Fixing the Mexican Heritage Plaza

After my last column on the Mexican Heritage Plaza (MHP) a few months ago, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had missed something and things didn’t add up to some of the conclusions I reached at the time. I spent what time I could spare over the summer searching and researching the matter over the Internet and my hunches were confirmed by what I found.

First of all, what I got wrong was my conviction that the day-to-day management of the MHP by the CEO and staff of the Mexican Heritage Corporation was a large part of the problem. This turns out not to be the case and I apologize for saying so. In fact, the truth is that the current management is very capable, a fact that is supported by the documentary evidence that I have studied (all links below). In studying the public materials available on the MHP website, particularly three years of financial statements and a very illuminating letter written by CEO Marcela Davison Avilés to City Manager Les White last year that contains an in-depth analysis of the situation at the MHP, it is quite obvious that the current CEO who arrived in 2004 inherited a situation that was already a terrible mess. A report of the audit of the MHP carried out by the city auditor’s office earlier this year confirms this conclusion.

Part of the problem can still be attributed to the MHP board that was in place from the opening of the MHP in 1999 until recently that consisted largely of community and political insiders (including, until she resigned, Santa Clara County Supervisor Blanca Alvarado). This board has now largely been replaced with a better mix of community arts activists drawn from the larger Bay Area with a wider field of connections inside and outside the city. The new board bodes well for the future and should improve the financial well-being of the MHP and reassure the city council that the management structure of the facility now in place is a sound one that can be depended on in the future.

On of the biggest problems at the MHP—gleaned from their financials, Avilés’s letter to Les White and her op-eds in the Mercury News, and the city auditor’s report—has been that the management has been saddled with and seriously constrained by a poorly considered contract with the city from 1999 that placed three resident arts groups in control of theater space and programming at the facility at a hugely discounted rate. The three groups—Los Lupeños, San Jose Multicultural Arts Guild and Teatro Visión—were handed control of the facility’s theaters between the most lucrative seasonal arts-calendar months of October through May. And, mysteriously, even though these three groups have used the theaters for only a very few weeks each year, they have effectively blocked the MHP management from programming other groups and performances in their own facility and thereby using it to generate much-needed income. In fact, since 1999, the evidence would suggest that the hegemony of the resident groups has cost the MHP as much as $3 million in lost revenue.

Of these three groups, Los Lupeños has been integrated into the MHP structure, but the other two are still given office space and control of the theaters for very little cost to them but at a huge cost to the MHP who are struggling to pay for the infrastructure. Of these, by far the largest and most powerful entity is Teatro Visión (TV). Without question, Teatro Visión certainly has artistic integrity and makes a valuable contribution to the artistic life of San Jose. That is not the issue. They receive an operational grant from the city of more than $50,000 per year as well as considerably more than $100,000 of indirect annual subsidy via their sweetheart deal at the MHP. Shouldn’t Teatro Visión pay their fair share of the bills at the MHP that are a direct result of their effective control of the facility?

Naturally, I have wondered how it was that Teatro Visión was selected to get such favorable treatment at the MHP. I was taken aback when I took a look at the Teatro Visión management on their website and discovered that they are very well connected politically. Two of the three top directors are a daughter-in-law and a son-in-law of Supervisor Blanca Alvarado. TV Artistic Director Elisa Alvarado is married to Jaime Alvarado, Executive Director of the Mayfair Improvement Initiative, and TV Operations Director Jess Morales is the husband of Teresa Alvarado, Executive Director of the Hispanic Foundation of Silicon Valley. The third, TV Executive Director Raul Lozano, is also the Chairman of the Board of the Mayfair Improvement Initiative.

Is it right that the immediate family of Blanca Alvarado—a sitting county supervisor and, until recently, a MHP board member—and their associate should have so much political and financial power and influence over the MHP, an arts institution owned and funded by the city’s taxpayers? Is it right that a theater group controlled by the Alvarado family and their associate should have been accorded and continue to receive favorable treatment at the MHP per the 1999 contract?

I agree that a large part of the solution to the problems of the MHP lies in ending control of the facility by Teatro Visión and the San Jose Multicultural Arts Guild. If they remain at the MHP, then favorable treatment should end and they should pay the going rate for rent and theater space for their performances and rehearsals, which they must be made to compete for on an open basis. The MHP management should have full control of the theaters and complete power to program the facility as they see fit. This will go a long way to improving the financial stability of the MHP, lessening their dependence on the city’s taxpayers to keep the lights on.

