The Billion Dollar Lie: Part 3

What did city officials not know, and when did they not know it?

The 1996 Measure I Initiative called for the “relocation and consolidation of civic offices in the downtown.”  But the new City Hall complex at Fourth and E. Santa Clara St. was not built large enough to provide the consolidation of city offices called for in the ballot measure.

The following excerpt, from a May 2, 2002 article in the Mercury News, puts the issue in perspective:

In the year 2002, the indication from city officials was that the city would have to lease additional space by 2007 or 2008.  This revelation went against a 1998 city planning document that stated the new civic center project would accommodate the city’s workforce for at least 30 years.

That came as worrisome news to at least one councilmember, David Cortese, who argued in favor of the project during a debate Wednesday at the San Jose Rotary Club.  In an interview hours after the debate, Cortese said officials have not told the council about the need to lease space so soon after the $343 million City Hall would open. “It would give me pause,” Cortese said. “This is being presented as a panacea for all of our space needs, and if it is not going to be that, we need to know now.”

He (Deputy City Manager Terry Roberts) said an unanticipated increase in employees since 1998 . . . caused the city to predict a need for additional space much sooner than it thought . . . . But Cortese said he sat through hours of briefings on the City Hall proposal and that the issue has never come up. “I don’t understand why that was never presented to us,” he said.

If it was clear to city planners at some point that the new civic center was not designed large enough to meet the city’s needs and the requirements of Measure I, why was the construction of a 100-foot diameter, customized-glass rotunda ever allowed to go forward? 

Here are some remaining unanswered questions relative to the new complex:

—Exactly how much did the rotunda cost?

—Why were redevelopment agency offices moved into the building ahead of city departments? (The RDA is an agency, not a city department.)

—Are city departments being charged “rent” on an equal basis?

—How many city employees (excluding police/fire/libraries) have offices outside of the complex, and at what cost?


  1. Pete, building the half billion dollar City Hall was purely an ego thing on the part of the Mayor and the City Council.  The decision really had nothing to do with budgets, employee accomodation, savings, etc.  Sad to say but our City Hall will long be an example of ineptitude, chicanery and outright lies.

  2. Pete—Is anyone in Chuck’s group looking into all this chicanery? It makes the garbage scandal look like peanuts. One would hope that the take by Chuck on this is NOT just “water under the bridge”. The staff at City Hall that cooked up this fraud is still pretty much in place. Fixing San Jose means fixing the bureaucracy. The article in the Murky on overtime salaries in fire suggests that gaming the City Council and the politicians—and the people who elect them—is a bureaucratic epidemic—which is why the so-called Rotunda is on the ground, the city “Park” is just a Corps of Engineers ditch, the airport is in the wrong place, two expensive landscape plans for airport entrance, on and on. If Chuck is to make big changes, the direction you’re heading in with this blog should be traveled to the very end, no matter where it leads. George Green

  3. # 2 is right on target. If the rotunda was left out of the plan there would have been plenty of room for more office space. I’m sure the offices cost less per square foot than the rotunda.

  4. Another informative installment, but from my perspective there is nothing unique about this particular example of smoke and mirrors government. Rules, directives, maybe even laws were ignored or violated? That’s news? Isn’t that exactly what “we” want from our government? After all:

    Aren’t “we” the folks who cheered when Gavin Newsome, casting aside state LAW and the mandate of the electorate, performed same-sex marriages in San Francisco’s City Hall?

    Aren’t “we” the folks who stood silent when our local officials—including the police chief who is SWORN to uphold the law—agreed not enforce or cooperate in the enforcement of immigration LAWS?

    Aren’t “we” the folks who looked the other way as every single city and county department embraced race and gender as its hiring and promotional standards and turned its back on the RULES of our once proud Civil Service system?

    If your response to this is to dismiss these incidents as justified—by your personal beliefs about marriage, the plight of poor Mexicans, or the righteousness of affirmative action—then I’d like to know what right you have to question the actions of a city government that, also motivated by personal beliefs, chose to ignore a few rules? So what if you don’t think that making a symbolic statement in the downtown, or constructing a grand legacy, or whatever the hell the mayor and his minions were thinking, was reason enough to break the law and deceive the public: do you really think you can arbitrarily decide when the law must be followed? “We” have made our feelings clear on this matter: “if it feels good, do it.”

    Well, they did it. It felt good.

    Now pay for it.

  5. For a little more information on the way money was borrowed to purchase land, design, build, and furnish the new city hall, and on the importance of taking into account the cost of the borrowed money, not just the cost of the physical structure, go to:

    That essay was written in late 2003, and is still true and accurate as of today in early 2007. The essay compared San Jose fiscal policies to Enron’s fiscal policies…off-budget indebtedness, failure to charge off cost of future interest payments, etc.

    Paying off the cost of the new city hall means few swimming pools, fewer parks, and postponed infrastructure improvements for many years to come

  6. Don’t forget there are still several Councilmembers remaining who voted for this mess. None of this would have happened if the Council had done their job instead of just saying “yes” to Gonzo.

  7. Location, location, location.  Besides the space requirements given for the new CH was to move it downtown.
    I thought First and Taylor was downtown. In fact if people in Almaden, Evergreen, West JS or Berryessa were asked where the CH was the standard reply would have been, “oh its down town there on First and Taylor.”

    But the “officials” informed me that was NOT downtown.  Downtown was at 4th and Santa Clara.

    Now I find out that the Coleman Shopping Center is downtown.  Its at Coleman and Taylor. But the old CH is NOT downtown.

    So what are the boundries of downtown? If “downtown” is important and it must be because we moved the CH there then it would help to have some visual identifiers.  Things that are unique and historic and well known such as St James Park, the old BofA building and a functioning, restored clock tower would serve well.

