Tenth San José Human Services Commission Meeting

Our first meeting of 2019! And we have serious forward momentum on a number of key issues. Hooray!

As a brief aside, this is my 1-year anniversary on the commission. 5 moments that stand out for me:

  1. Elevating the voice of a Silicon Valley De-Bug activist, Anthony T. King and having a serious conversation with SJPD and the Housing Department about how the property of people who are homeless is treated. The Housing Department said they were planning to change which vendors manage the belongings of people caught-up in what most people call “encampment sweeps”; this is the change I was advocating for and I look forward to following-up with them to make sure that people who are homeless are treated better.
  2. Re-writing the Women’s Bill of Rights to explicitly include transgender and non-binary residents. The City Attorney asked that I reformat it as a comparison table between the old bill and the new one. That seemed like busywork and another way to stonewall, but I did it; we’ll be discussing those changes at today’s meeting.
  3. Drafting a Request for Information, the first step the City Manager’s office says the need to take before they can put out a Request for Proposal to hire an independent consultant to manage the gender analysis survey required under the Women’s Bill of Rights. This is a huge deal, something we’ve been fighting for all year, and if I had to write it on my birthday, well, it’s a good way to start my 30s.
  4. This is a lot less formal, but a lot more colorful and joyful — I loved the Children’s Rights Showcase that the Human Services Commission put on, where dozens of children from our community shared their talents and learned about their rights. I did the important work of painting faces — popular designs included Black Panther, Wonder Woman, and Cats.
  5. Getting elected Chair of the Human Services Commission in my first year. It means a lot to me that my fellow commissioners trust me to lead and it’s been a joy helping move all of our goals for our city forward.

When I first starting writing these updates, they were an attempt to understand an agenda drafted by staff and the then-chair, to share my views on issues, and organize my thoughts. But since getting elected chair, I don’t have to divine authorial intent, because I am, in fact, the author of the agenda. I think it’s made these updates shorter, more focused, and more in-the-loop. But I also miss the longer attempts to get my arms around the wide range of issues we face in the 10th largest city in the United States. I’m looking forward to seeing how these posts grow and evolve as the commission continues to do its good work.

Now, onto the agenda.

First Thing’s First: 

Report from the Chair

I’ll be reporting to the commission on 3 things:

Recruitment: Given our quorum issues at the tail-end of last year, I’ll be asking folks to try to reach into their networks to recruit not-only for our commission, but for the Planning Commission that, as I understand it, staff suggested an appointment to without reopening the application process, and council required they recruit more for in the name and reality of transparency. So, apply!

Monthly Letter to Council

This letter is lighter than usual because, well, council didn’t really do much between 12/20 and last week, when I drafted the letter with the help of some local human rights activists.

Ad Hoc: Womens’ Bill of Rights

At the December meeting, our commission was asked to provide input on a Request for Information they are hoping to put-out at the end of the month. During a meeting on December 20th, they asked for a 2 week turn-around — and we made it happen. Here is what we proposed. As of writing, the agenda hasn’t been updated with the final version of the RFI and I am excited to see and discuss it.

Ad Hoc: Ending Domestic Violence

I have work I need to do for this ad hoc and am glad we will have a bit more time to work on it, since per staff at the last meeting, we can continue to work on these ad hocs until April.

Ad Hoc: Protecting the Rights of People with Disabilities

One of our commissioners helped arrange for a presentation on accessibility for people with disabilities from the Silicon Valley Independent Living Center, and I am hoping to ask the following questions:

  1. What are the 3 biggest challenges people with visible and with invisible disabilities have in being fully engaged in the civic, social, and professional life of San José?
  2. What are 3 successful policies which have worked in other cities that you believe San José City Council should enact today?
  3. Do you believe we need a separate Disability Services Commission? For the record, I absolutely do.

Ad Hoc: Protecting Environmental Sustainability Rights

I expect we’re going to talk about Community Choice Aggregation, as well as follow-up on the pollution concerns from the last meeting. Both of these issues are sub-facets of the environmental justice issues our city is facing. For those not familiar with the term environmental justice, it refers to using economic and racial equity lenses when discussing environmental issues.

Ad Hoc: Protecting Justice-Impacted Children’s Rights

There is some fascinating research about how to improve juvenile justice for youth with disabilities that I believe will play an important role in this report; I’m looking forward to hearing more!

Ad Hoc: Protecting Immigrants’Rights

I will be asking the commission for if they have heard specific updates or concerns in their communities about ICE activity. I have not gotten a call as a Rapid Responder in a few months, but I know there is still real and substantiated fear in our community right now.


