Poll Reveals Concern About the Fate of Downtown San Jose

A majority of respondents in the latest San Jose Inside Power Poll see room for improvement in the state of downtown San Jose.

Almost half of all participants disagreed or strongly disagreed with the proposition that “downtown is faring wonderfully.”

Six out of 10 rated downtown’s cultural offerings at fair or poor, and more than two thirds gave the same grade to downtown’s residential amenities and quality of life—including its cleanliness.

In dozens of comments addressed to the incoming CEO of the San Jose Downtown Association, many respondents said they would like to see a renewed focus on homelessness, blight, crime and the need for more family-friendly activities.

Here are the specific questions and responses to our poll:

Question 1

Scott Knies retires next month after 34 years at the helm of the San Jose Downtown Association. Please indicate how much you agree or disagree with the following statement: As Knies steps down from his post, downtown is faring wonderfully.

  • Disagree — 30%
  • Undecided — 26%
  • Somewhat agree — 23%
  • Strongly Disagree — 19%
  • Strongly agree — 2%

Question 2

How would you rate downtown’s residential amenities and quality of life, including streetscape cleanliness and appearance?

  • Fair — 34%
  • Poor — 34%
  • Good — 30%
  • No opinion — 2%
  • Excellent — 0

Question 3

How would you rate downtown’s cultural offerings, including events, live music, dance clubs, and bars?

  • Fair — 45%
  • Good — 32%
  • Poor — 15%
  • Excellent — 6%
  • No opinion — 2%

Question 4

How would you rate downtown’s viability as a location for independent businesses?

  • Fair — 34%
  • Poor — 34%
  • Good — 21%
  • No opinion — 8%
  • Excellent — 4%

Question 5

The Downtown Association recently hired Alex Stettinski of the Downtown Reno Partnership to succeed Knies. What would you like the association’s new CEO to know about downtown San Jose?

Our open-ended inquiry about the state of downtown produced dozens of passionate answers—by far the most direct feedback to any question we’ve ever asked.

Here are some of them:

One respondent urged Stettinski not to neglect downtown’s arts organizations. Others said there should be more communal spaces, and more attractions like San Jose Jazz, Music in the Park and Downtown Ice. Yet another said simply: “retail, retail, retail.” Panelist Bill Brown urged Stettinski not to forget “the diversity that makes San Jose so wonderful.”

Welcome to San Jose, Alex; here is what the members of the San Jose Inside Power Poll would like you to know:

“Best wishes to Scott Knies on his retirement,” wrote one panelist. “He succeeded in keeping downtown open and available during one of the most challenging times in recent history. Here's the problem with Downtown San Jose: generational failure to act aggressively on anything. 1. NO one is willing to deal with the unhoused issue including their obvious uncomfortable issues; crime, verbal abuse, trash. 2. NO public places to gather (think "where would people congregate if the Sharks won the Stanley Cup?") 3. A downtown that's pretty small bisected by traffic and useless public transit...not very easy to visit. 4. HORRIFIC SIGNAGE...let's make it perfectly clear about defining our public spaces (ex: make "SOFA" much more identifiable. Where are the public SOFAs?)”

The subjects mentioned most of all by panelists were homelessness, blight and crime:

“Businesses, the city and county must work together to solve the unhoused problem in downtown SJ, with a particular focus on services for the mentally ill,” wrote one panelist, echoing the concerns of many. “The current state of this issue is, and has long been, completely unacceptable.”

“Downtown needs to be clean,” added another. “Downtown needs a vibrant group of businesses that are unified in their needs and those needs should be met by the city as reasonable. Downtown has too much of a transient population. Downtown is unsafe. Covid has hampered downtown business. Downtown businesses need to be more welcoming. The city should promote downtown businesses. Work from home has killed many downtowns. Getting people back out to community events should be a priority.”

“Keep a relentless focus on the basics—clean and feel safe,” said a third. “Appreciate the developers/investors/business owners/employers who have stayed committed to downtown despite pandemic, recession worries.”

Several commenters pointedly compared Downtown San Jose to Santana Row.

“There is a feeling of blight and a lack of energy that has always been present,” one voter wrote. “The fact that Santana Row, outside the core, has had such success is a bit disturbing. Let's bring energy to the downtown!”

