It’s All About the Neighborhoods

Steve Kline is an attorney who is currently running for a City Council seat in District 6. He wrote this column for San Jose Inside.—Editor

San Jose has failed its neighborhoods and citizens by inadequately delivering the essential city services for which the taxpayers have dearly paid in tough economic times.

Overall, the city has a $2.8 billion budget. The budget is comprised of multiple funds, many of which the city has created to fund special interests and projects. Then, there is the battleground called the General Fund, which is only about 33 percent of the total budget. What the council hath created, the council can change. That fund should be more important than the special interests.

More importantly, this is all our money. Priority setting should be started with the neighborhoods’ interests first.  We should stop the annual charade of city management detailing their decisions, asking for the community’s comments and then defending their decision—all at the same meeting.

There is a better way. The city has to have an open, understandable budget for all to see. For example, last year I asked how many outside consultant contracts did the city have and what was their value. I was told that there was no complete answer to that question. Later, I learned at a public meeting with San Jose City Auditor Sharon Erickson that even she can’t locate all the outside consultant contracts for the city, let alone any changes made to them.

In the Capitol of the Silicon Valley, we need to have that information easily available for our review and understanding. Once again, this is our money, not theirs.

We need more police on the streets. Residential crime is up and one can expect the violent crimes to increase as the weather becomes warmer. The officers currently working for us, who put their lives on the line every single day to protect and serve, are subject to increased stress because of the self-imposed short staffing. As Chief Moore has said, “Less is delivering less.”

Last year, City Manager Debra Figone had the opportunity to apply for a Federal government grant—by the way, that’s our money, too—for about 55 new police officers. She chose not to apply. Her excuse, without a discussion by the City Council, was that the city could not afford the condition of not laying off those officers for three years. If we invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in training police officers, why would we want to throw away that investment by letting them go?

The City Manager receives over $80,000 more than the Governor of California. We need to stop the exorbitant payment of high-priced public service executives. It is an honor and privilege to work for the people. Limitations on her salary are imperative.

Lastly, the neighborhoods need their libraries, parks and community centers opened throughout the city. These are vital services that demonstrably help reduce crime, and educate people. They add to the quality of life and bring business into our city. A city where half of its libraries are closed on Saturday is a failure.

Volunteers are a vital part of the operations. In fact, San Jose libraries over a six-month period have had over 1,500 volunteers contributing over 24,000 hours of service. We must encourage community service at all levels. However, we must also respect those who by education, experience and skill do excellent work at the day-to-day, ground level, providing citizens with needed public services. They are our neighbors, friends and an integral part of the fabric of our community. They are not the cause of the economic downturn.

The time to make the neighborhoods first is now.

Steve Kline is an attorney who is currently running for a City Council seat in District 6. He wrote this column for San Jose Inside

14 Comments

  1. Steve,

    Thanks for your honesty and at least tell us what the heck is going on.  I can live with the bad news as long as you are honest (not like Chuck and his crew) and not hiding behind BS numbers. You got my vote so far.  Please continue to update us.

    All we want is to make an educated vote on mesure B.  I know what that is a big…………. NO………but others need to see the truth.

  2. Generations of San Joseans grew up, raised families, and grew old without the benefit of city-supported community centers. Repeatedly declaring them “essential” or “vital” to today’s citizens, as has become the mantra around city hall, does not make it true.

    If this city’s financial condition is, as is claimed, so dire that it has to cut public safety and break its contracts, then what is “vital” is that each and every community center be closed immediately.

    • Good point, fff.  I spend several hours each week at a local community center that is 100% funded by donations.  Some call it a church.

  3. Mr. Kline,

    I could not agree with your article more.  And thank you for the kind words regarding the service of our fine police department, and city workers in general.  There are many dedicated, hard-working, highly educated and skilled folks among them who are indeed friends and neighbors.  As a patrol supervisor, I can affirm that stress is most definitely higher because police staffing is dangerously low.  As I’m sure you know, San Jose has the lowest number of officers per capita (by far) of any city in the country with a population of 500 thousand or more.  If we had twice the number of officers, we would still be among the lowest.  Additionally, only 50% of the general fund is allocated for public safety, again, substantially lower than most other cities our size.

