San Jose, California
taking actions for equity, safety, and vitality
A technological, forward-thinking city with a view to providing amenities suited for its residents
History buffs will recall that when San Jose was established for Spanish missionaries in the late 18th century, it was planned specifically to serve as a major food supply point for the central coast area of Alta California. It may seem odd today, since the area has long been known as an orchard region, providing fertile soil to the silicon transistor and umpteen scalable startups, but the importance of the Santa Clara Valley’s legacy as an agricultural powerhouse can’t be overstated for the simple fact that farming is so much at the root of community and security. Certainly, it’s a metaphor that paints the picture (as good as any) that nurturing begets abundance, which begets the confidence to realize the limits of potential.
Today, San Jose, the quintessential historic-futurist city, still represents for many the bountiful promised land of ‘Heart’s Delight’. What remains to be seen is how a city born of sustenance to fill the wants of several generations, will incorporate trends in clean technology and sustainability, to create more opportunities for growth, innovation, well-being, and prosperity for the centuries to come.
“The roots of why San Jose is a great community is that we’ve always been focused on this idea of the ecosystem,” offers Nanci Klein, Deputy Director of Economic Development. “For decades, people came to San Jose and Silicon Valley because it’s where you could go from concept to product in a short amount of time. There were tech mentors and strategic planning advisors everywhere, and these resources are still a big advantage in San Jose. It’s a very open community. There’s less of a veneer here. CEOs are actually accessible. And that remains a hallmark of San Jose.”
Nurturing talent is a vital aspect in competing for a valuable workforce, and the city is embracing diversity and inclusivity practices at all levels of business. “There are more C-level managers and executives produced at San Jose State University than all other universities combined,” Klein continues. “The student body is 85% non-white, and that speaks volumes. They’re working hard to change the complexion of what they find in tech. Tech loves having people from different quadrants of the earth because it produces new and more varied ideas to capitalize on in the best of ways.”
Klein was privileged to serve as lead negotiator of the Google Project Development Agreement and is well-suited to complement the company’s dedication to making San Jose a better, safer place.
“They’re working with the city in very innovative ways to grow workforce development,” she explains. “They have a $155M fund that will be governed by a 13-member board supporting growth. Five members will be people with lived experience of homelessness—that’s the true beauty of the fund. Beyond that, Google has a wonderful commitment to quality, to create a community rather than a campus. The agreement will bring in 20,000 plus jobs. It’ll bring transit riders. It’ll also contribute to the vitality and patronage of local residents.”
Of the 4,000 units being built for residential in Downtown West, 1,000 will be designated for a range of affordable housing.
“Google has advanced land and money to avoid displacement, creating homes and spaces for those who might have otherwise been displaced for homes and jobs that are incoming,” Klein remarks. An impressively massive undertaking, the 80-acre development is expected to take between 10 and 30 years to fully build.
Extending out of the accelerated business growth in Downtown San Jose, in 2018 the city launched a community-based clean energy program offering renewable energy options at competitive prices to residents and businesses. Known as San Jose Clean Energy (SJCE), the initiative provides carbon-free power from sources like solar, wind, and hydropower. Electricity sourced by SJCE is delivered over existing utility lines, with PG&E continuing to do maintenance, billing, and customer service as they always have.
“We’re the largest jurisdiction operating a program like this,” says SJCE Director, Lori Mitchell. “We source the energy to accelerate investments and renewables to meet the city’s climate goals. We’ve been operating over four years at 60% renewable energy, which is significantly cleaner than what they would’ve gotten with PG&E’s service.”
Customers also have the option to upgrade to their 100% renewable, carbon-free electric generation service, TotalGreen.
“It’s available at a very attainable cost,” Mitchell explains. “It’s a fantastic option for customers who want to be more renewable, but it’s strictly a personal choice. Residents and businesses can install solar panels, and they’ll have a net energy metering rate that pays them for excess electricity at a higher rate than what PG&E provides. This program was designed for customers that want to invest in solar. The average cost is only about 5% more, and they can opt out or back in at any time.”
