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?

Fixing a Broken System

By Alberto Torrico

On June 3, the state Assembly acted to protect police officers from those who would scapegoat public safety employees for the financial woes faced by cities and counties statewide.

The Assembly passed Assemblymember Tony Mendoza’s AB 155 by a 47-25 vote. I am the principal co-author of this bill, which would stop union foes and their attorneys from wielding the threat of bankruptcy – or an actual bankruptcy declaration itself – as a hammer to break hard-won labor contracts.

Vallejo’s bankruptcy filing last year set off a chain reaction that will see no winners, except perhaps a number of high-priced attorneys. Our recession left Vallejo with sagging sales and property tax revenues. But the city’s problems were compounded by years of financial mismanagement and an anemic economic development plan.

Vallejo’s firefighters and police officers did what you would expect dedicated employees to do: they conceded benefits and salaries in an attempt to ease the city away from the financial brink.

But rather than work with the unions and accept their concessions, Vallejo’s city council, in the words of the local paper, “seemed hell-bent on finding some way – any way” – to break the contracts. Unfortunately, leaders are risking the city’s fiscal stability with their pre-ordained conclusion that bankruptcy is the sole answer to this crisis.

Now other cities may be tempted to use the threat of bankruptcies as a quick way to gain savings without dealing effectively with their own budget shortages.

This is why I support AB 155. It’s a reasonable, measured response to what’s happening in Vallejo and what may occur elsewhere. It says a local public entity may only file under federal bankruptcy law with the approval of the California Debt and Investment Advisory Commission.

The goal is to allow an independent set of financial experts to explore all options to avoid bankruptcy. While bankruptcy could provide short-term relief, the long-term negative effects will harm both cities and the state. Interest rates will increase, hurting taxpayers and the services they demand. The effects on Vallejo provide just one example. Employees are leaving, morale is low and the community is badly divided.

AB 155 will prohibit cities from filing for bankruptcy without first working with the CDIAC to research all alternatives. It ensures bankruptcy will only be used as an absolute last resort. Twenty-two states don’t even allow bankruptcy as an option. This bill will put California on a middle course with the 16 other states who allow bankruptcies but only after a thorough review with state oversight.

Our public safety employees, and the people who rely on them, will benefit from this smart public policy.

Alberto Torrico is the Majority Leader of the California State Assembly.

The State of Public Safety in San Jose

By Ed Rast

These are the facts:

San Jose residents, businesses and neighborhood leaders have consistently ranked public safety as the highest city service budget priority.

Our police and fire officers are widely recognized as hard working, motivated professionals and have developed innovative and highly effective public safety programs to offset over a decade of understaffing and budget shortages.

SJPD programs like community policing, gang prevention, and neighborhood action are proven to reduce or prevent crime. License plate readers identify stolen vehicles, and Public Computer Aided Dispatch educates the public about crime in their neighborhoods and citywide.

The fire department is implementing expanded Community Emergency Response training like Heart Safe City to keep people alive until emergency personnel arrive.

San Jose has a very low ratio of police and fire officers to residents. Our public safety departments have faced numerous budget reductions. The failure to maintain officer numbers in proportion to our population and geographical area has resulted in severe under-staffing. Each officer’s workload has dramatically increased as ranks are stretched across an ever-expanding city -— reducing overall public safety.

The results have been slower police, fire and emergency medical response rates than other local cities and many more unreported, un-investigated, and unsolved crimes than we’ve seen in past years.

Even with staff and budget shortages, San Jose has only declined from 1st to 4th Safest Large City in America (over 500,000 population) according to FBI crime data. This shows how effective our police department is compared to other large cities.

In my opinion, San Jose needs a facts-based, less-emotional community conversation about community policing and emergency response; about community expectations, crime rates and how staffing and funding affect outcomes; about how we compare to other local cities, what are acceptable and unacceptable performance measures, and solutions that will deliver the public safety results our community desires.

I’ll share my thoughts about these issues and the data to back them up on this blog. I hope we can have a substantive, productive discussion.

Check back tomorrow for a special guest blog from Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico.

Neighborhood Safety Vigil

By Kathleen Flynn

On May 23, 2008, I lost a friend of 23 years to a senseless crime. My friend, Vahid Hosseini, was only 47 years old when he died. Vahid was a son, a brother, a husband, a father of two beautiful daughters, a small business owner, and a beloved member of the community.

Vahid owned the Willow Market in San Jose, a few blocks from Bank of the West, on First Street. One day, Vahid went to the bank to withdraw money for his check cashing business. As he was leaving the bank, three men came up from behind, robbed him in broad daylight, shot him execution style, and left him to die in the parking lot. To my deep sadness, Vahid passed away from his gunshot wound on June 3, 2008.

I’m very proud to say that, thanks to the hard work and dedication of the San Jose Police Department, Crime Stoppers, and members of the community, police recently arrested five suspects involved in Vahid’s murder. The investigation of is still ongoing.

In an effort to honor the memories of my friend Vahid, Officer Jeffrey Fontana, victims of violent crime, their families, and the SJPD, I have organized a neighborhood safety vigil.

Please join us outside City Hall on Tuesday, June 9th, from 7 to 9 p.m. as we gather to support the silent majority of San Jose residents and our wonderful police department.

Speakers and honored guests will include:

  • Dolores Carr, District Attorney of Santa Cara County
  • Hon. Pete Constant, San Jose City Council
  • Bobby Lopez, President, San Jose Police Officers’ Association
  • Randy Sekany, President, International Association of Fire Fighters Local 230
  • Jim Cogan, President, Crime Stoppers
  • Sandy Fontana, mother of slain San Jose police officer Jeffrey Fontana
  • Cassandra and LeeAnn Hosseini, Vahid's daughter and widow

There will also be a blessing delivered by Dr. Bonita Carter-Cox, President of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Association of Santa Clara Valley, and Police Chaplin Bridgen.

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