San Jose mayor candidate Mahan calls for state support to tackle housing crisis

City councilmember and mayoral candidate Matt Mahan said the state isn’t doing enough to support San Jose’s response to the housing crisis.

“The state is not providing cities with a whole lot of funding for housing,” he said. “We don’t have anything close to the sources of affordable housing funds to meet those targets.”

In an interview with the Peninsula Press on Oct. 20, Mahan discussed his plans to address San Jose’s housing shortages, meet the needs of people experiencing homelessness, and reform the criminal justice system. The Peninsula Press will interview the other mayoral candidate, Cindy Chavez, Oct. 25.

San Jose mayoral candidate Matt Mahan met with Stanford student journalists
San Jose mayoral candidate Matt Mahan met with Stanford student journalists on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022. He discussed his plans to address the local housing crisis, carbon neutrality, and police misconduct. (Janelle Chavez/Peninsula Press)

Mahan, 39, is serving his first term on the San Jose City Council. His opponent, Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez, has served in city government for eight years, including as vice mayor of San Jose. Mahan, a former public school teacher and technology executive, has centered his campaign around government accountability – including using data to evaluate the impacts of city initiatives.

Mahan urges easier path to develop new housing

California’s most recent Regional Housing Needs Assessment, which quantifies local housing shortages across income levels, estimated that San Jose needs 62,200 new housing units, more than half of which should be designated as affordable or below-market-rate housing.

Mahan said that state funding for affordable housing is inadequate. “It’s off by orders of magnitude,” he said. He urged California lawmakers to better incentivize cities to build homes, rather than commercial real estate.

“The state has a role to play in changing the incentives that cities face,” he said. “The cleanest way would be to reward cities with property tax revenues if they are doing a better job of meeting their RHNA targets.”

Mahan also cited the California Environmental Quality Act as well-intentioned but often misused legislation, a major roadblock to efficient housing development. He said that “well over 50 percent” of the lawsuits brought under the act “had nothing to do with environmental concerns,” but rather slowed, changed, or stopped housing developments.

Asked how his housing plans would accommodate teachers, many of whom are forced to live far from work in the high-priced Bay Area, Mahan said that he wants to address housing overall, rather than focusing on people in specific professions struggling to find places to live.

“I think we have a massive supply and demand imbalance, and that we need to significantly remove barriers to building,” he said.

“On teachers specifically, I do think we have educational institutions with land who are willing to build housing for their workforce, and I am generally supportive of that,” he added.

“A true humanitarian crisis”

Addressing the problem of people experiencing chronic homelessness and addiction – roughly 250 people died on the city’s streets last year — Mahan said the city needs to offer more aggressive social services and find more affordable ways to provide shelter.

“I want us to act with a greater sense of urgency,” Mahan said. “I think we have a true humanitarian crisis on the streets.”

Since beginning his work on the City Council, Mahan has called for low-cost, prefabricated housing as a way to provide “safe, dignified, individual shelter” to more people.

Recent construction projects funded by affordable housing Measure A passed in 2016 have been too slow and too expensive. “It just doesn’t scale,” he said. Using prefabricated housing units could “cut the timeline to about a year and the cost per unit to under $200,000.”

Mahan envisions on-site services such as counseling and job training for residents of the new housing.

Other parts of Mahan’s plan to respond to homelessness are more controversial, however, as the councilman himself acknowledged. For people experiencing serious mental illness or addiction along with chronic homelessness, Mahan supports the expansion of conservatorship laws, essentially court-mandated care for adults deemed unable to care for themselves.

“It’s reasonable when someone is at a point where a health expert and a judge agree that they’re not making great decisions about their self-care,” he said.

While Mahan said that he doesn’t believe in forced medication or forcing people to stay in mental health institutions indefinitely, he suggested that San Jose implement a policy “requiring someone who’s in real distress to come indoors for 90 days in a supportive environment and have the option, then, of staying or leaving.”