    If you are elected, how realistic do you believe it will be to get the Council to agree to reallocate money from other funds to the general fund?  Even just 5% additional revenue to the general fund would be huge.

    Thanks again for the article.

    • Sergeant X,
      Thank you for your service, and please stay safe out there.

      In answer to your question: “How realistic do you believe it will be to get the Council to agree to reallocate money from other funds to the general fund?”

      Unless and until we replace some of the people on the Council with more people like Steve, the answer is the 12th of never. I’ll be glad when some of the Council is termed out, and new more competent members like Steve are voted in. 

      Having said that, I really hope voters carefully read Measure B before voting on it. It is poorly written, and doesn’t really tell you what you get if it passes. I will be voting NO on it.

  4. Very easy to complain.  Very difficult to create real solutions with support from a majority of the council.  Please provide more details on how you would fund more police officers and longer library hours.  Are we to assume you would raid the “special interests” funds?  According to the city’s web site, these “special interests” include the airport, waste water treatment plant, garbage collection, storm sewers, roads, etc…  Please tell us which of these funds you would transfer into the general fund.

  5. Thank you for your column about the actual budget.  Can you enlighten the readers as to what the 66% of the budget not allocated to the general fund ctually goes to—i.e. the types of projects—or is there a breakdown of this on the city’s budget webpage you can direct readers to? It would be great to get an actual line item budget including all of the special funds.

  6. Steve,

    I think you’ll run into the same sort of robotic riposte that I’ve found time and time again, when questioning our politicians on the subject of General Fund allocations.

    Our Mayor, Council and City Manager like to hide behind the fact that most of the funding allocations to the General, Special and Capital budgets are a function of City Charter demands or municipal law.

    To my knowledge, never once have those folks suggested that the citizenry initiate a ballot measure to modify existing Charter provisions or local law.  Why would they, after all, offer up significant portions of their “slush funds?”

    I must have harped on Pierlugi a half-dozen times about investigating the reasons why Capital funds could not be used for street maintenance.  My thought was that a good re-sealing of a particular street can extend the useful life by 20 years or more, thereby meeting Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), utilized throughout the U.S.

    If you can get our politicians and bureaucrats off the pot, I’m 100% behind you!

  7. You have my vote. You’re blessed with an inept incumbent that has alienated the hard working tax payers of his parents generation. D6 is fed up with PLO, Reed, Constant, Liccardo, and Nguyen. Looking forward to a change in representation.

  8. Budget item: Housing (Enterprise/Special Fund) = $151,906,382

    (description provided on page 7)

    —Provide financial assistance to individuals for home purchases and rehabilitations
    —Achieve success with Destination: Home, a program that provides services and financial assistance to the homeless and those at-risk of homelessness

    Another “essential” city service? The definition of “essential” has apparently changed from “indispensable” to “wealth redistribution.” Three million dollars a week to do for people what should be done by their families, private lending agencies, churches, and charities?

    Police beats being staffed at 66%, detective bureau gutted, entire units eliminated, fire houses closed, and taxpayers being threatened with the loss of their libraries and parks.

    We don’t need Measure B… we need to occupy city hall.

    • Finfan,

      An excellent observation!  Our politicians would have us believe that there’s no more low-hanging fruit in our morbidly obese budget.  That’s so much a lie when one gets inside of the numbers. 

      The word “essential” probably means that the money is essential for the fat-cat developers to make obscene profits and for our greasy politicians to maintain their office and continue slopping from the public trough!

      I doubt, however, that Steve Kline will agree us on this one… labor unions, building low income (subsidized by taxpayers) housing, etc.

  9. I just did some quick math, adding up the figures posted so far.  If they’re correct, we’re up to about $1.8 billion.  And that’s for one year!  So the $300 million cost for pensions over the next FIVE years is the problem?  Not to mention that the City Manager’s own budget numbers put out a couple of months ago show Police and Fire pension costs virtually flat for the next five years.  The Stanford study shows San Jose’s pension fund to be 84% funded, which is considered healthy.  The unfunded liability problem doesn’t rear its head for about twelve years.  Occupy City Hall is beginning to sound like a pretty good idea.  No, wait… We don’t have the police resources to deal with that.