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).

Dispute Resolution Offers Relief

By Christian Hemingway

Are you having problems with your teenager or another family member? Are you involved in a dispute with your landlord, employer, or employee? Have you called the police about a habitually noisy neighbor or filed a grievance with the Small Claims Court? Are you going through a divorce and need help dividing property or reaching a visitation agreement?

You’re not alone. Conflict is a normal part of life for each of us. Avoiding it only makes a bad situation worse and, in some cases, can lead to horrific consequences. When it reaches a point of destructive behavior or causes emotional harm, then it is time to reach out and get help before things get out of hand. But where can you turn?

The County’s Dispute Resolution Program (DRPS) offers assistance to all members of the community free of charge. Anyone can seek the assistance of a certified mediator in resolving just about any conflict they may be experiencing.

The only thing required for a successful mediation is two or more people voluntarily participating in a collaborative effort to find their own solution to a problem with the guidance of an expert mediator. More often than not, a mediated solution is more amenable to both sides than what could have been decided in a courtroom.

DRPS is home to three divisions: Juvenile Justice, Small Claims Court, and Community. The program also offers training for individuals or groups interested in learning the principles of conflict resolution and communication.

The Dispute Resolution Program is located in the Office of Human Relations at the County of Santa Clara Buidling, 70 West Hedding Street in San Jose. For more information, contact Program Coordinator Brohne Lawhorne at (408) 792-2330 or go to the DRPS website.

San Jose: Budgeting for Disaster

By Ed Rast

San Jose‘s Operating Budget will mark its eighth consecutive year of budget deficits — in both good and bad economic times — when the 2009-10 version is approved today by the City Council.

A ongoing national recession stands to reduce sales taxes and other revenues, making our operating deficit even worse than the $73 million shortfall we already face. But we would be facing deficits without the current malaise because San Jose does not generate sufficient revenue to fund the services necessitated by its growing population, which just last month crested one million.

California cities receive very low percentages of property taxes and sales taxes, which get funneled up to Sacramento. They depend instead on local sales taxes, fees, fines, assessments, and assorted other revenue to pay for city services.

So, where exactly does San Jose get its money? To get an idea, have a look at this document, available on the City website. While you have that open, have a glance at this to see where our money is directed.

In recent years, a wide variety of numbers have been thrown around when it comes to San Jose’s public safety budget. When reading the city budget documents, one begins to understand the confusion:

Public safety (police, fire, and emergency services) accounts for $445,256,362 or 64% of our proposed $698,020,948 General Fund Budget but only 38% or $446,068,053 of the proposed $1,160,988,879 All Funds Operating Budget.

An average American city our size spends half of its operating budget on public safety. Looking only at the general fund budget, you’d think we were over-funding public safety. But seen in the greater context of the all funds budget, public safety is drastically under-funded in San Jose.

We need more revenue from sources outside the general fund to fully support essential city services like public safety. In other words, our City Administration needs to start thinking outside the box.

Public safety is said to be he highest budget priority of our residents and city leaders, but we will continue to see year after year of staff and budget reductions until the City Council clearly defines “essential city services” and funds those services to meet national standards of performance.

Crime Stoppers Builds Collateral

By Jim Cogan

In many cities, community policing begins and ends with Neighborhood Watch. That is not the case in San Jose. Whether it’s ego or staffing limitations, there are few departments that offer the same level of commitment as the San Jose Police Department.

As President of Silicon Valley Crime Stoppers, I can tell you we enjoy support from command staff in almost every jurisdiction in the county. But the SJPD has fully embraced our cause — all the way through to the beat officers.

I have had an opportunity to witness the dedication and professionalism of the San Jose Police Department in ways that very few people have. I have seen our Liaison Officer hop on a plane and fly to Missouri to detain and transport a bail-jumping child molester or jump on a tip to arrest drug dealers. Just this spring, San Jose police apprehended a top lieutenant in the Mexican mafia by acting quickly on a simple parole violation tip they received from Crime Stoppers.

