Human Services Commission Update

Tonight is my 21st meeting serving as on the San José Human Services Commission and my 13th meeting Chairing that commission, so I thought I would do a quick round-up of what we’ve done since I joined in January 2018.

I’m making this post for two reasons. One, is I’m doing my annual evaluation of my volunteer commitments, to see where I’m doing the most good. Two, is the city of San José redid their website and links to nearly everything of value I produced for the commission (reports, press releases, work plans) now only leads to dead links, so I wanted to make an archive of my own. All of the documents below are the official versions.

Below is a work in progress. In the next few weeks, I’ll be trying to find copies of each of these files. Some because I’m proud of them, some because I refer to them often, and some because I want to remember how I spend my time as a volunteer.


Note: Any month without an agenda or documents is a month when we did not have quorum and so could not meet.

AgendaMinutesSaved DocumentsMajor actions / Discussions
Jan01-18-1801-18-18Missing: (1) Women’s Bill of Rights Memo. (2) Dec 19 Ordinance. (3) Dec 19 Resolution. (4) Dec 19 Vice Mayor Memo. Saved: 2017 – 2018 Work Plan.This was the meeting where we were told SJPD had arrested 280 women for sex work over a 7 week period in the fall of 2017.
Feb02-15-1802-15-18This is the meeting where Josue Fuentes, District Attorney’s Office of the County of Santa Clara confirmed none of the 280 women arrested for sex work had been charged or referred for services.

This is the meeting where I invited Anthony King to speak about the importance of ending SJPD sweeps against unhoused people.
Mar03-29-1803-29-18Letter to City Council on full funding the gender analysis survey; press release; op-ed.The commission unanimously voted to send the press release, op-ed, and letter to council, via our staff secretary. We were told we could not, as commissioners, share the release or submit the op-ed without the approval of the City Council Committee on Community and Economic Development; we sought that approval and never heard back.

The commission also voted unanimously to send a letter to Immigrations and Customs
Apr04-19-1804-19-18Women’s Bill of Rights Ad Hoc Committee Update
Community Survey for Gender Analysis Survey

The major actions in 2018, from my perspective were: TBD


AgendaMinutesDocumentsMajor actions

The major actions in 2019, from my perspective were: TBD


AgendaMinutesDocumentsMajor actions

The major actions in 2020, from my perspective were:

  • December 17, 2020: We voted to ask the staff secretary to send the vendor who will be conducting the fully intersectional gender analysis survey a letter of welcome with our committee members’ contact information, along with a copy of the version of the Women’s Bill of Rights that gives trans and cis women the same level of protection, as well as providing women, non-binary people, and men the same level of inclusion.
  • December 17, 2020: Statement from the San José Human Services Commission in Support of the Santa Clara County Sanctuary Law (our staff Secretary was instructed to send this to Council and the Mayor): “Dear Mayor Liccardo and Honorable Councilmembers, The Human Services Commission of San José strongly supports the Santa Clara County Sanctuary Law as written (Board Policy 3.54). Deportations do not prevent violence. The threat of increased deportations actively harms our undocumented neighbors, friends, and family members. In solidarity, the San José Human Services Commission.”
  • TBD

Gardening in 2020

When the pandemic came, some people drank about it, some people wrote about it — and some people planted potatoes about it.

When the shelter-in-place order came down for my county, I went to the community garden. For the past year, I’ve been helping with the community garden at St Stephen’s in-the-Field Episcopal Church (7269 Santa Teresa Blvd, San Jose, CA 95139).

One of my gardener friends had texted me the leaked announcement of the shelter-in-place order around noon; we had until midnight. We had no idea when anyone would be able to get to the garden and had hundreds of seedlings we needed to get out of the nursery beds. The seedlings were fruit vines we are growing from seed; California natives we are growing to build a California native garden on the church’s campus; transplanted volunteer oaks from the church’s 450-year-old mother valley oak.

People are dying in hospitals, hospices, and homes; they are today and they were on March 17. But I’m not a doctor or a nurse. So I solved the problem in front of me. I had to get the seedlings out.

Texting, emailing, and Discord messaging brought together a dozen gardeners who agreed to foster the seedlings for the foreseeable future. Members of the church had been gamely accepting seedlings for weeks, so the garden’s distributed shelter system was already in-place.

Within 6 hours, hundreds of plants were safely on apartment windowsills and mobile home backyards, on tables made from old fence posts and broken garbage cans, saw horses and petition-drive folding tables pressed into service as a backyard nursery.