The two consultants selected by the city council to advise them on this matter are currently conducting interviews and focus groups in advance of making a determination as to what they will advise should be done. They have certainly reviewed the documents and information that I have listed here and will take them into consideration in their final analysis. If they do their job correctly, we will understand much more about the MHP’s past and how we got to where we are today by reading their report. The future of this valuable arts and cultural institution and justification for the public’s huge investment in the MHP depends on their findings and what the council does in light of their report.

Mexican Heritage Plaza financial statements and Marcela Avilés’s letter to Les White can be downloaded here:

City auditor’s report on the MHP can be downloaded here:

Teatro Visión management:

Mayfair Initiative:

Hispanic Foundation of Silicon Valley:


  1. No surprise here that Blanca Alvarado’s pet project/money pit is accommodating her immediate family members.  This whole arrangement reeks of skimming and misappropriation of taxpayer dollars.

    Jack, I think an investigation into Alvarado’s actions while on the MHP board is in order.

  2. Great analysis, Jack!

    …A little off topic, but looking at paragraph six, I think someone should check out the Mayfair Improvement Initiative activities.  Besides the named Alvarado bunch in the management, I think I see a couple Assemblyman Joe Coto and Cindy Chavez people on the Mayfair board.  And Coto was on the MHP board a couple years ago, right?

  3. While Internet research is fine, did you attempt to talk to either the MHP management, or Blanca Alvarado? 

    If you tried and they declined to be interviewed then shame on them.  If not then shame on you.

  4. Jack:

    The same type of idiotic contract is also hampering History San Jose.

    Charged with maintaining the City’s heritage, including the Pueblo Papers, the originals in spanish that date back to the 18th century, the city managers have consistently reduced the fininancial aid while increasing the responsibility of History San Jose.

    Not only is History Park’s maintainance part of the responsibility, the Fallon House, the Peralta Adobe, the Collections Center (old Beechnut Plant) and several wherehouses also fall under the command of HSJ’s staff.

    Could you put your astute mind to the problems facing this non-profit that manages City property:  the historical records that go back to the Pueblo period of San Jose’s history and what will happen to the collection center if the Council does not rescue HSJ.  .  HSJ is responsible for managing four different sites: the Collection Center at the CSY, the Stockton Warehouse, the Peralta-Fallon Historic Site, and History Park, which is 14 acres alone; 200 volunteers; school attendance of 25,000; general attendance of over 100,000, and 15 full time and 14 part time employees…”

    Who will take care of the old records and the artifacts that are in the care of the City of San Jose?

    How about the large amounts of money spent by organizations such as Rotary, the Vietnamese, the Society of Santa Clara County Pioneers, the Portuguese comunity, the Hellenic group and the many others who are affiliated, to restore and renovate historical buildings located in History Park. If History San Jose fails because of the lack of support from the City, what will become of our, the Pioneer’s, investment of over $350,000 in the Paulson House? This money was is reality a gift to the City of San Jose, without strings! Is the City not then obligated to resume active management of History Park? 

    Please support History San Jose and the Affiliates by attending the City Council meeting scheduled for October 16 at 7 PM!

    Jerry Rosenthal

  5. Blanca Alvarado’s wasted millions

    – Tropicana Shopping Center eminent domain lawsuit $22.5 million city payout,

    – $38 million Fairgrounds Concert Hall lawsuit payout

    – $31 million Mexican Heritage Plaza (MHP)-  was pet project of then-Councilwoman Blanca Alvarado,  Since 1996, the City and the RDA has provided the MHC with about $7.10 million in direct and indirect financial assistance, including an annual $413,783 operating subsidy and $814,766 in financial assistance in 2006-07, as well as free use of the MHP. 

    Many in East San Jose said Mexican Heritage Plaza $31 million and $1 million per year “monument” to Alvarado,” will ultimately mean fewer services for San Jose’s poor.”

    Quetzalcoatl statue was Blanca’s

  6. #7

    Not too bright are you.

    Blanca had nothing to do with Tropicana.  That was RDA.

    Blanca had nothing to do with San Jose suing SCC over the Fairgrounds and SJ losing the suit.

    Stick to the facts, not fantasy.

  7. #9, I don’t think you can go so far as saying Blanca had “nothing” to do with SJ suing SCC over the concert hall.  She was and still is a member of the board of supes who stubbornly pursued a misplaced concert hall at the fairgrounds even when they knew that SJ was already working on the same sort of venue for downtown.  The result is no concert hall anywhere.  That’s some real cultural progress for you.

    Much as I despise the turd and the belligerent group that made sure we got the turd instead of the horse, I don’t think Blanca was all that instrumental in its placement.  I lay 100% of the blame on Susan Hammer who backed down to a fringe band of uppity people whose main focus is to throw down the race card against anything they feel remotely disrespects the losing side of a conflict that secured SJ and the state of California as a vital addition to the USA.

