City Considers New Financing District for St. James Park

To revitalize St. James Park, one of the city’s most blighted public spaces, San Jose may divert millions of dollars in developer fees to fund a special management district.

Under the plan up for review at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, all new housing developments in the immediate vicinity of the downtown park would chip in some of their mandatory city park fees specifically for St. James. Normally, those fees pay for construction and land purchases for parks throughout the city.

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Source: City of San Jose

Built in 1848, St. James Park is considered the city’s flagship public plaza. The 7.6-acre space is crisscrossed by light rail tracks and bounded by the Santa Clara County Superior Courthouse, thousands of apartments, one of the region’s oldest churches and other historic architecture.

The park itself lies in a National Register Historic District with a past marked by significant events, including speeches by presidential hopefuls as well as social and civic events.

But the park has languished over the past few decades. Though there’s plenty of green space, a playground and benches throughout, residents rarely use the park unless there’s a live event. The park has become known as a gathering space for the homeless.

The city’s plan drew criticism from some residents who feel that earmarking developer fees for one specific park diminishes resources for other parts of the city.

“Parks all over the city need more attention—not just downtown’s St. James Park,” Jean Dresden, founder of San Jose Parks Advocates, wrote for the Mercury News. “If activation and a higher level of maintenance is good for St. James Park, then it is good throughout the city.”

The $9 million the city plans to earmark for St. James over the coming decade could otherwise help pay for new trails throughout the city, she added. Dresden also criticized the city for a lack of outreach about the plan.

San Jose Downtown Association Director Scott Knies, however, said he supports the city’s plan. As the city’s highest-profile park, St. James deserves special consideration, he penned in another Merc op-ed.

“A new management model is certainly warranted based on the park's track record, but under any new operational structure it will remain a city park open to the public—and this includes the homeless,” Knies wrote. “The goal is to create a more balanced St. James Park that does not primarily cater to one population, but serves families, seniors, workers, residents, visitors, preservationists and transit riders, too.”

Source: SPUR

Source: SPUR

With help from local nonprofits and other neighborhood groups, city officials have hosted a number of special events, concerts and afternoon yoga sessions at the park this past year to draw more diverse crowds.

The city has also considered a number of capital improvements, which include adding a new music pavilion, a new playground, gardens, a dog run and a café. But those efforts alone won’t be enough to turn the park around after decades of civic inaction, according to Knies.

Urban planning nonprofit SPUR issued a report in August titled “A Roadmap for St. James Park,” which determined that only a deliberate phased program of focused stewardship could transform the beleaguered downtown park.

Some neighborhood groups and the Sierra Club took issue with the plan for diverting money from other parts of the city, however, and again criticized the city for its lack of outreach.

“The proposal appears to affect existing projects in the pipeline or proposed within the nexus boundaries,” Randi Kinman, president of the Burbank/Del Monte Neighborhood Advisory Committee, wrote to the council. “Those neighborhoods should have been part of the ongoing conversation and proactively engaged. … This impacts many other neighborhoods and we simply cannot grant unlimited removal of funds our community needs.”

More from the San Jose City Council agenda for November 10, 2015:

  • As the population grows older, city officials are developing an Age Friendly Initiative. The effort will evaluate how to upgrade infrastructure to make it accessible to people with disabilities, prioritize funding for senior centers and protect mobile homes, among other issues.
Source: City of San Jose

Source: City of San Jose

  • The city plans to remodel an old sober living facility to house homeless veterans. The Vermont House actually consists of two single-family homes with a combined 17 bedrooms. San Jose bought the properties via foreclosure in 2009, but they have since been left vacant. Working with Abode, an affordable housing nonprofit, the city hopes to ready the homes for tenants by next year.

WHAT: City Council meets
WHEN: 1:30pm Tuesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. No matter how much is spent, the park’s location guarantees that it will always be overrun by the homeless. There’s no point in wasting more money. The homeless seem to like it fine the way it is.

