In my State of the City address this past February, I spoke of our recent progress in bridging political divides to resolve pension reform battles, pass a countywide traffic relief and road repair measure, and raise the minimum wage regionally. I laid out ambitious plans to rebuild police staffing, eliminate financial barriers for struggling college students, and implement a Community Choice Energy program to help shift our electricity consumption to 100% green sources.
And, then, I talked about garbage.
Yes, garbage. Perhaps not the most inspiring stuff, but we’ve all felt dispirited by seeing the trash and graffiti of our freeways, neighborhoods, and parks. The impacts are real: Criminologists tell us that “broken windows” in neighborhoods provide signals of disorder that invite crime. Aesthetic neglect discourages visitors from investing in our city, and discourages us from investing ourselves in our hometown — as if San Jose doesn’t belong to us.
So, on that day, we officially launched #BeautifySJ: a community-wide campaign that brings together the passion and energy of our residents, community groups and City Hall to keep San Jose clean and reclaim our public spaces.
The timing could not have been more fortuitous.
Less than two weeks later, San Jose experienced its worst flooding in a generation, leaving us with the critical tasks of not only fixing the failures in our flood warning and notification system, but cleaning up devastated neighborhoods. So, Paul Pereira and our #BeautifySJ team worked with more than 200 city staff and a host of community partners to recruit more than 4,000 volunteers, who helped clean hundreds of homes in five neighborhoods. By hauling more than 2,000 tons of debris and ruined materials over several weekends, our volunteers “cleared” our flood-impacted neighborhoods much faster than the statewide disaster relief experts thought possible. I am deeply grateful to all who selflessly contributed their time, energy and tools to help our neighbors get back on their feet.
Over the following few months, we harnessed that same energy to host dozens of neighborhoods clean-ups leading up to last month’s Great American Litter Pick-Up, mobilizing 3,000 volunteers who hauled 1,700 bags of trash — a 60% increase over the prior year.
Now, we’re moving forward with several proposals that will enable us to have an even bigger impact in beautifying our city.
First, we’ll ensure that the City is doing its part. In the months ahead, the City will expand our free junk pickup service, deploy hundreds more public trash cans in the community, and boost enforcement of illegal dumping. Through an expansion of our “rapid response” team, we’ll reduce our average response to illegal dumping sites to 48 hours and double the number of proactive sweeps we conduct each week. In addition, we’ll soon launch an upgraded smartphone app that will both make it easier for San Jose residents to report neighborhood blight and expedite the City’s response.
We’ll also expand the availability of beautification grants to spur community-borne efforts to rehabilitate our parks, transform vacant lots to urban gardens, cover graffiti-tagged walls with murals, or plant street trees. A modest investment of $5,000 or less can have outsized impact, where neighbors leverage their own “elbow grease” with the help of community partners like Our City Forest and the Knight Foundation.
Meanwhile, we will continue pushing CalTrans to clean our freeways. We’ve seen some progress since we enlisted the San Jose Conservation Corps to help, and pushed CalTrans to renew expired contracts for graffiti abatement. We won’t take our foot off the pedal until we see our freeways back to a respectable condition.
To have real impact, we need your help. Please go to www.BeautifySJ.org to join the thousands of your neighbors who have already signed up as a #BeautifySJ volunteer, and to learn how to report blight — such as code violations, abandoned vehicles, or dumped trash — in your neighborhood.
This initiative promises more than its considerable aesthetic impact, however. #BeautifySJ is really about unleashing our collective energies to take back our city. By engaging with us to beautify San Jose, you’ll also engage with each other. Volunteer efforts plant the seeds of community-building, enabling neighbors to meet, build relationships, and collaborate on greater ambitions, to improve safety and vibrancy of our neighborhoods.
In this divisive and contentious period of our national politics, we can demonstrate the possibilities of collaboration — to beautify our city, protect our neighborhoods, and renew bonds of community. Join me, and your neighbors, in making San Jose a model for the rest of our nation.