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[whitespace] Affordable housing, energy among mayor's top issues for San Jose

Gonzales commits to making city safer and more responsive at State of City address

San Jose--In his third State of the City address, Mayor Ron Gonzales proposed spending millions more for additional affordable housing and solutions to the gas and electricity shortage, among other problems, facing San Jose.

But he emphasized that the city is in good shape, thanks to the success of many of his past proposals and the work of city employees and other San Jose residents honored at the Feb. 1 event at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center.

"I believe San Jose...is a great city," he told the crowd of more than 1,000 people. "Not perfect, but with wonderful promise and great potential for becoming even better."

Notably absent from his comments was any reference to the recent economic slowdown, which could affect his ability to make good on his promises.

Gonzales called in a few congressional Democrats to help make his presentation: Rep. Mike Honda was master of ceremonies for the evening and Rep. Zoe Lofgren presented the city's Good Neighbor Recognition and Pride of San Jose awards via videotape. Sen. Dianne Feinstein also made a video appearance to congratulate Gonzales and the city.

Rabbi Raphael Lapin of Willow Glen's Congregation Am Echad gave the invocation for the evening.

Gonzales has been under pressure to address growing demand for a solution to high rents and home prices that are forcing many people to leave the city. In his address, he reported that San Jose is "building more housing than all the cities in Santa Clara County combined," and that 15,000 people will be able to take advantage of 6,000 new affordable homes built in the city by 2004.

To bolster that effort, Gonzales proposed adding $10 million more to the $240 million San Jose is already spending on housing for low-income families.

He also responded publicly to the energy crisis affecting the city and the rest of California for the first time. His proposed San Jose Smart Energy Plan--"smart energy solutions that balance supply and conservation"--included reducing San Jose's energy use by 10 percent, locating small and clean power plants at nearby "appropriate" sites and speeding up the process by which plants could be constructed. He also told the crowd that he and county Board of Supervisors Chair Jim Beall will co-chair a Silicon Valley energy summit to take place next month.

Gonzales was a leader in the city council's opposition to Calpine Corp.'s proposed Metcalf Energy Center in the Coyote Valley. He has been criticized for not taking steps since the crisis began this winter to secure more energy sources for San Jose's burgeoning industrial and residential needs.

Other proposals in his address tackled issues regarding graffiti, education, health care, transportation and safety.

He stepped up his war on graffiti, promising a faster turnaround on graffiti cleanup and extensive patrolling of the city's most tagged streets.

Gonzales also proposed doubling scholarships San Jose offers to its future teachers, as well as the number of children preparing for kindergarten in the city's Smart Start centers.

He supported paid time off for city employees to receive annual cancer screenings, and congratulated the city for its collaboration with the county and other agencies in providing health coverage to all children in the county who need it. Gonzales initially opposed committing $10 million annually of the city's tobacco settlement money for this purpose.

Gonzales proudly reported the passage of Measure A by more than 70 percent of voters last November. The approval authorized a 30-year half-cent sales tax beginning in 2006, to make $6 billion of public transportation improvements and extend BART to San Jose. Gonzales had promised a BART-to-San Jose extension at his first State of the City address in 1999. Last week, he promised construction would begin on the project before he leaves office, which would be in 2006, if he is reelected.

Gonzales proposed adding $5 million to the $1.5 million the city made available last year for traffic-calming and pedestrian-safety measures.

He proudly reported that San Jose is the "safest big city in America."

The mayor also thanked police for that success and recognized officers Paul Hamblin and Cassondra Lansberry, Sgt. Bob Mendiola and 18-year-old drug store photo clerk Kelly Bennett (who was not present) for averting an alleged plot to bomb De Anza Community College in Cupertino on Jan. 30.

Gonzales added that San Jose would become an even safer place for people by cracking down on domestic violence.

He congratulated voters for supporting his "greenline" Measure K, creating an urban development boundary for San Jose. And he promised that San Jose would take fast action in using the more than $440 million voters approved for improvements to city parks and branch libraries.

He also said residents can expect better city service and demonstrated San Jose's improved 24-hour call center, with a call to hotline manager Dottie Disher.

"We will get your problem solved," Gonzales told the audience. "I guarantee it."

He also referred to improvements 20 city neighborhoods can expect from the strong neighborhoods initiative. One of those neighborhoods includes the Gardner, Atlanta and Gregory Park areas in northern Willow Glen.

The neighborhoods won't actually receive redevelopment money until they are approved as a redevelopment area. Redevelopment Agency development specialist Martin Magaña said that won't happen until 2002; meanwhile the city has committed $100 million for the first five years of the project.

Gonzales also emphasized the importance of making San Jose a destination location for its residents to be proud of, and pointed to the investment and development in the city's "sizzling" downtown. He reported the council's approval of bringing the House of Blues entertainment company to downtown and the renowned Palladium Group developers to design downtown shopping, office and housing projects. The city can already expect The Comedy Club at the historic Jose Theater, Opera San Jose at the Fox Theater, the continuation of the Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley, and 18 more years of the Sharks, he said.

Gonzales thanked the five city council members who left office last year, including former District 6 Councilman Frank Fiscalini. He welcomed their four replacements (the council District 5 seat will be filled after a special election in March), including new District 6 City Councilman Ken Yeager, before they were ceremonially sworn in by City Clerk Pat O'Hearn.

Yeager said he liked the address and was most pleased with Gonzales' commitment to traffic calming and pedestrian safety. Yeager is vice chair of the city's new ad hoc traffic calming advisory committee.

Willow Glen Business and Professional Association president Bob Waligore accepted their Good Neighbor Recognition Award from District 6 staff after the address.

Gonzales reaffirmed his love for his job and his commitment to San Jose, but unlike his first two addresses, he made no mention of his wife, Alvina. The couple filed for divorce last spring, several months before Gonzales admitted having an affair with a member of his staff.
Kate Carter

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