The main catalyst for SJCE was furthering the priorities of Climate Smart San Jose, the Carbon Neutrality plan that was approved by the City Council in 2018. Nothing short of a momentous endeavor, the framework made San Jose the largest city in the U.S. to have set the goal to achieve neutrality by 2030.
“Customers have a lot of flexibility with that,” Mitchell insists. “The city is investing in a lot of new renewable power supplies—solar, wind, geothermal. There are also goals around program offerings for energy efficiency and electric vehicle programs. Commercial clients can build programs for more efficient HVAC and refrigeration services. Our website (sanjosecleanenergy.org) highlights that for companies, and they can check to see if they qualify.”
All net revenues are reinvested into lower rates and/or programs. “It’s certainly encouraging people to connect for further opportunities,” Mitchell shares.
From an equity perspective, San Jose is trying to make services friendlier and more accessible, for business and community support entities. To that end, the city announced last summer its new Equity Through Data and Privacy program, which uses government data and analytics to improve both equity and accountability in the way that the city serves its residents. From using data to transform processes to understand gaps and opportunities in broadband expansion and equitable transit, the program—a joint effort between the Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation, the Office of Racial Equity, and the Information Technology Department—will also work to enhance digital privacy using three core tenets: transparency, community engagement, and community impact.
“We’ve created an Equity Atlas to understand which areas are underdeveloped, underserved, or have language barriers,” shares Khaled Tawfik, Director of Information Technology. “We want to ensure that Hispanic and Vietnamese communities understand our services. We’ve also done a pilot of installing cameras to detect and deter crimes in certain areas. The cameras help preserve the peace, but privacy is still front and center.”
They’re also providing free wifi in neighborhoods where it’s needed, either for lack of connectivity or economic resources.
“We have strategic locations closer to some of the schools that we’re targeting so that these connections can happen through fiber,” Tawfik explains. “We also just finished upgrading the infrastructure at the San Jose Airport to improve their wifi. They’re now providing the fastest wifi in the nation.”
Equity Through Data also hopes to expand its program for job growth, by reaching out to communities where they can invite kids to learn and get excited about technology. “We’re looking to mentor kids through technology, to get degrees and maybe even municipal jobs in technology,” Tawfik says. “We’d also love to see high schoolers be eligible to earn credits for these programs. The demand in this sector is growing rapidly, so we’re trying to secure resources to make this program more viable.”
Being the largest city in the San Francisco Bay Area (and the third largest in California), San Jose is also funding a number of safety improvements to decrease its emergency response time and reduce the impact of criminal activity. Their 911 Dispatch Center on Mission Street is combined with both the police and fire departments, so they have an incredible opportunity to leverage technology to provide access and bring simplicity to their day-to-day operations.
“We’re currently using an interface that turns stop lights green for fire and police, so that if they need to get somewhere, we have a configuration that tracks their movements through GPS, and updates the light switchboard in real-time as part of an algorithm,” shares Judi Torrico, Deputy Director of the Bureau of Technical Services, San Jose Police Department.
“That gets residents medical aid as quickly as humanly possible. We’ve also just launched fixed automated plate readers, which plug into a network of cameras at major intersections around the city. It’s been an uphill battle, honestly—we want to make sure we’re doing our due diligence by bringing forward technology to service residents correctly.”
The city followed a similar approach when it launched body-worn cameras, ensuring that the community was engaged and supportive before implementing the technology.
“We’re now using Microsoft Power Bi for crime analytics, we’ve launched public safety dashboards on the police department’s website,” says Torrico. “We’re ensuring that the public is aware of those metrics—areas with higher crash frequencies, mitigation plans, gang statistics. We have such a large department and when you scale things up, it gets expensive. You can add all of this technology, but you need the right support staff to roll it out successfully.”
For San Jose, making sure the city is the safest environment possible for residents remains paramount.
“The technology at our disposal is truly amazing. But we can only deliver on the mandate if we have the right resources and people to manage those technological advances.”
AT A GLANCE
San Jose, California
What: tech center and innovation hub with new safety and economic developments
Where: Santa Clara County, Northern California