“More people isn’t the answer,” wrote one. “We’ve been hearing that for 30 years. Parking is crucial for small businesses. People who live downtown leave to go to restaurants etc. in Campbell and Santana Row. Find a solution for people living on the streets that doesn’t include just moving them to another neighborhood in downtown.”

A focus on families also united several commenters:

“We need to push for more residential in the downtown core, as well as more foot patrols to make it clean and safe,” one panelist wrote. “There needs to be more parks/open space/activities for kids under 10 in the core. Marketing to project to the Bay Area that San Jose is the place to be!”

“Improvements should be made for a family pedestrian experience,” added another. “Rarely do I see young families engaged and enjoying downtown.”

“We need to address safety—both reality and perception—and cleanliness. We need more family friendly restaurants and activities, and we need basic amenities like a drugstore chain.”

Yet many of those who commented also acknowledged the reality that progress downtown depends on the cooperation of a complex network of entities.

“Scott has done a fabulous job,” one voter said. “He has been relentless in making clean streets a priority and other achievements. Activating the long-boarded-up buildings and getting the homeless into shelter will require the city’s help.”

Indeed, several respondents explicitly faulted the city for its perceived lack of leadership:

“Very hard to realize improvement plans for business or the overall area because City Hall is just a collection agency to support itself, not a partner,” one panelist wrote. Another added: “City officials are obdurate, often insensitive, and take pride in resisting development of downtown property in their respective fiefdoms. They seem to relish in their powers of obstruction and are generally not facilitative.”

Finally, some respondents offered Stettinski guidance about how he should approach his new position:

“Meet as many people in person as possible,” one voter advised. “Take time to understand how things work and who makes things happen. Set some goals and make a plan to achieve them. Don't go it alone. There are lots of resources and people available, not all of them in the SJDA. I wish you the best.”

“Downtown SJ is in a perpetual state of ‘improving’ or ‘developing,’” one voter wrote. “And as soon as it looks like we’re about to turn the corner, a recession or other economic downturn hits and we press pause, only to further calcify the hard-to-fix problems. I don’t expect much from DTSJ because it never seems to reach its full potential.”

“Many have tried; none have succeeded,” one panelist wryly observed. “Good luck!”

San Jose Inside Power Poll is not a scientific poll. Rather, we ask questions of influential people with a wide range of viewpoints to help advance informed dialogue about the city. Power Poll is studiously non-partisan.

 

5 Comments

  1. It’s completely city’s own fault for a weak downtown. They take too much time worrying about historical buildings to let high rises get underway. Therefore, the high rises never get built. The permitting process takes too much time that it kills all these new tower proposals. The city requires developers to build deep underground parking that makes it very expensive to build. They also allow homeless to remain on the streets terrorizing people. The biggest reason for downtown’s complete failure is the city of SJ allowed Valley Fair/Santana Row to be built. In the beginning, the city could have paid off Santa Clara and other nearby cities to not build competing malls with a huge mall that could’ve been built downtown. All the city’s own fault!!!!!!

  2. Downtown was on the upswing until Covid lockdowns.

    Unelected bureaucrats, with the connivance of local elected officials, cheerled by local media, bankrupted small businesses, unemployed their paycheck-to-paycheck workers, and removed their customer bases when downtown office workers went remote and did not return in sufficient numbers. The bureaucrats did this by decree without any scientific basis or elective mandate.

    The small businesses and their supportive organizations (including the chamber of commerce and rotary), to their eternal discredit, did not fight back in any meaningful way. They submitted like serfs.

    This was not a natural disaster but, instead, a massive policy failure of epic proportion. And, not incidentally, a crime against humanity.

    Downtown is dead and will not revive in any of our lifetimes. Untold lives have also been destroyed. Small business owners. Their workers. Their families. The people who did this to downtown (and we know who they are) are not merely stupid, they are evil.

  3. It’s not just Downtown San Jose, it’s all over San Jose. Residents should be concerned about the fate of the city of San Jose. With a growing population and poor leadership this city’s fate is obvious. I have lived in San Jose for over 40 years. The last 15-20 years I’ve witnessed the city’s rapid decline. For those of you who didn’t live here before that time period you probably don’t know how beautiful this city once was, how safe it was, and how friendly people were. I miss that. We live in one of the most spectacular locations. I love the scenic beauty of San Jose and the fact that I am only a short distance from so many other amazingly beautiful places. I can drive for 30 minutes and be on sunny a beach. I can drive a few hours and be on a beautiful lake surrounded by some of the biggest pine trees I’ve ever seen, or at the top of a snow-covered mountain spoiled with the most spectacular views. I can hop on plane and in less than an hour I can be in Las Vegas or Hollywood. Five hours on a plane and I can be in Hawaii, one of the most beautiful and popular vacation destinations in the world. The decline of San Jose started before Covid came along. Poor leadership and poor policies are why San Jose is in such a decline. If the people of San Jose would simply vote for better leaders and better policies, this city would be more friendly, much safer, and beautiful again.