An informative note on quorum: Quorum is the number of people needed for a body to be able to be empowered to act. It’s a fundamentally democratic, majoritarian tool, requiring 50% + 1 of the members of the body, because in democracy, majority is supposed to rule. There are various small-r republican institutions (like the electoral college and the US Senate) which are designed to further representative representation, rather than democratic representation; that’s a civics debate I would love to have anytime, anywhere.

In practical fact, our commission has 13 members (1 seat for each of the 10 council districts in San José, and 3 special seats for different issues that required special voices on the council, like disability services and domestic violence). That means quorum is 7 people (50% of 13 is 6.5, but there are no .5 people, so call it 6, then + 1 = 7).

We are going to be tight on quorum today, since we’ve had a birth (yay!) and major medical issues (upsetting) for 2 of our commissioners. In addition, Councilmember Dev Davis, Councilmember Lan Diep, and Councilmember Sylvia Arenas have not yet filled their constituents’ seats on the commission (Councilmember Davis’s seat has been empty since June, and the perspective of Willow Glen residents is missed). With 3 empty seats, and 3 seats where the commissioners cannot attend, we have exactly 7 people left and that’s how many people we need to arrive by 6:30pm.

We used to be able to start as late as 7, but then the Clerk’s office reinterpreted the rules unilaterally and informed us that if we don’t have quorum by 6:30pm, we are not allowed to meet. So the Vice Chair and I have taken to madly texting ever commissioner the day before the meeting to ensure quorum, after we didn’t meet for 2 months because of a lack of quorum. It’s a frustrating, time-consuming issue that is not the fault of individual commissioners, and much more the fault of the councilmembers who have not filled seats; this is one that I am hoping to resolve this year.

How you can help: If you live in Councilmember Lan Diep’s district (District 4), Councilmember Dev Davis’s district (District 6), or Councilmember Sylvia Arenas’s district (District 8) and have read this far down in this post, please apply to join the commission!

Ninth San José Human Services Commission Meeting

Note: I wasn’t sure until we had quorum that we were going to get quorum, so I didn’t post this back on 12/20. Here it is!

Our commission is finishing the year strong with a lot of important issues on the agenda. But first, a note on timing — I haven’t posted an update here since September because we haven’t met since September. This is disappointing, since our commission provides a valuable service to our community and, on a personal level, I enjoy spending time with and learning from my fellow Commissioners, Unfortunately, both in October and November, we didn’t have quorum — this was because several of our volunteer commissioners had deaths and births happen and they had to refocus on their families. We are currently on-schedule to meet for tomorrow, so fingers-crossed!

Now, onto the agenda.

First Thing’s First: Report from the Chair

I used my time to report on a two things:

  1. Thanking everyone for their time, service, and brilliance. Several wonderful commissioners present at the meeting were cycling off the board, and their service has been vital.
  2. Going over every date in 2019 that we would all have the opportunity to come together, hoping that using some of my mad scheduler skills would help us find and maintain quorum for every meeting in 2019.

Monthly Letter to Council

Read the full letter here. Some highlights included our feedback to city council on issues that had come-up in the past month and we believed might come-up again. Here is what we wrote:

  1. We were concerned that Chief Garcia’s six page memo, “Subject: City Council Policy Priority #10: Personal Care Business Compliance Initiative” (9/20/18) included was no mention of any labor trafficking assessment conducted by SJPD at the 191 identified illicit massage businesses. It concerns us that the Vice unit might be continuing the type of “sting” operation which resulted in the Ruiz settlement in the amount of $125,000 (File: 18-1388). Ending human trafficking requires a survivor-centric model, with survivors receiving access to restorative services; nothing in this memo indicates this was either SJPD’s approach or the outcome of their strategy (File: 18-1381).

  2. We strongly support council’s resolution opposing the Public Charge rule released by the Department of Homeland Security and published in the Federal Registrar on October 10, 2018 (File: 18-1419).

  3. 3. We recommend strengthening the privacy and civil liberty protections in the Automated License Place Recognition Policy (File: 18-1438). For example, in this line: “The City will not use ALPR Technology for the purpose of monitoring individual activities that are otherwise protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.” It is not clear how the city would respond if the current administration requested the license plate data from a protest where attendees parked on city property; the request would be a clear effort to chill speech as this administration has in the past, but without a clear policy on deleting this tracking information, a city employee might share the information. (link)

  4. Our colleagues on the Housing and Committee Development Committee shared a letter in September in support of increasing family-sized affordable housing in San José as part of a broad and comprehensive response to the affordable housing crisis; because access to housing impacts a number of human rights, we wish to add our support for this letter as well.

