful in removing graffiti, getting a guard rail installed along Coyote Creek Road, the construction of Shady Oaks Park and lobbying against a landfill located where the Silver Creek Country Club and Gold Course now sits.

CCNA is also involved in Neighborhood Watch and the city’s anti-graffiti, Adopt a Park and Adopt a Street programs. But association leader Daryl Ospring said that over the years, the same people were showing up at the meetings.

During the Great Neighborhoods game, CCNA came up with 31 projects and narrowed them down to 17 that include replacing broken mailboxes for five homes, buying an electronic speed feedback sign, planting trees in median strips, adding 2 new park benches and creating a new pedestrian walking path.

The objective,” Dodds said, “is to get people engaged not only in their neighborhoods but in San Jose.”