Dutch Hamann - Part One

In more than two hundred years of San Jose’s history, who changed the city the most?  Actually there were two politicians, each of whom had a profound effect and each of whom I have been privileged to call friend.  One increased the population from a small town of 95,000 people and an area of 17 square miles to a metropolis of over 500,000 people and a city sprawled over 137 square miles.  During his 19 years in office, the city changed from a canning and food processing center to a manufacturing and hi-tech center and earned the “All-American City” award along the way.  The other politician, Tom McEnery, took an antiquated downtown and created a renaissance with a dramatic skyline during his two terms as mayor.

A.P. “Dutch” Hamann was elected city manager of San Jose by a split council vote of 4 to 3 in 1950.  Dutch was an open, friendly visionary who realized that San Jose had many major problems; chief among them was sewage disposal.  Seventy years before, a 60-inch sewer line had been built from the center of the city out north to the bay.  It was to handle all of the wastes, but when canning and food processing became the major industries, the sewer lines were overwhelmed, dumping rotting peelings, fruit and liquids into the south bay.  Trucks hauled additional fruit wastes to Alivso where they were dumped in small mountains.  The wastes continued to rot, killing all of the fish in the south bay and generating clouds of hydrogen sulfide gas.  At that time, many buildings were painted with a white, lead-based paint, and it was not uncommon for the wind to bear the gas and turn a white building gray or black overnight.

A proper state-of-the-art sewage disposal plant was a very expensive proposition, not only to meet the needs of 1950, but those for many years to come—more expense than the city could bear by itself.  Dutch went to the other towns in the county, urging them to cooperate and assist the financing.  Only Santa Clara agreed to join and each of the other replied “no way, you’ve got the canneries, solve your own problems.”

At that time, a sales tax was a major generator of revenue, and with the council’s approval, a program of strip annexation was set in motion.  Hamann determined where future shopping centers were likely to be located, and then the city proceeded to annex a narrow band of land out along each major road and intersection, thus ensuring that the sales tax revenue would come to San Jose.  Along Stevens Creek Road to Cupertino, Bascom Boulevard, North First Street, and Monterey Highway to Morgan Hill—each and every area was annexed.  Prior to Hamann’s tenure—more than 100 years—only 46 annexations occurred.  During his 19 years, 1,377 annexations were effected.

Once the building of the sewage disposal plant was started, the tiny community of Alviso decided it would be a good idea to annex the plant as a source of their revenue.  Of course this upset Big Brother to the south, and soon Alviso found itself battling to keep from being annexed to San Jose.  A very controversial election occurred—with charges that San Jose brought in ringers to live in the mobile home parks—and San Jose successfully annexed Alviso by a close vote.

The sewage disposal plant proved to be one of the major attractions for new businesses and San Jose became Silicon Valley.

But there were other contributing factors that Dutch had no control over that also accelerated the growth.  The Federal government provided cheap FHA and VA loans so individuals could afford to buy a home with a minimum down payment and sometimes with no down payment at all.  In 1953, I bought a nice three-bedroom, one-bath home for $12,250 with a down payment of only $350.00 and a 4.5% Cal Vet loan.  In today’s market the fees alone amount to more than that.  Developers and land sellers also benefited from a 50% capital gains tax deduction, so farmers were anxious to sell their land for a large profit.

The Korean War found the country vastly unprepared, as we had totally reduced our military after World War II.  The U.S. Army actually had to go to surplus stores to buy back equipment previously sold as surplus.  A new buildup was necessary and California received the largest portion of defense contracts.  This amounted to 14% of the total contracts for the period from July 1950 to June 1954.  Even after hostilities ceased, California and Santa Clara County continued to get a major share of the defense budget.  This provided jobs for people who needed homes, schools for their children and good roads to get to their jobs.  All of these factors contributed to a period of tremendous growth under Hamann’s direction.

(This is the first of a two-part article. Part Two will appear next week.)


  1. I can remember sitting in Dutch’s office, just west of the old City Hall, on Park Avenue. Probably in the mid-fifties. Behind his desk was a large wall map of what San Jose wouold look like some day in the future. The downtown was surrounded by a loop of free-ways and at each major off-on ramp was a shopping center. Much the way it is today.  What vision Dutch had!


