Managing a Major Metropolis: Ed Shikada tackles new challenges as assistant city manager of San Jose

Ed Shikada photo courtesy of City of San Jose

Growing up in Hawai‘i, Ed Shikada never imagined that he would one day become assistant city manager of the 10th largest city in the United States. Shikada was appointed assistant city manager of San Jose on June 24. He began his new role on June 27.

Appointed by City Manager Debra Figone, Shikada’s duties focus on overseeing the daily operations of the city. Shikada was most recently chief deputy city manager. He joined San Jose in 2003 as deputy city manager.

Despite the responsibilities of his position, the Yonsei continues to hold leadership positions with the Cub Scouts Pack 611 of the San Jose Betsuin Buddhist Church and the San Jose Community Youth Service, both based in San Jose’s Japantown.

Shikada discussed his new role, the challenges that lie ahead, and even mentions the leadership role of Norman Y. Mineta — whose political career began with a seat on the San Jose City Council, and concluded with him serving on two Presidential Cabinets — in an interview via e-mail with the Nichi Bei Weekly.

Nichi Bei Weekly: How do you feel about your appointment as assistant city manager?

Ed Shikada: I’m very pleased that I’ll be able to serve San Jose in this broader role. At the same time, I am very grateful for the confidence and support of the city manager and entire organization, as well as the trail blazed by the community leaders that came before.

NBW: What are some of the challenges you face in your new role? What do you believe will be some of the most rewarding aspects?

ES: The most significant challenge ahead of us is the same one that we’ve been confronting for the entire seven years I’ve been in San Jose — a structural budget deficit exacerbated by the economic crisis. That means we need to continue and ramp up efforts to reduce costs while continuing the highest-priority services provided by the city.

That said, our challenges are shared by many communities across the nation and beyond. So it doesn’t change the fact that local government service is a rewarding career in which you can really see the impact of your work on the community and individual people’s lives. And it’s never boring.

NBW: How do you feel that your experience as chief deputy city manager has prepared you for your new role as assistant city manager? How will your responsibilities change with this promotion?

ES: Seven years with the city has given me a strong foundation of familiarity with the organization and the community, and no excuse but to hit the ground running. Most of my work as a deputy city manager has been in overseeing the city’s billion-dollar annual construction program, as well as troubleshooting difficult and high-profile issues for the city, so I am familiar with most city operations and many community priorities, as well as have working relationships with much of our organization from the city council on down.

As assistant city manager, I am referred to as the “second in command” of the city’s operations. I report to the city manager, who is appointed by the mayor and city council to run the city’s day-to-day functions such as police, fire, public works, parks, libraries, airport and environmental services. People are sometimes surprised to learn that San Jose is the nation’s 10th largest city (larger than San Francisco) with about 6,000 employees. It is a diverse and complex organization.

NBW: How did you get involved in this career? Have you always been interested in working in urban planning?

ES: I started my career in civil engineering, but have always been interested in how engineering works affected people. So I went to graduate school at UCLA, which got me into public policy. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have found a natural and rewarding progression into city management.

NBW: How has the economy affected your position and that of the city?

ES: The economy is front and center in much of what we do. It drives us to look at lower-cost ways of providing services to the community. In some instances, it requires us to get out of providing some services. It also drives us to seek opportunities to bring new businesses into the city and to do what we can to help existing businesses grow.

NBW: How have you been involved with the Japantown community amenities prioritization? What is the status of the Corporation Yard Project?

ES: I’ve been involved with many facets of San Jose’s Japantown, from working a few years ago with a community focus group to develop a set of community priorities, to ensuring that the city does our part to advance those priorities. A few examples include helping Yu-Ai Kai expand into the soon-to-open Akiyama Wellness Center, increasing available on-street parking, and pursing development approval for the city’s Corporation Yard. Unfortunately, the Corporation Yard has fallen victim to the economy, so that development will not proceed until we see a recovery of the real estate market.

NBW: What are some upcoming projects or changes planned for San Jose’s Japantown?

ES: In spite of the economy, there are still great things happening in Japantown. I mentioned the Yu-Ai Kai wellness center under construction. The new Japanese American Museum of San Jose (JAMsj) is also under construction and will open soon. The other longstanding issue in Japantown is parking — this flared up recently based on the fact that the city is unfortunately increasing parking meter rates, but is also attempting to mitigate that by providing an interim parking lot on the Corporation Yard. This summer will be a great time to visit Japantown, especially for someone who hasn’t been there lately — Obon is coming up and there are historic markers throughout the area and great businesses to patronize.

NBW: What are some changes you’d like to see implemented in San Jose’s Japantown?

ES: The community amenities priorities lay out a good set of areas to focus on — they include continuing progress on the issues I just mentioned, as well as seeing San Jose Taiko find a home in Japantown. Beyond that, I’m hopeful that we’ll see stronger cohesion among the businesses and community organizations that make up Japantown.

NBW: What was your childhood like and who were some of your main influences? Did you grow up in the Bay Area? What generation are you?

ES: I’m Yonsei from Hawai‘i, specifically from Kealakekua on the Big Island. Needless to say that being assistant city manager in the nation’s 10th largest city was not a career goal that I envisioned while growing up. That said, since going to college in Honolulu then to the mainland for graduate school and a career, I’d just have to refer once again to my sincere appreciation and gratitude to the pioneering spirit of those who blazed the trail that we can enjoy today. There are too many to list, but that includes the Issei that struggled and made a new life in the United States, to leaders like Norm Mineta that show us that there is no limit to what we can achieve.

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