January 24-30, 2007

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Silicon Valley News Notes

Revolution On a Budget

So we all knew that San Jose's neighborhood leaders are the unpaid, unrecognized and highly motivated heroes who tackle problems in their neighborhoods because no one else will. What we didn't know was that if you put 100 of them in a room, they can turn the city's countless competing issues into five funding priorities with action items in four hours flat. But that's what happened Saturday when Mayor Chuck Reed invited representatives from dozens of neighborhood associations to participate in the first ever community-based budgeting process for the coming fiscal year. It's also a pleasant surprise to see Reed turn out to be a master architect of participatory democracy, who says he's willing to share power with the community. This is the guy the Chavistas tried to peg as a reactionary? Reed says he wants the foundation of the city's 2007-2008 budget to be priorities determined by community members. "The neighborhoods' priorities should be the city's priorities," he said. Inside the invitation-only meeting were representatives from every neighborhood from Alviso to Yerba Buena Road. The goals they worked up for the next three years: 1. Increase the number of jobs in San Jose; 2. Improve proactive code enforcement; 3. Provide full funding for neighborhood parks, pools, community centers and libraries including their maintenance, operation and development; 4. Improve community policing in neighborhoods; 5. Improve general fund revenue. The meeting kicked off the budgeting process, which continues until June when a $3 billion budget will be delivered to the council for final approval. Reed said those who hadn't received an invite could come to a Feb. 13 public hearing to tell the council what their proprieties are. "If it feels like we're making this up as we're going along, we are," he said. "It's an experiment. I don't know what's going to happen, but I'm willing to risk losing control of the budgeting process a little. I think it's important to share power with the community because I think I'll get a better result."

Communication Breakdown

It's a shame the rules for last week's forum on the policing of San Jose's East Side specified that Police Chief Rob Davis couldn't respond to any of the speakers. The two-hour meeting made for an intense but weirdly one-sided nonconversation, as community member after community member used their allotted two minutes and 30 seconds to deliver an unending stream of beefs with the Police Department's patrolling of the city's neighborhoods. There were members of the East Side 6, who described what they considered their unwarranted arrests during Cinco de Mayo; there was Carlos Vierra, who complained of being profiled as a gang member because of his tattoos; there was Armando Castro, a student at Independence High who now faces a felony after being arrested for sitting on a golf cart; and there was 65-year-old Concepcion Calderon, who said his head had been bashed into a squad car after he questioned officers over the detention of his son. This was serious stuff, and it's hard to see how anyone could not want to know Davis' feedback on the feedback—especially after some of the criticism was leveled directly at him. "This guy has never [weeded out the bad cops]," said Raul 'Curly' Estremera. Longtime community activist Rachel Perez looked directly at Davis and asked: "When are the police going to be held accountable? When?" Unfortunately, Davis couldn't be reached before deadline for a response, but a PR representative said on his behalf: "We don't think there is a pervasiveness in the department of police officers running roughshod over the citizens in east San Jose. There is always a checks and balances either at the Internal Affairs unit or with the police auditor." Is the department open to seeing more citizen oversight in evaluating the police, an idea proposed during the forum? PR says no: "Right now the chief is satisfied with the checks and balances. He does not feel right now that there is a need for a police review commission or civilian review."

No Baño Park

The Parks and Recreation Commission met last week and named a new two-acre public park after the surrounding 800-unit housing development that funded it. But Montecito Vista Park's real name should be No Baño Park. It's a legacy from the Terry Gregory years and it's located just south of Oak Hill Cemetery on Monterey Road, next to the quarry. It will have multiple barbecue and picnic areas, a basketball court, two play grounds, bike racks, a drinking fountain ... and no bathroom. Marybeth Carter, city landscape architect, says no bathrooms isn't a problem because this park is a "neighborhood-serving" park. This may explain why parks like Willow Street are packed full every weekend with kids' birthday parties and others aren't. Dee Urista of the Gardener Advisory Committee, thinks no bathrooms means they don't want the public to use this park. Funds should go toward parks that benefit the whole community, not just the development, she says. But Harvey Darnell, chair of the Greater Gardner SNI NAC (Strong Neighborhood Initiative Neighborhood Action Coalition), thinks park-goers have more to worry about than bladder control. "The quarry next door is mining rock and gravel." he says, "We must make certain the air quality is good if they're planning on having a tot lot and basketball court near it." Just don't forget to plan your fluid intake accordingly, or rent a port-a-potty to go with that jump house.

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