San José Mayor Chuck Reed’s seventh State of the City address had an unusual tone: optimism. After prolonged and intense battles, Reed and his City have rounded a corner in the recession and are looking toward a future that may include a new tax.
Raising revenues was always part of a larger Fiscal Reform Package for the City. And while the City has its first budget surplus in more than a decade, it isn’t enough to restore staffing at the police department, reopen all parks and libraries, or begin rebuilding the rainy day fund.
“Our economic outlook is strong and opportunities abound,” said Reed. “Now it’s up to us to stay the course to solve our fiscal problems, to remain mindful of what got us into the mess in the first place, and to keep our eyes on the long-term goal – a future in which we are fiscally strong and can afford to open all of our libraries and community centers full time, repair our streets, end the fire company brownouts, and restore capacity in our police department.”
While his speech didn’t explicitly advocate for a yes vote, Reed did explain what additional revenues could mean for the City.
“We must not and we will not accept higher crime rates as the new normal. We will not write off any neighborhood. What we will do is restore capacity in our police department so we can better respond to crime. My priority for the coming year will be public safety. As we begin to realize more savings from Measure B and see new revenues from the Fiscal Reform Plan, we will hire more police officers.”
Police and fire weren’t the only departments impacted, and won’t be the only departments to receive funding, incentive pay, and retention bonuses. All city employees accepted a 10 percent cut; the City lost 2,000 jobs through cuts, attrition, and resignations.
Those losses, Reed acknowledged, were painful.
“While our Fiscal Reform Plan has averted disaster and put us on the path to recovery, I want to acknowledge that it has had real and painful consequences, especially for our hardworking city employees,” he said. “Many of these painful decisions were made in agreements with our employee unions, with the knowledge that if everyone sacrificed, jobs and services would be saved. … While pay cuts and pension reforms were necessary to save hundreds of jobs and preserve services, they have resulted in resignations and a loss of good people in some areas.”
Some of those jobs and cuts will take a long time to fully return. Restoring the 10 percent salary cuts to just the police department would cost the city $20 million this year, the equivalent of 100 police officers’ salaries. Community centers need to be reopened, library hours extended from four days a week, and the City has a backlog of $300 million in road repairs.
Facing those challenges, even when the situation is improving, has required innovation – the hallmark of the Silicon Valley. Through partnerships, the City has been able to adapt and continue providing some services through partnership models that could extend into the future. Volunteers assist with the Parks and Recreation department, libraries have turned to technology to supplement physical branch hours, and technology allows residents to report graffiti.
“San Jose is a beacon of peace and prosperity for the world. Our economic outlook is strong and opportunities abound,” said Reed. “We have made the hard decisions and taken the difficult steps to solve problems so they don’t burden future generations. But we could not have done so without the strong and continuous support of the people of San Jose.”