THE BLOG
03/25/2014 05:10 pm ET Updated May 25, 2014

Looping Government Into the Innovation Economy: Five Rules for Getting San Jose Back on Track

Our economy is innovating faster than ever. So why not government?

Here in San Jose and Silicon Valley, we understand innovation. The technological innovations created in our region have increased productivity and improved the quality of life of people around the world.

Yet our government still operates the same way it has for decades -- an often slow, cumbersome process that can involve yards of red tape and high costs for even the simplest things, like getting a permit to open a business or having a street light fixed.

If necessity is the mother of invention, it's time to listen to mom: given the crushing financial realities San Jose is facing, we need to innovate in order to provide quality city services while meeting our financial obligations. I've written a plan -- guided by five key rules -- that will help us spend city tax money more efficiently.

Rule #1: Find Partners -- and Get Out of the Way

Through the Great Recession, as service cuts and layoffs abounded, it quickly became apparent to me as a City Councilman that I'd need to look outside of City Hall if I wanted to get much of anything done. I worked extensively to identify key partners willing to step up to take on tasks traditionally performed by the City, such as moving the homeless to work, or sustaining a treasured community event like Christmas in the Park. Well-conceived partnerships can often improve services and reduce budgetary burdens on our taxpayers. Opportunities abound to engage in partnerships to build more sports fields, administer the City's retirement funds, and preserve historic neighborhoods, among other priorities.

Rule #2: Moneyball -- and Data -- Isn't Just for Baseball Fans

City leadership demands woefully little data to justify the large spending decisions routinely made by the Council each year. This lack of rigor costs taxpayers millions every year. But innovative strategies, like the focused use of Fresh Start budgeting, will help us press the reset button on our budgetary decision-making. If we publicly vet every line-item of spending in key departments, and make better use of quantitative tools like regression analysis, we can better allocate our scarce dollars to their most cost-effective purposes. Creating "open data" platforms can also better engage the public to improve our budgetary decision-making with data-based discipline.

Rule #3: Innovating in Times of Scarcity: If Necessity Is the Mother of Invention, Then Listen to Mom

Every day, organizations use innovative tools developed in Silicon Valley to improve performance, efficiency and cost-effectiveness. Particularly in times of budgetary scarcity, City Hall should embrace the power of innovation to improve the ways that we serve our residents, whether that involves leveraging the latest technology or restoring familiar but proven innovations, such as community policing. Simple, cost-effective tools already exist that will help us improve public safety, reduce permitting delays, and be more responsive to neighborhood needs. And many of them were developed just a couple of miles from here. It's up to City Hall to deploy them.

Rule #4: The Rule of Holes: When You're in One, Stop Digging

It's time to move forward on pension reform and fiscal responsibility measures for one simple reason: our grandchildren should be able to decide how to spend their money. We shouldn't spend it for them. We cannot continue to allow skyrocketing retirement costs -- which have quadrupled in the last decade -- to undermine our fiscal ability to pave streets and respond to emergencies. How we get out from under our budgetary burdens will depend critically on whether we have City leadership who will fully litigate--and implement -- Measure B reforms, and ensure that we're fully funding our long-term obligations to avoid adding to our debt burdens in the future. This means pushing for full funding of our annual retiree healthcare obligations to finally halt the growth of our unfunded liabilities in that account. And we should continue efforts through the General Plan to hold the line on employment land conversions, and ensure that future development will benefit the City's -- and not merely the developers' -- financial position.

Rule #5: Don't Just Think Outside the Box; Destroy the Box

More flexible, creative approaches to urban problems can help us stretch our scarce public dollars farther. Three new efforts on homelessness, street cleaning, and park development illustrate the kind of innovative leadership and ideas critical to helping San Jose to thrive in the decade of budgetary scarcity that lies ahead. Finally, we'll go a long way by no longer viewing our city employees as "part of the problem," but as "the solution" to our fiscal problems: providing financial rewards for our employees' good ideas about how we can save money, cut waste, and improve efficiency can empower and incentivize a more efficient organization.

Click here to read my plan to make San Jose government smarter and more efficient. The reality is that we can do more with our scarce tax dollars -- if we start innovating.