How Would You StartUp San Jose?

Nearly every civic official in San José agrees that promoting a stronger local economy is our highest priority.  Regardless of our political perspectives, we all understand that supporting vibrant small businesses and high-wage jobs are key to putting our friends and neighbors back to work. To the extent there is a debate, it is not about what we should do—it is about how we should do it. Which is why the event I participated in last week is worth discussing.

Together with the local non-profits San José Made, NextSpace and other community groups, we took two empty storefronts on 2nd Street and turned them into a vibrant economic center. It functioned as a co-working space during the day with great local coffee and free wi-fi, and at night transformed to host local small businesses selling their goods. We called it StartUp San José.

The event showed that we can revitalize our economy one street—and one vacant storefront—at a time. It also underlined why the small business incentive package currently pending before the City Council is so important. The idea is simple—where landlords of long-vacant, street-facing parcels are willing to reduce their asking lease rates, City Hall should waive permit fees for new businesses seeking to get up and running, and expedite the process. Improving our local economy is a team effort, and if both landlords and the City can compromise, we can make real progress for San José.

Match vibrant startups with empty storefronts and what do you get? You get jobs, you get rid of unattractive nuisances and you start to attract more pedestrian traffic, which helps all the other businesses in the area thrive.

You get more reasons for people to spend their money here in San José rather than going to another city. And we know from numerous studies and our own experiences that bustling businesses put more “eyes on the street,” increasing safety and causing crime to fall.

But the tremendous success of StartUp San José showed something else. It showed what happens when government acts as a partner with local businesses, local innovators and local residents to jump start economic activity.

There is a tendency at City Hall to think we might have all the answers and need to drive most of the solutions ourselves. Certainly there are many great ideas at City Hall and many activities where government must be the driver.

But there are many other times when local government should invest more strategically in order to unlock the multiplying power of private, non-profit and other government investments.

That’s what we did with StartUp San José. It costs almost nothing, just the small business fee we waived and the time it takes to change regulations to give local businesses with empty storefronts more incentive to rent to local businesses that can create local jobs and increase local revenue.

What this small investment of time brought is the proof that vibrant local small businesses can thrive. And when they do, they multiply our small investment with new jobs, new opportunities and new tax revenues that come, not by asking people to pay more, but by increasing the number of people paying.

Events like StartUp San José also showed something else. They show just how powerful the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship is here in San José.

How do you believe we can StartUp San José?  Please respond to the call to action, and share your ideas boost our local economy at [email protected].

More photos from the StartUp San Jose event.


  1. This from the very same city council that outlawed plastic bags, causing potential customers to shop in neighboring cities when given a choice, myself included.

      • Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. Neither of us has a crystal ball. Until that day happens though, San Jose put its businesses at a big disadvantage. I live in a city that lets plastic grocery bags be recycled in with the weekly pickup, as many other cities do. These plastic grocery bags can also be taken back to the grocery store and recycled. The truth is that potential customers will shop where it is more convenient, and San Jose tipped that scale in favor of other surrounding cities.

        • Joshua, we will have to respectively agree to disagree. The city I live in has a specific way to leave these plastic bags in the recyclables so they do not clog anything. I also have issues with dirty bags being used to contaminate food, which is backed up by scientific research.

        • Palo Alto, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and now Redwood City… they are all doing the exact same thing. The plastic bags clog the recycling systems, there is a huge monetary cost to deal with these in addition to the environmental costs. Is it really that big of a deal to keep a few reusable bags in your trunk?

        • > I also have issues with dirty bags being used to contaminate food, which is backed up by scientific research.

          This is a BIG issue, for which the bag authoritarians have no answer.

          Therefore, they will pretend they didn’t hear of the “disease vector” problem of recycled bags and parrot their mindless talking points.

          “SQUAWK!  We’re saving the planet. SQUAWK!”

          I was treated to a discussion of conjunctivitis (“pink eye”) at my health club this past weekend.

          It is HIGHLY contagious.

          If you’re a checkout clerk at Whole Foods, and the smiling yuppie with the Obama lapel button hands you a big wad of “Save the Earth” re-usable bags, how do you know you’re not getting a big dose of some liberal’s pink eye, rhinovirus, or cat leprosy viruses?

          Where the hell is the union?  Don’t they care about protecting the health of their members?

  2. I was at the little start up event last week with the would be entrepreneurs and really Sam young people selling handmade jewelry, recycled clothes and bottle caps is not the best example of luring retailers and shoppers downtown.Maybe to a craftfair or the local Goodwill but not a large urban downtown.  First off, who would pay $5 parking to buy a $3 macrame necklace?  I wouldn’t hang any mayoral hats on this pony.

    Per the recycled bags.  Remember when our local polls decided it was unhealthy for poor, fat, low income kids to get a “Happy Meal” at McD’s and so they banned them?  That was nothing but show.  Go to a Walmart or other super market and look what the food stamp card mothers are checking out – soda, cookies, white bread – junk food – for their poor, fat, low income kids who will only become expensive public health problems in a few years time.  Why does the food stamp card allow this?  Can’t it be barred just like alcohol and cigarettes?

