San José is the 10th largest city in the United States. North San José in particular, is home to the highest concentration of office space in the entirety of the South Bay. Unfortunately, despite the space in District 4, many offices remain empty and tech companies continue to build their campuses in Palo Alto, Mountain View, or San Francisco. The City of San José must focus its energies on creating the most desirable place to do business.
Through the Silicon Valley Leadership Group’s annual Silicon Valley CEO Survey on business climate, we know that consistently, two of the top complaints about doing business in the Silicon Valley are the cost of housing for employees and the unbearable traffic congestion that stifles the pace of commerce. Other top concerns include improving the quality of K-12 education, further reducing public pension costs, and streamlining the business permit approval process. These are not easy tasks to accomplish, but if we want to retain our competitive edge, San José must demonstrate its sincere desire to tackle these problems head on.
It is self-evident to anyone living in San José that the cost of housing is too high. To say nothing of low and middle-income workers, people earning extravagant salaries still struggle to find a place to live. This is due primarily to a lack of housing stock in the Silicon Valley generally and San José in particular.
Potential employers who want to open businesses in San José must pay employees a salary that allows them to afford to live here. Employers who want to import skilled workers from outside the area struggle because transplants to San José have difficulty finding a place to live, regardless of cost.
The obvious answer then, is to build more housing in San José. But if the answer were that simple, it would have already been done long ago. The problem San José struggles with is that it presently has more residents than it does jobs, and the City is reluctant to convert industrial land to use for residential purposes. The City fears that doing so would only make it even more difficult to shake San José’s reputation as the bedroom community to the Silicon Valley – a place where people reside and sleep at night, but leave to work during the day in other cities.
This is a legitimate concern. But it is one that can be overcome by building higher, denser, and smaller housing units, so that the loss of industrial land is not significant. Waiting to build more housing until a certain threshold of jobs are created in San José is too passive of an approach, as potential employers have already identified lack-of-housing as one of the primary obstacles to doing business in San José.
Commuters in the Bay Area spend an exorbitant amount of time in their cars because they find themselves stuck idling needlessly in rush-hour traffic. This not only contributes to carbon emissions that hurt our environment, but also wears down our roadways. Most importantly, being stuck in traffic takes away hours out of our daily lives that could otherwise be spent with our families or pursuing personal interests.
From a business perspective, being unable to travel efficiently from one meeting to another, or being unable to move goods and materials efficiently presents an opportunity cost that increases the cost of doing business in San José. Resolving traffic congestion in San José has consistently rated among the highest concerns of CEOs of companies in the area. The City should make alleviating traffic and reducing commute times one of its highest priorities, as doing so addresses not only the concerns of the business community, but increases the quality of life for residents of San José.
There is no shortage of infrastructure projects that need tending to in San José, but financing them has been an issue. I would work hard to ensure that the City fast-tracks investing in infrastructure improvements.
Improving K-12 Education
The City of San José does not directly oversee the curriculums of our schools. But ensuring that our children get a first rate education and instilling in them the skills and intellectual curiosity to spark the next wave of innovation is essential to maintaining Silicon Valley’s competitive edge. There are many ways the City can support education, such as by providing safe spaces for our children to learn, funding after school and summer programs to compliment in-school instruction, and by supporting innovative charter schools.
Children learn best when they feel safe to learn. While the City cannot protect school children from all the stresses of growing up, funding the work of groups like the Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force goes a long way in creating safe neighborhoods where our kids feel safe to live, play, and learn.
Learning is not restricted to the hours of the school day. In the same way that some adults are early risers while others are most productive in the middle of the night. Opportunities for continued learning should be made available through afterschool and summer programs to keep our children engaged and to turn them into lifelong learners.
Additionally, supporting the charter school movement can be a way to test innovative learning techniques and reduce class sizes in our public schools. Charter schools such as KIPP and Rocketship have already opened schools in San José and established a record of creating successful learning environments for our children. Including charter schools as an option for our children increases choices for parents and encourages an entrepreneurial spirit among public, private, and charter schools.
Streamlining the Permit Approval Process
For as much as San José wants to attract business and commerce, it makes no sense whatsoever that the city bureaucracy would hold up development. Regulations are needed to protect the safety of the public and to ensure that developers are fully licensed and insured. But without eroding the protections in place, the City can and should work to speed up the process of approving permits for new developments. We can do this by hiring more inspectors, by combining redundant processes, and by using technology to avoid a backlog of paperwork that easily gets lost.