Communications Hill Bombarded by Workouts, Drugs, Public Sex

Below the window, a personal trainer in a skin-tight, intensely blue tank top jaunts up the stairs, pausing every several paces to exhort a couple of sweat-drenched female clients. A handful of joggers in similarly bright spandex sports bras and tights sprint past them—up and down the 252 steps that have become the bane of Zora Kabic’s existence.

“This is nothing,” she says on a recent weekday afternoon, exasperated, peeking through the curtains of her two-story townhome, which sits kitty corner from the base of what Communications Hill denizens call the Grand Staircase. “You should see at night. Music, drinking, drugs, sex.”

Sounds like a good time.

“Not for the people who live here,” says Kabic, 67, a tech worker turned fragrance model (yes, that’s a thing) who shares her immaculate home with her ex-husband, a retired schoolteacher, and a gray tabby named Lucky.

One late night, she peered out the window to see two shadowy figures on the stone bench across the way.

“One on top of the other,” she says, wrinkling her nose in disgust, flipping through a binder brimming with emails, notes, police reports and photos documenting the litany of offenses. “You could tell what they were doing. Making noises. Having sex.”

Mornings are no better. Fitness bootcamps show up before dawn with their techno-blaring speakers, irrepressible exuberance and yawps of encouragement. “So early and already so loud,” Kabic groans.

Skaters, stoners, drinkers, shutterbugs, cyclists, Crossfitters, loiterers and horny teenagers. People park in the red zone, block her driveway, defecate in the bushes and litter the area with bottles, wrappers and cigarette butts. Prom-goers, fawning couples and wedding parties stage photo shoots. Kabic can’t sleep without the windows closed, some soft music playing.

When she bought her place on Mullinix Drive eight years ago, the staircase wasn’t built yet. So serene was the setting that wild animals would meander around her home—turkeys, coyotes, skunks, raccoons. A fox would frequent her doorstep for bites of raw Costco chicken and boiled eggs. She named it Bella and she keeps a photo of it in her living room.

Like many homeowners who moved to Communications Hill in the mid-aughts, Kabic had no idea that the hilltop views and majestic staircase that appealed to new buyers would turn their neighborhood into one of the trendiest fitness destinations in the Bay Area—and, Kabic murmurs, a pick-up zone for the hard-bodied, health-conscious and promiscuous. “It’s like a singles bar,” remarks a neighbor.

Sometime around 2010, word got out on social media that Communications Hill—named for the 114-foot microwave tower at the summit—doubled as an outdoor gym, with an analog stairmaster and a quarter-mile trail loop.

A Yelp page popped up with a four-star rating and rave reviews: “The hill with a lot of communication! Nah, more like cardio,” wrote a Justin P., adding that he feels bad for the residents who live there. On Flickr and Facebook, visitors post photos of stunning orange sunsets and, after dark, sparkling views of the valley floor. It became as popular as Mission Peak, a public trail that snakes up Fremont’s eastern hills. Neighborhood groups say more than 80 percent of Communications Hill visitors don’t live in the area—many come from far-flung corners of the Bay Area.

“That’s not necessarily a bad thing,” offers Jeremy Jones, 34, a trustee of the Tuscany Hills Homeowners Association who bought his place in 2005. “But when they do it in a place that doesn't have the infrastructure to support them, it has unintended consequences."

But the issue comes to a head this month, as the city of San Jose considers greenlighting plans for 2,200 new homes, a retail center and six additional grand staircases over the next seven years. Vice Mayor Madison Nguyen, who moved to a nearby condo in 2006, asked her colleagues on the council to consider concerns of residents before giving KB Homes the go-ahead to build out what’s currently the largest development proposal in San Jose.

“I’ve had hundreds of residents reach out to me about petty problems that add up,” says Nguyen, who walks around the trail and stairs a few times a week. “Traffic, parking, loitering, drinking in public, smoking pot—we have to address these things before we move forward. We’re using this opportunity now that KB Homes is developing the next phase to make sure they understand how critical it is that we find a solution.”

The problem for many residents isn’t so much the crowds as the lack of accommodations for them. Because the stairs were zoned as a public right-of-way—like a passage, alley or roadway—it’s open to anyone. Because it wasn’t zoned as a park, no one can enforce curfews. There are no public bathrooms, little public parking and only after the fact did the city install trash cans.

Development plans submitted to the city propose building 28 more staircases, five or six of them similar to the heavily trafficked Grand Staircase across from Kabic’s house. “More staircases would only multiply the problem,” Kabic insists. “They must do something.”

