Airport and Downtown Compromise: Aim at Sobrato Building

Vacant High-Rise Proves Perfect Bearing for Emergency Routes

An agreement was reached early Thursday morning when airport officials met with several downtown representatives to hammer out a deal to protect building heights while allowing for the safest emergency route over the city’s center; their solution: aim at the Sobrato building.

The long-suffering, vacant high-rise next to the convention center on Almaden Blvd. is the logical answer to the vexing problem of development profits vs. human safety.  It provides a good, conspicuous target while minimizing the potential risk of death during a worst-case emergency takeoff scenario.

“We ran some cost-benefit analyses that weighed the potential cost of civil lawsuits for a plane crash into a full-height building against the lost revenue from shorter buildings,” said Paul Krutko, Director of San Jose’s Office of Economic Development.  “And, not surprisingly, we came up with the same conclusions as the Ford Motor Company did on their 1973 Pinto gas tank recall: human life is cheaper than our downtown full-service lease rates.”

The compromise was lauded by several downtown high-rise condo developers, who vow to move forward with their plans, but are asking for financial subsidies for the overhead oxygen masks required on the chance that the building loses cabin pressure.


  1. You must be kidding… But then again maybe they should AIM at the “New City Hall” as a target to crash into.  No loss of life there and it would help clearing out some positions at the city so they can hire new blood.  Then again maybe the building behind the Convention Center would be better to aim at.  It would wipe out the eyesore of a “Circus Tent” behind the Convention Center and a large portion of the west end of the Convention Center.  Lets see the Circus Style Ringleader, Mr. Team San Jose Dan Fenton recover from that one.  Personally I think both buildings are good to aim at.  Either way the only things lost besides innocent lives will be overinflated ego’s of the inhabitants of these buildings.

  2. 1 – If you were trying to be funny, you failed in spectacular fashion. If you were serious, then you are quite disturbed. There is nothing funny in saying “the only things lost besides innocent lives will be overinflated ego’s of the inhabitants of these buildings.” Perhaps these are just faceless people to you and you don’t know any of them. I know many of them—they are hardworking, dedicated people who put in long hours and have a commitment to public service. There is nothing funny in joking about destroying buildings and losing the lives of the family and friends of many of us. Get a clue Frank—today’s post would indicate you are seriously clueless.

  3. John this is a bad plan because it would only line the pockets of an already fat cat developer.  At this point I think Mr. Sobrato would welcome an insurance claim for the total loss of his blue elephant.

  4. Thanks John, I’ve been racking my brain trying to come up with a story idea for a tragedy set in San Jose, and you just provided it with your little satire. Unfortunately the title that I envisioned for my novel, “Path to Disaster: From Mineta to an Empty Building,” was already taken—used in a book about 1970’s downtown redevelopment.

  5. The chuckling must be nervous laughter because lets face it.  The airport really isn’t in the right place.
    In planned thinking beyond 4 year election cycles a future thinking master plan would put the airport in South County.

    Besides removing the threat of a large aircraft taking off/landing closer to large buildings and arenas closer than a piper club is to Eastridge, there are several major benefits in such a move.

    First selling off exsiting airport land yeilds significant revenues for the switch.
    Second, downtown can truly become highrise and “growing up” beyond its 2nd rate image of the city to the north.
    Third, rapid transit now becomes more practical.  BART to South County airport and up the peninsula makes economic sense as does a railhead for some future bullet train from SoCal.
    Sometime back in the late ‘70’s a small plane did crash downtown right near where the convention center now sits.  We had far fewer 737’s then and much shorter buildings.  It is time to look at a bigger, better and safer picture.

  6. #6, John, it’s just too late.  The NIMBY movement is simply too huge a voice no matter where you choose to move the airport.  It’ll never happen.  Moffett is there getting weeds in the runways when it’s the obvious and cheapest option but the NIMBYs in Sunnyvale and Mountain view will have none of it, even though commercial aircraft are far quieter than the unregulated military stuff that still ocassionally roars past my house way out near Los Gatos.  Go figure.  You’d think those peninsula jet setters would like to have a more conveniently located airport to get to and from their Maui condos with less hassle.

