I turned 40 in December. I spent my birthday with family and long-time friends. Many of my friends I have known since age five, from kindergarten in San Jose Unified School District, which equates to knowing most of my friends for more than 30 years. The majority of my friends are not political in their occupations and nearly all of them have never been to a San Jose Council meeting. Instead, they are teachers, nurses, Realtors, attorneys, tech folks, blue-collar skilled tradesmen, stay-at-home parents and—as my Mom likes to point out— most are married with children.
Many of my native San Jose friends have a very positive outlook towards San Jose. Their views are somewhat different than what I hear in my council office, where, typically, I hear alot about what is wrong with our city or questions as to why things aren’t done differently.
No one questions whether Peter Friess did a great job turning San Jose’s Tech Museum of Innovation around. He might claim that much of that is thanks to the work of Birgit Binner, a graphic designer he hired as a consultant, whose job was “to establish The Tech Museum as an immediately recognizable brand.” The problem is that Birgit Binner, who receives a $400,000 salary for her two-year contract, is also Friess’s wife.
The Council punted the Redevelopment Agency (RDA) budget last week to February 2010. As has already been highlighted in the news, the state is taking $75 million away from San Jose’s RDA. We need to pay the State off in May and identify where the money is coming from in March (no negotiation or payment plans on this matter are allowed by the State). The legislature, recognizing that this payment would be difficult for all RDA agencies, allowed for borrowing from affordable housing money which is 100-percent funded from RDA. Twenty percent of all RDA money goes off the top to the Housing Department in San Jose.
The City of San José is facing yet another year of budget deficits. The projected deficit for FY 2010-2011 is over $100 million. We have cut the fat out of our budget and have laid off City and Redevelopment Agency employees. Our situation has been further exacerbated by the terrible job the state legislature did of closing their deficit by taking funding from local municipalities. Unfortunately for the City, we cannot do the same. We must make difficult decisions and have the courage to change our approach to budgeting.
San Jose’s movers and shakers are wrestling with two important questions. First, should the San Jose convention center expansion project move forward? And second, where should the new federal courthouse be built?
As reported on San Jose Inside last week, the city and state budget crisis has forced the city and its redevelopment agency to scale back the project from $300 million to $140 million. And, the state’s plan to pull $75 million from the San Jose RDA creates an additional hurdle. Councilmember Sam Liccardo has indicated that he is, “…not willing to do anything that puts the RDA’s future viability in peril.”
A couple of weeks ago I put together my own web based Redevelopment Budget survey. I shared financial information in bullet point form in the introduction and then gave information throughout the survey. In some cases I would state the dollar amount given to a particular program and then ask a question. More than 600 people completed the survey, which required that each question be answered. The survey could not be taken twice.
As with most issues that involve money, the feedback to my survey was mixed
Last week, at the city council meeting, I removed an item from the consent calendar on the agenda for discussion. As you may remember from my blog about San Jose’s million-dollar golf nets, consent calendar items do not have individual discussion, but rather are voted on all at the same time. If one wants to discuss a consent item, you have to “remove” it for discussion.
The item I removed was asking $993,876 for the library to spend over the course of seven years on an online tutoring service for kids.
Last week, the council had a special meeting to discuss the upcoming $96 million budget shortfall. $96 million is the equivalent of eliminating all library, park and community center positions citywide. My fellow councilmembers and I gave the city manager direction on how best we think the budget gap could be closed.
There’s one thing that everyone in city government agrees on—the deficit is growing. It now stands at $96.4 million, the worst it’s been since the dotcom bust, and there seems to be no end in sight as it inches ahead to the $100 million milestone.
Last night, the City Council voted 10-1 to share the burden more or less equally between three distinct sectors. Inevitably, the taxpayer is up there on the frontlines, with several new taxes proposed
Year after year, the citizens of San Jose are told that their city government faces a “structural” deficit and that additional cuts in city services will have to be made to balance the budget. Whose budget is it really?