Changes may be coming to the composition of San Jose’s commissions, but that decision is in the hands of voters.

Measure I, on the ballot for the Nov. 8 election, would amend the city charter. If passed, proponents believe it will make changes that allow the city to operate in a fair and ethical manner. This includes codifying the city’s ethics and elections commission so it can only be disbanded by voters and not the city council; remove gendered language and citizenship requirements to serve on city commissions; and require the city to adopt an equity statement of values.

The city charter can only be changed through a citywide ballot measure and a majority vote.

The charter is a document that determines how the city is governed, which commissions are needed, the number of council districts and locations and whether the city has a “strong mayor” system—where the mayor has the power to hire and fire department heads.

Huy Tran, a workers rights attorney and member of the Charter Review Commission, argues Measure I is a diluted version of dozens of recommendations brought forward by the Charter Review Commission, a 23-member task force created to improve San Jose’s governing style. It was formed after Mayor Sam Liccardo tried to push for a strong mayor form of government—something the commission ultimately decided against. The commission also recommended the city align mayoral elections with presidential elections, which voters overwhelmingly supported in June.

While the measure does not bring forward all the commission’s recommendations, like expanding San Jose to 14 council districts instead of its current 10, the measure helps set the stage for more improvement, Tran said.

“In some respect, this is a feel good proposal,” Tran told San Jose Spotlight. “I don’t want to say that these are all not substantive, but they were all presented as part of packages of proposals. Pieces of of them were brought forward, which is a good first step.”

Strengthening governance

Measure I would protect the city’s election commission, known as the Board of Fair Campaign and Political Practices which monitors compliance and investigates alleged city election law violations. Under the current structure, the city council can disband the commission at anytime. If Measure I passes and becomes part of the city charter, voters would need a majority vote to remove the commission from charter language.

“So we’re not creating a new commission,” City Clerk Toni Taber told San Jose Spotlight. “We’re just making a commission that already exists to be under the power of voters instead of the power of the council. The council can still approve their processes and procedures, but the council can’t disband it.”

The planning, civil service and salary setting commissions would also change to allow any San Jose resident, regardless of voter registration or immigration status, to serve on the commission. Currently, a resident must be a registered voter to be a commissioner, as outlined in the city charter. If passed, none of San Jose’s 27 commissions would require citizenship except the Board of Fair Campaign and Political Practices.

Tran said this is an important step because it would allow all of San Jose to be represented through these decisions.

“Expanding on the ability for people to participate in our commissions is a way to ensure that we don’t lose that perspective,” Tran told San Jose Spotlight. “You can’t craft a policy that’s designed only to help a certain group of people and leave everyone else to fend for themselves, because then you can create more of the problems you are trying to fix.”

Measure I would also remove any pronouns from the charter—of which most are “he/him.” Proponents say adjusting the language is a small change that could have profound impacts on underrepresented residents. The measure would also create a statement of values promoting racial and social equity, inclusion and racial and social justice.

“(This) will provide guidance to city officers and employees in their conduct while discharging their public responsibilities,” City Attorney Nora Frimann wrote in her analysis of the measure. “Including development and implementation of decisions, policies, budgets, programs and practices.”

The measure does not appear to be contentious, with no opposing arguments submitted to the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters. It’s garnered support from several elected officials including Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren and Sacred Heart Community Service Executive Director Poncho Guevara. San Jose Councilmember Sergio Jimenez also considers it an important step toward stronger city governing.

“I encourage residents to support this measure because it will strengthen the integrity of elections and campaigns,” Councilmember Sergio Jimenez told San Jose Spotlight. “(It also) creates a more inclusive government that acknowledges the importance of our diversity and embeds equity in all we do, which is so vitally important.”

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