  7. Moving airport to Coyote Valley, Morgan Hill, Gilroy or South Valley is a bad idea and would result in more environment damage, traffic gridlock and pollution

    If Alviso could be a good location like SF and Oakland with take offs and landings over bay   but it floods Moffett Field would be good except not in San Jose

  8. Don’t expect ever Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, Loa Altos and Mountain View cities to ever do anything to help San Jose except have San Jose provide cheap labor, temporary employees, housing to benefit their Silicon Valley companies and cities

  9. It is my contention that the downtown is too critical to be sacrificed for POTENTIAL “international” flights.  Will it ever happen?  How many decades will it take?  And are we talking flights to Mexico and Canada?  It is hardly worth it.  I say build in downtown and let the airlines worry about the 1-in-a-billion emergency takeoff scenario.

  10. 11 – I’ll look forward to your lame posting when a plane hits a building and scatters debris and death all over downtown. Since when does public safety take precedence over building height. Wow, have we got our priorities screwed up.

  11. Lots of good ideas here today.  Maybe the airport should be moved to Coyote Valley then we’ve solved both problems.

  12. We have been and continue to build downtown not in downtown since 1958 – Valley Fair shopping, North San Jose jobs, North First St government center, Santana Row, Coleman shopping Center and now North San Jose Plan and high rises at Light Rail stations We extended official to Caltrain, next extend downtown to Meridian and then tp Valley Fair / Santana Row so we have downtown shopping

    Building by building , year by year we are building downtown

  13. Hey City hall insider,

    your point that Moffit would be good but it’s not in San Jose speaks to the stupidness of this city’s staff and leadership.  Why does SJO have to be in our city limits?  SFO isn’t in San Francisco. 

    This city continually trys to fit square pegs into round holes.  ie keeping and expanding an already screwed up airport in the downtown.  We are seriously the “stupidest city in america”.  That should be our new slogan!

    The airport should have been moved to Moffit years ago.  But dumb [email protected] kickers who run this city can’t see the trees through the forrest.

    And we all have to suffer!

  14. SFO isn’t in San Francisco.  LAX is practically in Long Beach.  Oakland is almost in Alameda.  If SJC moved to Moffett it would still be SJ airport.  What else would they call it?  Sunnyvale International?

    I’m with Move it.  Any emergency takeoff to the south that ended up with a crash would surely result in lives lost on the ground as there’s very little open space anywhere within 30 seconds of takeoff.

    Anyone who has flown out of Burbank knows the hard turn routine immediately after takeoff for noise abatement.  In the event of an engine failure out of SJC the procedure should be likewise, a hard turn to avoid downtown—even with today’s stunted skyline—and you can limp back around to a safe landing.  What do they do in San Diego?  That’s a much more dangerous situation than SJC and they’ve got much taller buildings.  Smurf?  Mind telling us about the superior situation down there?

  15. 15 – Moving the airport (BTW it’s SJC not SJO) is not a simple matter. Moffett has been discussed for many, many years as a possible alternative to the current SJC location. The fact that it is not located in San Jose has been the least of the problems with this site. Our neighboring city’s have not wanted either a general aviation or commercial aviation airport to locate at Moffett. Until and unless that major obstacle can be overcome there is no point in blaming SJ officials.
    Toss all the insults around that you want if it makes you feel better, but that will do nothing to change the current locatioin of SJC. Time to put your seat back in its upright position. Thanks for flying.

  16. Duh,

    Agree with you but it is about the MONEY – tax and airport money which San Jose badly needs more than other rich Silicon Valley cities who do not have decades of budget deficits ahead but surpluses

    San Francisco Airport is in San Mateo County and owned by San Francisco so solution is for San Jose buy or take over Moffett and make it San Jose airport but watch screams from rich Silicon Valley NIMBY neighborhood cities and companies nearby and be prepared to spend millions on many NIMBY lawsuits against San Jose for what is the best regional solution

    Coyote Valley is a awful idea and will never never happen as many have pointed out and is only advocated by unknowledgable people because of too many problems

  17. Mark T # 7 said:“even though commercial aircraft are far quieter than the unregulated military stuff that still ocassionally roars past my house way out near Los Gatos.”

    The operative word, Mr. T, is OCCASIONALLY.

    Moffett never had take-offs and landings every 90 seconds day in/day out.

    So, since you’re not a NIMBY, Mark, why don’t you move into the flight path of Moffett, and lead the charge to relocate Mineta to that fine location?