    Pardon me for sounding like a broken record, but it would be so fitting for the turd to be plopped at the MHP, considering the sh*t that’s rising to the surface around that entire operation and that the turd is such a symbol of pride to the low intellect types carrying chips on their collective shoulders for whom the MHP was conceived and built to celebrate.

  8. Eastside political facts

    ” COUNCILWOMAN PROMISES KING-STORY AREA ACTION Marcos Breton, Mercury News Staff Writer San Jose Mercury News (CA)
    May 18, 1989

    More than 350 East San Jose residents, gathered at a community meeting Wednesday night, sent a clear and passionate message to the San Jose City Council: Clean up the area of King and Story roads. 

    ‘After an hour of give and take, Councilwoman Blanca Alvarado delivered the news that group members wanted to hear: She said she is recommending to the council that businesses in the King and Story neighborhood be organized into a neighborhood business district.

    Alvarado said she is also recommending that the neighborhood be zoned as a redevelopment area, so it could get money from San Jose’s redevelopment district “

    Blanca’s eastside political machine elected Manny Diaz and Nora Campos who do what Blanca wants

    Council/RDA used eminent domain for Tropicana Shopping Center resulting in $22.5 million city lawsuit payout

  9. Who will Blanca politically support for

    Her Supervisor Seat – Cindy or Nora

    Her Council / Nora’s seat – Xavier Campos or one of her children

    Fantasy is believing Blanca doesn’t control East San Jose politics

  10. Jack #8—thanks for the 4-1-1.

    In light of all the investigations/audits of MHP, how does the SJ City Council justify another $100k that could go to any number of much more worthwhile causes?  What would $100k buy in health care for east side kids, for instance?

  11. Blanca Alvarado has an interesting history of using her office in personal matters.  Several years ago when she was on the city council, I noticed that the city hall American flag was at
    “half staff”  I phoned the city operator and asked if a policeman, fireman or national figure had passed away.  She told me that Blanca Alvarado’s mother had died.  I was amazed just amazed !

  12. Didn’t San Jose’s semi-active involvement with a downtown concert venue magically appear after the county decided that one would work at the Fairgrounds? 

    It is hard to lay the blame for any project on one particular politician since any project (San Jose or SCC) requires majority approval by the respective politicians.  Using the blame game logic we may as well keep on going and place the actual blame on the voters who elected all the politicians that approved a project or action.

    Of course, human nature being what it is, it is always easier for someone to blame others for their own incompetence, instead of blaming themselves.

  13. I want to remind our readers that the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra is playing a FREE concert tomorrow, Friday the 5th at noon in Cesar Chavez Plaza. Program is Gershwin, Prokofiev, John Adams and Aaron Copland. Bring a portable chair and lunch if you like. Don’t miss it.

  14. #6 – Jerry-That’s going to be some meeting on the 16th.  I was already planning to attend because that’s when the Bart tunnel recommendation goes to council.  VTA has drawn the proposed tunnel on the south side of Santa Clara St.  In a meeting Tuesday night I suggested that part of the tunnel go beneath Roosevelt Park and then if necessary, to avoid the former hospital property, ease over to the south side.  Typically this is coming down fast, three weeks ago at a meeting, the map showed two alternative, one north of Santa Clara, one south; this was run in The Mercury.  Then magically, by this Tuesday’s meeting, the nothern possibility disappeared.  The main reason is to protect the hospital property, if the tunnel went under that, whoever develops the land could only go up four stories.  Always, all about $.
    So, I’ll be there.  You know I’m supportive of History San Jose.

  15. What ever happened to old Family values? Our Supervisor didn’t accomplish this all by her self. Let’s connect the dots to the other members of this whacky misadventure.

  16. Several cheap shots being taken here.  The deal with Teatro Vision predates the participation of Blanca’s family in Teatro by several years.

    It is good that Jack asked us to rethink the easy mark that MHP and its leadership pose as the topic is complicated, but the Teatro Vision is just a device to squeeze money to help allay the financial conundrum at MHP. 

    The reality is that the Agency and the related political leaders, yes including Blanca, determined that building this was more important than running it.  it was all politics and there was never an operating pro forma for it that was defendable.

    Yes there are some ‘sweetheart’ deals on the theatre space but that is a fraction of the square footage of the entire complex.  Those costs and revenues alone would not right the course. 