    But, on to the recycled bags.  We all have to carry the filthy things to the market with us.  But not if you have a food stamp card.  These special people are not required to use recycled bags.  Why?  Because they purchase new paper bags with their food stamp card so why bother with carrying in your own bags?

    How stupid are we for allowing this?

  3. Laws governing plastic bags, germs teeming in our reusable ones, food stamp favoritism, and the tyranny of San Jose’s city council… Really?

    Way to drop a bundle of wet blankets on the pop-up party, commentists.

    Bemoaning the fact that you are no longer doled out plastic bags by the thousands for free isn’t helpful. But calling for ideas, enthusiasm, and participation by the community is. What IS helpful is facilitating a dialogue between landlords and potential small businesses that could result in universal benefit without requiring any outlay by the city. It IS helpful to keep cultivating and showcasing our special brand of community, including all its artisan decorative bottle caps and giant plush vegetables, while working to create new draws to downtown. StartUp might not have changed the tide, but it was something that was good and unifying, and it brought together a lot of people that believe in the future and present of our sometimes dysfunctional, sometimes magnificent little city. So I say kudos on that note.

    And on a totally unrelated topic, it is also helpful to pass legislation that coerces intransigent fuddy-duddys to change their habits ever so slightly for the sake of progress. Long live the tyranny of progress and the plastic bag ban.

    • How much hot water and energy does it take to repeatedly wash and dry cloth grocery bags? Personally, I think it is progressive to recycle plastic grocery bags as they are made into composite boards which save millions of trees each year. What is ironic is I remember when plastic bags were pushed by some environmentalists 30 years ago to replace paper bags in grocery stores, and now these plastic bags are evil according to these same environmentalists.

    • > What IS helpful is facilitating a dialogue between landlords and potential small businesses that could result in universal benefit without requiring any outlay by the city.

      OK.  Dialogue.

      SMALL BUSINESS: “I want cheap rent.”

      LANDLORD: “No.  I want high rent.”

      SMALL BUSINESS:  “I disagree.  I’m not renting from you.”

      LANDLORD: “Great.  We agree.  I’m not leasing to you.”


      So.  What have we accomplished?

  4. I thought I would just go silent on this one out of respect for StartUp and the topic at hand, Observation, but you’ve pulled me back in. So on the subject of plastic bags, what you’re not addressing in your rosy circle of life view is the cost of the fossil fuels and materials required to bring these bags to the public by the trillions, and the particularly high cost of recycling that kind of plastic if and when they reach a recycling facility in the end.  And then there’s the piles of them that miss the bus to garbage town, and instead float around and end up in the Bay or wherever.  It’s very appealing to start the story from the grocery store and end it with the bag being sent off on a journey to be remade into other useful things, but there’s a lot more to the story. 

    Sure, many people reuse shopping bags, but most people would admit that they reuse only a small fraction of the ones they accumulate. Some good citizens return the remainder bags to the grocery store for recycling. The rest are either thrown in the garbage, tossed incorrectly into the recycling bin, or “reused”  (translation: filled with crap and then throw away, where they end up in a landfill). Most plastic bags have a half-life of about four hundred years.

    But let’s be honest, this isn’t so much about the environment as it is about businesses being scared they are losing customers, or feeling silly when they have to tell out-of-towners they have to pay for a bag. But most people who live or work and shop in San Jose have easily transitioned to habitually using their reusable bags, and are doing that even when they aren’t shopping in San Jose. There are big reasons for people to shop or start businesses in San Jose, but whether or not customers get a free plastic bag with the deal isn’t a significant one of them.

    But to get on with it, to suggest that using huge amounts of material, energy, and financial resources to manufacture and dispose of a product that exists solely for a brief moment in time is better for the environment and our pocket books than everyone just buying a dozen or so bags of their own and washing them occasionally is ludicrous.

    The plastic bag ban is here and it has drastically reduced our consumption on a number of fronts, even though some of us find it to be a bitter pill. Who knows, maybe one day it will be sent to the trash heap, but by then people’s habits will have changed, so the good will have already been done.

    • You still never answered the question; how much energy is saved using recyclable bags that need to be washed and dried, versus plastic bags that can be recycled? And 9bean, if it were up to me we would still use paper bags that are safe for the environment, can be made from either recycled paper or harvested wood (which can be raised and harvested like any other crop), and are much safer for our health than using cloth bags which can contaminate food if they have not been properly washed. I never wanted to switch to plastic bags 30 plus years ago; it was your environmental buddies that pushed this down our throats, the very same ones that are now telling us how great electric cars are, blind to the fact that fossil fuels still power them, only now these cars have a thousand pounds worth of batteries to power them. Somehow, I bet you are in love with electric cars too.