Just days before the deadline to place it on the Nov. 3 ballot, the San Jose City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to ask voters to amend the city’s charter on three key issues.
If approved in the coming election, the initiative would bolster the Independent Police Auditor’s authority, expand the Planning Commission and give the council a more flexible timeline for redistricting in case the 2020 census results come in late.
According to City Clerk Toni Taber, San Jose has $2,732,000 budgeted for election costs during the 2020-21 fiscal year. The first ballot measure is expected to cost $1,692,893, with each subsequent initiative costing approximately $629,830.
Earlier in the meeting, the council voted 10-1 to place a measure on the ballot to increase taxes on cardrooms. So, in an effort to save funds, the council opted to combine the remaining three issues up for discussion into one ballot measure.
“Initially I was leaning toward having the IPA item as a stand-alone item, but obviously we want to weigh a couple different factors,” Vice Mayor Chappie Jones said. “One is the additional cost. Two is any potential confusion with the voters in terms of having three charter changes in the same 75 words. And then another factor would be the potential where one of the charter changes might potentially weigh down the other ones in terms if there’s the opposition or if the voters aren’t supportive of one particular element.”
“I really don’t see that third scenario being a factor here,” Jones added.
Under the current city charter, the IPA only has the power to review—and not conduct—investigations into San Jose police officers. Previous efforts to expand those powers have repeatedly failed due to resistance from the San Jose Police Officers’ Association.
But after two years of negotiations, the POA and city leaders in June finally came to an agreement on expanded oversight. If the measure is approved by voters, the IPA would have access to un-redacted records when an officer fires their weapon or uses force that causes death or serious injury. These records would be available even if the incident wasn’t a part of a citizen-initiated complaint.
The IPA would also have access to redacted police reports, use-of-force statistics and body camera footage so that they could make policy recommendations to the SJPD.
The agreement between the city and the POA also allows the two parties to negotiate a further expansion of the IPA’s powers without returning to the ballot.
Taking into account the thousands of people who flooded the streets in May and June to protest police brutality and advocate for defunding local law enforcement, Councilwoman Maya Esparza asked city leaders if they could include the public in future negotiations.
“We haven’t had protests like we had the first few nights, but the community is still coming together, they still want their voices heard and I think we need to have a public dialogue in some respect around the issues,” she said.
The second part of the ballot measure, which deals with expanding the number of seats on the planning commission, is the result of East San Jose leaders’ year-long fight for more diversity on the predominately white commission.
The discussion to change the structure of the planning commission began in early 2019 when the council appointed former Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio, who ended up being the fourth white person from District 6 on the powerful land-use commission.
If approved by voters, the measure would expand the number of seats on the commission from seven to 11, with a commissioner from each council district and one “at-large” member. The eighth and ninth member would be appointed for a term expiring June 30, 2021, while the 10th and 11th would be appointed for a term ending June 30, 2024.
The final part of the ballot measure deals with the 2020 census and redistricting, which is expected to be delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The initiative would give the council the power to adopt a different deadline for redistricting if the census results aren’t delivered by April 1, 2021.
If approved by voters, the measure would also give the council the power to adjust the deadline for the advisory commission, which submits recommendations on redistricting.
The deadline to appoint commission members is currently February 1, 2021. However, the commission only has 120 days from the appointment to make recommendations.
“This proposed amendment would also allow for flexibility in the event that the 2020 census results are delivered late, but it’s also in line with the recommendations of both the 2001 and 2011 advisory commissions,” Deputy City Attorney Mark Vanni told the council on Tuesday. “They recommended to the council’s at that time a charter amendment to change the deadlines because they felt that the time period that they were given under the charter was too short.”
It seems to me that two out of the three parts of the proposed voter initiative, i.e. the marginal expansion of the Independent Police Auditor’s authority and the expansion of the size and geographic representation of the Planning Commission, are directly attributable to the Black Lives Matter uprisings across the U.S. and in San Jose in particular. While these on their face improvements in City governance, is that all San Jose residents can expect for weeks of unprecedented protests against police violence and racial inequities? This is the sum total of all that organizing and protest?
It would be useful if San Jose Inside would provide a “scorecard” or a chronicle of City and County government and private sector reforms stemming from the recent and ongoing activism. It would also be useful if reporters could separate window dressing changes from governance or operating reforms that demonstrably increase elected officials’ and community’s control of policing and the police and that actually improve the material lives of working people, particularly working people of color.
It would be a great service if local media would provide context and a sense of what has actually changed, or is changing, as a result of the movement for Black lives locally. You could interview local activists, City and County officials on these questions and refer to your own previous journalistic work.