Every Dollar Counts

By Bobby Lopez

With all the brouhaha over the city budget in the past couple weeks, you might have missed this interesting nugget: the San Jose Police Officers’ Association and the City agreed on a way to save over $200,000 a year.

Like everybody else these days, we’ve been looking for ways to cut down on expenses without sacrificing the safety of our streets and neighborhoods. I’ve always said we’re willing to talk with the City about ideas for helping with their budget problems.

One of these ideas was to provide the option of using specially-trained traffic flaggers at construction sites. In the past, the City as well as private developers and utilities used off-duty cops to direct road traffic around construction sites in San Jose. While experienced officers are necessary for directing traffic through busy roads and intersections, there are also sites on quiet neighborhood streets where certified flaggers would be cheaper.

Last month, we got together with the City Manager’s office to amend the traffic flagger ordinance to include the option of using certified flaggers where appropriate. This amendment was approved by the City Council on Tuesday, the same day the 2009-10 budget went final.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “That’s great news, Bobby. But what the heck does a measly $200K mean when the City’s staring at a $73 million budget deficit?”

Well, if you’ve been following this blog, you’ve learned how seemingly small expenses can start to add up real fast. A $50,000 cut here or $100,000 trim there could be the difference between one of your family members or friends and the unemployment line. In other words: every dollar counts.

I should note that the POA put aside what we saw as a meet-and-confer requirement on this issue because our conversations with City administration were open and productive. They agree with what I’ve said before: in bad economic times, we all need to tighten our belts and think outside the box — as long as we don’t jeopardize the safety of our streets and neighborhoods.

You can learn more about the traffic flagger program in this addendum to the City Manager’s budget plan.

Have a great weekend, and stay safe.

Bobby Lopez is President of the San Jose Police Officers’ Association.

Your Budget Solutions

EDITOR’S NOTE: As promised, here are some reader suggestions for solving San Jose’s chronic budget deficits, taken from comments posted in response to a blog by Bobby Lopez on Friday, June 19th. Selections have been edited for readability and length but remain true to the words and intent of the authors.

We’ve also received several interesting ideas through anonymous tips on our Contact page. We’ll examine some of those as we continue to dissect this troubling (and popular) issue. Keep ‘em coming...

Anonymous
How about cutting all the money that gets directed to "new plants" along the Coleman/880 interchange, or the money spent on a mural for the new high-rise parking garage at the SJ Airport? Or perhaps the Saigon business, err, Little Saigon banners should go. Is all that crap really necessary?

Dan Steeley
I read Herhold religiously and on most things he has the pulse of the community right on. But when he defends a Mariachi festival, there's no way he's going to win an argument in my Rose Garden neighborhood. Nothing wrong with festivals, but there is something wrong with wasting money.

Kathleen
Yeah, we need a festival over Neighborhood Watch Programs, Gang and ID Theft Prevention, Child Safety, and Business Watch Programs... NOT! It must be nice to live in a world where public safety isn't a priority but fun is! Welcome To Figone Fantasy Land where crime and mayhem doesn’t exist... I don’t think people realize how much wasteful spending goes on in all government agencies. $50K is one full time position for a GA service worker, two Council Aide positions, one EA position; I think you get the point. The sad fact is that the City Manager, and the Council seem to lack the concept of prioritizing things that money should be allocated to and fall victim to sentiment instead of focusing on necessities.

C.S.
You gotta watch out for the city manager. She has a bad habit of misleading the Mayor and Council about the budget. She protects her own employees and sells citizens and police down the river... Figone put every public safety program and department on the chopping block but passed out big cash prizes to pet projects. Good thing Mayor Reed knew better and listened to the public or we'd be in deeper poo than we are now... Some of these non-profits are a joke but they keep getting millions. Many offer the exact same services, so we don’t need ‘em. And don’t even get me started on the overpaid consultants the City hires to tell them how to do things that these overpaid supervisors should already know how to do. If private companies ran their businesses like this they’d be long gone by now. Not to mention throwing millions into downtown. Give it a break already. We could have hired 25 police officers for the money they’ve wasted on that dumb effort.

Crimefighter
Scott, the problem is not just the $50,000 for this festival... If we added up all the small amounts, it soon becomes real money... Real people are losing their jobs, and you want cultural festivals? Talk about being out of touch.

Councilman Pete Constant
What was not mentioned in Scott's column is the fact that the Mariachi Festival already receives over $1,000,000 in donated advertising and marketing each year. This figure was provided to me directly by Marcela Davison Aviles who is president and CEO of the Mexican Heritage Corp., which produces the San Jose Mariachi and Mexican Heritage Festival. She also references this figure in her June 3, 2009, opinion piece in the Mercury News. Give me $1M, and I bet I could make any business or event successful without additional money from the city!

Anonymous
What about the money the SJPD spends on having a helicopter waste gas watching people with clipboards and video cameras who are watching police? Is that a good way to spend our money? I am sure the gas for a helicopter to go around in circles for 20 minutes is quite expensive. Oh, and don’t let me forget about the outside firms hired to scrutinize SJPD's questionable tactics. More waste with much haste. And how about the officers hitting on the girls at the nightclubs every weekend? I am glad we are paying for SJPD's social time as well.

