A SAN JOSE citizen commission, which represents a critical voice for neighborhoods, hasn’t convened for more than six months due to a lack of members. One city councilmember has an idea how to revive it.
The San Jose Neighborhoods Commission has been in limbo because the 20-member body has only four sitting members. It lacks a quorum and hasn’t been able to conduct business since last June, preventing residents and neighborhood groups from bringing their concerns to the City Council. A subcommittee of councilmembers voted last week to temporarily suspend and reshape the commission in an effort to save it from sunsetting.
Councilmember Bien Doan said the inability to meet quorum is artificially created and can be remedied. His solution is to cut the commission’s membership in half. Doan suggests having one commissioner from each district instead of two, and one at-large commissioner. He said this would make it easier to fill seats and would require less time and resources from staff to train and aid commissioners.
“My goal is to reactivate the commission,” Doan told San José Spotlight. “This is the only commission that addresses multiple issues (and does so from) the neighborhood lens. We must allow the neighborhood voice to be heard.”
Unlike other city commissions that are filled by the council, the neighborhoods commissioners are elected by delegates from neighborhood groups through in-person caucuses in each of the 10 city districts. Without a quorum, the commission can’t meet to appoint additional members.
City staff said the vacancy rate is due to a lack of civic engagement, as well as the convoluted process to appoint members. Several other city commissions also suffer from vacancies — but the neighborhood commission has the highest rate.
A waiting game
Jim Carter, neighborhood commissioner for District 6, said there are residents who are interested in filling the seats and the city has been slow to process their applications. The commission also suffered after many of the sitting commissioners termed out in June, Carter said. Each commissioner is allowed to serve two four-year terms.
He said cutting the membership is not ideal, but he understands why it might be necessary.
“Some of us commissioners aren’t necessarily opposed to that if it keeps the commission intact,” Carter said. “But that would be like a last ditch effort because it also cuts the effectiveness in half.”
He said commissioners attend several neighborhood, ad hoc committee and city meetings. It would be hard to put that all on one volunteer commissioner, he said, adding that cutting the commission reduces each district’s voice.
“We bring up grassroots concerns from neighborhoods,” Carter told San José Spotlight. “Instead of top down it is bottom up. We’re going the other direction from what the council is looking at.”
“There are a lot of us who are still very motivated and fired up. We’re itching to get in there and get some work done. It’s difficult to just be put on ice like this.”Brad Loos, San Jose resident
District 9 resident Brad Loos has been waiting several months for his application to be reviewed, he said. Loos served a partial term, filling in for a commissioner who left in November 2021. When his term ended in June, he reapplied and has been waiting since.
“There’s always been a lot of interest in serving on the neighborhood commission,” Loos told San José Spotlight. “There are a lot of us who are still very motivated and fired up. We’re itching to get in there and get some work done. It’s difficult to just be put on ice like this.”
He said as long as the commission is suspended, the council is missing hearing from those in the neighborhood trenches.
“There’s always room for improvement, but we have done a lot of good stuff,” Loos said. “One of the more gratifying projects I took part in was the expansion of the mobile crisis response team from a pilot program, to a full on program. We provided critical insight on that topic.”
The future of the commission will come back to the City Council on April 11 for additional direction. The final decision will be made in September.
Contact Jana Kadah at firstname.lastname@example.org or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.