A Message from Sam: After the Flood

Apr 26, 2017

“If you have never seen a flood, you do not know what awful is.”

Will Rogers

“No tengo manos sino suyos.” (“I have no hands but yours.”)

-Inscription under a handless statue outside of a San Diego church

Dear Friends,

On Feb. 21, San José experienced its worst flooding in a generation. In a matter of hours, rising water forced thousands of families to flee their homes, often with no property other than what they could carry.

In the weeks since, I’ve talked to hundreds of our neighbors whose lives have been forever changed. I have heard many heart-wrenching stories. I talked with a young mom struggling to keep her newborn healthy in our emergency shelter. I met a gardener who’d bought a used truck just days before the flood made it — and all of the uninsured equipment upon which he depends for his livelihood — inoperable. Their emotions — the loss, the anger, and disbelief — are shared by thousands of neighbors.

In the wake of this tragedy, my consistent message has been simple: As San Jose’s Mayor, I take responsibility for the City’s failure to better warn our residents. As a result, we have focused our energies on two objectives: first, fixing these problems to avoid another disaster like this one, and second, helping flood-afflicted families get back on their feet.

Here’s what we’re doing:

First, we must vastly improve our communication with residents to ensure they can better prepare for such disasters. A month ago, on March 9, I held a special City Council meeting, at which we outlined an After Action Plan for ensuring that we better alert residents about the potential for flooding — by getting out to the neighborhoods earlier, with more detailed information, in multiple languages and by putting “boots-on-the-ground.” Two weeks ago, I issued my March Budget Message, which calls for greater investment in emergency preparation and response. We have worked with critical partners in this effort, such as by supporting the County of Santa Clara’s plans to transition to an improved emergency alert system. We are also working with Water District officials to better understand how we can support their efforts to improve their flood prediction models and enhance flood protection and mitigation for vulnerable, low-lying neighborhoods along Coyote Creek.

Second, we have focused our energies on getting our flood-afflicted families back on their feet again. Hundreds of our city employees have worked tirelessly through the evenings and weekends: parks teams leading thousands of volunteers in neighborhood cleanup crews, building inspectors clearing thousands of homes for safe entry, and housing officials identifying apartments and short-term options for displaced families. Our non-profit partners — particularly Catholic Charities, Sacred Heart Community Services, and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation — have provided critical financial assistance and casework. We’ve reached out with public calls for help, and many have responded: apartment owners holding vacant units for our families, local auto-dealers helping residents repair and replace vehicles lost in the flood, and non-profits like ReBuilding Together and Habitat for Humanity assisting struggling homeowners with critical repairs.

This brings us to a point too easily overlooked: Despite all of the dark challenges of recent weeks, we have seen grace at work in and among our resilient community. Our heroic firefighters safely rescued 350 residents from flooded neighborhoods — without any loss of life or serious injury. When Paul Pereira on my team reached out to key community leaders to help gather volunteers for our neighborhood cleanups, more than 4,000 residents responded, giving up their weekends to help lift their neighbors. More than 3,000 individual and corporate donors — including philanthropist Kieu Hoang — have generously pledged $6.6 million that families are using to pay rent, security deposits, and for other necessities.

Our community’s response to this tragedy reminds me why I love San José. Your support testifies to our city’s resiliency and character.

We will not let up, however, until we find stable housing for all of our displaced families, and each of our impacted neighbors can get back on their feet. Please join me to make this vision a reality.

  • If you can donate to help a struggling family, please give to our flood victim relief fund that will be directly distributed to victim’s families-without a single dollar used for city bureaucracy or fees. Visit https://www.siliconvalleycf.org/sjflood#DonateOnline or call (650) 450–5400.
  • If you have a car that you no longer need, please consider donating your used vehicle to Goodwill of Silicon Valley, who will help deliver it in safe working condition to a family in need. Visit Goodwill’s website or Facebook page or call (408) 869–9101.
  • If you have an apartment that you can make available to a flood-displaced individual or family, please list that apartment by visiting http://www.scchousingsearch.org/ or calling 1–877–428–8844.

Working together, we will ensure that our community emerges from this tragedy safer and stronger than ever. #WeAreSanJose