Rose Garden Resident
Mahan's big move? Back to basics
San Jose mayor pledges to build 1,000 units for homeless people, to fight blight & crime
One could liken the job of being mayor of San Jose to endlessly rolling a boulder up a hill.
In his inaugural address Feb. 1 as the city's 66th mayor, Matt Mahan gave a nod to the Greek mythological tale that sums up the task before him in a single word: Sisyphean.
The reference is likely not hyperbole.
Mahan, a business-backed former school teacher and technology entrepreneur who won the job in an ultra-tight contest in November, has just two years to show results. He has few allies among the City Council's 10 members and has inherited a seemingly endless list of intractable quality-of-life problems that bedevil its residents.
The former councilmember's big move? Get back to the basics.
During the speech, Mahan narrowed the city's ills down to three problems: homelessness, blight and crime. It's a major contrast to his predecessor, who vowed to take on big-picture issues such as climate change.
“One of the greatest temptations in government is to try to be everything to everyone,” he said before an audience of about 2,000 at San Jose's Performing Arts Center. The evening included entertainment and speeches representing a cross section of the city — from a Vietnamese dance troupe to a heartwarming pledge of allegiance by preschoolers from a Lutheran church.
“The truth is that there are needs and desires in our community that far outstrip the capacity of City Hall,” he said. “And when we attempt to solve every problem at once, the harsh reality is that we tend not to solve any of them.”
As for homelessness, Mahan urged ending San Jose's “era of unmanaged encampments,” sparking the largest roar of applause during the night. By the end of his two-year term, Mahan has pledged to build 1,000 units of interim housing and said the city should focus first on shelters rather than more resourceintensive housing with wraparound services.
“If we had a massive earthquake tomorrow that displaced 4,975 people, which is the number of neighbors living unhoused on our streets, FEMA would have safe shelters lined up on public lands within 72 hours,” he said. “Every displaced person would have access to shelter. While I agree permanent affordable and supportive housing is the ultimate goal, we can't rely on an incremental approach to a crisis of the magnitude we see on our streets each day.”
When it comes to city cleanliness, Mahan wants to fill the vacancies among the city's code enforcement officers to address a backlog of 4,000 complaints submitted through the 311 app while revamping the service-request system to make it more accessible for residents. He plans to organize regular trash clean-ups, tree planting and wall painting.
To bolster public safety, Mahan wants the city to hire 30 more police officers within a year and tweak recruiting efforts to speed up the hiring pipeline. The mayor also urged an end to what he calls a “revolving door” of offenders who are arrested and quickly placed back on the streets, citing as an example one person who was arrested 27 times over the course of about two years.
“We need to disrupt this pattern by identifying the small number of people who need intervention and creating a system that intervenes early and appropriately,” he said. “I'm committed to working with our county leaders to ensure that when an officer takes someone to jail or Valley Medical Center, they are not simply
returned to the street a day or two later when their situation demands further intervention.”
Mahan's inaugural address also sought to heal old wounds from November's bitterly contested fight for the mayorship. He noted that his election foe, Cindy Chavez, was in attendance at the inauguration and that the two recently shared a dinner of ravioli at Original Joe's on First Street.
“We are all here for the same reason, elected by the people of this city and dedicated to seeing it become the best it can be,” he said.
In a statement, Chavez said it was “an honor” to attend the inauguration. “When I served on the council, we were the safest big city in America and working together without excuses, rancor or blame, we can be again,” she said.
But the message of unity from Mahan was not strong enough for Bob Staedler, a land-use consultant with Silicon Valley Synergy, who supported Chavez's mayoral bid. He wanted to hear more about working with the City Council's majority-progressive bloc.
“The speech seemed like a campaign ad,” he said. “I was really
underwhelmed. It was really just going to his base in the Almaden Valley.”
For Mahan's supporters, however, the night represented a stark reflection of the shifting political winds in San Jose following the departure of former Mayor Sam Liccardo.
High school senior Keirah Chen, a resident of Mahan's old District 10 who interned for the mayor's campaign, said his message on homelessness is what pushed her to back him.
Most mayors talk about homelessness, “but his was particularly intriguing. He's talked a lot about not just homelessness but also drug abuse, and rehabilitation over incarceration,” Keirah said. “I really like that message.”
John Gallo, who lives in the city's Berryessa neighborhood and voted for Mahan in November, sat in one of the Performing Arts Center auditorium's red seats Feb. 1, waiting patiently for the inauguration speech to begin. He said he's excited for Mahan to take the helm at City Hall.
“I wasn't surprised that he won,” Gallo said about Mahan's narrow triumph in November. “I think people were looking for something different.”