  2. Wonderful Leonard. 

    Sadly, it appears it has been 50 years since this city addressed our under carriage and sewage system.

    Who is in charge of the under carriage? Del?

    Dutch knew when you grow a camp, you have to manage the waste and trash. 
    We see the way the current group manages trash. 

    In terms of sewage there are two different components. 
    One is the sanitary sewage system, which is our toilets, showers and sinks.
    The other is the storm drain system.
    Sadly, storm water is not the only thing going down the storm drains.
    As this city is in a building boom, the storm drains are being loaded with toxins, and the sanitary system is being over loaded with more waste than Dutch could have imagined in 1950.

    I hope this is an issue in the upcoming elections.

  3. Leonard,

    Thanks for another informative article.

    It is interesting to contrast the legacy of Dutch Hamman, a strong City Manager, with that of Del Borgsdorff. Could you imagie Hamman trying to work with the current Mayor and Council?

    Then again, Dutch no doubt had enough back room deals going to keep today’s Mercury busy for years to come.

  4. Mal:

    You forget that in the 50s, the Merc was a LOCAL newspaper. The publishers were concerned with the well being of San Jose, and Dutch was doing well for San Jose!


  5. In addition to approving the subsidy for the San Jose grand prix at last week’s meeting, our city council also approved the formation of the hotel business improvement district.  The district will levy a per night charge of .75 to $2.00 per night for occupied hotel rooms in the vicinity of downtown San Jose.  The assessment is expected to raise $1.6 million per year. 

    These hotel funds can be used for “research/rebranding San Jose, co-op promotions, new promotional material, and sponsorship of room generating events.”  During the grand prix discussion we heard the race would advertise San Jose to a worldwide audience and increase hotel occupancy rates.  It seems like the grand prix would be a perfect match for the objectives of the hotel business improvement district.  As our mayor said “a deal is a deal” so we will never have a chance to know why our council members chose to subsidize the grand prix from the general fund instead of the hotel business improvement district funds. 

    p.s. The San Jose Business Journal has an editorial this week, “Race subsidy badly handled” at http://sanjose.bizjournals.com/sanjose/stories/2006/01/16/editorial1.html.

  6. Jerry, I think both Dutch and Tom were doing well for themselves as well, given their substantial real estate holdings in key areas… Downtown and annexed land.

  7. City Manager Hamann himself was involved in more than fifty property transactions during his tenure; some of his property later became sites for major intersections and shopping centers.

    The most avid booster of all the projects and candidates of the growth machine was Jose Ridder’s Mercury News, which clearly benefited from the growth it promoted: “We don’t have newspapers,” said the circulation manager, “we have catalogues.” For, as San Jose boomed in population, it was growing into one of the major retail markets in the country, a trend that would make the Mercury News one of the nation’s most profitable newspaper combinations.

    excerpt from: http://www2.sjsu.edu/depts/PoliSci/faculty/christensen/flashback.htm

  8. Jerry,

    No doubt the focus of the Merc has evolved, although personally I prefer to have a newspaper that exposes corruption even if some argue that such corruption leads to good results for San Jose.

    Dutch was an interesting character. As Leonard points out his annexation policies transformed San Jose into the large city it is today. But with that uncontrolled growth came the problems that San Jose has spent decades trying to correct, from neighborhood services to inadequate transportation infrastructure. In hindsight its obvious that the city failed to adequately support the annexation boom.

    If such growth happened today I would hope the Merc would raise the questions that were not raised in the 50’s and 60’s.

  9. Good piece Leonard. Old time Alvisoans are still bitter about the stolen election of 1968 that consolidated Alviso to be the digestive terminus of San Jose. And regarding garbage and sewage dumped and piped into Alviso, Rus Robinson, former Alviso Yacht Club Commodore, wryly claims that Alviso’s motto is “Where the sewage meets the sea.” What with proper sewage treatment and the covering of the dumps, Alviso smells good now, and $700,000 homes have sprouted in clean rows adjacent to the Old Chicago District.

  10. City Manager Dutch Hamann dedicated his energies towards building San Jose, which was what he was hired to do.  All the while he had an invalid wife at home in an iron lung.  Dutch met his untimely demise in an airplace crash on a runway in Spain.

