IMPROVING GOVERNMENT TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY

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TRUST IN GOVERNMENT IS LOW

The latest City Auditors report shows that trust in the San José City government is near an all-time low with only 6% of respondents stating they strongly trust the City of San Jose and only 5% strongly agreeing the City operates in a way that is open and accountable to the public.  Only 3% of the population strongly agrees that the City listens to residents when making important decisions.  This sentiment is similar across most governments in Silicon Valley.

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WHY?

Focusing on San José again, it is not surprising to see why 97% of residents do not strongly agree the City listens to them when making important decisions:

  • The People voice is restricted

    • The City Council often restricts public comment time to one minute for controversial issues and has on occasion limited free speech to only 30 seconds

    • The e-Comment feature only supports around 30 seconds of speech, not a full statement

  • The People are not properly notified of projects or issues

    • The city does not consistently inform its residents of important projects, policies, and issues

    • Other than the Brown Act, there is no official requirements for the city to notify the public regarding policy, legislation, or municipal code changes

    • The city frequently violates its own noticing policy 6-30 without penalties

      • ​Timing – notices have not always been delivered on time in accordance with this policy

      • Language – entire noticing translations into Spanish and Vietnamese are not always done when required

      • Technical terms – are confusing and are used frequently and often to convey project details which the public cannot understand

  • The City does not act on public input

    • Many decisions made at the council level are appear to have been made before outreach began

    • "Dog and pony show" presentations by city staff try to sway the community to the pre-determined position of the city department

    • Residents will speak up at these event, but the city is not required to, and most of the time does not act upon their input

  • Paid advocacy and lobbying groups dominate public comment periods

    • Residents have to wait for paid speakers to speak at City Council meetings​

    • Nonprofit and other special interests organize the masses and appear to dominate an issue, which may portray an unfair representation of how the most directly impacted residents of the city feel about the same issue

  • Failure to timely and fully comply with Public Records Act requests

    • Requests for Public Records take months to complete, and are often times incomplete, with noncompliance from all council offices and departments

    • SVPAF has several outstanding PRA's that are over two months old

      • One SVPAF request took four months to complete

HOW WE FIX IT

Let The People be Heard!

The City Council needs to be consistent with its public comment times, allowing residents to exercise their freedom of speech without fear of changing time restraints or being cutoff due to the use of a curse word.  A standard two minutes needs to be adopted for all public comments. 

Residents of the city should be given priority to speak during public comment periods on all issues.  Special interests, paid lobbyists, nonprofits, and other advocates should wait until all residents and other directly impacted entities have been given a chance to make their voices heard.

 

Additionally, the city should allow for each agenda item, the opportunity for the public to make short five to ten minute presentations which are contrary to the recommendation of staff before a governing body discussion at all public meetings.  Too often staff presentations are focused on getting something approved and do not present the issue perspective from all sides of the conversation.

Notify Residents of Projects and Policy Issues Appropriately

San Jose City Council Noticing Policy - 6-30, last updated in 2004, needs a comprehensive update to address the many concerns and complaints of the residents here in our City.  When our CEO, Jonathan Fleming worked on the Neighborhoods Commission, he helped author recommended changes to the policy language which you may view here.  Sadly, these recommendations were ignored by the City Manager, Council, and staff.  His commission ad-hoc determined that staff needs updated compliance training to ensure this policy is used correctly and fulfills its intent, which is to protect the people by ensuring they are informed.

 

Their assessment was spurred on by the fact that numerous San Jose residents have complained about not being noticed properly on projects ranging in scope from small to significant, which has affected the quality of life in our neighborhoods. 

 

The current policy is outdated and cannot adequately serve the residents of our city.  Examples of this deal with:

  1. Inability to take advantage of social media (Facebook, Nextdoor, Twitter, etc…),

  2. Classifying a marijuana dispensary project type

  3. Notification distribution radii need to be increased by 25% for standard projects and by a minimum of 50% for large/significant community interest projects. 

  4. Matrix A and B need to be made clearer and updated as mentioned above. 

  5. Matrix B exists, however is not referenced in the Policy language at all. 

  6. On-site notification requirements are not in the document and need to be included in the body language of the policy.

  7. Making use of City Councilmembers email newsletters, to inform residents of upcoming planning and building projects in each district, regardless of size or scope.

Fully Comply with Public Records Act Requests On Time

The city has 10 days to determine if they will comply with the request and another 14 days to provide the documentation.  Cities need to get the people the information they requested within the allotted time period.  Do not give the excuse that the city is looking for information and respond every 14 days stating they are still looking for the information.  That is not how the law was written.

From the Office of the Attorney General:

The fundamental precept of the California Public Records Act (CPRA) is that governmental records shall be disclosed to the public, upon request, unless there is a specific reason not to do so.  In enacting the CPRA, the Legislature stated that access to information concerning the conduct of the public’s business is a fundamental and necessary right for every person in the State. Cases interpreting the CPRA also have emphasized that its primary purpose is to give the public an opportunity to monitor the functioning of their government. The greater and more unfettered the public official’s power, the greater the public’s interest in monitoring the governmental action.