Grading San Jose Parks, Streets and Libraries

How do San Jose city services compare to other South Bay cities?
San Jose’s parks are, for the most part, poorly maintained and pale in comparison to the facilities found in Santa Clara and Cupertino. Once a source of pride for our city, San Jose’s neighborhood parks have markedly declined over the past decade.

Visit a park in the city of Santa Clara, and one almost always sees a city worker (or two) doing some sort of park maintenance. In San Jose, you’re lucky if they mow the weeds once a month. (Yes, WEEDS!)

Perhaps the most telling indication of the low priority given to city parks by the San Jose City Council is the fact that park restrooms are locked on weekends, a time when many parks are used the most. The city’s budget situation is so bad that money can’t be found to keep the restrooms open on Saturdays and Sundays.

Grade: D-

The condition of San Jose’s streets is a joke, but no one is laughing. A recent “Urban Roads Report” issued by the National Transportation Research Group listed San Jose as having some of the worst roads in the country.

Street maintenance has been given a very low priority when it comes to the city budget. Maintenance and repairs have been deferred to the point that San Jose has a maintenance backlog list of several hundred miles. For a major American city centered in an area of great wealth, to have such poorly maintained roads is inexcusable.

Grade: F

There are a lot of quality employees working in San Jose’s libraries. I would also give high marks to the quality of resources and technology that can be accessed through the San Jose public library system.

However, San Jose libraries could be better. Branch libraries are noisy places. Unlike the Santa Clara City library, where cell phones must be turned off, and loud, disruptive behavior is not permitted, San Jose branch libraries are sometimes a loud, free-for-all.  The noise level can be, at times, a joke.  And, the libraries also fall victim to the budget mess, with most branches closing their doors on Sundays.

Grade: C


  1. Pete: The NTRG report was for the San Jose Metro Area (i.e. most of Santa Clara County, not just San Jose.) It also includes freeways and other roads maintained by entities other than the City of San Jose.
    It’s not accurate to use this report to compare San Jose to “other south bay cities.”

  2. If we expect our city leaders to pay proper attention to our parks and streets then we need to find a better approach for pressuring them than merely pointing out what once was or what should be. We need to adopt a tactic for the times, one that exploits the self-identities and political vulnerabilities of our leaders and takes advantage of the values of the loudest members of our civic herd. Therefore, I suggest that the we rename our city parks system the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Parks and Recreation Department and our street department after Cesar Chavez, and then challenge our politicians to ignore the budgetary needs of those departments. I can’t imagine any politician, not even one who would agree to lock a child out of a park restroom, having the nerve to allow anything bearing the names of either of those two to remain in so embarrassing a state of disrepair as are our streets and parks . Yes indeed, I say rename those departments and then sit back and watch speeches get made, ribbons get cut, and budget priorities get magically altered.

    And then watch Berkeley steal my idea by renaming every department in that city after the Dalai Lama.

  3. So Pete, I’m really scratching my head about your post. Why are you telling us the obvious? What was the point? (Except for the part about libraries, I disagree with you on that one.)

    We’ve lived with this mess for YEARS. Tell us instead what ideas you have for SOLUTIONS. Tell us instead what we as residents and neighbors can do? (Besides the perpetual reaching into our own wallets and/or bearing responsibility for maintenance… like with our beautiful but woefully neglected street trees—enough of that already!)

    Thanks, I’m anxious to hear your ideas.

  4. Pete—The solution is simple, but impossible to execute: start a taxpayers’ UNION, or a citizen’s UNION. There’s no money for parks, streets or libraries because the politicians pay attention to the employees’ UNIONS. They get all the money, and so far, the taxpayers and citizens support the UNIONS’ constant raid on their money—when the UNIONS complain loudly that it’s unfair to cut their pay, retirement, hours, or—evaluate their performance.
    We’ve got the Rose Garden back, thanks to Pierluigi scaring the shit out of the on-the-dole gardeners by suggesting hiring “cheap” outside contractors, then getting the neighbors to volunteer—to keep the roses looking better than they have for years and years. Threaten to outsource park maintenance, road maintenance, get library volunteers—The Guardian Angels—to restore order in the libraries, and expand hours. Bottom line, if the citizenry and taxpayers can’t get what they pay through the nose for, smart city council members can crank up T and C UNIONS. They won’t be looking for 90% retirement for “dangerous duty”, i.e., doing their job. George Green

  5. Pete you might also want to check out this link
    to see how San Jose rates- perhaps instead of years of cutting the budget for parks, street trees, centers, and libraries we find the money to live up to our “10th largest city” image.

  6. Tina #3:

    Actually, I was kind of hoping/thinking that bloggers would offer their own grades for each category. (and offer solutions).

    The solutions are (on paper) very simple, but politically, very difficult.  The simple (overnight) solution is to make funding for basic city service levels a higher priority.  AND, start contracting out some of these services.  EXAMPLE:  Shut down the city’s “Cultural Affairs Dept.”  Reassign those workers and the depts’ budget to street repairs and libraries, etc. and, allow non-city employees to work in the parks and repair the streets.