  18. John #6:  Mineta site is probably as contaminated as the old FMC site across Coleman, so developing it would probably be way too costly.

    Moving it to South County ticks those residents off, and would spoil our pristine Coyote Valley.  And with no transportation infrastructure from the sticks to suburbia here in San Jose, how do we move the people.
    ?  And what about the foreshortened flight path that would be required for a South County Mineta Intergalactic Airport?

    Moffett is probably not large enough to hold runways and terminals, but it has the advantage of already being contaminated, so no loss there.  Now, just sell it to the citizens of Sunnyvale & Mt. View.  So how does Lindbergh Field in San Diego solve the problem, or do they ALWAYS take off in the same direction?

  19. #11: let’s put you on that billionth plane taking off, and see if you feel the same way.

    I rembember the light plane that went in between the old main library and the old House of Pizza.  Luckily, not a tragedy.  However, had it been a passenger plane, the carnage would have rivaled Beirut or Baghdad.

    The decision will have to be made some day, but long after we’re all gone, when Mineta’s capacity has been reached.  Maybe by then we’ll just be having Scotty beam us to where we want to go.

  20. #8 CH Insider –  Moving the airport to So. County you say would cause “more environment damage, traffic gridlock and pollution”?

    Come on that so Dutch Hamman thinking CH Insider.  If San Jose were allowed to GROW UP, literally, that would cut down on sprawl and the bad things it brings. 

    Imagine how much the current airport land would be worth to developers.  That $$ would buy a lot of So.County vacant land w/ buffer zone to mitigate the NIMBYS for a firs t rate airport.  The current airport site could be massive industrial/comm/residential potential.  That would most certainly justify BART to downtown and even up the peninsula.

    Now imagine a high speed rail link to the new So. county airport.  traffic reduced.
    Imagine developers passing on Evergreen to build really highrise in the downtown and former airport core.  As a tradeoff, we keep Evergreen, well, ever green. (park, wildlife, educational, etc.)

    It just takes some leadership and gumption. This can be a win/win for all.

  21. You gotta love SJI’s ( Silly Juvenile Irreverent ) blogs and comments

    S illy, dumb, unthoughtful opinions,
    J uvenile behavior, rants, name calling
    I rreverent, unreasonable, unworkable solutions

  22. Well of course it’s “occassionally” where I live JMO.  3rd grade geography would indicate I am only within earshot of the loudest Moffett traffic.  But are you forgetting the day-in, day-out circling that those military training planes did when Moffett was a happening place?  Maybe not every 90 seconds (and there are gaps way longer than that between arrivals at SJC during the day) but close enough.  You’ve got a real short memory, buddy.

    Modern quieter commercial aircraft wouldn’t be any noisier than those P-3’s or C-130’s and for sure just a whisper compared to a C-5A.

    I’m happy where I am, thank you very much.  It would take me twice as long to get to the beach if I moved to Sunnyvale wink

  23. SJC is NOT MOVING for all of those who wish to think otherwise. Massive renovation projects have begun at the airport already. The only immediate suggestion I can suggest for the city’s “International” airport is to downgrade to a National airport. Planes would land flying over downtown (still dangerous but much safer than taking of and crashing into one) and take off toward Santa Clara. Or… build Norman Y. Mineta International Aiport at Moffett Field..and upgrade current SJC to something like Ceasar Chavez National Airport. The double airport system will be expense I admit but ultimately the national flights will be rerouted to Moffett Field. My best bet for this problem, those of you ready to enlighten me by stabbing me for this one: go right ahead.

  24. South County or Coyote Valley airport is another SJI solution

    S illy, dumb, unthoughtful opinions,
    J uvenile behavior, rants, name calling
    I rreverent, unreasonable, unworkable solutions

  25. #12 I reference an “emergency take-off scenario – that doesn’t necessarily mean a crash.  Do you mean to tell me that the “emergency” solution is to continue building high-rises but knock off a couple of stories?  Oh that makes a lot of sense.  Are you saying a crash would be OK in the future because buildings are at 14 stories instead of 18?  More logical thinking.  Do you work for a tobacco company?