Upward of 200 residents showed up to a late August evening community meeting hosted by city planners and KB Homes, which built out the first phase of the project. So many residents complained about the public nuisance wrought by the staircases that developers ready to share a lofty vision for Communications Hill could barely get in a word.

“It was quite a show,” says Jones, who lives a good distance away from the busiest staircase. “[KB Homes] wasn’t able to have a successful meeting. They couldn’t talk about future development because they had to deal with 200 people talking about current issues.”

Though the vision of transforming the Communications Hill area into a dense urban center has been in the books for decades, its actualization caught folks off guard, says Jerry Strangis, a lobbyist who helped push for the development’s original land-use plan in the early ’90s.

“It took 10 years to get the specific plan adopted,” he says. “And that’s what we wanted: a mixed-use housing element with jobs, commercial space, connected by public transit. It’s always been a site the city wants to see developed and one they want to see developed right.”

The blueprint adopted for the area and designed by architect Daniel Solomon was modeled after Telegraph Hill in San Francisco, where a 400-step staircase draws an incessant crush of tourists walking to and from Coit Tower.

Solomon, a professor emeritus of architecture and urban design at University of California, Berkeley, has won numerous awards for helping shape modern concepts of urban design. He considered Communications Hill unique from the bulk of development in the past three decades that favored sprawl and strip malls over dense, walkable communities. Instead of spread-out homes and strip malls, he mapped out a tight grid of streets and blocks over steep terrain—row houses and flats with space for future high-rise towers and retail within easy walking distance.

“It was part of his vision for what they call ‘New Urbanism,’” Strangis says. “He was the visionary who came up with the staircases, the granite steps. What he didn’t know is that 25 years later, those steps would become the most popular fitness facility in the region.”

Communications Hill’s final project up for consideration includes 67,500 square feet of commercial-retail space, 55 acres of industrial parks, trails and infrastructure within a 332-acre swath of land.

“We’re excited for it,” says Jones, who fields public nuisance complaints for his HOA. “If the future development is done right, it can be an exciting thing for the existing community."

But residents say there has to be a better way to manage the staircases, because people keep coming. The Tuscany Hills HOA says it has shelled out more than $100,000 in the past 18 months to hire off-duty cops to patrol the neighborhood. Sgt. Jason Pierce, a SJPD veteran who spends his weekends policing the staircase, walks up and down the stairs a few times per shift, telling loiterers, drinkers and smokers to move along. “The biggest thing is just making our presence known,” he says.

Kabic has become a regular pen-pal, emailing reports to him directly instead of dialing 9-1-1. “My eyes on the ground,” Pierce says, with a laugh.

With Nguyen’s help, the community convinced the city to install parking signs and paint strips of red on the curb. That, at least, gives Pierce and his colleagues something to enforce. During his time working for the HOA, Pierce has counted 10 arrests for outstanding warrants, 80 arrests and detainments for drug and alcohol offenses and 400 parking citations.

“It’s a start,” Zabic concedes. “The parking problems aren’t as much now.”

She recently added a few signs of her own, imploring visitors to be mindful of the $50,000 worth of landscaping the city planted. They read: “Respect our community, please do not walk through the bushes!!!”

Zabic spies a trampled bush a few strides away and sighs. “They don’t care,” she says, walking away. “It’s not theirs, so they don’t care.”

 

Jennifer Wadsworth is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper. Email tips to jenniferw@metronews.com or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

35 Comments

  1. We used to take our dogs and walk them there and picked up trash along the way. We stopped frequenting Communication Hill because we determined it was an invasion of the residents privacy. It just became too packed and my husband didn’t feel it was right to be there. And, we picked up trash that people frequently and increasingly dropped!

    • It’s a public street and public park funded by all including you as a tax payer. You should enjoy walking and jogging, there, and you (and we) can still respect the residents who live nearby. Again, it’s a public premise.

  2. I used to love Communications Hill. I lost 40-45lbs between 2012-2013. I stopped going there because it was too crowded. I think San Jose needs something like this… a place to exercise free-of-charge, no gym membership required. Most of us were respectful, no noise, headphones only… and yeah, I picked up trash too. But now.. that seems to have gone by the wayside… and that’s too bad. Not just for the residents, but for the entire community.

    If the planners would make sure the new addition has stairs, with restrooms, trash cans, and a parking lot… it would probably draw the crowd away from this place. And everyone will exercise & be happy.

  3. Thanks for covering this issue. It’s been long running problem and I hope some visitors would read this and finally realize that they have some social responsibility.

