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Friday, March 31, 2023

Mayor urges San Jose to put budget focus on the basics

When times get tough, San Jose families sit around the kitchen table and make tough budget choices.

What comes first? The mortgage or rent certainly. Food for the family. Paying off bills that could turn into burdens.

You make tough, smart choices.

Your government should, too.

In the weeks ahead, our City Council will debate our most important task of any year — our city budget. Amid tech lay-offs, failure of a vitally important local bank, and inflation eating away at our buying power,  this is the moment for focus.

There are many things we want to do — but there are a few basics that we must do.

Making our city safe. Making it clean. Making progress on ending unsheltered homelessness. Making sure our economy works so we are creating more middle-class jobs.

As mayor, I have been holding town halls asking residents what they want. And the same answers come back again and again. The people want us to deliver on the basics — safety, cleanliness, a realistic plan for ensuring that everyone lives indoors, and the chance for everyone to find a good job.

And we can do exactly that if we focus on economic realities, not political wish lists.

The truth is San Jose’s budget is always tight, even in good years. But as we enter another economically challenging time, we have to make sure we learn from councils of the past who put politics first and ran up debts that we are still paying off today — debts that consume 15 cents out of every tax dollar you give us.

But if we put people first, we can implement a budget that not only delivers a safer, cleaner city on the road to ending street homelessness but also delivers a city poised to grow our job base so we can afford to fund all the services residents want and deserve (without raising taxes).

The budget that we have been developing, in collaboration with city staff and council colleagues, starts by focusing on safety.

We need to double the rate at which we hire officers to reduce response times. Safety is foundational in any city, and it needs to come first.

Nearly all of the thousands of residents I have spoken with quickly turn the conversation to our city’s tragic homeless crisis. My budget challenges City Hall to create enough basic, dignified shelter to move at least 1,000 homeless neighbors out of encampments and into safer alternatives by the end of this calendar year.

We can also make our neighborhoods cleaner by expanding programs that work — such as Cash for Trash and SJ Bridge (which create employment opportunities for homeless residents as they clean up our streets) and recruit thousands of neighbors to beautify their block while holding absentee landlords accountable.

As we focus on safety, homelessness and blight, we have an immense opportunity to make San Jose better for all of our residents.

Focus makes us more efficient and effective — with our attention directed to the foundational issues, city staff has the chance to innovate and execute faster. We can quickly learn what works and what doesn’t and work to get better every day. Focus gives us our best shot at solving our biggest challenges, which will in turn unlock new possibilities for our community.

The bottom line is starting with the things our city needs that allow us to grow our economy so we can afford all the things our city wants. Focus gets us there faster. That’s why I hope you share your opinions on the budget at our March 21 City Council meeting.

Matt Mahan is mayor of San Jose.

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