Anonymous
Lets not forget how we were conned into believing that the new (and UGLY) city hall which we just "had to have!" cost triple what we, the public, were told... Oh yeah, they left out the cost of the marble floors and new artwork for the walls (as if anybody would care if it wasn’t there) and all of the millions of dollars in interest payments, too.

No Such Thing as Victimless Crime

By Kathleen Flynn

Part of my job as a mediator is to work with both adult and youth offenders to ensure restitution is paid to their victims. Much of the difficulty comes in getting offenders to recognize the victims behind their crimes. Some offenders think that they haven’t hurt anyone, so their crime is no big deal.

Some examples of crimes that offenders view as victimless are shoplifting, vandalism, graffiti, theft from large companies, and robbing people of means. There is a misconception that the victims in these cases can absorb the loss because they’re rich or insured. The reality is that there is no such thing as a victimless crime.

Theft from any business requires the company to compensate for losses by raising consumer prices, lowering wages to employees, or limiting work hours to cut down on expenses for employee health insurance. Companies will also purchase added inventory insurance and pay for security guards, cameras, and other theft prevention devices, further shrinking employee wages and raising consumer cost.

Graffiti and vandalism often times create an even greater hardship for small businesses and homeowners. An owner has to pay someone to clean or repaint their vandalized property so its value doesn’t drop and customers keep coming back. Depending on how badly the property is damaged, vandalism also raises an owner’s insurance rates. These victims also experience a great sense of emotional outrage because many have worked all their lives to attain their business or home.

Financial hardship, outrage, and fear are some of the byproducts that go unseen by an offender while in commission of a crime. When companies or homeowners file insurance claims due to crime, the insurance company raises rates on the rest of us to compensate for their loss. When one home is robbed, neighbors become fearful that they will be next.

As my supervisor, Brohne Lawhorne, says, “When someone commits a crime, it is like dropping a pebble in a pond. It has consequences that are far-reaching to many unseen people.”

Working Together for Safety

By Ed Rast

Do you know what constitutes “Community Policing“ and how it reduces crime in San Jose?

The basic principal is to bring our many diverse neighborhoods, residents, and businesses together with their local beat officers to achieve a common goal. Community policing takes the view that police and citizens are co-producers of public safety services, jointly responsible for reducing crime and improving the quality of life in their neighborhoods. To get a better idea, have a look at this.

San Jose is known nationwide for our highly effective community policing programs like: Neighborhood Watch; Personal, Workplace, and Senior Safety; our many Crime Prevention programs; and National Night Out. You can visit the SJPD website to find out more.

Community attitudes toward police and fire officers can significantly affect the quality of public safety, especially in dense downtown, high-crime, and gang-heavy neighborhoods.

Our understaffed police depend heavily on neighbors to report criminal activity and help identify suspicious behavior. Cooperation like this is what gives San Jose a lower crime rate than almost every other large city in America.

Getting to know your local police officers face to face helps you understand their concerns and workload and helps them to understand the diverse people, issues, and concerns of the neighborhood they’re protecting. Misunderstandings occur when people do not reach out or communicate frequently.

Here are some examples of what you, your family, and your neighbors can do to help improve public safety in San Jose while growing the quality of life in your neighborhood:

  • • Let your neighborhood police officers know you appreciate their hard work keeping your neighborhood safe.
  • • Participate in community policing, including Neighborhood Watch and crime prevention programs.
  • • Attend your neighborhood association meeting, where time is often scheduled for residents and neighborhood police to discuss local crime issues and what can be done.
  • • Attend National Night Activities on Tuesday, August 4, 2009 (in most neighborhoods) Visit the SJPD website for more information.

Crime Stoppers Report

By Jim Cogan

This is the first in a monthly series detailing the work of Silicon Valley Crime Stoppers.

Dozens of presentations explaining Silicon Valley Crime Stoppers have taught me that people are most interested in the cases our program has helped to solve. In that vein, I asked Protect San Jose if I could write a monthly blog about our work.

This month, I want to highlight three cases:

In the first case, there was a report of a drug dealer peddling at a San Jose high school. The tip came in thanks to our Campus Crime Stoppers program that provides students with the opportunity to call or email us with information. San Jose police officers went to the school and found the suspect. They found a stolen police badge and arrested him for theft. Additional charges are forthcoming.

In the second case, a tip came in about drugs being sold out of a house in South San Jose. Our Officer Liaison passed the tip along to San Jose Police Department Metro unit. Metro officers investigated the tip and gathered enough evidence to get a search warrant. They searched the home and seized $3,500 dollars worth of drugs and five guns.

The last case is ongoing. The suspect was working as a janitor at a San Jose high school when it was discovered that he possessed a large quantity of child pornography. Young victims who had been molested by the suspect came forward, and the suspect fled.

Police had no idea where he was, and so, in January, we aired a radio spot about the case. After the story aired, we received a tip that the suspect was hiding out in Mexico. The information was passed along to the United States Marshals, who set up a sting with Mexican authorities. The suspect was arrested and is currently fighting extradition.