This post is the first in a series about gardening during a pandemic. I aspire for it to be something like the BBC’s Gardener’s World, but instead of a 50-year-old Colonialist-apologist TV program with a massive heritage garden and a sizable travel budget, we’ve got: me, my gardening friends in South San José, and a global pandemic. Some of the gardeners I’ll be writing about are still working during the pandemic and some unable to work; some live in apartments, some in houses with backyards, and some in pre-fabricated home parks; most are queer women and nonbinary people in their 20s and 30s, but there will be guest appearances by 90-year-old grandmothers and 11 year old first-time gardeners and the wide cast of characters who I’ve met through my community garden.

If you’d like to hear more about this, sign-up to get these updates by email on the right-hand side of this page. If you’re writing about your garden in this moment or have advice, feel free to leave a comment.

As we now say in 2020, stay safe, stay healthy.

Presenting on Making the Women’s Bill of Rights Inclusive of Trans and Non-Binary Residents + Why There Haven’t Been Human Services Commission Updates

Tomorrow morning I’ll be presenting at Foothill College on my work as Chair of the Human Services Commission on the Women’s Bill of Rights, San José’s implementation of the United Nation’s Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women. You can see my presentation here, filled with wonderful free stock photos of trans, non-binary, and genderqueer folks from this collection.

Normally, tomorrow would be a day when the Human Services Commission would meet. I would love to meet. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to meet since January because half of our commission seats are unfilled, leaving us with 6 of our 13 seats empty. Those of you familiar with quorum rules know that means we need 100% of our members to attend a hearing to legally to allowed to meet. But every month, at least one commissioner has had a commitment that kept them away, so we have not met.

Below is a description of the process issue we’ve been going through, in the hopes that writing it out will help other commissioners facing the same issue resolve it more quickly. It gets long and wonky and technical and I want to say something about criticizing people vs processes before I get started.

I know the city is understaffed. I’ve worked in state government in two states. City workers are doing their best under difficult circumstances. But there are also some clear technical, process, and communication improvements that could be made to this system and I think the best way to help get them made is articulating them here, since 4 months of quiet advocacy that hasn’t worked.

The Process Issue: As far as I can figure out, the City Clerk’s office closed applications to the Human Services Commission (HSC) on January 3rd and didn’t tell us they were open until March 1. Here’s the timeline as far as I could find out:

  • December 2018: City Council does not fill the 4 vacancies on the HSC. The commissioners are asked at our 12/20 meeting to help recruit to fill them. We recruit from our networks. 
  • 2019: 1/3: the City Clerk’s office stops allowing people to apply to the Human Services Commission. They removed the HSC from the drop-down on the Granicus-run application system. 
  • 1/3 – Present: the City Manager’s office, through their commission staffer, encouraged the members of the commission to recruit from our personal networks to keep our commission alive. Here’s one such post.
  • Mid-Jan: We realize there’s an issue with the application system, don’t know what it is, and our staff secretary from the City Manager’s office reaches out to the Clerk’s office to fix it. They say they are understaffed and it will take about a week. At least 2 people I recruited to apply are unable to do so. I can’t tell them why. We’re still being reminded to recruit for the commission. 
  • 2/22: It’s the day after our February meeting, which we canceled for lack of quorum and the Clerk’s office re-opens the application. But our staff secretary — and thus the commission — is not told. So we have no idea applications are open. 
  • 3/1: The City Clerk’s office tells our staff secretary the application is open. But there’s some issues, so the staff secretary requests all recruited applicants reach out to her by email. You can see this language here in this tweet from Councilmember Khamis.
  • 3/8: I call every single council’s office with a vacancy plus the Mayor’s office (whose seat is also vacant). Those are: Mayor Liccardo, Vice Major Chappie Jones, Councilmember Lan Diep, Councilmember Devora Davis, Councilmember Sylvia Arenas, Councilmember Johnny Khamis. None of the frontline staff who picked up the phone knew their districts had a vacancy and most had no idea who on their staff handled board and commission appointments. I also made social media images and wrote sample newsletter/social media text to make it as easy as possible for busy staffers to recruit. You can see my image and text in Councilmember Khamis’s tweet.
  • 3/19: I hear from our staff secretary we have 9 new applications for the HSC. Which, to me, implies that council offices hadn’t known to recruit for these roles before and when council’s offices reach out, they get responses from their communities.
  • April – May: We struggle to get answers about if the applicants have been reviewed by the committee on appointments, whether their conflict of interest review by the City Attorney’s office had been done. We don’t meet either month.

I’m very much hoping we can meet in June. I wish I could tell the Foothill community college students and their families a story tomorrow about government moving quickly to solve a problem tomorrow, but instead we’ll talk about wielding inertia and that the arc of the moral universe does not bend alone; it bends because we bend it.

%d bloggers like this: