On a pleasant October afternoon, a diverse group of media representatives gathered on a quiet street in San Jose, around a picnic table laden with goodies. This was not a mere picnic.The meet was hosted by Ethnic Media Services (EMS), a Bay Area non profit organization that calls for wider representation in terms of diversity on public issues. The organization works to increase the scope of the ethnic media to engage audiences and increase participation towards forming an inclusive democracy. It aims to give a human face to an otherwise “invisible” ethnic media sector.
Ethnic Media Services Founder, Sandy Close, has worn many hats – an award winn
ing journalist, editor, and Director of New America Media (NAM) which was the first and largest collaboration of ethnic news organizations. She founded EMS to continue key projects with ethnic media in December 2017. The agenda on hand was Measure T – A bond issue for Public Safety and Infrastructure which is on the ballot for San Jose voters in Santa Clara County, on November 6, 2018.
The location chosen for the meet was Rock Springs Park, a children’s park, situated against a lush backdrop of wooded area. You wouldn’t think much of it, were it not for the image on the media briefing that was handed out. A dramatic picture showed the same park totally flooded with murky water. A second aerial shot showed a residential neighborhood similarly flooded, rows of half submerged cars lining the street. These images were from the February 2017 flooding of Coyote Creek. Years of drought had led to an accumulation of brush and other vegetation all along the creek bed. This meant that it could not channel the large volume of rain water, which further led to the overflow and flooding.
Ms. Ming Ngoc Do, a local resident and flood survivor, gave a moving first-person account of the flood. She spoke of the devastation and helplessness, she and many of her friends faced due to being displaced from their homes. Lack of warning from the USGS and other authorities left the residents angry and frustrated. Roughly 14,000 homes were evacuated and the city sustained nearly $100 million in damages. Ms. Do, spent days after the waters receded, cleaning up debris and salvaging belongings. “It was a very very tough time for us! We cannot sustain another flood!” she exclaimed.
San Jose is the largest city in Northern California. It has experienced rapid growth in the technological sector which has resulted in a booming metropolis, leaving its aging infrastructure suffering at the same time. Measure T makes an important point when it comes to addressing the upgrade of existing infrastructure. It takes into account that infrastructure improvement does not mean adding concrete and asphalt; but instead, aims to work with the natural environmental systems that surround us. It calls for preventive measures being put in place to help in effective disaster planning measures.
San Jose Mayor, Sam Liccardo spoke at the event and called for critical action in favor of Measure-T. With reference to the Coyote Creek flooding, Mayor Liccardo stated that important lessons had been learned in the aftermath of the event. He outlined how the sum of $ 650 million would be used to update community services like emergency operations, 911 communication facilities, fire and road safety, flood control measures, and repairing seismically vulnerable local bridges, to list a few. $50 million of the funds will be allocated towards buying land in Coyote Valley to protect against floods and preserve water quality. He lauded Measure T as being a forward-thinking, 21st century infrastructure; working to co-exist with the environment, and for the protection of nature. “San Jose is at the forefront of such a bond measure”, he stated.
Alice Kaufman, is the Legislative Advocacy Director with Committee for Green Foothills, a Bay Area organization whose mission is to protect the open spaces, farmlands, and natural resources through advocacy, education, and grassroots action. Ms. Kaufman stressed the importance of retaining our green spaces in this rapidly expanding world we live in. She added her voice towards preserving healthy, working ecosystems as being our best investment in the future. The Committee for Green Foothills is a strong supporter of Measure-T.
Andrea Mackenzie and Mark Landgraf represented the Open Space Authority, an organization whose main objective is the conservation of natural environment. They work to preserve undeveloped land and restore it to its natural state, while safeguarding water sources and regional trails. They also work with partners and private landowners on acquisitions that help achieve their objective of preserving greenbelts and urban buffers. In the case of Coyote valley, the idea is to acquire land surrounding Coyote creek, and planting vegetation that helps soil absorption while purifying aquifers. This will create a natural flood protection zone that prevents catastrophic events like the flooding of February 2017. Measure-T will allocate a budget of $50 million towards such improvements in the Coyote Valley.
While it has a broad bipartisan coalition support, Measure T has its share of nay sayers. Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility (CFR) has voiced concerns about the proposal. Their argument is that the city of San Jose should take a conservative view on fiscal measures. In an already existing housing crisis, homeowners will be looking at an increase in property taxes with this bond proposal. CFR is concerned that such a move will make the dream of home ownership unattainable for many San Jose residents. This will further lead to landlords raising rents to offset the increase, squeezing tenants and worsening an already escalating rental market. CFR states that San Jose has the funds it needs, but cites government inefficiency as the reason for poor management of its budget. It is one of the voices against the proposed bond measure.
The Silicon Valley Tax Payers Association is another organization that argues against Measure T. Calling taxpayers to ‘Vote NO on T’, the organization cautions residents that the long term interest (25 – 30 years) on $650 million is a setback that neither they nor the city can afford to undertake. Their argument is that while many of the communication technologies Measure T seeks to improve are necessary, they will likely be obsolete over the period it takes to pay back the interest on the bond.
The tag-line for the bond measure reads, “Measure T puts SAFE-T first”. The list of proposed improvements promise a city better equipped to mitigate damage from inevitable natural disasters.
A two-third voter majority is required to successfully pass the measure. The date to vote on Measure T is November 6th.
Will San Jose measure up?!