  4. San Jose in general has been ruled by small town minded individuals that have cost the city many opportunities to thrive! Quick example, denying a Major League Baseball team to build a downtown stadium, denying the GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS the opportunity to play at SAP center permanently! Discontinuing the Grand Prix Race downtown, these are but a few examples of what could have brought so much VIBRANCY TO DOWNTOWN SAN JOSE!! The revenue these types of events and franchises would provide would far out weigh the small minded concerns of our local leadership! Traffic concerns, REALLY, for major league events that are not necessarily daily, but a minor inconvenience on these particular occasions have killed many plans for growth in SJ, and if you can show me one city in the world that doesn’t deal with traffic for such occasions, if it exists, I’d recommend those on our city development committees move there!! A BIG CITY has traffic, sorry! That should not be a reason to discontinue or prevent franchises from coming and doing business inSJ!! What about the Guadalupe river walk plans, with restaurants and nightlife such as the San Antonio river walk, that I recently visited, it is so full of life, culture and a beautiful place to visit! It would be not only for the local citizens to enjoy but for people visiting SJ!! And I’m told some birds are keeping the plan from being developed? REALLY!! I’m sure the birds will be fine and continue to find trees to live in! OMG! There are already walkways in place and this should be a NUMBER ONE PRIORITY development inDOWNTOWN SAN JOSE that would not only thrive I’m sure but would make DTSJ a popular destination for the masses!! I hope our future and not distant future we will have a DOWNTOWN to be proud of!! And cut the red tape to allow business to come open up shop make it easier instead of harder!! Clean up homelessness for sure, and book constant events such as Music In The Park,SJ JAZZ festival and a good old fashion carnival a couple times a year, like the beginning and end of summer and bring back tapestry and talent type events that use to thrive in DTSJ! And stop allowing SJPD to dictate these plans!! Of course they don’t want problems who does but as public servants paid with tax payers money they should stick to doing what is necessary to deal with any unruly characters and not be able to cancel events because of big crowds or late night entertainment activities!! The plan to try keeping nightlife open till 4 am was killed by SJPD because they say it will be more problematic for them, REALLY! The general consensus for the later operating hours is by staying open later the patrons would be able to wind down after the 2:00am liquor cut off and therefore be more inclined not to drive home intoxicated, and the other benefit is the establishments bring in additional revenue by staying open later and allow SJ nightlife to be available long after midnight and not being a GHOST TOWN!! Another benefit to having a later curfew for night life is patrons would have the option of not having to leave all at once at 1:30-2:00 am is it now! They could casually wind down after liquor is stopped being served and make their way home at an easier pace then current standards where everyone is forced to leave 90 minutes after midnight!! Again, simply because SJPD is against having to do their job 24 hours a day!! They would prefer to park somewhere and wait for their shift to end instead of monitoring a lively downtown environment I’m sure!! Just my opinion, and being a resident of SJ all my life I believe I can speak from experience and some knowledge of how SJ has operated and is operating!!

  5. It was quieter but had more charm when it, or most in it, didn’t seem to care or mind that it was, note and file this, Big Fresno, a quiet city that was an asset as a true “sleeper” fine for raising a family or still being able to retire in the Bay Area.

    In the 1980s, when Silicon Valley (which was and still is west of San Jose almost entirely) was still a silicon industry, included, San Jose was the “city in bib overalls,” someplace with nothing off the freeway to visit, and had a downtown emptied as most US cities have had emptied, nothing unusual. (It is no surprise that western San Jose suburban Santana Row is doing well instead of downtown.) Many running things have a small city complex they want to have assuaged, and they keep trying, The city continues to have a moribund downtown, though, that is worse now, filthy and unsafe. It is pro-crime and pro-homeless, has trash everywhere, is working against the success of downtown almost shackled by ruinous politics or committed to “progressive” failure instead.

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