    John Michael – I like my chances on a billion-to-1 shot…

  26. All this talk regarding “emergency take-offs” to the south and downtown building heights is way overblown.  Has anyone here ever witnessed planes taking off to the south during foul weather?  The jets clear the tops of our downtown “skyscrapers” by a good 1,000 ft. (at least).  I imagine a doomsday scenario (the loss of one engine) would cut the clearance to 500ft.  Mark T. is exactly right.  If an SJC flight suddenly looses one engine AFTER taking off the the south, veer to the right or left! (and come back to live another day)  I just don’t see a pilot continuing straight south, skimming the ground at 200-500ft all the way to LAX.  Mark also makes an excellent point about Lindbergh Field/San Diego.  Being a former military man, I can tell you that Lindbergh’s flight path is about 1/2-1 mile north of the Downtown San Diego core.  Yet they have some pretty impressive 400-500 foot skyscrapers.  Can anyone explain that?  Also, anyone here know how international flights departing SFO would deal with San Bruno Mountain or the northern Santa Cruz Mts. during an emergency?

  27. #31 get some help, then go get a life?
    you sound like a very old angry man that has nothing better to do then spit venom.
    Is that insulting enough for you?

  28. Move the airport to Hollister and connect it to San Jose via high-speed rail, maybe even mag-lev.

    I am tired of airport boosters telling us how great airports are.  Airports are necessary evils, with emphasis on the word evil.  By moving SJI, and using the land in an intelligent manner, San Jose will greatly increase its tax revenue, while simultaneously raising the quality of life and standard of living for a large portion of Santa Clara County.

  29. Finfan and John McE,

    Can I have the rights to the video game?  It could put sim city to shame. 

    What a way to change the landscape.

  30. To coward #2, Post your REAL name like I do if you really have something to say.  I was not trying to be funny and don’t like your insulting tone… I think we need to have this subject out the open because of comments that are made by our city big shot Paul Krutko, Director of San Jose’s Office of Economic Development, who has no clue of what he is talking about.  The entire posting is about as relevant as bringing BART to San Jose, Why do we need BART in San Jose? Because Ronny wanted it Or Why do we need to be protecting idiots that make these comments who are directors of departments for the city I pay taxes to.  I have had enough of the Ron (Criminal) Gonzales attitude coming from admisitrative city employees and people like you.  Of course it’s not acceptable that innocent people die but if you look at the post the city really doesn’t care as long as they pay your family off for your death that was thier fault to begin with.  OPEN your eyes#2

    Read this part again!

    “We ran some cost-benefit analyses that weighed the potential cost of civil lawsuits for a plane crash into a full-height building against the lost revenue from shorter buildings,” said Paul Krutko, Director of San Jose’s Office of Economic Development.  “And, not surprisingly, we came up with the same conclusions as the Ford Motor Company did on their 1973 Pinto gas tank recall: human life is cheaper than our downtown full-service lease rates.”

  31. 26

    The only really silly thing is to use a word and break it up into letters to spell other words – we used to do that in kindergarten…

  32. Finfan-

    I would be happy to turn over the rights to my story so you can write the novel – of course I would want to collaborate on the screenplay, knowing an Oscar nomination was an inevitability – I can even see Josh Hartnett as the pilot…

  33. 31 – Easy, Frank. You might be better off not using your real name. You realize, of course, that Krutko never actually said those words, don’t you? You might want to try OPENING your eyes, then you might not put your name to these foolish posts.
    No one was a stronger critic of Gonzales than myself so it is ludicrous for you to lump me in with him.
    The fact that you weren’t trying to be funny is a bit disturbing. I’m not sure what your point was so might want to try clarifying what you meant—if you can.

  34. It was a dark and stormy night. The aging cargo plane taxied out towards the north end of the runway to wait its turn—to await its tempt of fate. It would be a dreaded southerly departure, taking the AeroCoyote DC-3 directly over downtown San Jose. Directly over and dangerously low—lower than even the captain, Don Diego de la Vega, or his first officer, Bernardo, could ever imagine. For that night the plane was ferrying an especially heavy payload: untaxed American dollars. And it was grossly overloaded.

    And it was sprinkling.

    “I don’t know about this, Bernardo,” Don Diego uttered nervously. “You can’t really trust duct tape when it gets wet.”

    Bernardo, with an idiotic look on his face, shook his head nervously.

