Size Matters

We have traveled a long and winding road in the last fifty years—a very long way—and we are now on the verge of becoming a city of one million people. Wow! But does the size of San Jose really matter?

This is not a time to do the absurd and embarrassing placement on our city seal of “San Jose: America’s 10th Largest City.” Of all the mistakes of the last decade, if not the worse, it was surely the dumbest and won the award for the biggest “wannabe” statement of the last half century.

To state the obvious, San Jose was a much different place fifty years ago. It was in the bloom of the postwar era, the GI’s were home, houses were being built, highways constructed, downtown was booming, and the little city of 95,000 was becoming something else entirely.

Most of our city was like most of the US. We went to the same movies, watched the same embryonic TV shows, bought the same cars, and joined the same clubs like the Elks Lodge, Eagles and the Rotary. Employers and employees went to the same events; their kids attended the same schools and joined the same organizations.  We all shopped downtown at Hart’s, Hales, Bond’s, and the Farmers Union.

Although San Jose State, Santa Clara and Stanford were fine educational institutions, they were far from the great places they are now. A smaller cross section of the population attended these colleges and only seven percent of Americans had a college degree.

In this valley the annexation wars were about to begin, and the regime of “Dutch” Hamann would soon have the bulldozers moving in all directions. We got bigger, downtown died, and Silicon Valley arrived while many did not even notice. The most telling element of our race to become a megalopolis was the speed and ease that we moved from a small agricultural valley, with an old commercial center in the area of the 1777 Pueblo, to the major city that we were soon to become.

Size matters only to demographers, trivia nuts and high school geography teachers. It is never how large we are or where we sit on any list that is important, but the type of community we are, the services that we offer our citizens, and the opportunities that we afford our children. Of these things is the true worth of a city made. They are the only things that matter.


  1. One only needs to look at a smaller city 50 miles north of here to see that indeed, size does not matter but having a soul does.  Thanks to A.P. Hamman and his cronies, SJ became a soul-less suburb and it will take many more than 50 years from now to get any semblance of it back.

  2. Tom:

    It wasn’t Dutch who caused the downfall of downtown and the runaway growth.  Dutch was just the city manager!  The city council set policy and Dutch carried it out, so how can he be blamed?

    It was the change in the council structure from “at large” to districts that screwed things up!  Fiefdoms in each of the districts along with the demise of non-partisan nature of the council allowed those without a sense of local history to bring in the politics of Chicago and New York.

    And, greed on the part of one certain downtown property owner allowed Valley Fair to come. That, along with the renewal agency’s destruction of the housing in downtown, without a plan, destroyed the central core!

    Of course there were and are other factors,such as promises un-kept by SJSU, but as an old timer, I still feel that the bringing in of party politics to the local non-partisan situation is the major cause of the end of the commercial concentration in the central area of the “old pueblo” and the run away growth that continues. The bickering between the districts has forced a do nothing attitude in City Hall!

    The change to districts was strongly influenced by feeling that there was no representation for the “barrio.” It would have been much better that some of the strong Mexican-American personalities had run for office. I am positive that there were many of the establishment who would have financed such a run! 


  3. Hamann wasn’t “just” the City Manager.  Back then he held the most powerful position in city government.  The strong mayor system didn’t show up until Tom was elected, long after Hamann’s misguided efforts had done irreverisble damage. Same goes for creating Council districts. That happened long after Hamann was in charge.

    The blame for the mess that was created lies with Hamann and his crooked henchmen now and forever.  Period.

    • Wow, not sure who you are Mark T, but I am sure that you are the one who is misguided. The Dutch I knew and I did know him as grandpa, took me to city hall, the water towers, happy hallow and shared his vision of San Jose to me. Every city employee that we saw waved and said hello, that was in his own car and not a city car or a Panzer Tank.
      The only crooked henchmen I ever met was Tom and his psychotic brother, cheating, no threatening owners of Farmers Union stock. You remember that don’t you Tom? Funny how your family now ownes that building and others in San Pedro Square. Same area that “The McEnry Redevelopment Agency” speared while in office. Same area your attorney ran a city parking lot, that you never owned?
      Truth be told Dutch has been a scapegoat for crooked politicians and visionless do nothing finger pointers for far too long. He was honest, kind and had the respect of 19 years as City Manager, longer than any other, period! Have you ever had 19 years at a high profile, in the public eye political position?
      The city councils lack of vision and vain outlook of themselves caused this damage. I guess that the Sewage Plant, Industry, Lexington, 85,87, Kelly Park, getting the original land and donations for our San Jose Museum, getting rid of those holy canning company’s that made so much pollution to our water system and the bay that the Government had to step in, just to name a few.
      The thing is that if my grandfather was alive today, he wouldn’t even say anything, he would just be heartbroken that this was what His memory was to be and so am I. I wish I could erase the untruths and unkindness of his memory, I believe he has suffered more than anyone should ever have to endure. We lost a lot of great people that day and to belittle that is wrong. You sir have no honor and I pity you or something to that effect.
      Jerry, thank you for your kind words. I wish I could be more eloquent, but all of us can’t be silver spoon McEnry’s now can we? Sorry couldn’t resist. 
      I would be honored to spar with the McEnry boys anytime. PERIOD!

