City Concealed Street Closure Docs

Despite the city’s stated commitment to sunshine and open government, proponents of a proposal to permanently close a block of South First Street concealed documents from affected parties—until the eve of a council vote.

After learning of the street closure effort on March 19, Metro requested information. Written requests were made to economic development officials in the City Manager’s office, the office of downtown councilman Sam Liccardo, the city’s Department of Transportation, the San Jose Downtown Association’s communications director and 1stAct, the quasi-public nonprofit advocacy group the city will name to perform public project design and management functions formerly undertaken by the defunct San Jose Redevelopment Agency.

In response to all of those inquiries, the only document provided until yesterday was an architectural drawing that showed how Gore Park (aka Parque de los Pobladores) would be reconfigured. Never once did anyone reply with or even mention a 42-page book detailing the project.

Metro, which shares ownership with San Jose Inside, was interested in the documents both as part of its journalistic watchdog role and as a directly affected party. The closure of the 165-year-old street would remove all vehicle access and make it impossible for customers, news sources, delivery vehicles, readers and visitors to park in front in metered parking spaces as they have for almost three decades.

The urbanists propose removing half the 40-foot street’s asphalt to plant grass and trees. The remaining 20 feet of pavement would be a locked fire corridor, painted to look like a plaza. The plan is championed by non-profit arts organizations like the Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles and Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana (MACLA), who would have a “living room for the arts” at their front doors. They hope to entice PricewaterhouseCoopers workers three blocks away to spend lunch times at umbrella shaded tables, enjoying meals from food trucks that would park on William Street.

Some of SoFA’s small businesses worry that removing one-third of South First’s on-street parking, which is free on evenings and Sundays, will hurt their businesses. Metro and others have asked whether a flexible closing plan would work just as well.

A March 21 email to two city officials directly involved with the project asked for “any communications you have in your possession regarding or related to 1st Act’s proposal to change traffic flow or parking on the 500 block of South First Street.”

Executive Editor and CEO Dan Pulcrano explained in the email that the park expansion was a “vital matter for my business, and we need to plan accordingly,” adding, “Time for sunshine, not secrecy.”

Despite that blunt message, and multiple other appeals that the city’s plan could put 70 jobs and a corporate headquarters at risk, both city officials and nonprofit execs sat on the documents.

Promoters of the “pavement to plaza” conversion have said that if construction was not begun in May and completed in June, 1stAct would lose the $500,000 grant from ArtPlace, a funder of creative urban public spaces.

San Jose will contribute $98,000 in park and economic development funds, according to staff’s memo to the City Council. Architectural services will be donated by Steinberg Architects.

On Monday afternoon—eight weeks after the first request and barely 24 hours before the fast-tracked council vote on — the city coughed up 1stAct’s grant application in response to a public information request to city Public Records Manager Tom Norris.

The document shows that the project is budgeted at $2 million, but of that only $600,000 is funded. The city did not provide revised cost breakouts.

One document indicates that the evaluation team looked at least three different options, two of which would have preserved parking for SoFA businesses.

“It is still unclear where people will park FOR FREE during the evening and weekend hours to replace the lost spaces IMMEDIATELY,” wrote Downtown Yoga Shala’s Veronica Cruz. “To say that something is ‘being worked on’ is not reassuring to me, because I have heard many promises, many times from the City officials.

“I am not fully convinced of the positive impact of clearing the area for a ‘park’ when the current surroundings are really not that great,” Cruz added.

Another worried business is SoFA’s new mountaineering facility. “I have to say that removing 23 parking spaces would be detrimental to gym,” emailed Diane Ortega of The Studio Climbing. “The number one question that people have been asking me when coming to the gym for the first time is what we are doing about the parking.”

Though described variously as a “test” or “temporary” closure, city officials acknowledge privately that it would be effectively permanent since there would be no money to rebuild the road bed. “I don’t trust any decision that would be made today would be ‘undone’ at a later date as was promised,” said Alexandra Kane-Dorian of Emile’s Restaurant, which would lose use of its First Street driveway. “I personally think that Gore Park should be left alone.”

The pavement-to-plaza plan is endorsed by the San Jose Downtown Association and many district landlords and arts groups and businesses. “We are extremely excited about the prospect of renovating Gore Park and creating a permanent urban plaza,” wrote Institute of Contemporary Art Executive Director Cathy Kimball in a letter supporting the grant.

“We think improving the park, adding a stage and creating an event space is great, and we appreciate the hard work and creative energy that has gone into this,” said Metro’s Pulcrano. “We are insisting on an inclusive, transparent public process that involves everyone, brings out the best ideas and respects a spectrum of interests.”

A grant letter from ArtPlace detailing the grant has not been publicly available.