Mahan also voiced support for Governor Gavin Newsom’s recently passed Community Assistance, Recovery, and Empowerment (CARE) Act, intended to divert people away from incarceration or homelessness. The law will set up a new judicial framework where first responders and family members can petition a judge to order treatment for people experiencing severe mental illness or addiction.

In an Oct. 13 forum hosted by KQED, Chavez, Mahan’s opponent in the mayoral race, expressed hesitation about implementing CARE Court. She said she isn’t convinced the law will lead to real change, and that the county should seek other solutions.

Mahan suggests data-based “early warning system” to improve police conduct

A pressing issue for this election is police misconduct and efforts to increase trust in law enforcement. The San Jose Police Department has drawn criticism for use of excessive force, as reported by the Marshall Project.

Mahan favors expanding the police force. He said San Jose has too few police officers for the city’s population.

“One of the concerns I have with low staffing is officers being overworked,” he said. “We are not, in my view, implementing community policing as we should because of a lack of staffing.”

Mahan said he envisions a larger police department with officers more involved in specific communities and doing more preventative, rather than reactive, policing. He also proposed an expanded independent oversight system to improve accountability in the department.

“I think it’s really important that we have a strong independent audit function,” he said. “When there are complaints, people need to have confidence that it’s not just the police policing themselves.”

Data can also be a tool to monitor San Jose police performance, Mahan said. He described an early warning system that would flag officers suspected of using excessive force or racial bias, so that the department could intervene to “catch things before they evolve into a tragedy.”

“Data is one underutilized way of trying to figure out what’s going on,” he said.

“That being said, I think the vast, vast majority of our officers…are professional, courteous, lawful,” he added.

Connected to San Jose law enforcement is transportation in the city. According to data from the City of San José’s Vision Zero Task Force, in 2021, 41 pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists were killed in crashes in the city; hundreds of others sustained injuries. So far in 2022, at least 23 pedestrians, five cyclists, and five motorcyclists have already died in crashes, including one last Thursday. Crash fatalities are on track for the deadliest year on record since at least 2011.

“We need to get back to enforcing traffic laws in San Jose,” he said.

California needs “massive investment” in energy to reach carbon neutrality

Last November, San Jose pledged to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. Mahan, while supportive of the goal, has reservations about its feasibility.

“Aspirationally, this is the right goal,” Mahan said. “We should be going in this direction, but we need to also recognize that we will only be carbon neutral by 2030 as a matter of accounting.”

As of April, San Jose reported the highest level of sustainably sourced energy out of the 10 largest U.S. cities. Nonetheless, Mahan said the “intermittency of renewables” and insufficient energy storage are still major obstacles on the path to true carbon neutrality.

“We have to create a market for innovation in energy storage at grid scale,” Mahan said. “We are not even close today.”

Additionally, more than 50 percent of San Jose’s carbon emissions come from private automobiles or other transportation sources. Mahan expressed his support for continuing to encourage the transition to electric vehicles. But this is just a tiny fraction of the work that must be done to make San Jose truly carbon neutral.

“If we do everything right, we’re probably on a 20-year timeframe of massive investment in technological innovation and infrastructure investment to get to a place where we can truly power most of our needs through renewables,” Mahan said, adding, “Just mathematically, if you want the fastest path to decarbonization, you have to expand nuclear.”

Editor: Hannah Bassett; Lead writer: Grace Doerfler; Contributors: Andrew Cao, Janelle Chavez, Alex Dakers, Mengyu Dong, Kalyn Epps, Shayna Freedman, Hannah Freitag, Alex Hughes, Malia Mendez, Evan Peng, Phoebe Quinton, Lisa Setyon, Savanna Stewart, Özge Terzioğlu, Gilare Zada, and Tracy Zhang.

 

Peninsula Press reporters are Stanford Journalism Program master's students, as well as Stanford undergraduate students enrolled in journalism classes. Learn more about us.

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