The SJPD has worked diligently to develop credibility with the community. This credibility helps the department solve and prevent crimes. Their support of Crime Stoppers has built on that collateral.

Two years ago, we assisted in solving three homicides. One was a brutal rape and stabbing. SJPD officers encouraged potential witnesses at the scene to call Crime Stoppers with tips in order to remain anonymous. The tips came in, and the murderers were caught.

Last month, we received a tip that a juvenile gang member had brought a knife to school in order to seek retribution from rival gang members who had assaulted him the day before. Our Liaison Officer wasted no time in going to the school. The juvenile admitted to the officer that he had a knife on him, saying “I’m not going to lie to you...” That kind of rapport is invaluable, and in this case, the combination of a Crime Stopper tip and SJPD credibility probably saved lives.

Our police department may not be perfect. There is always room for improvement. But improvement can only come through open and honest dialogue. The San Jose Police Department has endured an assault of criticism in the past year. Unfortunately, the few constructive recommendations to emerge from the controversy have been lost in what can only be categorized as a witch hunt.

It is time we recognize that we have a professional and dedicated police department that works hard to serve our community. Eroding their credibility will not make us safer. It will only make it harder for the police to protect our great city and may compromise the continued success of programs like Crime Stoppers.

We like to say, “Crime Stoppers works because of you!” It is with all confidence that I say Crime Stoppers would not work without the San Jose Police Department.

ACLU Weighs In On Our Video

Earlier this week, Skyler Porras of the Northern California ACLU sent a letter to Mayor Reed and the entire San Jose City Council saying that, while the ACLU objects to the tone of the SJPOA's recent YouTube video, they defend our right to make it.

We're including the letter here so you can read it for yourself. (Click on the arrow in the upper right corner to go to full-screen mode.)

Have a wonderful weekend, and stay safe out there.

My Father, Our City

By Casandra Hosseini

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who attended the vigil for victims of violent crime Tuesday night in the San Jose City Hall plaza.

Words can’t describe what I saw there: police officers, fire fighters, and city officials standing together with the families and friends of violent crime victims. I only hope that events like this will lead to a fuller understanding of the personal connection that exists between our public safety officers and the communities they serve.

On May 23, 2008, my father, Vahid Hosseini, went to Bank of the West on First Street to make a withdrawal for our family check cashing business. As he exited the bank, three cowards drove up in a silver SUV. One of them got out of the car, put a gun to my father’s head, and pulled the trigger.

After 11 days of fighting for his life, Vahid Hosseini passed away from his injuries at the young age of 47. My father’s death has completely devastated our family. Not a day goes by that I do not think of him.

Last month, almost one year later, five suspects were arrested for their alleged involvement in my father’s murder. Despite these arrests, there is still a $90,000 reward for information in his case.

Our family is grateful to members of the community, Mayor Chuck Reed, Silicon Valley Crime Stoppers, and most importantly Chief Rob Davis, Detectives Paul Kelly, Mike Brown, and Rikki Goede, and the entire San Jose Police Department for the hard work, sacrifice, and dedication they committed to this case. I strongly believe that if my father had been murdered in any other city, we would still be looking for a suspect.

Unfortunately, there are ongoing cases that might never be solved if our city leaders continue making cuts to public safety. At a time when our city is plagued with violent crime and gang violence, we cannot afford to lose more police officers and crime prevention programs. If anything, we are in desperate need of more public safety funding.

My father’s life was priceless, and no price should be placed on our safety.

It seems we only hear bad news when it comes to the SJPD. We never hear stories of officers working non-stop on their cases, sometimes going weeks without a day off. These men and women risk their lives every day. They’ve taken an oath to protect our community, and they would take a bullet for you and your families.

It takes a very special person to become a police officer, to wake up every morning not knowing if you will make it home to your family that night. I think we owe them a little more respect. Don’t you?

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