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LWV League of Women Voters of California Education Fund

Smart Voter
Santa Clara County, CA November 7, 2006 Election
Candidates Answer Questions on the Issues
Council Member, 3; City of San Jose; Council District 3

The questions were prepared by the League of Women Voters of San Jose/Santa Clara in partnership with the San Jose Mercury News and asked of all candidates for this office.     See below for questions on Growth, Mayor vs. Manager, Public Safety, City Finances

Click on a name for candidate information.   See also more information about this contest.

1. There are proposals to add 30,000 houses and more office space in North San Jose, thousands more homes in Evergreen and to build a new community in the Coyote Valley. There has been no in-depth study of how these plans will affect one another or services throughout the city. Should San Jose complete a thorough, public review of its general plan for growth before approving any more major development plans? Silicon Valley needs more housing, but San Jose needs more jobs to strengthen its tax base. How would you balance those conflicting pressures?

Answer from Sam T. Liccardo:

As a councilmember, I will immediately push to initiate the process for the wholesale revision of the General Plan. This mayor's administration is the first in a quarter-century to fail to issue a new General Plan, and the coherence and soundness of our economic development strategy has suffered greatly as a result. In Evergreen, we're facing the potential loss of 300 acres of industrial land because the "flavor of the month" is residential development. In Coyote Valley, a fiscal report released in April suggests that permitting development without existing "triggers" will drain our General Fund for between 11 and 17 years.

The Council has approved twenty-six amendments since the issuance of the last General Plan, leaving us with a patchwork of inconsistent plans and objectives. Many of these specific plans will exacerbate the housing-jobs imbalance that currently ails the City, because residential development in outlying areas drains the General Fund (which pays for police, fire, staffing for libraries, parks, community center programs, and other services) and compromises the City's ability to serve existing neighborhoods. We have run eight-figure deficits in our General Fund for the last 5 years, and costs continue to rise faster than revenues. Bringing companies into the city, in contrast, expands our tax base and improves the revenues to pay for much-needed services.

We need a coherent General Plan that reflects both good fiscal sense, and our basic development objectives and values: (1) pushing for dense, transit-oriented, development in our core downtown and along North First Street; (2) retaining industrial and commercial zoning in place where the City can best attract businesses that will create jobs and expand its tax base; and (3) protecting the hillsides beyond our greenline from development and sprawl. San Jose does need more housing, but we can create that housing in sensible ways, near jobs and along transit corridors.

Answer from Manny J. Diaz:

San Jose has not reviewed its general plan for more than 15 years. Before embarking on any major new developments, our city should conduct a comprehensive review of the general plan.

According to Silicon Valley business leaders, new housing is essential to boost our economic growth and there is not doubt that workforce affordable housing is necessary. To that end, I support appropriate in-fill housing that will force the market to focus on building San Jose better before expanding and building it out.

Housing development, while necessary, increases demand on scarce city services including police and fire departments, schools, roads, libraries and community centers. San Jose should not grow in a piecemeal way; San Jose should investigate the impact new major developments will have on existing communities.

2. San Jose has a council/manager form of government. Over the past few years the balance of power has shifted toward the mayor and there are some elected officials who support this stronger role for the mayor. Should San Jose move to a strong-mayor form of government or have a strong professional administrator? What kind of city manager will you look for?

Answer from Sam T. Liccardo:

The Council needs to appoint the most competent, experienced City Manager it can find in the country to tackle the challenges of our City's structural budget deficit and declining services. Our City Charter created a Council-City Manager form of government, as distinguished from the "strong mayor" model that has emerged in recent years. The Charter clearly and repeatedly empowers the "City Manager [to] direct and supervise the administration of all departments, offices, and agencies of the City." We need to return to the letter and the spirit of that Charter, to ensure that competence and good policy, rather than politics, provides the primary impetus for the actions of City staff. The Council and the Mayor make the policy that guides the city's administration, but neither should inject themselves into the daily administrative tasks of staff.

Answer from Manny J. Diaz:

The citizens of San Jose voted to have a council/manager form of government when they approved the city charter. We are all obliged to follow the law. To that end, we need to have more neighborhood residents, small business people and others at the table making decisions and not just the same insiders and usual suspects.

I will support the hiring of a new city manager that believes in open consensus building with the community and not a heavy handed autocrat.

3. Safety often includes services such as homework centers and code enforcement for neighborhoods, but the city budget now being prepared could cut much needed services. If there is no other source of funds to maintain safety-related centers and gang prevention, would you consider reducing the funds going to support the police and fire departments? Can the growing costs of police and for pensions be covered without depleting funds for other community service in the future?

Answer from Sam T. Liccardo:

The budget recently released by the City Manager's office avoids the severe cuts in services that we've seen since 2002, plugging the $36 million gap in the General Fund mostly by relying on the extension of the emergency communications fee and cardroom revenues.