    Then when the term downtown comes up a satisfying sense of place comes to mind.

  8. #6 Finfan,

    Sorry I missed your “Thank God Rosa Parks is dead” party – if only she had known her place and had given up her seat to that white man—as the law required—we wouldn’t have people today like Gavin Newsom flaunting marriage laws and allowing 2 consenting adults who love each other (eeeewww, the thought makes me sick) get married.

    Will I see you at next week’s KKK meeting?  I understand we’ll be deciding whether to spend the extra money to get 400 thread count white sheets, or just stay with 200… (I think it’s worth the extra money)  Also, we’ll be drafting up language to blame Mexicans, gays and affirmative action for the lousy City Hall (wait, did that happen at last month’s meeting?  My bad for missing it)

  9. #10,

    So, let me get this right: you equate Rosa Parks’ bold action in the face of what she viewed as an unfair law with that irresponsible exhibition of political theater staged by Gavin Newsome?

    Gee, I didn’t know that Rosa Parks was an elected official sworn to uphold the law.

    Gosh, I must’ve missed Mayor Newsome being arrested and thrown in jail for his courageous stand.

    Holy Cow, I never realized that, save for the efforts of southern blacks, white Americans would’ve never thought to reconsider old attitudes or work for a fair and just society. 

    Man, who ruined your brain? Is it really beyond your cognitive ability to understand the difference between a private citizen demonstrating against a law and a public official deciding to violate one? By refusing to give up her seat Rosa Parks accepted the risk, really the certainty, of arrest and prosecution, and that risk—personal risk—was what she had to offer her cause. And is was that risk that propelled her into the history books.

    What risk did Gavin Newsome take? Did I miss it? What, was there a draft in the building threatening his signature hairdo?

    Mayor Newsome took no risk. He grabbed headlines, postured like a Caesar, awarded I don’t know how many couples with invalid marriage certificates, and inspired the idiots in untold councils and boards to award benefits that would not stand up to challenge.

    But he got his headlines. Meanwhile, between the sheets, he was demonstrating his true character and his real respect for the institution of marriage.

    Oh, and here’s a question for you: How happy would you be with a mayor who, overtaken by the call of his conscience, decides to close down the abortion clinics in defense of the unborn? 

    Still cheering, Moron?

    As for your attempts to fit me with a hood, all you managed to do was to “flout” your knowledge of linens and “flaunt” the error-detecting limitations of spell check.

  10. Way to go finfan.  You put #10 in his place in an eloquent and effective manner. While I don’t necessarily agree on everyting you say, I am sick and tired of people being labeled racists or biggots because they say something that is not politically correct, even though it may be true.  I salute your courage of convictions.

  11. Leave finfan alone.  If you’ve read this blog since the start you can tell that he’s passionate about his opinions and not a racist.

    This is a very timely discussion because there are still folks working at City Hall in the City Mangler’s Office and Public Wonks Department that were key insiders on the City Hall project.  The Murky News and Metro did very nice feature pieces with lots of quotes that allowed these key player to try and impress Gonzo and Del. I don’t accept their past Neurenberg-like excuses of “I was only following orders…”

    Mayor Reed needs an investigation where each and every member of the SJ manglement team is put under oath to discuss their involvement in the City Hall budgeting, planning, entitlement, construction, and outfitting process.  Anyone who refuses to participate should be fired on the spot because they are at-will employees who serve at the pleasure of the Mayor and interim CM.

    This is very important because some of these folks are vying for the job of the new City Manager as well as trying to move up into new positions at City Hall. What were Lisenbee, Linder, and the other mangler doing during this time and what was their involvement in this process.  Some were very key players and key co-conspirators in selling the lies about why the move to 6th & Santa Clara St was necessary.  Later some of these folks, knew the building was too small for the employees as it was being constructed but still kept quiet.  Some of them compounded their unethical behavior by helping to also perpetuate the lies about the telecommunications systems and furniture expenditures.  The guilty need be exposed and have their careers in SJ ended.

  12. #14   Asian Voter

    re:  “The guilty need be exposed and have their careers in SJ ended.”

    There are many ways to accomplish this.  Having people point fingers and assign blame and yell “off with their heads” is not a practical or lawful solution.  Most in City Hall and former mid-to-high level folks know who did not have the courage to do the right thing when they had the chance, or did not know right from wrong,

    Given a strong, independent and morally intelligent City Manager and input from the broader staff, Mayor and interim City Manager, the new CM can skillfully search for and find bright, competent and courageous people for those positions that need to be strengthened.  Most probably all this can be done within the latitude and lawful process under the current City charter and accepted personnel policies.

    For those who facilitated the former mayor and his council whip in their efforts to force upon the City their ‘less than fiscally responsible’ agenda, there are positions of minor to meaningless responsibility that can be assigned to them, basically creating an end to their career and thus motivating them to retire or find work elsewhere.

    At the very least they can be given assignments and responsibilities that prevent them from interfering with the process of putting these last eight years behind us.

    This is a process and it will take time; but it has to be done.  Give the new mayor time and support and the odds are it will be done.  (One person’s opinion)

  13. Getting past the finfan’s passion and his antagonists semipurposeful idiocy, this whole issue boils down to the following:

    Did elected city officials follow the law (Measure I) as enacted when making plans for the GonzoDome?

    If you answer in the affirmative, then there is no problem. 

    If you answer in the negative, then there is a big problem, but short of a time machine, there is little to be done about it, save for punishing any remaining council members from that time at the ballot box.

    If, OTOH, your answer is something to the equivalent of “it depends,” then the status quo will continue, we’ll all collectively shrug our shoulders, and the GonzoDome will remain as a rather mammophilic representation of how bidness is done in San Jose.

    Guess which of the three options above the electeds and the lobbyists would wish us to select?

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