18th floor views – Council members move into City Hall

SergioJimenez (1)

Sergio Jimenez

Sergio Jimenez

District 2 (South San Jose)

Preceded by Ash Kalra

Education:  Political Science degree from
San Jose State University.

Employment/public service:  Criminal defense investigator with Santa Clara County Public Defender Office; former chair of San Jose Parks and Recreation Commission.

LanDiep

Lan Diep

Lan Diep 

District 4 (North San Jose, Berryessa)

Preceded by Manh Nguyen

Education:  Independence HS; Political Science and History degrees from UC-San Diego; Law degree from University of Pacific – McGeorge School of Law.

Employment/public service:  International Broadcaster for Radio Free Asia; helped fishermen after BP oil disaster of 2010; director of Vietnamese American Workers Rights Project for Legal Aid Society – Employment Law Center.

DevDavis

Dev Davis

Dev Davis

District 6 (Central SJ, Willow Glen, Rose Garden)

Preceded by Pierluigi Oliverio

Education:  Economics degree and master’s degrees in Public Policy and Policy, Organization and Leadership from Stanford.

Employment/public service:  Education researcher for Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes; past president of the North Willow Glen Neighborhood Association; former chair of the San Jose Early Care and Education Commission and on Junior League of California’s Public Affairs Committee.

sylviaarenas3 (1)

Sylvia Arenas

Sylvia Arenas

District 8  (Southeast San Jose, Evergreen)

Preceded by Rose Herrera

Education:  Independence HS; degree in Human Development – focus Early Childhood from Cal State East Bay; master’s in Public Administration from University of San Francisco.

Employment / public service:  City of San Jose neighborhood services and youth intervention; FIRST 5 Santa Clara County; Gardner Family Health Network.

The four new San Jose City Councilmembers answered questions about their goals and downtown for Downtown Dimension. Some answers have been edited for clarity:

What are your primary objectives for your first year?

Sergio Jimenez:  My first objective is to gain a better understanding of the issues plaguing our city.  You quickly learn on the 18th floor that many of the issues we grapple with have a long and complex history, which is essential to understand as we plot our course for the future.  If I had to choose a few issues, I’d like to focus on public safety, community engagement and housing our most vulnerable residents.

Lan Diep:  My first year will be about learning the ins and outs of governing the 10th largest city in the United States, and I want to share what I learn with residents so that folks can be better engaged.  I have ideas about what I want to accomplish for District 4 and for the city, but I know that I can’t accomplish those things in a vacuum. I want to focus on building good relationships with my council colleagues, city staff, regional elected officials, and community stakeholders like SJDA. 

Concretely, I want to reach out to employers in North San Jose so that they know their representative cares about their issues and wants them to stay and expand in San Jose.

Dev Davis:  1) Increase the number of Community Service Officers in the Police Department and leverage technology to enhance public safety.  2) Focus on increasing the number of jobs in San Jose while improving the business experience by streamlining the permitting and inspection processes.  3) Improve housing affordability.

Sylvia Arenas:  Ensuring that every family in District 8, and in the City of San Jose, has improved access to the opportunities and amenities that our city and region offer.  Too many neighborhoods are geographically cut off from services and feel isolated from the community at-large.  It can be an especially acute issue for our seniors and young people.

What do you anticipate the biggest challenge to be?

Jimenez:  Managing the budget process and the amount of information coming through our offices.  You learn very quickly that almost all requests or issues have budgetary implications.  Attempting to figure out how to get things done without having the money is a challenging proposition and requires creativity.  

The amount of information flowing through our offices is vital yet overwhelming.  The issues that reach my office are so vast, diverse, and multifaceted that effective channels by which to filter and understand the issues are crucial.  This is done by having good staff and good working relationships with city staff and constituents.

Diep:  Remembering to carve out time for myself.  I have a tendency to immerse myself into whatever I’m doing.  Because I want to understand how things work, I attempt to do everything myself.  I need to remember to not skip meals and to take care of myself.  I have to remind myself that I’m representing the City now, not just myself. 

My big challenge will be learning all the laws impacting municipal governance.  Understanding what a city council can do regarding land use, economic development, job creation, etc.  Imagining what I want is easy, figuring out how to get there within the limited power of a city council is the challenge.

Davis:  Understanding the budget constraints and how to address the multitude of needs in such a large city with limited resources and a large unfunded pension liability.

Arenas:  Our city’s greatest challenge is ensuring that all residents have access to great city services, while ensuring the fiscal health of the city.

Before you ran for office, what enticed you to visit downtown?

Jimenez:  Downtown has always been a part of my life – riding the light rail on its grand opening during a middle school fieldtrip, enjoying the nightlife as a young adult, working in downtown for many years.  Having three children, my family often partakes in many of
the events.  We try our best to expose our family to the vibrancy and beauty of our city’s diversity, which is often tied to downtown events.

Diep:  The thing that I came downtown for most often was to hang out at San Pedro Square.  It’s a great space to eat, socialize, and people-watch.  I think San Pedro Square is a model for how to create other great spaces in San Jose.