    Opinions varies but some people think building additional stair cases may move some of the crowd from the existing stair case. I think at this point that’s the only solution for homeowners near the GS(Grand Staircase). Now the crowds here, they need to go somewhere…

    There’s quite a lot of ‘Parked cars’ on our street at night. But i think that might also change when they build more home and business…which might break up the quiet serenity for ‘Lovers’ Lane’? lol.

    On a different note, I’m not aware that Madison Nguyen was to be credited with regulating the parking and crowd, have not seen her at the town hall meeting on communication hill. But I do like the no parking sign and some of the parking reinforcement. Although more needs to be done. Don’t know what is the right thing to do, maybe designated ‘Guest Parking’ for the new community though. Sounds like the city engineers did a lot of ‘simulation’ about how to regulate traffic with the newly added homes. Let’s hope their simulation model is updated, yeah?!

    I feel bad for the residents near the GS. But apparently, (I was not aware of this either) my husband says the original plan when KB home first started WAS to make this the next Santana Row, so residents looking for a quiet neighborhood for retirement might want to consider moving to a different neighborhood. The city is going to go ahead with this anyway…money makes the world go round.

    • The city needs to meter parking up there and make access more difficult. There sre signs, plastic bags for dog waste and lots of trash cans. But, there is that segment of society that litters and feels the rules don’t apply to them.
      It seems that things have increasingly deteriorated with our diminished police presence there. No one to enforce or control.Another consequence of
      Reedonomics.

  4. The only reason San Jose is doing anything is because the Vice Mayor lives there… Otherwise all the described problems would be ignored like throughout the rest of the city. Nearly all of SJ has increased “nuisance” issues; traffic, littering, graffiti, marijuana complaints, prostitution.

    The mantra is to build more, regardless of traffic and public safety concerns- it’s Nguyen damn plan/fault! She follows Rufas blindly and is a Liccardo apologist.

    The only way to get more police service is to literally pay an off-duty Officer for security. Even then, there’s so few cops, you have to be a politician to score one… Shameful.

  5. I bought similar property right beside Central Park in NYC. I thought that the public park would only be open to me and my neighbors, but unfortunately, it is a public park, not my personal park. Haha.

    These people are complaining, because other people are using a public space that they thought of as their own personal space. The people coming from “all over” are still probably paying the taxes that paid for the stairs to be built and the plants to be planted. These people are complaining, because people are coming and taking advantage of stuff they paid for.

    This is just a case of people wanting something for nothing. They didn’t buy a house on a hill on 3 acres of land. They bought town homes under a cell phone tower overlooking public property. You get what you pay for.

  6. I like how cyclists are lumped into the list of offenders even though the rest of the article does not specify how. Seeing as how cyclists do not use the stairs, do not take up parking spaces, and generally do not loiter for more than a few minutes to catch their breath and the view before descending, what problems are they causing?

  7. Left a comment asking why cyclists were lumped into the list of offenders despite the omission of supporting details in the rest of the article and had my comment deleted. Why are you afraid of this question Jennifer? Why are you trying to silence free speech? Why can’t you just provide an intelligent response instead of deleting comments that don’t support your article?

    • Adam,

      The way this works is you register to leave comments and then you have to verify your email address. After that, your comments will appear—assuming they don’t violate the comments policy. It’s possible your verification email is in your spam folder. I approved your comments so you don’t feel like your “free speech” was being infringed upon.

      Thanks for reading,

      JK

      p.s. Some people think that cyclists can be obnoxious when they slowly take up the road. I am not one of these people. OK, I can be one of these people when I’m in a hurry.

  8. Madison is a giant SCAM artist like the majority of council! She saw an opportunity to jump on something so she took the stage. Its all political theater … Go Maddy…. Oh and how was the junket to Hawaii on our dime? Lets have more wasteful trips for termed out non productive council persons!

  9. Nice article Jennifer!! Hopefully these residence get the relief they deserve. I know I wouldn’t want to spend $700,000 on a home only for my space to be invaded by people boning on a bench right outside my door. Nope!

  10. To request improvements regarding new speed limit, stop, caution signs, new red curbs, to increase safety in your neighborhood contact the City of San Jose’s Dept. of Transportation is the correct place to make those requests.
    Link provided below….

    http://www.sanjoseca.gov/transportation/

  11. I am a former Lancaster Gate townhome owner who lived 1.5 blocks away on Marble Arch. I bought there in 2002 and sold last year (not for this reason, transitioned to a larger SFR).

    The “Stairs” were – originally – a delightful outlet for residents/owners there, but it became a ‘public feature’ in essentially a private neighborhood.

    One evening on my nightly walk I stepped over a teen couple, um, “planking” at the top of the Stairs.