  2. “Built in 1848, St. James Park is considered the city’s flagship public plaza.” Considered by whom? Plaza de Cesar Chavez is the city’s flagship public plaza. You don’t see Christmas in the Park in St. James Park, do you? “…bounded by…thousands of apartments…”? There aren’t THOUSANDS of apartments in the whole downtown core. “The park has become known as a gathering space for the homeless.” You forgot to mention the drug dealers, Jenn, in a park where the entrances have signs claiming it to be a “Drug Free Zone.” Irony, or just a joke? The city can spend $9 million or $90 million on new lawns, etc., but the druggies and the homeless will remain; fed and given clothes occasionally by well meaning but misguided do-gooders, whose work assures the trolls will continue to dominate St. James Park. Scott Knies’s middle name surely must be Pollyanna. Despite all the efforts, his SJDA has presided over the downtown as it has slowly slipped back for the last ten years or so into a graffiti laden, drug selling, mentally ill populated, violence prone Skid Row that cannot be fixed by throwing tax money at it. Only when there truly are thousands of apartments and condos downtown will there be a chance to revitalize the downtown for other than homeless folks and the other downtrodden who dominate it. Virtually everyone who works downtown abandons it after work, and very few return in the nighttime hours. Except for the daytime office workers, DT SJ is San Jose’s version of the SF Tenderloin.

  3. Perfect!
    Since it’s a blighted park and surrounded public transportation, it should be condemned, leveled, and replaced by 90 unites per acre public housing.

    We can plant trees and a pot farm on the roof!

    Right across from the court house too!

    Can we include a California DMV?


  4. The problem of the “homeless” (really, the problem of a primitive tribalist underclass foraging in the fields and pastures of productive capitalist communities) will never be addressed or solved until “democratically elected” politicians are able to stand up and say “NO. We don’t want this and we’re not going to allow it.”

    If you don’t want to live around smelly, homeless grifters who think St. James Park is just part of the forest where they can eat anything they find and crap when the urge overtakes them, move somewhere that isn’t a “sanctuary city”.

    It’s not going to get solved. It’s not going to get solved. It’s not going to get solved.

    The “social activists” and “community organizers” WILL take your money, though.

    • Sanctuary city? Again with blaming immigrants. The vast majority of homeless are citizens displaced by high cost of housing, substance abuse problems or suffering mental illness. How about actually doing some research before spouting tired cliches.

  5. I’ve lived up the street from St James Park for 15 years, and have watched various waves of homeless issues – the homeless population is about as homogenous as the homed population around here – wash over the park. Until there is an effective model of homelessness services in place, there is little change that St James Park will not be an attractive nuisance, and absolutely no chance the park can be rehabilitated without being punitive towards the most vulnerable in our society.

    If it is true that the City didn’t consult with neighborhood groups – sadly, this sounds plausible – that’s reason enough for me to encourage the councilmembers to vote against this proposal. We’ve seen, in too many jurisdictions, what happens when the local councils make decisions without including residents in the process. San Jose is hurting enough without incurring unnecessary injury. Let’s try again, and let’s take a chance to do something right.

  6. It’s time the city used a different approach here. They’ve been trying to clean up St James park at least since the mid-80’s when they moved City Team Mission out of there and put up luxury condo’s.

    What we need is a plan that satisfies the social and human needs of the homeless. We also need to scrap any current “Homeless Comittees” because it’s obvious to everyone paying attention that the problem has worsened in the last 30 years, not gotten better.

    We need to give them land to live on, we need to give them some type of work so they can learn to feel that satisfaction of being a productive member of society. I can’t remember the exact quote but; “A job is the best social program”

    Some folks just need a place with a hot shower to go to a regular job, but there are so many on the street with addiction and other mental issues. I recently watched a co-worker get let go after missing so many days due to hangovers. He wasn’t let go for missing work, a lot of us really cared about him, and therein lied the problem. He was let go because everyone was sick of wondering if he was dead…

    Those are going to be the hardest to fix. Can anyone even come up with a foolproof plan? As the saying goes, “never underestimate the ingenuity of fools” I’m not calling these folks fools, just using the saying to highlight the obvious.

