Sam Liccardo, 44, mayor of San Jose
Are San Joseans better off because of the economic boom?
Many, if not a majority of our residents, have enjoyed a significant uptick in their incomes, their job opportunities. but we know for far too many residents in San Jose who've been left behind in the boom, they're simply facing higher housing costs, a more challenging difference between the skills that they need to have to survive in this economy and the skills that they currently have.
How are you assessing whether things are getting "better" or "worse" for the city?
It's a tale of two cities. We certainly are thrilled to be able to see more and more employers in North San Jose and downtown. We're seeing vacancy rates drop considerably. All that is great. The other city, of course, is really characterized by the homelessness we see in San Jose. We know this is a huge challenge in cities throughout California, but it's seen no more acutely than in Silicon Valley where, obviously, the disparities are so grave.
Is displacement inevitable? Is that just something that we have to accept as a price of progress in a city like San Jose?
There are policies that we can put in place to soften the blow for those that have been left behind in the boom. The reality is, there are much larger market forces at work here. And while I think big-city mayors have the best opportunity to have an impact in the great challenges we face -- poverty, crime and so many other challenges -- the reality is that those larger market forces are more powerful than City Hall. And the best we can do is try to implement the tools that will help a few hundred here and a few hundred there.
You had tried to get developers to chip in more toward affordable housing previously. That got tied up in litigation. What's your next big idea to improve the housing stock in San Jose?
We're moving forward now with an impact fee that will require developers to pay a fee that will enable nonprofit builders to build more affordable housing. The reality is, it's really just a drop in the bucket compared to the need. We know at the lowest end of the scale, we need to be doing a lot of things to help get homeless people off the street and out of the creeks. And so this spring we'll be pushing forward with an effort to convert underutilized hotels.
I hope we'll be able to move forward this year on a microhousing proposal: that is, building very small units. For the workforce, we recognize we need to get more higher-density housing in places like downtown, along our transit corridors, that will enable teachers, nurses, police officers who can't afford the home prices here in our valley, to be able to have a safe place to live. You're going to see very aggressive efforts, particularly in downtown, where we've got 2,000 units that will be under construction or finished by the end of this year.
You are a native San Josean. Your family has deep roots in the area, and you have a deep love of the city. What is the main thing that you're asking San Joseans to do, right now, to help the city adapt for the future?
Over the course of the next several months you'll see me out there encouraging folks to get engaged in helping us close this gap between the rich and the poor in our valley. It seems to me that the long-term solution is fundamentally in education. We've got a skills gap right now, and an awful lot of folks who are not taking advantage of the prosperity of this valley are not able to do so simple because they don't have the skills that employers want.
And so with initiatives like "1,000 Hearts for 1,000 Minds," we're trying to engage people to get involved in tutoring and mentoring public school students who are struggling in math, science and reading to really get engaged to help. You're gonna see efforts from the Silicon Valley Talent Partnership and others to develop a smartphone app that can really help folks get more directly engaged. We have to recognize that this is a challenge we all face collectively. We can't continue to persist as a society where so many people are falling behind and struggling.
I know we've got a community that wants to help. We have to make it easy for them.
Curious about the boom/bust cycle that is reshaping the Bay Area? Check out our Boomtown series.