    The real solution for this is to re-zone the Stairs and allow the relevant HOAs to control access with gates at top & bottom of the Stairs. [Then they could sell magnetic cards for outsiders serious about quiet access.] This keeps the property clean, keeps the bums out, and gives the folks residing there the peace & quiet they thought they bought (or pay high rents for).

    Bill Wiese
    San Jose, CA

  12. This is a hang out for non-residents. The residents that pay for the HOA fees are getting a raw deal. This is not a public park. The HOA could easily resolve most of this, but they choose not to do anything about it. They tried… but they just mad it hard on the people that live there when they enacted a ridiculous “No Parking” ban at night on the street that overlooks the hill. All they needed to do was give residents parking permits. I hated living there. Previous resident.

    One last thing, if you belong to some pop-up gym that using the stairs or park for your workout, or if you run an outside gym, you should be fined. Stay away, leave people alone.

    • Hi PreviousResident..

      While I understand your frustration I do not believe the relevant HOAs can do, at least immediately, anything about this public area.

      The stairs were designed to be ‘public sidewalk’ access and that’s part of the planning & design what-not, deed, etc. that went in before the communities were built. The HOA cannot change that on its own.

      This was a design flaw by planners who have a Disney version of public areas with neighborly people and little kids in strollers – instead of homeless, druggies, partiers and noisy exercisers who are disrespecful of their (non-)neighbors.

      The HOA cannot put up a gate or gates or limit public access to the Stairs unless & until they “buy the stairs from the City” and the City agrees.to the sale.

      [This is much akin to a condo or housing development wanting to change to a private gated community and restrict access to residents and their visitors only: to legally do this, the HOA/residents have to ‘buy out’ the streets and underground services from the City, and then assume all costs/risks for maintenance of said streets & underground stuff. The City rejected consideration of privatization for another nearby SFR housing community because socialists don’t like the “nonegalitarian” aspects of controlled access…]

      Bill Wiese
      San Jose, CA

  13. Teenagers are doinking around the area of these stairs? That is a actually a positive; they are getting some physical exercise while not spending time texting and playing video games.

  14. Living in Communications Hill Is Like A Nightmare

    The Communications Hill is no longer a clean, quiet, orderly and beautiful comunity with million dollars houses! It is no longer a place to live. It has become a lawless zone in the center of South San Jose. The stairs may be a blessings for thousands of people but for us, it has become a curse.
    Noise, traffics, parking shortage, speeding ,trash, drugs, prostitutions, gangs and crimes are some of the issues we deal with on a daily basis.
    I have been threatened at gun point just for asking some not to leave their condoms on my side walk!

    Recently channel 2 report sheds light on one of the issues, or the grand staircase. It showed how the city is handling the issue. This is a stair that connects the top to the bottom. It was supposed to be for us not for the public use!

    http://m.ktvu.com/videos/news/san-jose-city-makes-changes-to-popular-running/vChjSx/

    We also have another issue here. It is called The Path. This is a trail that crosses the stair case.

    The grand ataircase is part of the Tuscany Hills’ community which is connects the top to the bottom of the Communications Hill in San Jose. Only 4 miles South of San Jose, this offers an unprecedented panoramic views of South San Jose green valleys and mountains. So people come to our community for walking, jogging, running and enjoying the scenery. Unfortunately there are other reasons that certain groups of people come to our area too. They are violent and involved in drug, prostitutions and gangs …. .

    The original planning for the staircase shows that it had to be 4 ft wide not 12-16 ft. City is refusing to correct that. This staircase has become a magnet and daily brings
    hundreds of people mostly from other parts of San Jose to our community. Most of them come to walk or jog treating the community like a park!

    The path was supposed to be a part of the a small park in our community but it is not. It is open to the public 24/7 and as a result, it has become the place to be for many including those involved in illegal activities. After bars and clubs shut their doors, the path is the place to be. You just have to come and see! This is not a place to live anymore.
    I personally own two properties here. The combined current value of my properties is close to 2 million dollars. I pay close to $2000 a month in property tax. I, along with other homeowners and neighbors living in this community have lost faith in our local government. They have failed us again and again.

    What has been done so far? Very little!
    For over 3 years, our HOA has been discussing these issues with the City of San Jose, police department and the builder KB Home. Even the City Council member “Madison Nugen” who live here tried to solve the issues and made many promises she couldn’t deliver.

    The Proposed Solutions

    1- Closing the Stairs
    2- Closing the area at night
    3- Modifying the stairs to what it originally had to be (4ft wide)
    4- Adding a gate to the main community entrance (gated community)
    5- Parking permit for residents only

    For over 3 years those who can bring a resolution to these issues and end our misery have done nothing. The city of San Jose, the police as well as the builder keep pointing finger at each other. Nobody really wants to do the job. Clearly it shows a chronic lack of leadership, and everything that has led San Jose to be where it is today.

