San Jose Councilor David Cohen beat a narrow four-way primary in March 2020 and was the only candidate to oust an incumbent last year. With the overthrow of former councilor Lan Diep, Cohen’s victory moved the city council in favor of work-oriented candidates.
During the campaign, Cohen promised to build more affordable housing – especially in his tech-business district – to tackle homelessness, clean up neighborhoods, and increase community engagement.
Since taking office in January, Cohen, who represents District 4, which includes Alviso, Berryessa, and North San Jose, has penned several homeless-related proposals, including hiring camp sweeps, COVID-19 vaccinations for the homeless and proposals for temporary housing. His office is now working to identify warehouses to provide those locations with sanitation and other municipal services.
“The main goal is to find safe places where we can provide services so that we can give people places to go,” he said. “I don’t think it’s the right thing to sweep people away unless they have another place to put them.”
Cohen said he spent his first few weeks in the office establishing robust “customer service” -like contact with residents to ensure messages and emails were answered quickly. Together with his colleague Dev Davis, he made a proposal to shorten the length of the council meetings in order to make them more efficient.
San Jose Spotlight sat down with Cohen to ask about his first 100 days on the city council.
Q: What was the biggest challenge in the job?
A: The biggest challenge of the first 100 days was setting up a council office in the era of COVID. We had to start up without our team being in the office together. This makes it difficult to build a cohesive team, and we miss relationships with and learning from other council offices. It also means that our team can’t interact directly with members of the community as often as we’d like.
Q: What surprised you the most?
A: I was surprised that we, as a council and as a city, had to combat the dramatic increase in harassment and violence against our AAPI community. After these alarming events, I was reminded of the importance of listening, learning, and acting with thoughtfulness, consideration, and urgency. If there is anything positive to be drawn from all of this, it is that our community has come together. I hope that on this foundation I can continue to build connection and collaboration with the increasingly diverse constituents of District 4.
Cohen speaks at a Stop AAPI Hate rally outside City Hall in March. Photo courtesy David Cohen.
Q: What are some of your longer term goals for your first term?
A: We have political goals and development goals for our community. We also need to get people healthy and make sure everyone is vaccinated. We’re working to provide access to the services people need so we can get back to normal as soon as possible.
We will continue to be accessible and have public meetings with members of the community. In the next few months, our focus will be on the city budget. We make sure we are actively addressing our district’s needs so that we can use the budget process to allocate resources to improve the lives of our residents. We have invested a lot of time as a district office in Alviso, an underserved part of our community that is often overlooked. We’re just as focused on making sure they have access to parks and resources as other parts of the district already have. It is important for us to make sure that all parts of our community are getting the services they need.
Q: What is the biggest challenge for your district?
A: In general, issues of neighborhood safety, pollution, cleanliness, ensuring good traffic management and enforcement of traffic laws, and trying to keep the speed of cars through neighborhoods and the incidence of homelessness in our city and district as low as possible . These are topics that resonate across the district.
Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.