The City Council will take up the matter at today’s 1:30 meeting.

Updated May 15, 2012, 11:45 a.m. and 12 noon. Earlier versions incorrectly attributed a staff memo to Councilman Liccardo.

Update May 15, 2012: After a contentious public hearing that lasted more than two hours, the council voted in favor of Councilman Liccardo’s resolution to conduct further outreach and return with a revised plan. The council asked 1stAct to include businesses on the 400 and 500 blocks of S. First Street in shaping alternative configurations for the park and street plan. Mayor Reed expressed concerns with a partial road bed demolition that could not be reversed if the project fell short of expectations.

Documents

1stAct’s Gore Park Plan was written in May 2011 but released only after repeated requests, 24 hours before the permanent street closure was scheduled for a vote.

Metro’s memo to the San Jose City Council.

25 Comments

  1. Time to connect the dots.  SPUR San Jose is involved somehow.

    “SPUR San Jose launched in January 2012 and is located within the office of 1stACT Silicon Valley. Our goal is to promote good planning and good government in San Jose through research, education and advocacy.”  Don’t forget SPUR brings with it all the baggage of heavy-handed San Francisco planning.

    http://www.spur.org/sanjose/about

    1stAct Silicon Valley and the City of San Jose have been eyeing your block for some time, seeking an “Outdoor Living Room for the Arts.”

    http://www.artplaceamerica.org/articles/article-2/

    The arts people are so sure they know best for you, that they will happily engage in their projects for the people who will move in a decade after they force you out.  It’s called gentrification.

    On a positive note, at least you’ll know who is on the side of small businesses & employers in San Jose politics when this comes down to a vote in city council.

  2. What, San Jose officials hiding the truth….shocking!

    This is one of the legacies of the Reed/Liccardo/Figone Administration: Lie, Hide The Truth, Distort, Fabricate, and Conceal.

    Closing this street will kill the local businesses in the area, create a haven for bums and drug dealing, and be another waste of taxpayer dollars when city services are being slashed for residents of San Jose.

    So much for sunshine….

  3. This is what this council led by Chuck and the 5 are all about.  Hide the truth and lie to all of us.  What a joke!  Measure B, what a joke!  I am so disgusted with this Mayor and Deb (talking head for how much?).  Cannot trust one word coming out of their lying lips.

    Makes me want to throw up!

  4. And the sad part is 98%  of SJ residents live in the dark and could care less.  Most do not come downtown and even more do not have a clue what is going on with this council.  They (citizens) just go about thier daily business, clueless about what they are about to vote on Measure B or who their council person is!  They will just vote for who has been there before.  Truth be, most will not even vote!

    WAKE UP!

    ROSE NEEDS TO GO, PO NEEDS TO GO, STEVE KLINE NEEDS TO COME IN!

    Time to do a little research instead of just reading the mailers from those with the most money.

    GOD HELP US WITH CHUCKS BAND OF FRAUDS!

  5. SJI AND METRO, YOUR ARE IN THE MIX , TIME TO COME CLEAN AND NOT SUPPORT THE MERCURY NEWS AND NOT PUTTING OUT THE TRUE FACTS.

    HURTS NOW!

  6. I’m also a fan of this decision, even though I already have a hard time parking in SoFA. If done well, this could really activate the SoFA area. What would be nice is perhaps expanded DASH coverage so that people could park anywhere Downtown and easily get to SoFA. Right now the parking plan for me is to use the convention center or The 88 garage and walk over.

    On a sidenote, I think there are many streets downtown where parallel parking could be converted to diagonal parking to immediately create more spaces and slow down traffic for pedestrians. We don’t really need a mini-freeway on 3rd or 4th street for example.

        • I often follow the advice of anonymous internet trolls, because they always know better than I.

          Oh jjonah, oh jjonah, I will not squander these bits of wisdom you have bestowed upon me.  In fact, I’m going to exceed your expectations.  Not only am I going to stick to karoake, I’m going to flip burgers and be a walmart greeter as well.

          Thank you so much for your opinion.  Whatever would I do in life without you?  Perhaps I should stay inside, because the world outside is to bright.

  7. ISNT LYING, CHEATING, STEALING AND LETS NOT FORGET FRAUD ,WHAT THIS MAYOR AND COUNCIL ARE KNOWN FOR?? WHY WOULD ANYODY BE SURPRISED BY THIS LATEST REVELATION. SAN JOSE RESIDENTS NEED TO WAKE UP AND REALIZE , THAT CANNOT BLINDLY BELIEVE IN THIS MAYOR AND COUNCIL. PEOPLE NEED TO DO THEIR OWN RESEARCH!!
    IM SURE THIS WILL BE BLAMED ON CITY WORKERS , OR UNION THUGS , OR PENSIONS , OR SOME OTHER LAME LIE.