Ad Hoc: Womens’ Bill of Rights

  1. We heard a presentation from Zulma Maciel of the City Manager’s office on how they were moving forward in finding an independent consultant to conduct the gender analysis survey. This has been a major focus of the commission in the past year, and a major focus of mine on the commission, so it was gratifying to see forward momentum. Her ask: She asked if I (as the chair of the committee focused on implementing the Women’s Bill of Rights) would gather input from the other members of my ad hoc on what a Request for Information (RFI) should look like. She provided a sample RFI from 14 years ago, for a warehouse contract, and I turned it into this, which I’m pretty proud of.
  2. Some quick reading: The op-ed I ghost-wrote on this issue, published in San Jose Inside, sparked greater attention to this issue in the City Manager’s office. That would not have been possible without the courageous leadership of Taraneh Roosta and Ruth Silver Taub, who inspired the passage of the Women’s Bill of Rights; I was deeply grateful to be able to collaborate with them on putting some pressure on the City Manager to move forward.

Ad Hoc: Ending Domestic Violence

Good progress, Chris Demers is building a powerful report for council. I have some work to do for this committee that I am behind on, but I look forward to getting it done.

Ad Hoc: Protecting the Rights of People with Disabilities

Unfortunately, the commissioner leading this ad hoc has had to cycle off the commission, but I am hoping when Councilmember Dev Davis, Councilmember Lan Diep, and Councilmember Sylvia Arenas fill their constituents’ seats on the commission, one of the new members will take-up the mantle (Councilmember Davis’s seat has been empty since June, and the perspective of Willow Glen residents is missed).

In the meantime, the commissioner leading the other disability-services focused ad hoc will be trying to do this work justice, in addition to all of her other important work.

Ad Hoc: Protecting Environmental Sustainability Rights

Angie Lopez, the chair of this ad hoc committee, shared some photos of the ways in which San José city streets are being rutted by industrial traffic coming from city-owned land, pictures of hillsides stripped and potentially ripe for mudslides — all concerning and something I hope council responds to when we submit the report.

Ad Hoc: Protecting Justice-Impacted Children’s Rights

We discussed the best ways to improve how young people living in the nexus of the juvenile justice system and special education systems can get the help and support they need.

Ad Hoc: Protecting Immigrants’Rights

I shared this disturbing and validating article about how the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s interpretation of federal law has changed dramatically under the Drumpf administration. On a personal note, I haven’t gotten a call to respond to an ICE raid in my community in a few months, which I hope means more of my neighbors are safe. I know no one feels much safer and won’t until we have immigration reform. It’s now been 11 months since we requested ICE come and speak to us, and though we have been diligent in our follow-up, they haven’t accepted the invitation. Yet.

Note: Staff let us know that, because we had missed 2 months of meetings, we should be able to push the deadline for our ad hocs to April. That is good news, because particularly with vacancies, we could use the time. I’m hoping to have that timeline change confirmed today.

See everyone in 2019.

Eighth San José Human Services Commission Meeting

Tonight’s Human Services Commission meeting is the first one where I designed the agenda (privileges of being chair). The agenda is structured around our ad hoc committees, summarized above.* We’re talking about the Women’s Bill of Rights in San José, ending domestic violence, protecting the rights of people with disabilities, reporting on the needs of youth with disabilities who are justice-involved, protecting environmental sustainability rights, and protecting immigrants’ rights. It’s a big agenda, but we’re going to fly through it and if you’re interested in why, if you get excited by discussions of how to structure meetings and civic committee work, check-out the #Metas at the bottom of this post.

First Thing’s First: 

Right now our consent calendar includes approving the minutes from the last meeting. But! The minutes haven’t been posted anywhere. So, I’ll ask to remove it from consent and vote against it, since, you know, I can’t vote for something I didn’t read.

Report from the Chair

I’ll be reporting to the commission on 3 things:

  1. A review of who is on which ad hoc and see who wants to add themselves to some of the work
  2. An update on issues City Council is currently working on that overlap with our areas of expertise (some of which are highlighted here)
  3. A quick proposal of how to structure an ad hoc committee update (focus on asking for specific advice, connections, and feedback on upcoming pieces of the plan)

Monthly Letter to Council

In my Letter of Intent to run for chair, I highlighted 3 structural changes I would make as chair; one of them was sending a monthly letter to council updating them on our work, since I have have heard from staff, city council members, and my fellow commissioners that they don’t often see the recommendations we send. That sort-of defeats the purpose of having volunteer commissioners advising City Council on human rights policy, but rather than drag-on about the communication issues between the City Manager, council staff, commissions, and council members, I figured sending a one-page monthly update would be a nice mix of persistent and helpful.

