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.”