A recent column in the Mercury News listed what Scott Herhold considers to be the best and worst local decisions in the last 50 years. One might quibble with his priorities, but it was hard to argue with most picks—except for the Saddle Rack. That dive was an eyesore and we don’t need any would-be urban cowboys hauling into San Jose. Also, Midtown’s Safeway and the accompanying affordable housing was much needed in the neighborhood—and the area still needs more revitalization. Here are a few other things the columnist missed.
Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara: The Stadium has been a cash-cow for the economy of Silicon Valley. Super Bowl 50 on its own provided more than $1 billion in local economic activity—even though San Francisco was officially the host city. Kevin Moore’s “Hail Mary” was huge.
BART to San Jose: While still not completed, Ron Gonzales deserves credit for bringing this project—kicking and screaming—to San Jose. Carl Guardino and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group also deserve plenty of praise for pushing to complete the project through transportation initiatives. Once completed, BART will serve as a critical transportation option and move thousands of people off of our congested freeways.
Metcalf Energy Center: This modern-day power plant helps power Silicon Valley. The California Energy Commission approved the plans despite opposition from Mayor Gonzalez and the city of San Jose. Energy produced by the plant is a critical component of the Bay Area’s infrastructure.
Development of Agnews Hospital: Although it received unanimous support in the end, the development of Rivermark and Oracle’s campus on the old mental hospital grounds was almost derailed on a narrow 4-3 vote in Santa Clara. Council members Lisa Gilmor, Rod Diridon and, critically, the late Aldyth Parle helped make this happen. The project almost failed because of city greed and a failure by some members of the council to understand the economics of the project, which included affordable housing, a school, a fire station and parkland. Reason ultimately prevailed.
SAP Center: Herhold did mention the Sharks, but it is the original HP venue itself that has been key to the team’s success. In addition to being the home of the Sharks, San Jose became an option for top-tier entertainment acts that could only be found in San Francisco and Oakland. Former mayors Tom McEnery and Susan Hammer both deserve credit for their vision and the completion of this project—all of which was opposed by the dependable NIMBYs. Ask yourself: What would San Jose be like without the arena?
Highways 85 and 87: Long opposed by NIMBYism, Highway 87 was finally built under the supervision of Eileen Goodwin, coming in on time and under budget. Highway 85 took more time, but persistence by then-Councilman Jim Beall, who served as a member of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), made 85 a reality.
Rent Protection: The recent 6-5 vote by the San Jose City Council to protect renters will certainly go down as one of local policymakers’ best decisions. How Mayor Sam Liccardo wound up on the opposite side of this “moral” issue is baffling. Vice Mayor Magdalena Carrasco showed tremendous independence by breaking from the mayor—who appointed her to the position to help with wing votes. The mayor’s decision could be an ominous sign for his political future.
Bike Lanes: Developing a bicycle friendly environment is a long-term winner. While it could have been done better in some respects, Mayor Liccardo deserves credit for this initiative. Shiloh Ballard of the Bicycle Coalition has continually advocated for San Jose to become a more bicycle friendly city. One area of the city that needs more attention is the East Side of San Jose, where bicycle lanes and tails would offer an affordable option for the population—especially kids—to get around.
San Jose Airport: The location of Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport has hampered planners and developers in downtown and Santa Clara for decades. A good option would be to convert Moffet Field into a commercial airport and free up prime land for development. It will never happen, but one can dream.
Keeping Caltrain at Grade: The electrification of Caltrain is a great idea, and the NIMBY opposition of High Speed Rail to San Francisco has been stupid and myopic. NIMBYs who will not be alive to see High Speed Rail spoke loudly against the project. Instead they supported 19th century modes of transportation. An aerial structure would allow development underneath, free up traffic, prevent car accidents, help prevent suicides and be less noisy than the current system. There will never be true High Speed Rail to San Francisco as a result—and traffic on their local streets will never improve.
Measure B: Herhold did mention this in his column. My problem with some of the people who supported Measure B—notably former Mayor Chuck Reed and current Mayor Sam Liccardo—is that they’re lawyers and knew better. Reed helped cause the problem and his consultant, Victor Ajlouny, was a consultant for many police associations before he turned on them with Measure B. It was all done for political reasons and they (i.e. Reed, Liccardo) knew better. They are lawyers. The Reed legacy is that he is now considered one of the worst mayors in San Jose history.