    Don Diego, somehow deriving meaning from that, replied, “I know what you mean. I too saw the mechanic’s reluctance when he hooked-up the jumper cables. He looked scared for us, and he’s been in prison! But what choice do we have? We’ve got to get to Tijuana. Our hardworking countrymen are counting on us, and so is this airport. If we cancel our flight, San Jose will lose its status as an international airport. We must go, but we must be careful.”

    But careful wasn’t going to cut it. Not that night. Not in that city. Not with that plane.

    Looming in the distance, damp, unlit, and ominous, stood the Sobrato building; presumed empty but, like the airplane heading its way, stuffed with treasure. For, unknown to any except those at the highest levels of government, securely housed and hidden in the Sobrato building was a three-ring binder containing the personal papers of Forrest Williams.

    Tune in next week as a firefighter surveys the aftermath and is heard to say: “I haven’t seen this many one’s on the street since the feminists’ convention was in town.”

  35. #2 So why is there a qoute with his name attached to it?  If he didn’t say that who did? and why was it posted by the editor?  #2 Are you trying to intimidate me in some childish way by saying that someone is going to show up at my door from the city because I put my REAL name to a post? 

    Last time I checked this was America and we have the right to freely voice our opinions.  I have nothing to hide like your friend Ronnie Gonzales or others in public government do.  Hell look at that idiot Gavin Newsom, another power hungry punk mayor that had an affair on company time…  So if the shoe fits? 

    The real question is WHY would some post something indicating if there was an air emergency it would be best if they aim or hit that building , were not even talking about the collateral damage that comes from an airplane crash, there would be fatalities and injuries into the thousands.

    Since I’m and angry old man that has fought in two wars for this country WWII and Korea and protected your way of life even prior to you being born, I think that I have earned the right to “spit venom” when I see Cowards and Idiots in here. 

    You guys weren’t even a stain in your daddy’s undershorts when I was in battle overseas.  How Pa Thetic is that? Taxpayer?!

  36. Frank – You’ve got to lighten up. You’re reading WAY too much into the postings here. The columns here EVERY Friday are satire—“the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.” That’s the dictionary definition, not mine. The author of the Friday columns uses satire to get a discussion going. I was trying to point that out to you but you have obviously missed the point.
    I don’t care how young or old you are. I was just expressing my opinion that I disagreed with your opinion that it would be OK to crash a plane into the city hall because the people who died were no big deal anyway. I still think you are wrong.
    So calm down, reread the column and try to understand that it is SATIRE. Then regroup, and see if you still think it’s OK to want a plane to crash into city hall.

  37. Air port in Coyote Valley?  WOW!!  What a deal.  Carl Berg International Airport.  Two and three story row houses in every direction for a 5mi. radius in exchage for building the airport.  How cool is that?  No tall building to complicate landings and takeoffs for intoxicated or foreign pilots.

    Maybe they could use and share some of the air space and meteorological capabilities with the radio controlled model airplane field down there between the creek and 101.

    PMC Tree Service could work weekends to take out old sycamores, oaks and orchards while Carl calls in the dozers and crews to grade roads, streets and building pads.  With his money he could have CB International Airport (CBO) up and operational before the end of the month.

    Question…  how do planes in route for SJO change their destination CBO while in flight?  Oh well.  That’s not important. 

    Just think, if the airport is up and operational first;  the landings and take offs will mask the sound of the PMC chain saws and land graders.

    Maybe I should run for Mayor.  Think Carl would fund my campaign?  I could run as a champion of the “people”…  maybe have Carl promise to supply insulated tents and Coleman Stoves and fee propane to all creek-side communities… and minimum wage for brewing morning coffee.  Better yet, this should be the new platform for the candidate backed by the local Dem. Committee.  That way Nancy, Dianne and Bill Clinton can back it.

    See what you’ve started John.  It’s all your fault.  A few glasses of wine and it was time to relax.  But no; now it’s a few glasses and your sense of humor and the weirdness flows freely.

  38. #39 I wont use your name, you really need to find a hobby! and you make my point in your reply. you sound like a very unpleasant person stop being such a stain!

  39. Finfan-

    Good start, but the Forest Williams character is a little flimsy – you need to beef him up a bit, no one will believe such a one dimensional character… and let’s spice it up by introducing Bernardo’s saucy love interest.