I consider anti-gang programs, homework centers, libraries, and after-school programs for youth among the most important crime-prevention measures the City can implement. Funding these programs constitutes a top priority for me. I would not increase funding, however, at the expense of the already dangerously thin numbers of firefighters and police officers. By any measure, San Jose has sparse staffing for police and fire. For example, Columbus, Ohio, with 80% of our population, has four hundred more police officers on the force. The city's current plans to build high-rise housing in the downtown core will demand the response of dozens more firefighters for a two-alarm fire than we currently keep on duty throughout the entire city at any given time. I have grave concerns that our thin staffing will compromise our ability to respond to our safety needs. In light of recent years' large-scale tragedies in New Orleans and Manhattan, and we need to be particularly aware of our capacity to respond adequately to earthquakes or man-made disasters.

Pensions and other retirement benefits for all city staff impose costs that raise long-term fiscal concerns. The latest budget report from the City Manager makes clear that costs will outstrip revenue increases in coming years, and city personnel costs for all staff comprise about two-thirds of our General Fund. Cutting those benefits in some contexts poses serious problems for recruitment, however. For example, San Jose must compete with other municipalities for police officers, many of which offer pensions which provide the maximum 3% per year of service, a slightly better deal than SJPD officers currently receive. Nonetheless, the retirement benefits legislation pushed through by Governor Davis several years ago has municipalities throughout California facing growing pension and benefit costs for staff. All of this points to the need for a state-wide conversation, one which includes labor, residents, business, and academics, about how cities and counties can ensure that staff has adequate benefits while still providing necessary city services.

Answer from Manny J. Diaz:

Safe and healthy neighborhoods create strong cities. Collectively, we must be able to fund both prevention and diversion programs that invest in our youth as well as enforcement; the men and women in uniform who protect our neighborhoods. They are not mutually exclusive and both are necessary to maintain a safe and healthy community.

Public Safety has always been a top priority. On the San Jose City Council I worked to coordinate with 18 local school districts to establish after-school homework centers for San Jose students. In the State Assembly, I co-sponsored the law that allows Megan's List offenders to be listed on the Internet. These are two efforts at crime prevention that I will continue to champion as our City Councilmember.

4. Money to maintain and operate the city’s public facilities such as parks and libraries is in shorter and shorter supply. So while new or expanded community centers have been proposed previously, the city is looking at closing or privatizing up to 30 existing centers it cannot afford to operate. Should the city re-examine its plans to add parks and other public facilities? Are there services the city could cut to find money for these highly valued ones?

Answer from Manny J. Diaz:

I propose the City adopt a "Level of Service" policy that will define a minimum level under which services cannot fall. Such a policy would ensure that events like a car race will never come before neighborhood services.

Under this proposal, a portion of the budget will be dedicated to basic services including community centers, libraries, public safety and infrastructure maintenance. Using this spending formula, the city will not build new parks and community centers before identifying how to pay for the operating costs of current facilities.

In addition, before building a major new housing development, the city should examine the impact of new residents on our police and fire departments, public schools and traffic. Using a measurable level of service policy will ensure that growth does not outpace the city's capacity to serve residents and it will prevent nonsensical spending on new community centers while old community centers are closing due to lack of funds.

Answer from Sam T. Liccardo:

The capital-restricted funds created by Measures O and P, and park dedication fees on developers, have done much to aid San Jose's ambitious construction program of parks, libraries, and community centers, and other public structures over the last half-decade. Unfortunately, as we're building new community centers, we lack the staff to manage dozens of others. As we're building new parks, we've slashed park maintenance. New libraries come on line as Joyce Ellington Library in my district remains shut for renovation, and the city has already reduced hours at libraries city-wide.

I'd approach this incongruity in two ways. First, rather than building new city structures and parks that we can't maintain, let's use capital-restricted funds to purchase land. We know we'll need land now for a future downtown hospital, for parks, and for downtown parking, among other needs. Land will only continue to get more expensive, particularly downtown, so "land banking" now will save the City enormously in future costs. Coupled with sound use of RDA funds, we can use these capital-restricted sources to invest in our city's future, rather than building things that increase the drain on our already-overburdened general fund.

Second, we need a different approach to our community center re-use plan. The city has essentially decided to fully staff and fund selected community centers--the "hubs"--while financially abandoning dozens of other centers, in the hope that nonprofit community-based organizations will take over to continue to run programs. The problem with consolidating the centers to a few "hubs" comes with the basic fact that community centers need to be located within a neighborhood where children and seniors--typically lacking cars--can get to them. With cuts in government grants for such nonprofits in recent years, nonprofits such as Catholic Charities and MACSA simply cannot afford the five-figure costs in maintenance, renovation, and upkeep of those older buildings. I'd propose instead that the City try to better leverage the resources in the community and among non-profit organizations by first identifying those centers at which a nonprofit has already made a commitment to provide services. The City should be providing matching funds or basic maintenance at those centers first, to better leverage the resources of the nonprofit community. That way, the City will be able to spread its money over more centers, keeping several more open that would otherwise face closure.

Responses to questions asked of each candidate are reproduced as submitted to the League.  Candidates' responses are not edited or corrected by the League.

The order of the candidates is random and changes daily. Candidates who did not respond are not listed on this page.

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Created: January 4, 2007 09:38 PST
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