The recent news about Lew Wolff and his “secret” plans to bring an Earthquakes stadium to San Jose while converting industrial land to homes in South San Jose to help fund the project, has brought up a whole array of questions from the public about Chuck Reed’s administration and their promise of “open government.”
The problem here isn’t the project, the people behind the project, land use, taxpayer money or anything of that sort. The crux of the problem is that the people of San Jose have so little trust for their government—a hangover from the Gonzales administration. It’s like City Hall is the cheating boyfriend who has asked to be forgiven, yet the public isn’t ready to trust him for fear he might do it again.
This also raises the issue of what open government really is. Is it letting the ordinary citizen in on every large-scale development in San Jose? Is keeping deals that are not yet worked out and signed private an attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of Joe Taxpayer? Where does the line get drawn?
What I fear about a precedent being set for letting the public know about deals before they are a reality is that nothing will ever get done. Petty grandstanders frequently use high-profile projects such as this as their platform for 15 minutes of fame and tie up projects or kill them altogether. Those of you who were around San Jose in the late 80s can probably remember that when the arena project—which was studied, planned for and discussed by a citizen task force—was almost final, last minute rabble-rousers claimed that Lincoln Ave. would be gridlocked after events and the Rose Garden would be used for tailgating. Their cries almost worked to defeat the single best project ever approved in San Jose. (Try and find anyone who wishes it didn’t happen now.)
I am not saying that Chuck Reed and his staff should be secretive—I do believe in the Sunshine Reforms and letting us see what’s happening in local government—but I am curious at what point Reed and his council will let us in on what we need to know. However, the main issue is people have to stop being distrustful. We have so much catching up to do in this city that we can’t afford the time that would be wasted by stalling large projects like the soccer stadium. I think the public needs to give a little leeway if they ever want San Jose to become the great city that we all want.