    In terms of moving in this sort of direction, the city council has already failed, by giving in to the employe unions’ demands.  (See Pierluigi’s post on Monday). 

    Another solution would be to direct RDA funds towards street repairs.  (Yes, it’s legal to use RDA funds for road repairs in an RDA zone).  I’d rather have the money go to fixing our streets than to subsidizing another nightclub opening!)

    pete campbell

  7. Pete #8—yes indeed, reassign all 17 folks in the Dept. of Cultural Affairs, and make them actually work for their generous pay and benefits.  We need parks and roads in good repair, not a red lacquer tree in the St. James Park drug and bum emporium.

    Speaking of St. James Park, they used to have one guy on a large sitting lawn mower mowing the crabgrass there.  Now they have several guys with walking mowers.  Since payroll is the biggest expense in any business, it seems to be they exacerbated a bad situation by that change.

    I’d be willing to bet there are at least 250 sinecure no-work jobs like the Dept. Of Cultural Affairs that we can all do without if it gets us even half decent roads and parks with restrooms open on the weekends.

    Can anyone provide a link that will actually identify each city dept. & sub-dept., the # of employees in each, a brief job description, and what obscene amount we pay them to think of ways to not serve the public?

  8. Pete #8, Thanks.

    (And BTW, it was only the last paragraph of your library assessment I disagreed with—the noise issue I don’t see as a problem, I do agree about the high quality of the staff and technology. And they certainly make do with less and less, unfortunate that they have to though.)


  9. 9 – We know you love to bash city employees, usually with no facts to back-up your statement, and we know you have no use for public art or the cultural affairs office. Just because you don’t care for public art doesn’t mean everyone shares your opinion. We know you dislike the red tree in the park. I happen to like the tree and find it a brief respite from the day-to-day routine to see that bit of color and design in the park. Doesn’t make my opinion right nor your opinion wrong.
    The point is, it takes all kinds and types to make up our community. Are there better ways to spend our precious dollars than how they currently are? In some cases, yes. But wouldn’t this city be even drearier than it is without some form of art—cultural or otherwise?
    And, if you are going to make aspersions against city workers, please provide factual details. Your attacks are getting just a bit tiresome.
    See you at the red tree.

  10. Pete regarding City Parks, we need to pay special attention to the proposed new City Park in the “MidTown Specific Plan”. The location of this park which is important to the future residents of high density planned MidTown residents.
        This park fronts on Bird Avenue on its east side, Park Avenue to the north, San Carlos St. to the south and,the Los Gatos Creek and trail on its western boundry.
        The plan calls for the Fire Department training area to be re-located to another site. This area is planned for high density residential living.again this park is part of our General Plan and MidTown Specific Plan.
        Developers now have their eyes on purchasing a large portion of this proposed park for more high density housing. Residents need to keep a watchfull eye on this future park.
        I`m very concerned.This is part of the Cities General Plan, but…

  11. #11
        How much is the Cities budget deficit in $billions? If you know? How high is the dollar amount of non funded City obligations in Billions of $$.How long do you believe a private or public company would last operating the way the city operates?

  12. 5. Just went by there, and it’s not going to make a very big park. Better than nothing, though, which is what that neighborhood has now. 

    Back in the 19th century there was a rather large park in that same area, which even had a lake. But I guess we shouldn’t expect the kind of public amenities nowadays that they had back in the 19th century.

    I only hope they don’t get confused and put in a parking lot instead of a park. Easy to do in that part of town.

  13. #13
        The City Manager has already put this Park on the “For Sale List”,the planning department has already begun discussions with developers.
        It`s time for residents to wake up and start watching what the Cities senior staff is doing without voter approval.
        This plan is part of the General Plan and the MidTown Specific Plan.
        The City Senior staff is trying to put a fire station on parkland in Willow Glen`s Lincoln Glen Park.The excuse is budget problems,if we use Parkland we don`t have to pay for the property, this helps our budget problem and helps us build another fire station.They claim they don`t have the money to spend $1 million to purchase the Fire Departments first recomended site. If they need $22 million for Golf Courses, they find it. Recently they needed to find another $2 million to purchase safety nets for another golf course this year.But, they can`t find the money $1 million to purchase land to build a fire station in District 9, a basic important core service item.
      Why don`t they sell the City Hall`s previous building on north first street? It`s been there sitting empty for how long ?

  14. Pete you stated :Another solution would be to direct RDA funds towards street repairs.  (Yes, it’s legal to use RDA funds for road repairs in an RDA zone).  I’d rather have the money go to fixing our streets than to subsidizing another nightclub opening!)
    I would also like to suggest that RDA direct funds more than just streets, but green ammenties like parks, community serving recreation that enhance our city- we can be a great city on housing stock alone!

  15. #11;  wants and needs must be differentiated.  I’d LOVE to have all the nice frills.  But when it comes to a choice between a bunch of dilettantes’ private wish lists, and roads that are actually paved properly, I’ll take the latter, thank you.

    If your family is short of $$, do you feed them, or go to the opera?

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