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.

A political reading list

This list used to live in a much-forwarded email, but after 2 different people (a community organizer working for immigrants’ rights in the South Bay and a shiny new scheduler for a member of Congress) asked for it this week, I decided to share it in a more public space.

I have had the privilege of staffing some pretty cool people, but back in 2014 I was looking at my first staffing job and had no idea how to be good at it. So I stress-texted one of my friends from DC who had been a staffer on the Hill.

He told me that the best staffers in our country’s history had staffed our presidents, so I should read presidential biographies, look for how their staff helped them, and then do that.

The ~15 biographies he gave me to read (and that I read in my first few months as a staffer on my evenings in my tiny rental room in Olympia or listened to on my long drives home to Seattle at the end of the week) are the core of this list. I’ve also added political memoirs that have come-out since then.

The rest of the list are books that help staffers understand where people who are not like them are coming from — because one of the joys of public service is helping people who are not like you. These books give me frameworks, new languages, social and historical contexts; probably the simples description of what these books give me is humility, the knowledge that there are worlds to which I have never been and others call home, and my job is to listen to them and try to build bridges between our worlds. I’m an omnivorous reader, so I take that lesson from fiction, poetry, comics, essays and fairytales.

4/5 of these are books I’ve read, and the rest are books I’ve bought are am getting around to reading. I *ed all of the ones which are biographies or memoirs of high-ranking political figures and bolded those which I’ve read at least 2x. I thought about breaking this up into political and not political, but I happen to think A Little Prince has delightful political lessons and On Basilisk Station has advice for leadership I use all the time.

Let me know what other books you would recommend?

  1. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration
  2. United: Thoughts on Finding Common Ground and Advancing the Common Good*
  3. Whistlestop: My Favorite Stories from Presidential Campaign History*
  4. The President’s Book of Secrets: The Untold Story of Intelligence Briefings to America’s Presidents from Kennedy to Obama*
  5. Consider the Lobster and Other Essays
  6. A Thousand Mornings: Poems
  7. New and Selected Poems, Volume One
  8. Upstream: Selected Essays
  9. Uncommon Carriers
  10. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (Modern Library Paperbacks) + the Sequel, Theodore Rex*
  11. The Little Prince
  12. 12 of The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances
  13. A Fighting Chance*
  14. Forgetting to Be Afraid: A Memoir*
  15. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
  16. Tropic of Orange
  17. On Basilisk Station (Honor Harrington)
  18. Library: An Unquiet History
  19. Campaign Boot Camp: Basic Training for Future Leaders
  20. Dreadnought: Nemesis – Book One
  21. Smart on Crime
  22. An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846-1873
  23. Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction
  24. Annals of the Former World (read the first book and audio-booked the other 4)
  25. Bad Land: An American Romance (Vintage Departures)
  26. Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair
  27. Seveneves: A Novel (every. single. book. by Neal Stephenson. Except for the Baroque trilogy, unless you like them)
  28. Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace
  29. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel
  30. The Cold Dish: A Longmire Mystery (Walt Longmire Mysteries Book 1)
  31. High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now or Never (the essay “Stone Soup” I have re-read a dozen times)
  32. A Fighting Chance*
  33. Hard Choices*
  34. Living History*
  35. The Gay Metropolis: The Landmark History of Gay Life in America (So. Helpful. So much hidden history.)
  36. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
  37. The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure
  38. Inside a U.S. Embassy: Diplomacy at Work, All-New, Third Edition of the Essential Guide to the Foreign Service
  39. Realities of Foreign Service Life
  40. The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA
  41. America’s Other Army: The U.S. Foreign Service and 21st Century Diplomacy
  42. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War (so many good geopolitical analogies)
  43. Some Remarks: Essays and Other Writing
  44. Chalice (everything by this author, particularly Sunshine)
  45. Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power*
  46. The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope Paperback *
  47. Becoming Justice Blackmun: Harry Blackmun’s Supreme Court Journey Paperback*
  48. No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II*
  49. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln*
  50. The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt and the Golden Age of Journalism*
  51. An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963*
  52. Faith of My Fathers: A Family Memoir Paperback*


Seventh San José Human Services Commission Meeting

We’ve got some exciting items on tonight’s San José Human Services Commission agenda after not meeting in July (council doesn’t meet in July so we don’t meet either), so let’s get right to it!

Chair Elections

I submitted my letter of intent to run for chair of the commission. As my lengthly blog posts probably imply, I love this commission and want to do my part to continuing to make it effective in serving our community and advising city council on human rights issues. I will be making my case to my fellow commissioners and would be honored for their support (and their votes!).

Women’s Bill of Rights (Item 1): Presentation from YWCA Silicon Valley

I am concerned that the Mayor’s budget suggests that the gender analysis survey required under the Women’s Bill of Rights can be conducted internally and non-independently. I am deeply grateful to the YWCA for taking up this issue with a strongly-written one-pager in support of a truly independent gender-based analysis of city programs, policies, and departments. More on this in the next item.

An aside on domestic violence and the YWCA in San José,: I have seen personally the incredible work that YWCA does in our communities and for people escaping violence. The YWCA recently won an $160,000 budget line item (item 2g) to create a High Risk Response Team to domestic violence in out city. Our commission received feedback from survivors of domestic violence and advocates about SJPD’s months-long response times to reports that abusers have violated their orders of protection (an order of protection is what TV cops call restraining orders).

If we have time, I will be interested to hear how this task force will work with SJPD, particularly given that — as we saw in the Independent Police Auditor’s report (page 59) — SJPD has been using one-off, unstable funding for handling domestic violence cases while using stable, city-budgeted funding for property crimes. SJPD’s seeming deprioritization of ending violence against women and other survivors of domestic violence is disturbing and I am hoping YWCA can help provide context for how it is impacting women, non-binary folks, and men in our community who are being abused.

