In more than two hundred years of San Jose’s history, who changed the city the most? Actually there were two politicians, each of whom had a profound effect and each of whom I have been privileged to call friend. One increased the population from a small town of 95,000 people and an area of 17 square miles to a metropolis of over 500,000 people and a city sprawled over 137 square miles. During his 19 years in office, the city changed from a canning and food processing center to a manufacturing and hi-tech center and earned the “All-American City” award along the way. The other politician, Tom McEnery, took an antiquated downtown and created a renaissance with a dramatic skyline during his two terms as mayor.
A.P. “Dutch” Hamann was elected city manager of San Jose by a split council vote of 4 to 3 in 1950. Dutch was an open, friendly visionary who realized that San Jose had many major problems; chief among them was sewage disposal. Seventy years before, a 60-inch sewer line had been built from the center of the city out north to the bay. It was to handle all of the wastes, but when canning and food processing became the major industries, the sewer lines were overwhelmed, dumping rotting peelings, fruit and liquids into the south bay. Trucks hauled additional fruit wastes to Alivso where they were dumped in small mountains. The wastes continued to rot, killing all of the fish in the south bay and generating clouds of hydrogen sulfide gas. At that time, many buildings were painted with a white, lead-based paint, and it was not uncommon for the wind to bear the gas and turn a white building gray or black overnight.
A proper state-of-the-art sewage disposal plant was a very expensive proposition, not only to meet the needs of 1950, but those for many years to come—more expense than the city could bear by itself. Dutch went to the other towns in the county, urging them to cooperate and assist the financing. Only Santa Clara agreed to join and each of the other replied “no way, you’ve got the canneries, solve your own problems.”
At that time, a sales tax was a major generator of revenue, and with the council’s approval, a program of strip annexation was set in motion. Hamann determined where future shopping centers were likely to be located, and then the city proceeded to annex a narrow band of land out along each major road and intersection, thus ensuring that the sales tax revenue would come to San Jose. Along Stevens Creek Road to Cupertino, Bascom Boulevard, North First Street, and Monterey Highway to Morgan Hill—each and every area was annexed. Prior to Hamann’s tenure—more than 100 years—only 46 annexations occurred. During his 19 years, 1,377 annexations were effected.
Once the building of the sewage disposal plant was started, the tiny community of Alviso decided it would be a good idea to annex the plant as a source of their revenue. Of course this upset Big Brother to the south, and soon Alviso found itself battling to keep from being annexed to San Jose. A very controversial election occurred—with charges that San Jose brought in ringers to live in the mobile home parks—and San Jose successfully annexed Alviso by a close vote.
The sewage disposal plant proved to be one of the major attractions for new businesses and San Jose became Silicon Valley.
But there were other contributing factors that Dutch had no control over that also accelerated the growth. The Federal government provided cheap FHA and VA loans so individuals could afford to buy a home with a minimum down payment and sometimes with no down payment at all. In 1953, I bought a nice three-bedroom, one-bath home for $12,250 with a down payment of only $350.00 and a 4.5% Cal Vet loan. In today’s market the fees alone amount to more than that. Developers and land sellers also benefited from a 50% capital gains tax deduction, so farmers were anxious to sell their land for a large profit.
The Korean War found the country vastly unprepared, as we had totally reduced our military after World War II. The U.S. Army actually had to go to surplus stores to buy back equipment previously sold as surplus. A new buildup was necessary and California received the largest portion of defense contracts. This amounted to 14% of the total contracts for the period from July 1950 to June 1954. Even after hostilities ceased, California and Santa Clara County continued to get a major share of the defense budget. This provided jobs for people who needed homes, schools for their children and good roads to get to their jobs. All of these factors contributed to a period of tremendous growth under Hamann’s direction.
(This is the first of a two-part article. Part Two will appear next week.)