    I think the best option for folks like this would be work in places away from the temptations of a big city. 3 squares and some kind of OSHA approved work somewhere they can’t just walk a block away from to get to a bar or liquor store. I hear Mount Uhminum needs some work done.

    • Hilarious.. Why would you think they wouldn’t want to just come back where they get easy food and cash? Btw, read the plan, they are getting that bottom feeding organization called Path to build 100 apartments for them next to the park. Which won’t solve anything other than bring more crap downtown. And they get another use that doesn’t fit, some music pavilion from the Levitt group. Solve the issue by making it more uncomfortable to camp out or sell drugs in the park. And it still doesn’t solve the mentally ill ones that are let loose from the homes on 5th street every day and zombie over to the park to drool.

      • Have you ever lived in the SC mountains Fred? Or up on Mount Hamilton? There are zero options for public transit. Strategically locating “Work Shelters” will result in none of them coming back. Keeping them away from liquor stores, dope dealers, etc would help alot in their recovery.

        I’m well aware of the 5th street halfway houses. You’re right, it is an issue. I spoke with one of Sam’s former staffers a long time ago who told me Sam made it his job to look for violations in these places and shut them down.

        I think the best solution would be to create a special zoning for halfway houses that is far and away from the temptations of city life. Reset residential zoning to shutdown the current ones, and prevent new ones from cropping up.

        I fail to see any humor in what I wrote.

  7. > We need to give them land to live on, we need to give them some type of work so they can learn to feel that satisfaction of being a productive member of society.

    I ‘ve tried explaining this multiple times without success, Patient person that I am, I’ll try again.

    “Homelessness” is not a real estate problem. It’s an ethos problem.

    “Ethos” is the combined package of social rules, values, and ideas that people have in their heads which tells them how the world works and informs their relations with other people.

    The original, primitive ethos, was shamanic tribalism. People lived in tribes, lived by foraging, and looked to their shaman to talk to the spirit world and explain all things. Tribes were nomadic, and “home” was where they were at the moment. Tribes lived from one consumption event to the next, and there was no “wealth”, “private property”, jobs, or money.

    The “homeless” street people we see everywhere are just contemporary human beings living out their lives guided by their NATURAL primitive tribalist forager ethos. They don’t get the concept of “homes”, or “jobs”, or “savings”, Money is just mystical pieces of paper that can be traded for current consumption.

    Trying to save these people by giving them “jobs” or “homes” just does not connect with their inner wiring. “Jobs” require a concept of time and motivation to attain a future benefit. Primitives do NOT have a concept of time. They live in a timeless world. “Future benefit” is not compelling for primitive people because their sole motivation is current consumption. “If I can’t eat it now, what good is it?”

    In the idea of a “home” is just incompatible with their “foraging” livelihood. Primitives live where their foraging activities are successful. If they have to wander miles away from “home” to find a meal, what’s the point of going back “home”?

    Once people understand the basic physical and psychic drivers of human beings that result in behaviors that “moderns” regard as “pitiful”, it becomes evident that it is the moderns that are failing to understand the natural behaviors of primitives because they are judging them by the ethos of capitalist modernity, e. g. “jobs”, “homes:, and money.

    • See I think you and I follow different philosophies here. While yours seems steeped in anthropology, I tend to follow Barrets seven levels of human consciousness.

      Survival Feel protected or unprotected
      Relationship Feel in or out of a group
      Self-esteem Feel positive or negative about yourself
      Transformation Act out of your true self
      Internal Cohesion Find similarities between your views and goals
      Making a Difference Align your views with others to make a greater impact
      Service Live through voluntary service to meet your personal goals

      Right now most of these people are barely on the first rung which is survival. With your ideals of just leaving them to their own vices, they’ll never get beyond that (or to the other 6 levels) People from the service level need to help those on the bottom rung get to the next rungs on the ladder.

