The San Jose City Council needs to get a grip on its demeanor in public. They’ve been a bit out of control with some recent comments. I was surprised but not amazed to see the statements from City Hall revolving around the topic of public drunkenness and arrests by the San Jose Police Department in the Downtown area. Basically, several members were quoted saying they’re appalled at the number of arrests, and the disparity in the arrest rate of Hispanics, far out to proportion to their one-third share of the San Jose population.
It is not surprising that the Council is out of touch on certain issues. But the situation has become frightening to those trying to live or run small businesses in Central San Jose. It’s also bad for anyone trying to get a cop in Evergreen or Almaden—while police are stuck Downtown, dealing with clubs whose customers display obnoxious, and in many cases, dangerous behavior. Clubs that happen to be politically connected.
Contrary to some opinion, this is not a battle between club patrons and future condo dwellers—that misses the point completely. It is a struggle being waged by those who to insist on legal, and even civil, behavior in our Downtown and our city.
It is now time to call things simply and truthfully. Hurt feelings and bad publicity are preferable to more deaths and dangerous activity. Although it is not what anyone wants to say about Downtown, here it is. There have been murders by gun, knife and SUV rage—drugs and alcohol are often involved. The club culture, nurtured by these few politically connected clubs and a bevy or lawyers, has allowed Downtown to become the center of much carnage and a magnet for trouble-makers from throughout the region. The police are overwhelmed and club bouncers act like it’s the Old West.
That’s the sad fact of it. There are a few more simple items to bring forward.
First, the clubs and other entertainment venues Downtown draw far more people of color than the city population (which may account for the racial imbalance shown in the arrest statistics) and a younger, mostly male crowd. Second, the concentration of clubs is at a saturation level (we would not allow 30 to 40 drive-in restaurants or gas stations to become so concentrated, and few people are shot at McDonald’s).
And third, we read the news stories of families slaughtered on the highways by drunk drivers, while in-between the lines of certain Council comments is a subliminal request for a “look the other way” policy by police. Apparently, certain Council members feel that at two o’clock in the morning, all those arrested are those who were planning to take Light Rail home. This is delusional and reflects the power of certain lobbyists, many holdovers and employees from the Gonzales regime, and their attorneys, enabled by a too-long complicit City Hall and a bunch of absentee landlords.
This absence of “sober” analysis, and the casual condemnation of the Police Department, is quite alarming, both for its naiveté and its support of a culture of public drunkenness, misbehavior, and outright crime. Just who is speaking for the neighbors of Central San Jose and those urban pioneers and long-term residents who now live Downtown?
Of course, police should treat all respectfully and equally, and policies should be reviewed (the Chief has conceded that clearly). But anyone familiar with the Downtown knows the club culture is out of control.
Several changes are needed. A cap of 200 or so, as recommended by the Police, on new clubs. A return to clubs paying their fair share to hire real cops, but paid into a central fund; neighborhoods should not subsidize these clubs. And the placement of cops on corners and walking a beat a la New York’s Times Square.
The Council should also crack down on the “grandfathering” of old clubs, and continue to monitor shady one-off promoters.
Most of all, these policies should reflect the goal of allowing young couples or any resident to use our Downtown with confidence and in safety. This is not the case now. Sadly, in San Jose now, farce is turning quickly into tragedy.