Historic Foundation Sues City of San Jose Over Levitt Pavilion Project at St. James Park

The Sainte Claire Historic Preservation Foundation has filed a lawsuit against San Jose over the city’s approval of the Levitt Pavilion project, part of a holistic plan to revitalize the woebegone St. James Park in downtown.

The Foundation is an alter ego of the Sainte Claire Club, a men-only establishment and the most elite private club in San Jose.  The lawsuit claims that adding the venue—with its attendant dog park, playground and café—would result in St. James Park and nearby 127-year-old Sainte Claire Club losing their official designation as national historic landmarks.

The complaint filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court also accuses San Jose of violating its own historic preservation ordinance, which requires the city to deny projects would “be detrimental to a historic district,” as well as running afoul of CEQA by conducting insufficient review of potential impacts, such as the prospect of drawing crowds of thousands of people for as many as 300 events a year.

The lawsuit asks the court to invalidate the city’s environmental review and planning approvals and order a do-over to ensure compliance with CEQA and local regulations.

City Attorney Nora Frimann disputes claims made in the legal challenge. “Obviously,” she said, “the city believes it has fully complied with CEQA in connection with this project.”

Proponents of the performance venue say it would breathe life into one of downtown’s most notable but dejected public spaces by bringing live events sponsored by an auxiliary fundraising arm called Friends of Levitt Pavilion-San Jose. The project is tied to a national group called the Levitt Foundation, which has a track record for bringing similar venues to communities throughout the country.

Brian Grayson, a preservationist who serves on the board of Friends of Levitt Pavilion-San Jose, put in perspective the plaintiffs’s claim about the facility’s potential impacts. Though the city’s environmental impact report—called an EIR—evaluated the prospect of hundreds of concerts with thousands of attendees, it’s unlikely that many people would end up going.

Under the plan approved by the city, the Levitt foundation would have an obligation to host 50 free family-friendly concerts a year before charging anyone to attend an event.

“The EIR’s job is to examine the max case situation,” Grayson explained in an interview with San Jose Inside. “The chances of 5,000 people ever happening (at a single event) is very slim. That number was the max given if every activity was going on at the park at once, not just at the pavilion. As for 300 concerts a year? We’re just trying to get to 50.”

Grayson sees the pavilion as a boon for San Jose’s urban core and hopes issues can be resolved to prevent any significant impacts that would threaten St. James district’s historic status. He also understands how a project of this magnitude can elicit strong feelings on both sides.

“They’re certainly within their rights to do this,” he said. “Ideally, it would be great if these things could be solved without litigation, but I understand sometimes this is where it has to go. I’m assuming what they raised are issues with historic resources and potential concerns about sounds and crowds, and it would appear they feel their concerns haven’t been properly addressed, so this is their avenue to do it.”

10 Comments

  1. I remember when the Levitton people came in. I thought it was a great idea to reclaim the park from the homeless/druggies. I’m sure not in favor of any place downtown losing their historic site status though. And, this is all thinking in terms of the Before Times(tm) it’s all different now. Let the bums and the Canada geese have the place! It’s actually nice seeing them co-existing in the park.

  2. There’s getting sued and then there’s CEQA lawsuits.

    What an absolute joke.

    Good luck trying to do more than cross the street when any clown and a few bucks can log jam anything they want. Its not as if you all don’t know this already, but you won’t do a damn thing about it. The reality is its the best NIMBY tool in the box and you are get rich off your little 70 ranch house that costs $175000 anywhere else. But you think you aren’t capitalist, well your right, your rent-seeking whores.

  3. Santana Row will be renamed Revolution Square

    AOC will sell tee shirts

    I wish you luck in your little heaven of earth

  4. This is ridiculous. These people should travel and broaden their horizons. Only in California do you find people with the temerity to try to block development by claiming something 100 years old is historic. Do these people seriously prefer the current state of St. James park?

  5. St. James Park is the centerpiece to the Historic St. James Square District. That is a fact that can’t be denied.

    The historical expert hired by the City (for the EIR) to analyze this $59.1 million project said “implementation of the project would change the visual character of the site and the buildings and, as designed, would be constructed in a manner that would impact the historic significance of the park and the St. James Historic District”. He also stated that the Park “is the central and key component of that district of which without the district would lose its essence”. As a result of this, the EIR concludes that this project would cause a “significant unavoidable impact” of a “substantial change in the significance of a historical resource pursuant to CEQA” (impact CUL-1).

    Without a doubt, its current state of disrepair and disuse falls solely in the lap of the City. The City has stated over the last several years that it only employs 12 maintenance employees for approximately 24 parks. However, City officials also fail to enforce ordinances that would assist in allowing more diverse activities and neighbors to enjoy the Park.

    To use disrepair as good reason to destroy a historical park/district is similar to private developers using “neglect and demolish” as a tactic around historic preservation. Furthermore, who’s going to take care of the $59.1 million new Park after its plantings are trampled, fixtures are broken, trash is uncollected and trees are used for bathrooms? Not Levitt, read their Denver agreement online and find they only work with the City to maintain the Pavilion. Need more proof, look at photos or visit Levitt Pavilion MacArthur Park. And as for money from the Levitt Foundation to help build the Pavilion, it’s less than 1% of the total current project budget. Of course leaving the taxpayers and minimal fundraising to renovate the Park as planned.

    As neighbors at St. James Place, some of us are 65 feet from the proposed Pavilion. Not only does the EIR note significant negative impacts on noise, but it states we will not be able to open our windows to enjoy a nice spring or summer day/evening. It’s easy for some proponents of the project to deflect our concerns with things like NIMBY (or more accurately NIMFY in this case) or angry neighbors who don’t care about other residents of the City. This couldn’t be further from the truth and if the City read our letters they would see that our concerns are fair. However, we have been completely ignored. Is the City leadership not charged with protecting us form these types major issues?

    There is an old catchphrase “follow the money”. We ask you to research the St. James Park Steering Committee, San Jose Friends of Levitt Pavilion, Historic Landmarks Commission and Planning Commission, along with various other City officials and employees to name just a few trails. Obviously, many of these people don’t care who they harm, as long as they get business from the Pavilion/Park, a new job, development opportunity, promotion or some “award winning” exposure to assist them in running for their next big government office.

    We want a revitalized St. James Park that can be enjoyed by everyone, while building on the strong historical values of being one of the oldest neighborhood parks in California.

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