Ad Hoc: Womens’ Bill of Rights

We’ll be reviewing my work-plan for the Women’s Bill of Rights ad hoc, which is our local implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). As regular readers know, this will focus on moving forward our CEDAW work in four areas:

  1. Ensuring there is an independent gender-based analysis of city departments, programs, and policies.
  2. Ensuring that analysis is fully-funded
  3. Helping city council pass an inclusive version of the bill
  4. Choosing which departments, programs, and policies undergo the gender analysis

I’ll ask my fellow commissioners for help and advice on the following:

  1. Feedback on the plan (timing, groups to do outreach to, etc)
  2. Community groups that might be interested in supporting the language, to help build momentum for passage

Ad Hoc: Ending Domestic Violence

In June of 2017, the Santa Clara County Blue-Ribbon Task Force produced a report on ending domestic violence in our county. Since 1 in 2 Santa Clara County residents is a San José resident, San José has an important role to play here. Our newest commissioner, Chris Demers, is chairing this important ad hoc, bringing experience in DC and internationally doing human rights work. The ad hoc will be producing a report in January on how the city is doing with implementing the recommendations of the report. I volunteered to help with this work and I’m excited to hear what feedback the other commissioners have for it.

Thoughts: This trick with this ad hoc will be getting stakeholder meetings; thankfully, I’m medium-good at getting people to sit-down for meetings, so I will get to use my scheduler-powers for good as a member of this committee.

Ad Hoc: Protecting the Rights of People with Disabilities

Here is the workplan for this ad hoc focusing on physical accessibility of city events and spaces. That is one of the issues I mentioned in my first application to be on the Human Services Commission, so I am thrilled it is the focus of this team’s good work.

Thoughts: Visual evidence might be very valuable for this ad hoc — I wonder if there are some photographers out there interested in making this into an accessibility series like on r/HostileArchitecture.

Ad Hoc: Protecting Environmental Sustainability Rights

A workplan wasn’t submitted for this ad hoc, so I am excited to hear how they are narrowing their scope and finding just the right angle to make some substantive community change here.

Thoughts: This is the topic I know the least about and I am pretty stoked to learn more and see how I can help.

Ad Hoc: Protecting Justice-Impacted Children’s Rights

I threw a report-writing kick-off dinner for this ad hoc, bringing together teachers, social workers, youth with disabilities, and parents over a dinner of salmon teriyaki and stir-fry, trying to dig into what kinds of needs each had seen in their communities and which kinds of interventions might be best. Here’s the workplan.

Thoughts: This is a huge topic impacting vulnerable young people, so a lot of care and compassion will need to go into the work.

Ad Hoc: Protecting Immigrants’Rights

This is my second ad hoc (here’s the workplan) and it involves writing a report on the last 9 months of testimony we’ve heard from staff, community members, service providers and lawyers on how Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s behavior is impacting our community. Two of us commissioners are also trained Rapid Responders and last month I attended a federal district court hearing in support of 10 men who ICE had moved in the dead-of-night from their detention facility in the East Bay as far away as Aurora, CO and Tacoma, WA. That case did not go the way we had hoped, but there is nothing to do but keep fighting.

Thoughts: I’m excited to learn from Commissioner Demers on this committee topic and to organize and present some of the powerful stories of ICE’s impact on our community to city council.

HSC 2017-18 Annual Report

The outgoing chair, commissioner Thomas Estrada, and I prepared this summary of the commissioner’s work in 2017-2018. A lot of good work got done and a lot of good work remains to be done.


#Meta on how to structure ad hoc committees

At the August meeting, I proposed that there were four kinds of ad hoc committee products:

  1. reports,
  2. advocacy,
  3. oversight, and
  4. events.

We ended-up with some of each of these; you can divine which by looking at the action verb at the beginning of each ad hoc’s goal, i.e. “Advocate for improving city vetting of external partnerships concerning environmental sustainability rights” vs “Report on how ICE actions have impaired communities and their access to city services.”

We’ll see how it works!

#Meta on why to structure a meeting this way: There are a lot of great articles on how to run effective meeting but they usually boil down to: know your audience, know your resources, know your goals, and know your outcomes. My fellow commissioners are busy professionals generously giving their time to help San José do a better job in serving all residents. Their time is a precious, and in fact our only, resource aside from staff time, and commissioners do the vast majority of their work for the commission outside of the commission’s monthly meeting, so structuring the meeting around how they use their time seemed best. Our goals are to implement our ad hocs, as approved by city council, with our outcome being a more just and inclusive San José. Thus, a standing agenda where every ad hoc chair gets the same amount of time is key.**


*These are draft ad hoc committees pending council approval, but we’ll move forward with them until we hear back.

**Our commission secretary, a member the San José City Manager Dave Sykes’s staff, changed the agenda to remove an item after I approved it, after some discussion with the Clerk’s office, and added an extra 10 minutes to my ad hoc’s time. I’m going to be removing it first thing in the meeting for fairness’s sake. As we work through the agenda-setting process, I’m hoping we’ll smooth out these bumps.

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