Women’s Bill of Rights (Item 2): Formally requesting the qualifications of internal staff who may be tasked with implementing the gender analysis survey

As I mentioned above, the Mayor has requested the City Manager’s office to determine is the Human Resources Department can conduct the gender analysis survey required by the Women’s Bill of Rights using existing staff and resources. The commission has a role in determining if that is the case. Here’s how I worded it in my agenda item:

Action: Vote to request the qualifications of any staff from the city’s Human Resources Department who may be tasked with implementing the gender analysis survey required under the Women’s Bill of Rights.

Purpose: To determine the qualifications of the Human Resources staff who may be tasked with implementing the gender analysis survey required under the Women’s Bill of Rights. Specifically, their experience conducting qualitative and quantitative surveys of the kinds of large and vulnerable groups of people who receive city services; their familiarity with the needs of and experience working with LGBTQ, non-binary, and genderqueer people; their experience conducting independent reviews of city programs, policies, and departments where their findings may present a conflict of interest with their other regular responsibilities, such as representing the city in gender discrimination cases and other human resources matters.

Now, I know this is a pain-in-the-butt request, making people scramble together resumes and testimonials about their ability to do this work; it’s meant to be. I am thoroughly skeptical that the office charged with defending the city against sexual harassment claims is going to be able to turn around and conduct an independent gender analysis investigator. An image of a fox guarding the hen house comes to mind. The mayor’s suggestion looks to me like a bare-bones conflict of interest-in-the-making and requesting staff qualifications is a formal way for the commission to indicate and test that suspicion. It may seem like bureaucratic in-fighting, but sometimes that is the kind of fighting that makes for real change inside government.

Women’s Bill of Rights (Item 3): Ensuring the Women’s Bill of Rights is inclusive of transgender and non-binary people, all LGBTQ people, communities of color, and people with disabilities

This was a big project for me this summer, finishing a complete re-write of the Women’s Bill of Rights and local implementations of the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). I sought and was honored to seek and receive feedback on the bill and potential language from a dozen community members, including non-binary folks, labor lawyers, transgender folks, people with disabilities, and the full spectrum of communities of color that call San José home.

The next step is to ask city council to pass it. Here is my proposed new language, a draft letter of explanation to council, and the research I did in the drafting of it.

This is a huge deal — if San José passes this updated language, we will have the most inclusive CEDAW implementation and most up-to-date language available. Hopefully, in coordination with Cities for CEDAW, San José’s bill language could become the new CEDAW model law, helping ensure CEDAW implementation across the US includes transwomen, non-binary folks, communities of color, and people with disabilities. This is what I believe feminism needs to look like legislatively — inclusive and intersectional. Model laws were a big way that Polaris helped change the face of how law enforcement interacts with survivors of trafficking — they can be used for good or bad purposes, but they are a key tool for scaling social change. Making San José a model CEDAW city would help our residents and communities far beyond our borders.

Annual Report

Here is the current draft of the annual report; it should be filling-out significantly by the end of the meeting.

2018 – 2019 Fiscal Year Work Plan

If you’ve made it this far down in this blog post, you are a full-on civics geek like me, so I won’t be shocking you when I say that this may be the most important item on the agenda for the commission as a body. Work plans, like agendas, are the priorities of elected bodies. They make sure everyone is singing in the same key. Last post, I highlighted some issues I would be interested in focusing on.

One of the items I am proposing if I am elected chair, is to structure each of the next 10 agendas around the items in the work plan, so the chairs of each ad hoc committee has a designated space and time to move that plan forward within the meeting. Here is what that would look like.

I’m excited to hear what kind of 3-4 issues the commission wants to spend the next 6 months focusing on (since ad hoc committees can only function for 6 months at a time under the City Attorney’s interpretation of San José’s Sunshine Law and the Brown Act). Some issues I am expecting to see come up from me and the other commissioners:

  • Reporting:
    • Immigrant Rights: Investigating and reporting to city council on the impact of ICE’s behavior in San José on children and families; as part of that, continuing to request they explain their actions to the commission.
    • Women’s Bill of Rights: Reporting to council on the implementation of the Women’s Bill of Rights (oversight is statutorily required)
  • Oversight:
    • Inclusive language: Securing the passage of our substitute inclusive language in the Women’s Bill of Rights (if the commission votes to move forward with the language today)
    • Funding: Securing funding for an independent gender analysis survey for city programs, policies, and departments
    • Choosing departments/policies/programs: Conducting community outreach to determine which city programs, policies, and departments will undergo the initial gender analysis survey
  • Advocacy:
    • Domestic violence: Advocate for improved SJPD response-times to violation of orders of protection and investment in preventing and responding to crimes against women.
    • People who are homeless: Advocacy for people who are homeless to be able to retrieve their belongings after sweeps; the Housing Department promised follow-up with us on that after a new contractor was put in-charge of the work.
  • Events:
    • Disability Rights: Planning a celebration for Disability Awareness Day (10/4)
    • Children’s Rights: Organizing the second annual Children’s Rights Celebration (maybe for Memorial Day Weekend) — I’m not sure if we can include this on the workplan given the 6-months window, but it was wonderful last year and I hope it happens again!
    • Refugee Rights: Running 5 outreach events to residents who are refugees to help them get in contact with their city councilmembers to inform them of their needs with postcard writing sessions; advocate for increased access to affordable housing as a part of preserving the human rights (Saturdays and Sundays in October and November).

If you have ideas of what you would like the commission to focus on, please share them with me or the other commissioners! As always, you are welcome to come by the commission at 6:15 – 8pm, Tower Conference Room 1753, 200 E Santa Clara St, San Jose, CA 95113.

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