As the city embarks on a very ambitious plan in North San Jose for jobs and housing, and a mini-debate is had on the wisdom of the city owning land, it will be instructive to look at the past. While we may not always learn from our history, it never hurts to look at it and glean a bit of knowledge and perhaps even some insight.
In the mid seventies, there were thousands of acres in North San Jose littered with an assortment of mobile homes, small farms, and generally rundown properties on the road to Alviso. For our city, leaving this area alone and employing a laissez-faire approach would have put us on the road to insolvency. As we grew larger and larger with homes, scant attention was paid to job creation in our industrial areas (there were few) and our downtown, which existed more in memory and a few visionaries’ dreams than in any reality. But then inspiration and a good plan came our way.
Instead of more of the same, a plan to create an unassisted redevelopment area that would grab our piece of Silicon Valley occurred. At the Planning Commission, where I was chairman, we turned down a number of more-of-the-same mobile homes and other unwise land use options. Instead, we planned for the future, and the city took stock of what we might become. It was the basis for the real beginning of a tax base that spanned from HP to EBay. It was, indeed, the correct course.
As we engage in any discussion about how to use the city’s powers now, it is imperative that we look to the past. The strength of the North San Jose plan has enabled the city to have museums, sports facilities, hotels, and highways to reach them, moderate housing for many, and a downtown that will one day be an important part of the tax base that we never had, but our residents have every reason to demand. If we listen to the faint of heart or the short term panic, then we will never reach that potential. Certainly mistakes have been made, and the last decade was replete with them, but that is not a reason to be timid or foolhardy now. We can build a fine city here with a concerted approach to job creation and an eye on the future. To do otherwise would be a return to a past that only saw darkness with no hope.