  40. John McE –

    I couldn’t.  No time.  I was too busy mapping all the Starbucks and other coffee houses outside the City limits in case Chuck lost the runoff.

  41. John McE,

    I’ll get to work on beefing up the one character, but a saucy love interest for Bernardo might be a stretch, what with all the local hotties—even the married ones—already hooked-up with mayors.

  42. #25:
    good analysis.  If Moffett Field is the optimal solution, there is a precedent.  Austin converted Bergstom AFB to a commercial airport.  Once the base was slated for closure in 1991, the city made plans for a commercial airport. The new airport opened for operations in may 1999. So… it is possible to convert an airbase to a commercial airport in something less than a lifetime.  However, no city in the vicinity would agree without a revamp of the Airport Commission (only San Jose residents).

  43. #29

    Anthony had it right on what happens down at San Diego Lindbergh.  Their main trouble down there is that they have a lot of private aircraft from Montgomery Field mixing in with the departing and arriving jet traffic at SAN – that is what led to that awful PSA 727 crash down there.  But the runway configurations at SAN are such that takeoffs are directed over Point Loma and Mission Bay, and landings approach from the south after “banking in” north of the downtown skyscrapers.

    The main problem SJC has is not so much the downtown skyline, but the proximity of the main jail and the County Rust Tower standing at double-digit stories, a half mile south of the end of the airfield and half a mile to the east.  In the loss of engine scenario with a takeoff to the south, the pilot will attempt to circle back and land toward the south, and the tower will probably direct him toward lesser-populated areas – that means toward Fourth Street and the Bayshore Freeway (and the industrial area north of Brokaw Road) rather than over Rosegarden and south Santa Clara. 

    Standing right in the way of that emergency turn toward the Bayshore is The Rust Tower and the new main jail – much larger issues for the departure/glide path of aircraft than Sobrato or any of the other mini-buildings.

    Back in the 80s there was talk of rebuilding one of the main runways to a true north-south orientation, allowing both a longer takeoff and landing roll, and an extended length allowing for regular 747 traffic.  Unfortunately, that would have meant that planes would be flying over Shasta-Hanchett and Willow Glen instead of the Guadalupe River, and the NIMBY’s naturally shot it down.  Terminal A has since been constructed in the area where that extension could have taken place.

    NAS Moffett is the perfect solution.  And, since this is San Jose we’re discussing, that means it will never happen.

  44. Moffett Field should still be a Naval Air Station…kick NASA out of there and bring back the Navy.

    As for SJC, it’s perfect, if not oversized, for San Jose’s needs. Remember, in spite of what ex Mayor Gonzales would like you to believe, San Jose is not a world gateway or a vacation destination. That distinction goes to SFO and San Francisco up north. That’s the way it’s always been and that’s the way it will always be; deal with it. SJC is fine for the domestic traffic and cargo heavies that we currently see. We’re not going to see any Narita or Taipei -SJC flights ever again, believe me.

    As for the whole Downtown sky scraper/airplane collision hazard, I don’t think it’s such a major threat. Is there a possibility of a heavy encountering some sort of major emergency after takeoff, resulting in a horriffic skyscraper crash? Sure, but I feel it’s quite remote.

    Airplanes always takeoff into the wind, and the wind in San Jose almost always comes from the North. There are zero hi-rises North of SJC. The only times jets depart to the South is when the winds come from the south—during rainstorms. There are also some Southern departures when winds are calm and a departure South benefits the aircraft in question. The hi-rises are located roughly 2-3 miles south of SJC, and if some sudden engine failure happened shortly after takeoff, the pilots would have plenty of time to swing the nose to the right—towards Willow Glen—to avoid hitting any buildings.

    Also, what no one here seems to know is that airliners MUST be able to climb out with one (or more, if applicable)  inoperative. It is a part of FAA certification.

    Ok, so in review…

    -Moffett Field as SJC replacment: Forget it!
    -SJC: Deal with it as-is. It’s fine.
    -Downtown skyscrapers getting hit by airliner after engine failure: Highly, highly unlikely.

  45. I was surprised at the aircraft noise in santa teresa which is a good 20 miles from sjc airport. Any ideas if I’m the only one that feels it noisy, or is there any community organization that actively fights this?


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