      It’s not just the homeless either, in East San Jose we have so many young kids who feel as if they’ll never amount to anything. While the first rung is mostly taken care of, rungs 2 and 3 make them wind up in gangs. They skip 4, and go to a misguided stage 5 of views alignment.

      Feel free to explain as much as you want, but I’m fairly sold on my own views already.

  8. > With your ideals of just leaving them to their own vices, they’ll never get beyond that . . . .

    Yes and no. Or, no and yes.

    If left alone, they are prisoners of their primitive ethos, and will never get beyond that.

    The point of my analysis is to FIRST understand the nature of their condition, which then explains things that won’t work.

    I think it’s fair to say that, because the situation is getting worse, all the brainiac ideas of Mitch Snyder, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and Rich Robinson AREN’T WORKING!

    So, if the objective is to get the primitives to live as civilized people, crap in toilets, practice personal hygiene, and develop some motivation to care about their future, what is required?

    “Mr. Homeless Person: I feel you need some feelings of protection, some relationship feelings, some self-esteem feelings, some transformation actions, some internal cohesion, some alignment of your views with others, and also volunteer some of your services.”

    Uh huh. When do we eat? And where can I find some stuff to rip off to swap for drugs?

    There ARE people who practice personal hygiene, have harmonious and collaborative relations with others, think about the future, and carefully balance efforts against results, so that they produce a surplus of useful things that can be traded with others.

    Call these people “civilized”, and recognize that it takes a lifetime to produce these type of people, and that the people who are not civilized simply look at them as quarry.

    The people wandering the streets today are gone, The effort it takes to make one of the primitives SIMULATE living in civilized society would be much better spent inculcating 10 young people in the NARRATIVE OF CAPITALISM in the hopes that in ten or twenty years, one or two of them will bring civilization to a thousand or ten thousand others.

    I don’t know who Barret is but I can’t imagine that he has influenced the life of a single tribalist forager in any way.

    • Why did “Agriculturalists” succeed over “Foragers”

      Because the agriculturalists figured out that by using this technique, it was far more profitable than running around the Serengeti digging up random roots. That is what shifted entire economies.

      Newsflash, there is no foraging in the modern US economy. Nobody has to work that hard to eat anymore.

      These folks aren’t foragers. They have issues… Some people go homeless to escape abuse, others go there because they’re drug addicted. Hell, there are tons of teen runaways escaping abusive homes. They don’t want to be out there. No… I can guarantee you if they had a choice between having a family of hard working, kind parents vs whatever kind of dysfunction they’re escaping from, they would have it.

      No homeless kid wants to be a “Forager”. That’s messed up if you think that.

      • > No homeless kid wants to be a “Forager”.

        It’s not a question of “wanting” to be a forager. Foraging behavior is the default human ethos.

        Saving, producing, and trading surpluses (capitalism) are LEARNED behaviors. It is a LEARNED ethos.

        Most of humanity never learns the ethos of saving, producing, and trading. They only know foraging, taking, and hoarding — and not to mess with capitalists intent on protecting their herds, fields, and property..

        The bane of the modern era are politicians (and their clueless followers) who have lost sight of what happens to a society when they don’t protect herds, fields, and property.

        Read “Lord of the Flies”. It’s a commentary on what happens when the “inner primative” of humans is unleashed.

        • One of my favorite books (movie was pretty well done too) Bad example to use though.

          Why was the kids inner primitive released? Because all the safety and comforts of a modern day agriculturalist society was gone. They became desperate. They had lost that very basic of “Safety and security”

          And you want to allow a preventable condition where we push people to that? C’mon SJO, I normally agree with you on a lot of things, but this won’t be one of them.

  9. This is an idiotic waste of money. If you want the park clean, enforce the existing rules and quit experimenting with foolish uses. That children’s playground doesn’t fit and no child wants to go there when the rotary park is much better. The train runs through the place.. Btw, Jennifer get a dictionary… Crisscross isn’t correct. There is a road that runs through it. It’s scattered with a bunch of monuments that aren’t in the right places.. Take the money and build a botanical garden and a fence around it and staff someone to keep the people out. Btw, if people would actually understand that most of those homeless are really the mentally ill half way housed individuals that are let loose during the day, the idiots who bring the food to feed them would be better served going elsewhere. All in all, enforce the rules you have. Btw, the measly 150K a year isn’t fixing anything in that park.