  8. Good move for the gang of idiots, the Council and Mayor.  This is so clearly the RDA in sheep’s clothing, it’s difficult to believe otherwise.  So, to further pour money into a sterile wasteland of a downtown, our politicians find other avenues of giving away City dollars.  I guess the big developers are pressing you like grapes at harvest time.

  9. These schemes are always proposed by architects and city planners and always fail. Read Jane Jacobs for further reference or study other attempts in other cities. Narrowing a street to slow down traffic can help it become more comfortable but closing blocks to traffic always results in less vitality and is often followed years later with a reopening of the super-blocks that always results in a more vital street. We never seem to learn.

  10. I would say this is one of the best urban planning decisions I’ve seen in years.

    Metro this could be the coolest park ever.  It’s up to you to get involved though.  Push for a stage to be built.  Have a conveyor belt of new talent on weekends.  Make it YOUR park.

    As long as they name it “Metro” park, it should be all good. In fact, I could see beer gardens there (Baltimore style) and a complete revitalization of this area if you guys played it right.

    • Hilarious.  This plaza will be full of MODELO swilling paisas in no time.
      Food trucks is right!  Tacos tacos tacos. Build it and keep it all “downtown”

      • Truth,

        Not if the Metro gets involved.  That area of SJ lost a lot when The Cactus Club closed its doors.  Cactus was the gateway to which many new acts got their starts.

        There’s another thing to consider here too.. Music in the park is likely to be no more. 

        I just got off the phone with my brother in law, he’s a locally well known guitarist/vocalist and his bands have graced the inside of the metro on a few occasions.  At first he thought it was a bad idea, “DOWNTOWN HAS ENOUGH PARKS!”  but after explaining everything above, he got the idea, and actually liked it.

        It doesn’t have to be on the grand scale of San Pedro Market either.  Just a simple 3 foot high stage with a tin roof over it would be enough. 

        Another issue is age.  There are really young kids that would love a venue to play at… But all type 48 liquor licenses prohibit anyone under 21 from being on premise, and type 47 (bonafide food/drink) restricts minors after 10pm.

        Finally, back to “conveyor belt of new talent”

        Metro’s role for this could be huge.  They could let artists store equipment in the Metro offices between sets, conduct interviews, take photo’s.  I’d even setup streaming video.

        Just roll with the punches on this one guys.  I never saw “MODELO” swilling paisas at the cactus.  It will attract a totally different scene there, displacing the current one(if you want to call it a scene).

        God, I miss one step beyond.. Would be nice if kids could go dancing in the park during the summer, or moshing.

        • RC, you are absolutely correct IF the Metro funds, sponsors, leads, and secures the location.  But that’s a big if, obviously.

          My point is if you walk one block south under 280, past Fabers bikes, you will find plenty of Paisas, street tacos and Modelo. Head a little west to Duane, Union, or State streetts and you can also buy a piñata and some meth.

          Not to be out done, walk one block east of the Metro and you can get all the crack you want, or some teenage east bay prostitutes.

          All these societal gems will be drawn to a venue that does not have the sponsorship, leadership, and SECURITY of the city and local business.

        • You know,

          I have absolutely no problem with the scene down the street.  I used to eat pretty regularly at Las Flamas because it was the only place open after I got off work that wasn’t crowded with knuckleheads.  Good food, good service.  I was the only white guy, but I never felt threatened.

          For whatever reasons, they got their hours cut back, some code enforcement issue..  Real shame too.

          The other scenes you mention, yah, could be a problem for people going to and from events at Metro Plaza ™ but I know the Metro guys well enough to know that they would have no shortage of friends willing to help make sure things run smooth at the event site.

        • Jjonah can you at *least* make an effort to be sober when you post?  Bad spelling (in an age of spellcheck) and punctuation are a real pet peeve of mine.  There’s just no excuse for it.

        • A bar singer is talking to me about sobriety, when he works for tips from people who have a had a few.

          San Jose’s political version of Heath Barkley.

          At least Vicoria and Jatrod let Heath sleep in the big house, and not the Cortese tool shed.

        • >>when he works for tips from people who have a had a few.

          Ahh a sufferer of peniaphobia!  Someone who is scared of poverty!

          You can get counseling for that.  While you’re away, we’ll all be waiting here patiently waiting for you!  Best of luck, and godspeed to a fast recovery.

          I’m so sorry for your suffering.  Have a nice day!

      • One other thing to add…

        There’s really no need for that tiny strip of Williams street between 1st and Market.  Extend the park into that portion of the street, and it will be nice.