Losing the San Francisco Giants: Mayor Susan Hammer tried to get voters to support a stadium in San Jose. But the NIMBYS prevailed and now AT&T park, which is still cold, has become an economic boon for San Francisco. Meanwhile, San Jose still pines away for Major League Baseball in the form of the A’s. Three world championships and the revenue that accompanies the World Series was lost because … traffic is bad. Note to NIMBYS: you still have traffic and your decisions continue to make it worse. How is that Caltrain ride or drive to AT&T? We’d be there half an hour earlier if the train were elevated. Just sayin’.
Charging Gonzales with a Crime: In one of the most egregious political and legal blunders of all-time, Mayor Ron Gonzales was over-charged by the District Attorney’s Office for a political deal. He was falsely accused of taking a bribe and five other counts—all stemming from his “taking a bribe.” He received no personal benefit from a political deal and Judge John Herlihy noted the malfeasance of the prosecution. The real tragedy was the collateral damage to the city of San Jose. At the time I noted that Gonzales was not guilty but should resign. He chose not to do that, which is understandable, but the city suffered as a result of a mayor who was forced to defend meritless claims while still trying to run the largest city in the Bay Area. For District Attorney George Kennedy and subordinate Julius Finklestein, it was a low point in their respective careers. The media under-reported the effect of this horrendous decision, which is a shame. Mayor Gonzales was clearly mistreated by a prosecutors who ran amok.
No BART to San Jose: Not incorporating BART to San Jose from the start was a huge mistake in retrospect. San Jose gadflies were worried that BART would leave San Jose broke, as jobs would flee to San Francisco. Having no vision of Silicon Valley, their myopic and selfish view has led to a series of tax increases. These people, like the opponents of High Speed Rail today, showed an ignorance that will cost future generations in lost time, lower productivity, more traffic and less convenience.
Urban Sprawl: Wall to wall concrete over the Valley of the Hearts Delight. Yes, the vision of Dutch Hamann still haunts us today. Instead of long-term planning for housing, transportation and infrastructure, San Jose threw up ranch-style track homes as fast as they could go up. Selling for an outrageous price of $13,000 to $25,000 in the early 1960s, these homes continue to be the major cause of our sprawling nightmare—two cars in every garage and no mass transportation infrastructure. On the upside, because of the lack of affordable housing, it did create a lot of millionaires in the valley. At least until the next bubble breaks.
Election Equipment Debacle: The county’s process for buying election machines and counting ballots is an embarrassment. Instead of following a model similar to San Mateo, where ballots are counted by 10pm on Election Night in a secure system, Santa Clara County bought machines that were totally inadequate for the job, before rejecting them altogether and implementing a process that includes abacuses for counting. The entire process was fraught with mismanagement and conflicts of interest. The county Board of Supervisors was deceived by staff, including Richard Wittenberg and then-Registrar of Voters Kathryn Ferguson (who went on to work for Sequoia Voting Systems the winner of the RFP for the now defunct electronic voting system). The time it takes to count ballots on Election Night is an embarrassment to Silicon Valley, and we are among the last to get our official results into the Secretary of State. Kern County is faster.
Executive Compensation over average employees: In a series of negotiations, county executives increased their own pay while limiting the pay of public employees—all while increasing employee pension benefits and pleading poverty to the Board of Supervisors. Again, Richard Wittenberg was a master manipulator of the board and the press. One year he gave all the executives a raise in December. The following year, executives took no raises. Then, in the following January, Wittenberg noted the executives had not had a salary increase for the entire year and proposed new increases for executives. The media bought it hook, line and sinker. Wittenberg was also a fierce negotiator with unions, often getting them to settle for little or no raises. He did increase their pension benefits, though, and he was long gone before the bill came due. By keeping salaries down for employees, Wittenberg claimed he had saved the county millions and deserved more pay as a result. The board bought it. This has happened in many jurisdictions, so Wittenberg wasn’t the sole culprit—but he was a master of manipulation.