All three of these cases illustrate how valuable good information is to arresting criminals and how effective the Silicon Valley Crime Stoppers program is at getting that information in the hands of police. The community provides the information, and the police build the cases. Together, we protect San Jose.

Jim Cogan is President of Silicon Valley Crime Stoppers. You can visit their website to find out more about the program.

What’s in your budget?

By Bobby Lopez

As Scott Herhold points out in yesterday’s Mercury News, I don’t have a problem speaking my mind. I’ll share my honest opinions, and if I make a mistake, I’ll admit it.

But I know that some people are afraid to say what they really mean. They won’t call out the mistakes of elected leaders or even reckless activists. They shy away from giving their honest opinion because they don’t want to ruffle anybody’s feathers.

But contrary to what Mr. Herhold says in his column yesterday, I did not intend to “pick on” the Mariachi Festival. I only used it as an example of spending that could — and should — be directed toward more vital services in times of crisis such as we face today.

I hate it when folks at City Hall cut checks left and right for non-essential services, then cry poor every time they sit down to negotiate new contracts with their employees or decide how many officers we can have to patrol our neighborhoods.

Yes, I could have mentioned the San Jose Jazz Festival, Christmas in the Park, the Rock 'n' Roll Half-Marathon, or the San Jose Rep — all events that the community enjoys which draw attention to our city. (Thanks for the tips, Scott!) But if our public safety budget were cut even more than it already is to pay for these events, what kind of city would we be drawing attention to?

This isn’t a debate about the merits of the Mariachi Festival or any other cultural event. It’s about choices. In difficult times, tough choices have to be made. That’s what we do with our budgets at home. During tough times, we all have to focus on the essentials and cut out luxuries like vacations (or festivals).

Pete Constant made that point well in his blog on this site yesterday morning. Is anyone willing to spend $50,000 to advertise the Mariachi Festival this year while eliminating $55,000 for community CPR classes? (Scott?) This is one choice that doesn’t reflect the priorities of our residents.

With that in mind, I’d like to open this debate to suggestions from you, our readers. What are some things you think the city spends money on that are wasteful or unnecessary?

We’ll check the comments for the best suggestions and include them in a future blog. Or, if you want anonymity, you can use our contact form on this site.

Have a great weekend, and stay safe out there.

Bobby Lopez is President of the San Jose Police Officers' Association.

San Jose’s Budget: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

By Pete Constant

The City of San Jose’s budget has been the center of conversation for quite some time now. Worry and frustration has turned to happiness and accomplishment. But before we break our arms patting ourselves on the back, I think we ought to evaluate the good in the context of the bad — and the ugly.

The Good

We have a balanced budget, on time.

This represents a significant accomplishment given that the San Jose, like most governments, faces some serious financial issues.

Most importantly, this budget preserves critical public safety services by restoring the Park Rangers, the Horse Mounted Unit, a Traffic Enforcement Team, police patrol staffing, the Crime Prevention Unit, and staffing for two fire stations that were slated for closure. These are all essential city services that the public relies on and deserves.

The Bad

This year’s $85 million deficit comes on the heels of seven years of deficits, bringing the cumulative shortfall to $425 million. Deferred infrastructure repairs and improvements have an estimated value of over $800 million – not counting the needs of our city and regional parks. Then there are the other long-term liabilities like City Hall debt service, unfunded retirement, and health care liabilities.

Unfortunately, there seems to be no end to the bad news. Sales tax revenues have fallen far below estimates. Property tax revenues continue to fall. The state is looking to take and borrow money from cities in an attempt to balance their budget. There is no way to predict if all of this will wreak havoc our newly-balanced budget. Surely, we will be back to the balancing act in just a few short months.

The Ugly

We have a budget system that is "broke" — and there doesn’t seem to be a will to fix it.

San Jose’s budget process is clearly in conflict with the needs of the general public. Time after time, survey after survey, email after email, the residents of San Jose have made it clear: Public safety is their number one priority. Yet our process brought a proposed budget to the council that contained draconian cuts to public safety.

CPR classes were slated for elimination, saving $55,000, while marketing for the Mariachi Festival was added, at a cost of $50,000. This is just one example of bureaucratic priorities out of sync with the priorities of our residents.

In San Jose, it seems, all budget dollars are equal. A dollar for advertising is equal to a dollar for training that can save someone’s life. A dollar for buying refreshments at a community meeting is equal to a dollar for crime prevention.

I think this is wrong! I hope you do, too.

As the council voted to pass the budget, I pleaded with my colleagues to change the process. I urged that we categorize spending into four simple categories: things we must do, things we should do, things we would like to do, and, of course, things we should not do.

Once we do that, we must prioritize spending. Fully fund the things we must do, then fund the things we should do, and then — if the money’s available — start to fund the things we would like to do. And by all means, we need to shy away from things that have nothing to do with the responsibilities of local government.

Only then will we give our residents the essential public safety services they deserve, provide the infrastructure we need, and meet our obligations to our employees.

Pete Constant is in his first term on the San Jose City Council representing District 1 (West San Jose).

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