Davis:  When our kids were younger, the Children’s Discovery Museum was our main reason for visiting downtown.  Now that they are older, we spend more time at The Tech and attending cultural performances.

Arenas:  Before running for council, the biggest enticements to visit downtown were cultural activities, especially those that cater to families.  As the mother of an 8-year-old and a 2-year-old, the museums, sports and cultural events downtown are big draws.

If you could change one thing about downtown, what would it be?

Jimenez:  Add more shopping venues.  This would increase revenue for the city and create the needed vibrancy that I’m sure we all desire.

Diep:  I would make our sidewalks wider.  Successful downtowns focus on the pedestrian experience.  A big part of that is giving people lots of room to walk.  The gold standard for me is the super-wide sidewalks in Berlin that encourage people to pour out into the streets.  Clearly we can’t have that in San Jose, but I do wish our sidewalks were wider by a few feet.  That way we could add vibrancy to our streets by way of street vendors, street performers, etc.

Davis:  I would like to see more retail shopping downtown.

Arenas:   I think our biggest challenge downtown is making sure that every block is thriving and vibrant.  There are still some blocks that need our attention and continued work to activate.

What will it take to get more of your constituents downtown?

Jimenez:  Whether real or perceived, some folks from South San Jose sometimes see traffic as an impediment to visiting downtown.  To the extent that it’s possible, easing the traffic congestion or offering discounted light rail fares may help in bringing folks downtown.

Also, there are folks who think downtown is unsafe so doing what we can to change that perception is essential.  An effective citywide PR campaign promoting downtown in the outlying districts may be helpful.  Word-of-mouth is also a good method in attracting visitors but we must give people a reason to talk about and promote downtown.  There is work to be done but we already have a strong foundation of “desired” amenities such as shopping, restaurants and nightlife that we should leverage to get folks to the city core.

Diep:  I think more people will come downtown if we continue to invest our efforts in attracting a greater variety of experiences downtown, whether that be food, art or social activities.  This, combined with creating a more fast, reliable and streamlined pubic transit system that brings people in from outside.

Davis:  Interesting retail/anchor tenants, events, parades and more place-making exhibits like the Musical Swings.  Some residents have also told me a barrier to visiting downtown is that they don’t feel safe.

Arenas:  District 8 families enjoy visiting downtown, but I think that we can find more great opportunities to make the trip.  As the transportation network improves and the city cultivates a vibrant downtown, families across our city and region will continue to make a point of planning visits.

How important are arts, music and culture to the vibrancy of San Jose? 

Jimenez:  They are essential to a thriving downtown.  The SoFA district is a prime example of how all these critical components can come together to create a vibrant atmosphere.  If we aren’t successful in supporting arts, we’ll have challenges in the years ahead in attracting the necessary visitors and commerce to make our downtown successful.

Diep:  Very important to the vibrancy of San Jose.  These are the things that give any city its unique personality and soul.  When I think of cities with personality, I think of New Orleans, Austin, Nashville, and Portland.  Each of these cities has a strong music and arts scene.  San Jose doesn’t have to copy these cities, because we would only succeed in being a watered down imitation.  San Jose’s brand is built on technology and innovation.  There is a way for us to build on that to turn San Jose into an attraction all unto itself.

Davis:  Very important!  Those are the kinds of events that bring people together and make our community family-friendly.

Arenas:  Hugely important.  Our city is so diverse and vibrant!  It’s central to what I love about San Jose, and it’s a treasure that we should continue to work on showcasing.

At the end of four years, what would you have liked to accomplish during your term?

Jimenez:  It is my hope that the residents I represent are in a better place than when I began my term.  I want to make certain our city returns to being one of the safest cities in the country.  This benefits residents all around our city and is conducive to having a successful downtown.

I want to look back after four years and say that under my leadership we fought for more affordable housing and we succeeded in housing our most vulnerable residents.  I also want to make certain that we have a thriving business district in D2.  Additionally, I want to say I did all I could to protect Coyote Valley from ever-growing development pressures.

Diep:  This is a difficult question to answer, because the problems we are dealing with today are the same problems that previous councils have faced – public safety, the rising cost of living, increasing homelessness.  There are no simple solutions or else they would have already been resolved.  I want to do these things, too, but it’s hard to gauge how much I can get done in one term.

But one thing I do hope I can do within my time in office is to raise the public consciousness about how government works.  I want to share what I learn as I learn it.  If I can’t do something the community should know why.  Are we short on resources?  Is there some legal conflict between state, county, or city law that prevents the City from acting?  I want to help my constituents better understand how government works so that they can use government to better the quality of their lives.

Davis:  Fiscal soundness/sustainability and a more technologically advanced municipality that is focused on customer service.

Arenas:  One that we haven’t discussed is improving the safety of our city streets.  I’m fully committed to Vision Zero.  This is a critical issue in my district – which has continued to face traffic fatalities.