    • Actually, my kid asks to stop there every time we pass. We often use the playground there – it’s pretty well designed and fun to run around in. None of the people that frequent the park bother us in any way.

  10. Downtown Resident,

    I’m guessing you don’t take your kid there after dark.


    One question that always occurs to me: why are some cities very clean, and others are filthy? I visited Chicago a few years ago, and the downtown was spotless. No papers flying around, no bums or other homeless types, no garbage, etc. It was one of the cleanest downtowns I’ve ever been in. I was in Cleveland last year, and their downtown was as clean as Chicago’s.

    But San Francisco is a disgusting pigsty. There are even maps online showing the areas with the most human poop on the sidewalks! Bums are everywhere. (It’s the only city where I’ve ever seen lots of Asian homeless. They sleep in storefronts where the door is recessed in from the sidewalk, like the other bums.)

    So the only reason I’ve been able to come up with is attitude: when city leaders have the attitude that they will not tolerate crap on the sidewalks, or garbage and bums everywhere, those cities are clean.

    It’s the same thing with St. James park. If the city leaders in San Jose had the attitude that they will not tolerate drug sellers or other human pests, that park and the whole downtown would be a lot cleaner and more pleasant. And that attitude would extend to the suburbs.

    How long did it take for the city to bulldoze the homeless encampment by the river? Many, many years. Instead of their rationalizing and essentially apologizing, if city leaders had explained that under their watch San Jose will be a clean, drug dealer-free city, everything else would follow. It would all fall into place. They should roust the encampments regularly instead of letting them build up.

    There is certainly plenty of money being given to homeless in one form or another. Some of them make do on it, and some spend it on drugs and alcohol. It’s time to stop wringing our hands over what they’re doing to themselves. There are endless self-help programs available. But if they won’t help themselves, it’s hard to make them, no matter how much free money is handed out. Isn’t it time to stop feeling guilty, and make the city better? Because we can’t have a lot of bums and drug dealers, and a great city. It’s either one or the other.

    It wouldn’t take much to get civic leaders on board with a “clean city” movement. Really, who is gonna defend drug dealers and bums? And the residents of this city would strongly support a movement to clean up downtown and the park.

    Just remember, some cities are very clean. And some, like S.F., are totally disgusting. San Jose isn’t as bad as that — but we could improve a lot. All it takes is the right attitude.

  11. So from the discussion so far, this is about the homeless. The proposal, the Levitt Center, the whole of it, is to create a condition where the Downtown can ‘encourage’ the homeless out of St. James Park. There is little concern as to where they will go and what they will do. Let it become some other guys problem. However that guy too will be a SJ, taxpaying resident. Another point: this money diversion from developer fees and assessments is a joke. The City has too few parks per the City Charter and little maintenance occurs in most. City parks that are maintained are ‘destination’ parks like the Rose Garden and the former Willow Street Park. PRNS funds and manpower are limited. None of the park assessment and fees applied to development should be redirected to St. James Park. Find another way to generate the funding for special projects.

    Developer funds should under no consideration be bartered; they should be paid to the City. The collected fees should go toward creation of parks for the under-served areas of our City and to the maintenance and improvement of all our existing City parks. We elect representatives to make collect and spend fees for the benefit of all. Our City Charter sets a goal of 3.5 acres of recreational park per 1,000 residents. K-6 School campuses are not parks. Accessibility is limited and not controlled by the City. We are currently at less than 1.0 acre per 1,000 residents. If you want a special project, there it is!

    There are two issues here; 1) what to do about the homeless situation and 2) creation, improvement and benefit of all City parks. The Current proposal of a special district strikes out on both accounts.

    Patrick P. Pizzo, District 10

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