    This is a civic community center meant to alleviate a blighted neighborhood.  Yet it was built as a walled compound – how does that design serve to attract and enoble the surrounding blocks?  This was a bad idea that the current leadership is not responsible for, nor is Teatro Vision the culprit here.  This was a political whim without a mission and it remains so. 

    Fund it, occupy it, or close it.  MHP is not about to be fixed by a new Teatro Vision lease.

  17. I agree wtih Kathleen.  A big pile of dogs is way better than a big pile of what dogs leave behind.

    Meanwhile I’ll keep hoping some hapless Dorothy Gale-type motorist solves our problem since spineless council members are too weak to stand up against even a low-intellect backlash.

  18. I’m speechless how can this kind of stuff just keep happening it just makes me sick.
    I saw Blance on tv tonight and I thought to myself it might be time for her to go?
    what good has she ever done and she has held some sort of office for years and I have yet to hear one good thing shes done for the city or the county?
    These folks must be forced out sooner or later I think time will take her out but my god what a waste…..

  19. #6 your comment: Who will take care of the old records?
    Perhaps the City and/or History San Jose should immediately begin negotiating with the Santa Clara County Archives to get those pueblo records properly preserved.  They’re just down the street at 1875 Senter Road and managed by County Archivist Dr. Michael Griffith at 792-1895.

  20. #21 wrote:“The reality is that the Agency and the related political leaders, yes including Blanca, determined that building this was more important than running it.”

    Sounds like our parks program, library program, pools program, roads program, etc., etc.

  21. Refer to Team San Jose and Dan Fenton for “FAILED SUBSIDY” 

    The Grand Jury Investigation was great but the City Council members are ignoring the facts.  Lots of kickbacks and favors. 

    The Mayor Chuck “Greed” and others are all in the same Rotary and other clubs and do eachother favors….  Do the investigation yourself and look at membership logs and the truth will become clear. 

    This city is a JOKE…..  Nothing gets fixed for the taxpayer good, but if your a member of the Rotary with all of the city’s FAT cats you get taken care of FAST.

    Someone needs to check deep into the connections of our city council and the Mayor. 

    Facts are clear with the connections with the Council / Mayor and the subsidies are very one sided with bids and our money.

    Like I said, What a Joke!

  22. Jack,
      Your post of Thursday past was very concise and informative.
      Looking back to May 24th 2007 to your post “Council Errs in Hiring Consultants For MHC”, My post #42 did not connect the dots to the Alvarado family. The mercury news articles on the demise of the MHC and the minute men controvercy with Jaime Alvarado taking control, made me wonder why. I too started searching the web for the connections, I went back to the inception of MACLA. Jamie Alvarado.was the CEO at one point.
      Now I see that Marabel Alvarez a former CEO of MACLA and now the consultant to the city qualifing the MHC. A co founder of MACLA Eva Terrasas, is now with the RDA, and may be involved in this search for reasons requested by the Mayor.
      All the power junkies that controlled the MHC, are no where to be found. Why?
      I’m surprised that there are no readers of this site that have come to the rescue of the family in question.  Where’s Manny Daiz, Ester Medina, Fernando Zuezeta, Victor Garza, Pete Carillo, Nora Compos, Jose Villerial “public defender” Abel Cota.
      MR. Reed, I think it’s time to kick this pig!
      Give the 5 de Mayo and the 16th of September festivals to the MHC. My bet is they will do the same with these two cash cows that they did with the Mariachi Festival these past two years, take lots of money to the bank!
      Sam Licardo, get on that MHC board and help turn this wonderful idea into reality. If you can place a hazardess waste collection station down the street from the MHC, you can sure educate the community around the MHC on the horrors of Toxic Lead Poisoning. Some one on the City Council should.
      Mr. Mayor, Clear the decks for Marcela. Then stand back and give her the support she is asking for. I’ve seen them all come and go. most were insiders. Marcela is the real deal.
      I encourage anyone interested in following the money to search the web for connections.
                The Village Black Smith

  23. Gil #27

    Thanks for your response and insight. Your suggestion that Sam Liccardo be appointed to the MHP board is a very good one. A responsible and independent-minded member of the city council from outside District 5 (for obvious reasons) should be on the board to represent the SJ citizens who own and have paid for this insititution. We need direct public oversight on the board. Too bad it didn’t happen sooner; it would have limited the power of a few insiders and power brokers from 1999 until recently.

    Our Bay Area newspapers and TV news teams should have reporters “following the money” trail as you suggest. Perhaps they already are?

  24. I thought this post by Jack VanZandt, might give some detail of the politics that has been in power far too long in the East side of San Jose.
      X.Compos is but the tip of the iceburg, and the Titanic is headed his way!
        Just a thought!

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