  11. Just to expand on Dan’s statement above, Dutch’s position as City Manager wasn’t brought to an end in that runway collision by those two 747’s in the Canary Islands.  He had retired quite some time before then.

    I’m not a big fan of his.  However, after just visiting LA last weekend and riding their Busway/Subway system there’s something to be said for one entity overseeing things.  From all the way out at the western edge of San Fernando Valley civilization, and down to Long Beach, it’s one transit agency, the LA Metro aka RTD in the old days.  Here we have VTA, SamTrans, BART, AC Transit, SF Muni, Cal Train, GG Transit all doing their own thing.  No wonder transportation around here is taking so long to get under control.

  12. Thank you for the great post Ed.

    At the end of the day it’s Transit Efficiency versus Transit Unions.

    You gotta love it when the left’s desire to hug trees run’s directly counter to the unions that fund the left. 

    eh tu Million solar roofs?

  13. Mark T,

    We have a state authorized San Francisco Bay area Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) which coordinates with local agencies and does transportation planning, coordinating and financing agency for the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area but does not operate transit.

    Our Bay area transit situation is significantly worst than you stated since in the 9 county San Francisco Bay Area (Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano and Sonoma) there are 101 municipalities, 8 primary public transit systems ( county / multiple county )  and over 82 +  ( a few years ago ) separate Transit agencies for nearly 7 million people who reside within its 7,000 square miles.

    Our extremely complex and highly political local transit systems have many duplicate, overlapping routes with a very wide diverse range of public transit modes: antique cable cars and historic streetcars; high-speed ferries; diesel commuter rail and electric-powered rapid transit rail; diesel and natural gas buses; and electric trolley buses.

    We also have numerous specialized services for elderly and disabled travelers (paratransit service), nearly 20,000 miles of local streets and roads, 1,400 miles of highway, six public ports and three major commercial airports.

    The combined annual operating budget of all the transit agencies is over $1.6 billion, making the San Francisco Bay area among the top transit centers in US while carrying over 500 million passengers per year.

    The very large number ( 82 + ) of transit operating agencies and the almost complete inability of our local politicians to agree on even a common Bay area ticket system and revenue sharing based on passenger utilization,  let alone basic transit multiple mode scheduling coordination and elimination of duplicate lines in many places adds to our transit inefficiency problems

    Many of these transportation modes besides not well coordinated with each other can not or do not physically connect to each other and require many passengers to change transit modes and transit agencies resulting in passenger delays, underutilization, duplication, inefficient service in high density areas but with many areas without any transit service.

    We would all see very significant improvement in Bay Area transit service and operating costs if all the 82 + smaller separate local transit operators were first consolidated into 9 county or ideally fewer multiple county transit operating agencies but the political probability of this is extremely low due to the competing political groups which historically can not agree on almost anything other than they all want to be seperate locally politically directed transit operating agencies. 

    Look at Santa Clara County which while a single county transit operator with multiple transit modes has the following seperate rail operating agencies in the county – CalTrain, Amtrack, ACE and possibly BART / High Speed Rail in the future whic are not or can not be connected together with VTA.

    This example shows the problem we have in Santa Clara County, just 1 of 9 counties with the most expensive transit mode and unfortunately it will only get worst .

    The dream of many transit supporter is a single Bay Area coordinated multiple mode transit authority which would require the State legislature to enact but will not occur since there is no state political will or local support to make it happen.

    Very few if any of our local politicians, operating agencies or organizations advocating for transit either understand the transit inefficiency problems or would voluntarily agree to consolidation.

    Unfortunately, the real probability of a single consolidated efficient Bay Area transit operating agency is next to zero as we continue to add more inefficient separate government funded transit agencies and different modes to our area while our population density, transit / transportation inefficiency / costs and traffic congestion continues to increase.

  14. Mass transit works where there is a highly concentrated mass that needs transit.  In a horizontally developed area like the 9 bay area counties, there ain’t enough money to make it work well.

    But a lot of bureaucrats get high-paying jobs in those 82+ agencies.  So, Ed, who will you ask to quit his/her sinecure job?

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