Interview by Sharon McElhone
Councilmember and mayoral candidate, Sam Liccardo’s roots to Santa Clara County run deep as a third generation member of an immigrant family that settled in the Bay Area.
His mother’s side can be traced back to Clara Ortega and John Gilroy and his grandparents owned and operated a grocery store in downtown San Jose. Councilmember Sam Liccardo went on to attend Bellarmine College Prep and Georgetown University before graduating from Harvard Law School with degrees in law and public policy. Before becoming councilmember of District 3, Sam served in the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office as a prosecutor of sexual assault and child exploitation crimes and as a federal prosecutor. His website says his focus as a council member is on public safety, growing the economy and making city government more effective.
What do you think needs to be done in order to restore San Jose’s title as one of the safest cities in America?
“I’ve pushed for PredPol, a technology that enables us to detect trends in crime. It’s a technique being employed in cities like Los Angeles and Santa Cruz because it deploys officers to where crimes will most likely occur. We need to restore policing. Many contracts require police to move from a beat every six months, which doesn’t allow them to develop relationships with residents, teachers, and businesses. Through those relationships residents become more confident and are more likely to disclose more information. As mayor, I will eliminate the six-month policy. We desperately need to improve the linguistic skills of officers too. It is critical to have officers proficient in Spanish and Vietnamese and pay them for getting those certifications.”
Do you have plans to improve the downtown area? What plans do you have?
“The revitalization of any downtown in America requires one critical element. That is you need to have a lot of people living there. That is the only way to sustain retail and vibrancy. That is why I have led the effort for high-rise and to bring Bart to downtown. It is why I have worked hard to build our transit system, so we now have a rapid bus system to the East Side. I also led to fill our storefronts by offering employers reduced parking fees for employees if they sign a lease. One hundred employers have moved downtown and filled half a million square feet of office space. My plan includes bringing a ballpark to San Jose. We also have arrivals of new companies like Electric Cloud and Apigee, which leased 42,000 sq.ft in downtown this year. We are going to add 2,500 units of new construction downtown.”
What is your position on the high rents we have seen in the last six months and do you foresee a time when the middle class won’t be able to afford to live in San Jose?
“I care passionately about Affordable Housing. I support the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance, a requirement that says if developers build new housing they have to also build affordable housing or pay a fee for the city to work with non-profits to build affordable housing. But San Jose is being sued right now for that requirement and it is now in the courts. In the meantime, we need to reduce the cost of living by having citizens live close to work and jobs to reduce transportation cost. We know that one third of their income is spent on transit so more housing on the transit line or living closer to work can make it more affordable for families.”
Do you see any problems with our water supply if our population keeps growing with the current pace of high density housing being built?
“There are grave problems with water supply with low density housing especially in areas like Almaden and Coyote Valley where it has to be transported and it’s costly. Fifty percent of our use is in yards. High-density housing reduces water usage because there are no yards. I’m in favor of a strong investment in the water recycling system too. We only recycle ten percent of our water and we can do better because there is a huge demand for recycled water from industry and agriculture for outdoor use, park strips for example. We have a lot of vegetation. I would also explore other options for recycling using examples from the Middle East that knows about water shortage and pilot a dieselization plant. The question is can we use desalination water that would not increase our carbon footprint and San Jose should take the lead.”
Do you see how we can avoid high-density housing?
“We are going to add 470,000 people in the next 26 years. Two thirds of those folks are our children and grandchildren. Any politician that says they are going to stop growth is lying. The question isn’t whether we will grow but how we will grow. We can certainly continue the sprawl, but if you ask people sitting in their cars on the freeway in traffic like I am doing right now how that is working for them, I imagine they would say it isn’t. It leads to traffic congestion. It costs more money because we have to provide services. There is no need to build high density in any area other than in the downtown core and major corridors. The way to preserve our neighborhoods and alleviate traffic is to focus high density in downtown. We also made it clear that there would be strict preservation of the existing character of our neighborhoods.
How would you address homelessness in San Jose?
“It’s a very important issue that requires many solutions. There are many reasons why someone is homeless. I want to bring back the San Jose Streets team with the help of the environmental protection agency to clean the creeks. Two and a half years ago we launched a program to employ the homeless to clean the creeks. They get housing and vouchers. Fifty people have been moved into permanent housing and we are working with forty more people to get them housing. We need more funding. Homeless people on the streets may be costing us more money to have them be homeless than to house them. The city pledged four million and another four million has been pledged. There are a lot of services around, but we have to get someone off the street first. We’ve identified 1,000 individuals that are costing us money and have gotten 620 of them into housing. It takes private and public resources. I’m also working with the Superior Court to create a homeless court with one judge who will know the individual and be able to give incentives and modest punishments. If someone is arrested seventy two times in one year, they are costing the city money. We can no longer tolerate some of the disruptive behavior.”
Do you have a vision of how to bring more multiculturalism to San Jose?
We should do more to celebrate our diversity. We saw big battles over Little Saigon. I see no reason why we cannot celebrate a little Guadalajara or little Italy. It’s a celebration, and we should recognize opportunities to allow our diversity to shine. I feel strongly about making it mandatory for our officers to be bilingual. We need to have a city that is accessible. The city will also not be involved in anyway with federal immigration authorities so people feel safe reporting crimes. We can do more to make San Jose a gateway city. Also, China is going to become the largest economy in the world, and I have worked hard to build ties with China and with other growing economies like India and Latin America.”
What inspirations have you garnered from the successes of Mayor Susan Hammer or Janet Hayes.
“I’m proud to be supported by Mayor Susan Hammer. Her leadership created a more inclusive San Jose; she was responsible for the creation of the Mexican Heritage Plaza and in bringing the biblioteca to the Washington community, which is in my district. She believed that we needed a city hall that is fundamentally focused on helping those that need a hand up the most, that means focusing on after school programs for people that can’t afford them, sports leagues, tutoring, restoring policing, and supporting small businesses, which the majority are lead by immigrants. I’m also proud to be supported by Blanca Alvarado and Fernando Zazueta.”
If you become Mayor of San Jose, what do you think your biggest concerns will be?
“Public Safety is a grave concern for all of us, and that is why as a former criminal prosecutor, I am concerned about our diminished sense of safety. That is why I led an initiative to hire over two hundred officers over the next two years. Ten out of the eleven council members signed off on it, restoring pay and setting dollars aside for hiring and training officers. It’s about rebuilding the sense of trust, leveraging our technology and how we use our scarce resources. I’m concerned that we’ve become one valley but two worlds between those that are prospering and those left behind and as the next mayor, I plan to support public schools to help our children close the gap.”