'A real privilege': SJ Mayor Sam Liccardo reflects on 8 years in office, talks about legacy

Amanda del Castillo Image
Friday, December 16, 2022
SJ Mayor Sam Liccardo reflects on 8 years in office
EMBED <>More Videos

"It's an honor to be in a place where you can have an impact at a time when people are really in need," San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said as he reflected on his accomplishments and challenges.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo is serving his last two weeks in office. At the end of this month and after eight long years, what comes next for the city's 65th mayor?

"I'll have a chance in January to take a breath," Mayor Liccardo said. "My wife and I are going to think hard about next steps. We promised ourselves we won't make any decisions until then. So you won't get any decisions out of me for a while."

In the meantime, ABC7 News reporter Amanda del Castillo sat down with Liccardo to talk about his legacy as mayor. It's one he hopes reflects his efforts to help the city reorient its focus on the future.

RELATED: Cindy Chavez concedes to Matt Mahan in tight San Jose mayoral race

"Whether that's the future of preserving Coyote Valley and thousands of acres of open space for future generations, or what the downtown can become with BART and Google Village and Adobe expanding," he recalled.

It's that expansion of BART and big tech coming into the city that only solidifies San Jose's claim as Capital of Silicon Valley. However, along with that success, there's a real struggle for some residents.

"Is there anything you wish you had the time to really take on at this point," he was asked.

"I think if you asked any mayor of any big city in the Western United States, they'd probably say the same thing," Liccardo answered. "Which is, we all wish we could have done more on homelessness."

In the last Point-in-Time homeless count in 2022, San Jose saw an 11% increase since the last count in 2019.

Among Liccardo's solutions was quick-build housing and employing unhoused residents in the nation's first Cash for Trash program.

"I wish I knew eight years ago, what I know today," he said. "Around what we've learned with a lot of trial and error."

RELATED: San Jose launches 'Cash for Trash' cleanup incentive program for homeless residents

He continued, "I wish we had the ability to have all those tools in our toolbox eight years ago because I'd like to believe we'd be further ahead. Now, the good news is I think we're starting to get some traction. And we finally saw a reduction in the unsheltered population for the first time in the last census. That's positive. But obviously, we've got a lot more work to do."

In 2016, Liccardo crafted the city's Smart City Vision with the goal to get San Jose recognized as the Most Innovative City in America by 2020. The city achieved that goal in 2020 and was recognized again in 2021.

"We need to be innovative because we don't have the resources to do everything that our residents reasonably expect. We are the most thinly staffed major city in the entire country," he said. "And so we have to do things differently. So we're starting to discover how we can do things differently. Maybe using technology, maybe using data, but sometimes just using common sense."

And in Silicon Valley - where innovation, entrepreneurship, and affluence often dominate the conversation - many feel access, equity, and opportunity have gone overlooked. Especially for low-income communities.

Under Liccardo's leadership, the city launched the nation's first Digital Inclusion Initiative in 2016. However, he admits the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted not enough had been done to bridge that digital divide.

"It became so obvious how glaring a gap this was," he said. "Not just for students who weren't able to learn, but for their parents who are unable to get employment or be able to get health information."

Liccardo said the city was able to use federal funds to expand free community WiFi.

"And by full build-out, within a few months, we'll be at about 300,000 residents. So that's a city about the size of St. Louis or Pittsburgh, with free WiFi. That's important," he said.

VIDEO: SJ mayor's proposal to reform police officer misconduct investigations met with backlash

Prior to politics, Liccardo served as a criminal prosecutor for the Santa Clara County DA's Office. Just this week, he made a push to reform police misconduct investigations. He proposed the city's Independent Police Auditor have more oversight in those cases.

"I think people think that I'm somehow or another knocking SJPD. I happen to think we have the best department in the country," he said. "The problem is Americans are at a point where we just no longer believe the police can police themselves. Nor should we."

Shifting to city streets, San Jose hit another record for traffic deaths this year.

Back in 2019, Liccardo himself was a crash victim. He was hit and injured while cycling.

RELATED: San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo suffers broken bones after being hit by car while riding his bike

"I've certainly had my own challenges," he shared. "But it doesn't compare to losing more than 60 of our community members this year to traffic fatalities. And we're seeing this throughout the country."

He acknowledged speed as the greatest contributing factor to death and injury.

"That's why we're seeing all the bike lanes and the segregated lanes," Liccardo described. "People think it's about the bikes, it's actually about the traffic and the safety for pedestrians and everybody else. Because when we can narrow those lanes, and narrow the roadways, people drive slower."

He said the city has also replaced more than 64,000 street lights with LED bright white lights, which are meant to improve visibility.

"And we're improving pavement. For the first time, we're now on a cycle where we're able to pave every street within seven years," he said.

With no shortage of tough times across his two terms, Liccardo said to lead during great devastation or divisiveness, a global pandemic, public protests, and severe flooding - he's found inspiration in the aftermath. Time and time again, he's witnessed a community committed to caring for one another.

"It's an honor to be in a place where you can have an impact at a time when people are really in need," he told ABC7 News. "And it's also been a real privilege to be in this position when you see people coming together in really tough times."

If you're on the ABC7 News app, click here to watch live