By Yolanda Reynolds
District 5 Councilmember Blanca Alvarado who, under former Mayor Tom McEnery, served as Vice Mayor of the City; has recently been named the Vice Chair of the very powerful Redevelopment Agency, Chair of Community Services. She is also the Council liaison to the Fine Arts Commission and continues to serve on the City’s Finance Committee.
Each of these assignments is very important. The Redevelopment Agency has altered the landscape of downtown San Jose and, in the process, has replaced great numbers of residents and business people, many of whom were Hispanic or other minorities with others who are thought to be more “upscale.”
The Agency and its Board have come under continuous criticism for cost overruns of 60%, not including change orders (the new Convention Center as one example), the displacement of many families (primarily Hispanic and minority) from their homes in order to make room for the new Convention Center and other problems, for its use of tax dollars to subsidize private businesses in downtown (such as the Fairmont and the Pavilion), upscale housing (the Colonnade and several other downtown housing projects), other hotels (East, West, St. Claire, and De Anza Hotels with more to come) and the Arena, originally promised at $100 million and is already up to $125 million with construction yet to begin (this does not include the interest payments for the arena taxable bonds which will cause the total arena construction costs to exceed $300 million. Within this context, the agency given inexcusably sluggish attention to the City’s dire need for low income and affordable housing. Incidentally, the construction, rehabilitation or redevelopment of affordable and low income housing is one of the primary purposes for which Redevelopment Law was created.
The Community Services Committee, to which Alvarado has now been appointed chair, oversees the City’s Convention and Cultural Facilities. the Library, Neighborhood Preservation, Neighborhood Maintenance, Recreation and Community Services. Alvarado will play a key role in the Fine Arts Commission as the liaison from the Council to that important Commission. The Fine Arts Commission has come under severe criticism from the Hispanic community and other minorities for the manner in which funds are distributed to as and performing groups. According to Felix Alvarez, program Director of El Teatro de los Pobres and Chicano Drama Professor at Santa Clara University says “the City’s new City’s new funding criteria continues to function as before where the majority of the art funds go to a privileged few – nothing new has taken place other than an emphasis. It’s more talk than action – the actual dollars available are going to the same entities. Over the last ten years, one can see how the multi-cultural groups have been disenfranchised. There are solutions – but the City is going too slow and the multi-cultural groups are continuing to disappear.”
El Teatro is a 24-year-old community based performing arts group centered in San Jose. Throughout its existence El Teatro has been unable to gain funding from the City, even though it is a popular arts group within the Hispanic community.
The City Council recently appointed Gustavo Valadez, a nationally honored San Jose City College mathematics instructor, himself a musician, to the Fine Arts Commission.
Another area of concern to the Hispanic community and many throughout the City are adequate, safe and accessible Parks and Recreation programs. Repeatedly, a number of community spokespersons have pointed out the need for youth centers. Mayor Hammer and Councilmember Alvarado have announced that plans are being finalized for the construction of a long needed Youth Center which will be located at the Lee Mathson Middle School at 2050 Kammerer Ave. in San Jose.
Alvarado says that the Youth Center will become possible because of the “partnership of four major entities;” the State, which is contributing $1 million for the project, the Alum Rock School District, which is providing the land for the youth center buildings, the City which will be tapped for $1.8 million to meet the construction costs and MACSA, the Mexican American Community Services Agency, in cooperation with the Alum Rock School District, for the design and planning of the Youth Center programs that will be offered.
Alvarado expects that the Youth Center will be constructed within the coming year and that the ground breaking ceremonies will occur before the end of this year. She says that MACSA and the Alum Rock School Board is busy developing a schematic (plan) for the types of programs that the Center will provide, in order to influence the design of the youth center facility.
Some of the programs under consideration are; tutorial services, career counseling, mental health counseling, athletic programs, a theater, child care and a Headstart program among other programs. Mayor Hammer, in her Unity Breakfast address, mentioned the Youth Center as one of her administration’s top priorities.
Angelina Yates, a long-time advocate of the senior citizens and the community in general says, “it’s good to know that the youth center is planned.” She says that a local group, the Eastside Youth Center, tried four or five years ago to establish such a center adding, “we need activities and a place for our youth.”
Many important events are taking place besides the usual matters of city governance. The City, County and State will be looking at legislative “districts,” Every ten years, the United States Constitution requires a census and that then states to redraw and reapportion their their political boundaries. The various jurisdictional districts within the nation are subject to review in order to assure the concept of one person one-vote.
Reapportionment refers to the process of allocating or apportioning the 435 seats in the House of Representatives among the 50 states.
Redistricting refers to the process of adjusting legislative and congressional district boundaries to accommodate population changes. All of California’s 40 Senate Assembly districts, the 80 Assembly and Board of Equalization Districts will be redrawn, if necessary, to equalize representation.
Since California’s population has grown so much 7 new US. House seats will be created. The many, if not all, Congressional districts will be altered.
Alvarado says that the County is going ahead with its study of the census count and already has established a committee for this purpose.
Alvarado says that the City of San Jose is awaiting a court decision regarding the status of the districting proposal that was approved by the voters in the three-term limit measure. Though the two term limit won overwhelming support and is new law, the three-term, which included a districting proposal, also had over 50% voter approval and now requires legal review to determine which process holds legal precedence. A decision is expected soon.
In either case, the Council and new Mayor will be appointing citizens to serve on a redistricting task force following the court’s decision.
Some of the primary constitutional standards for reapportionment are: 1. to maintain population equality. 2. to protect minority voting rights. 3. that reapportionment must be fair to all political parties and there that there will be no political gerry mandering. 4. Respect for the geographic integrity of cities, counties, and regions to the extent possible, and. 5. That districts must be contiguous and numberedconsecutively, north to south.
Hispanics in Los Angeles recently won a court ruling where in it was determined that the Hispanic community has been deprived representation, due to the manner in which supervisorial districts were established. Since that ruling. Los Angeles in April will be electing first Hispanic member to the Board of Supervisors since the early 1900’s.
Alvarado has expressed great interest in a number of issues that have concerned the community and is encouraging all of the citizens to become involved and informed.
Among her concerns is community representation on the various commissions, committees and boards that advice the City on a variety of issues; the great need for far more support for drug prevention and rehabilitation programs; increased Federal and State support for social services; a more active and representative Mayor’s Committee on Minority Affairs (which during the Fallon statue controversy came under severe criticism.)
Regarding the Fallon statue, Alvarado says that the final decision regarding the unveiling of the Fallon statue will be made when the Fallon storage costs are known and when other accompanying commemorative art is recommended by HAAC, and agreement has been reached by the Council for the location of these art pieces in the City and needed funding is made for these additional works of art.
The City Council’s Finance Committee, of which Alvarado is a member, oversees the City’s near $1 billion budget from a policy standpoint and, as a consequence, is a very important committee. Many promises can be made regarding programs or services but, if there is no money allocated for their implementation, those promises are hollow.
The Mayor has asked that each council member keep track of all citizens who are interested in being involved in Project Diversity, the Mayor’s program to ensure greater community representation on the City’s many commissions, committees and boards.
A number of Council persons, in addition to the Mayor, have indicated an interest in having more – many more, citizens involved in the decision-making process in San Jose’s City Hall. San Jose is a very large city and has the resources to do many things and City governmental decisions impact each and everyone living in or near San Jose. If you are interested in learning more or becoming more directly involved, call your City Council representative or Councilperson Blanca Alvarado at 277-5157.