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!

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