  4. 3. Jerry. Looking at other towns of similar size, I doubt if Valley Fair could have been stopped. But there are towns with peripheral malls that still have thriving downtowns.

    I’ve read that one of the reasons people turned to Valley Fair was the installation of parking meters downtown. Would anyone who lived here at the time agree?

    I think there are many reasons. SJ like many other places took out its streetcar system. Plus the general economic climate of the 1950s encouraged reliance on cars.

    That raises a point. Back in the fruitpacking days most of the canneries relied on rail transport, so there were spur lines running all over the place. A lot of them are still there, although the tracks are gone. However, people are starting to build things over them.

    Long narrow strips of land don’t have all that much value except as public transit corridors or perhaps cycle paths. The time is coming when we will need to put them to such uses, so it would be of great future value to preserve them (at least some of them) and not allow them to be built over.

    Consider how much more difficult it have been to extend the light rail to Campbell if it hadn’t been able to make use of the existing rail line.

    That rail line used to run along where Foothill Expressway is now, by downtown Los Altos and join up to Caltrain at California Street. But you couldn’t put the light rail through there now because the track has been built over.

    When discussing not repeating the mistakes of the past, preserving existing rail lines for the future is one of the most important things we can do.

    We will have to build that public transit eventually and the other alternatives are:
    —tunnelling: expensive, particularly in an earthquake zone
    —taking lanes out of existing streets: bound to cause a fuss
    —using eminent domain to remove buildings: bound to cause more of a fuss

    1. Greg. Increasing population doesn’t have to affect the air quality if people have ways to get around other than driving.

    It’s true that water can eventually be a limitation to growth, but right now we waste a lot of water. Look at the amount of drinking water that is used on lawns.

    We’re going to have to change the way we think about water. Gray-water should be reused. You don’t need to use potable water on your lawn or to flush your toilet.

    We stayed in an old hotel in SF that had a hand shower of the type common in Europe, but it also had an on/off switch. You don’t really need to keep the shower running constantly. People used to have more appreciation of the true value of water.

    I was just reading Wallace Stegner’s account of his early life, and he said (in the rural west of the early 1900s) water was used at least four times before it went to irrigate the vegetable patch.

  5. San Jose tax and jobs problems were created by San Jose past Councils by

    – not following community developed General Plan and making hundreds of exceptions and employment conversions for politically connected home building developers who employed as consultants former Council members and city staff to lobby Council and pay back political contributions with millions per acre land use decisions

    – millions were wasted in tax subsidies,

    – more million wasted in sweetheart city property deals

    – billions wasted on downtown development deals that did not pay city back taxes spent went to elected officials friends and former elected officials / staff

    These wasted tax billions should have been used to promote new local jobs and increase tax revenues to make up for Prop 13 property tax cuts as other cities did but instead San Jose’s Council made city insiders, former elected officials / city staff and developers millionaires / billionaires at public’s expense

  6. Doten:

    Before VF existed, one of the large SF stores wanted to come to downtown San Jose. The site selected was the NW corner of First and Santa Clara St but an alley was needed for delivery trucks. The owner of the adjcent flat refused to sell a strip of his land, or join in the development of the alley even though it would inhance his property. The SF store became the ANCHOR of the Valley Fair development. The property that was refused for the alley still has nothing on it. I guess that you just remember it in a different way… you were there, weren’t you?


    Dutch was hired by the city council. If they didn’t like the way he did it, he sould have been fired. The councilmen that I knew didn’t feel the way you obiviously feel…


  7. Tom,

    Thanks for the memories, the 50’s and 60’s were good times for our fair city.

    Regarding size, I continue to wonder when population growth will be reigned in due to the criticality of a precious and rare commodity – water.

    As well, I’m concerned about the air that we breathe.  More residents translates into a further decline in air quality.

    If our politicians, in alliance with developers, allow continued growth, our quality of life will continue to erode.

    Does it make sense to you that we’re on the brink of water rationing, yet plans are in discussion to add 32,000 additional homes in north San Jose?

  8. The Daily Telegraph in London wrote a piece on the top political pundits in the United States.  As a gesture of goodwill and respect, I named Tom’s blog, San Jose Inside, at the top of the list for Silicon Valley pundits.

  9. Tom,
      We both grew up in San Jose and as I remember it your father was one of our government leaders and well respected. Your dad use to be a big supporter of Dutch.