    What has been done so far?

    1- hired off duty police officer
    2- Installed trash bins and signs
    3- Added more cleaning crews
    4- Added No parking zone between 9 to 6 pm
    5- Expanded the landscaped areas within the staircase

    The hoa raised our association dues to cover the cost of more security patrols which hasn’t made that much difference.
    The no parking zone took away our parkings. People still park under no parking sign every night for hours.
    Some receive tickets, a few are asked to leave but overall, the police and parking authority have not been able to enforce the law.

    Upon request, I can provide additional details to show how can we solve these issues and how this can help Sam.

    Our problems are part of a larger problem in this city. Incompetent leadership and dysfunctional management! These two factors are causing our great city to fall a part. It is time for a change.

    Recently by attending the KB Home meeting to hear their plan to build additional 2200 units, we realized that there is a bigger problem. The developer’s vision is to turn this residential community into a money making magnet in San Jose. They want to build a large shopping area a few yards from where we live. To them we the residents are the future customers of their commericial center. But that doesn’t end there. They believe the more people can easily get to the top of this hill, the better. They have planned this residential area in a way to support their commercial activities. That is why they are adding 27 more staircase and expanding the lawless tail around the hill. I have nothing against creating job and increasing revenue for the city and investors as long as in their planning, they remember that we the residents have the right to be able to live here. The way they have conducted their planning and building has violated the most basic rights we have here.

    A Chinese proverb says, a man’s problem is another man opportunity.
    I believe our problems here in Communications Hill is a great opportunities for the future mayer of San Jose.

    Showcasing how the builder, the city and police have been handling our community’s issues is the place to start.
    I believe the Communications Hill is a great opportunity for the future mayer of San Jose to increase awareness about the problems and lack of leadership in San Jose. To increase awareness about how the big businesses like KB Home are trying to do what they want without anybody questioning or stopping them.

    I believe the future mayor of San Jose can make a great difference. That is what the people in our community hope to see.

    This short report aired on channel 2 shows what the real problem.
    Look how the city of San Jose wasted $50,000 of your tax dollars to solve our community’s traffic, noise, loitering problems?

    http://m.ktvu.com/videos/news/san-jose-city-makes-changes-to-popular-running/vChjSx/

    I Am Outraged! Aren’t You?

    • KB homes will do nothing but lie, they bought the old school on Orvis, we had many public meetings, and when they asked us to vote on the open space ( vote was like 11 to 4 to have open space), they went there own way, a closed park…follow the money….. the city is 120% in bed with KB homes………………

  15. “I personally own two properties here. The combined current value of my properties is close to 2 million dollars. ” Good luck trying to get that if you try to sell, now that the word is out. I wonder how many sellers and listing brokers have failed to disclose this problem to prospective buyers?

  16. Is it also true that this community is built on a hill made of natural asbestos rocks? Thank you.

  17. I live here and I go walking almost everyday. I have never seen public sex nor drug usage in here. This is so offensive to people who live in com hill and to those who use the trail!

  18. When looking to buy my first home we visited Tuscany Hills. At no time were we told there would any commercial development. All that was mentioned was pending upscale homes, open space area and a school. Did they build a new school on the hill?

  19. I read above that the city won’t allow the residents to have a gated community. Why can’t the residents have a gate With gate card that works at night/loitering hours? Those who want to hike up the stairs can hike, but after 9pm if you want to go up there you have to work for it (Walk up those stairs son!)

    Kids boning in their cars is one thing.. but People getting attacked outside of their own homes… People aren’t paying that amount so they can feel this is Gotham City.

    I don’t understand why this is such a hard issue to resolve. People are paying over half a million for these homes. The least the city should do is try to resolve the problem , not raise their HOA fees .

    The three things I can think of that could resolve this problem
    1. Gate that only works with owner gate cards past 9pm
    2. If the residents now have private security, establish a Security # that homeowners have access too so they can report what is happening on what street (Kind of like college, Emergency rape number on campus)
    3.Instead of stopping everyone from parking, create Parking permits for homeowners and their visitors (again a college campus concept)

    -Concerned Prospective owner

    P.S : Even Mission peak has Closing hours, I believe it is after 6pm security comes and issues everyone tickets.

  20. Note to Zora Kabic–it’s both harmful and illegal to feed the wildlife. Leave them wild. They aren’t meant to be pets. Feeding wildlife attracts larger predators and ultimately creates nuisances as problematic as the people on the stairs.