The Single Gal and Living Downtown

So what comes first, the chicken or the egg?  Would more people want to live downtown if there were more to do?  Or will people wait to see what happens downtown before they invest their money into apartments and lofts? I believe that if there were masses of families, young people and baby-boomers living downtown, that the retail and entertainment would have to come to feed the demand. 

I have lived downtown for many years and I love it. I can walk to Zanotto’s to get groceries or Walgreen’s to fill a prescription.  I can walk to the Improv, O’Flaherty’s and P.F. Chang’s for a show, dinner or drinks, and afterwards I never have to worry about driving. It’s a neighborhood feeling when you walk into a bar or a restaurant.  And, there is always plenty of action right outside my front door.

What are perks to me, others might see as an inconvenience.  I have to park in a garage and walk a few blocks to my apartment; I have to deal with more noise on Friday and Saturday nights due to the bar crowd and cruising. And if I visit the Starbucks on San Pedro Square, I am a certain to be surrounded by a few homeless people.

But is this appealing to people that live in San Jose?  We seem to be programmed to prefer quiet homes on tree-lined streets, rather than lofts in the middle of the city. Maybe wooing San Joseans downtown is a hard sell.  Will empty nesters or young families trade in a home for a condo like they do in other cosmopolitan cities?  Maybe we should be focusing on young professionals who don’t care about peace and quiet. We will have trouble getting people to live downtown until we see them cashing in their garden for a balcony, their driveway for a parking garage, and their annoying neighbor for an occasional homeless person.

And I am wondering if everyone who says, “We need more people living downtown,” would actually live downtown themselves.  Here’s to hoping there is a shift in our mindset and masses of people start to see the allure of living in our city core.  Or else we won’t ever get what we really want or need. 

34 Comments

  1. The people who say we need more people downtown are no more likely to live downtown than the elected officials who tell us we need BART are likely to ride it (or any form of public transportation.)

  2. Having just moved into central San Jose [just north of downtown proper, near the Japantown/Ayer light rail stop.] I can say, as far as I am concerned it’s much better than living in a tract house in the stucco wastelands. Still, there’s not much retail within walking distance and groceries are just far enough that it’s easier to drive every week or so and stock up than do casual walking trips like I did in New York. It’s nice having LRT nearby so I don’t have to drive to work and there are nice bars and restaurants in walking distance. But something’s got to be done about cruising; VTA should not have to reroute buses from Santa Clara to San Fernando on friday and saturday nights.

  3. Getting people with families to move downtown in large numbers will be a tough sell as long as there are so many crime problems, cruising, a noisy club scene and so few neighborhood parks and other amenities for young children.
    What parent wants their children walking the same streets with winos, druggies, gang bangers and out-of-towners visiting the neighborhood just to party? It’s not a good fit.

  4. Top Ten Reasons the San Jose Earthquakes have to move out of the SF Bay Area:

    10. They wanted to get a bigger audience.

    9. The team needs sexy fans.

    8. To follow Alexi Lalas’ lead.

    7. Common sense. The team only had the best regular-season record, did not lose one game at home and had the second-best home attendance. Ship them out, I say.

    6. Khodadad Azizi wants to rejoin the team.

    5. So that the Spartan Stadium price-gouging landlords (San Jose State University) cannot hold MLS hostage anymore.

    4. Because the local newspapers still have not recognized that there is a professional soccer team in San Jose.

    3. Landon Donovan says the fans there aren’t loyal anymore.

    2. They thought that they were going to play in San Francisco from the start.

    1. They don’t know the way to San Jose.

  5. Soccerfan—You left out another reason: The city can’t be trusted to do this right. They have suggested a site that is clearly too small, they are secretive about what the public cost will be, and Gonzo/Guerra are involved. Any one of these is enough to kill the deal but put them all together and you have an expensive disaster that would cost the taxpayers millions of dollars. ‘Nuff said.

  6. Soccerfan SJ

    You forgot one, because Ron Gon and the San Jose City Council is more concerned with a fictional baseball team then keeping what we have here.

  7. The best solution to both the soccer and baseball stadium issue is to build both on the 180 acres currently used by the Reid-Hillview airport in East San Jose. 

    This location is on Capital Expressway and is easliy accessed via 101 and 280/680.  Light rail is being built down Capital, and many of the soccer fans are within walking distance of the stadium.

  8. I hate to say this, but sometimes I like the fact that downtown is not so crowed.  It’s the only place I can go to, to get away from the over crowding suburbs.  The problem is, is that the businesses down there need people in order to stay open.  Last week I went to go work out at the pinnicale, and I couldn’t find parking in the Pavillion parking garage cuz they were only letting monthly pass users in.  It was a pain to have to find parking, but at the same time, it was great to see many people downtown and having a good time.  I’d live in downtown in a heartbeat if I could.

  9. One of the problems our “leaders” don’t want to acknowledge is that SJ is so spread out geographically that public transit will never be more than an occasional alternative. Unfortunately, we can’t give up our cars in this city due to the massive sprawl. Folks in the much maligned suburbs will rarely take light rail to attend entertainment events (and BART presents many of the same problems)—it’s not convenient to where they live and it’s not very efficient time-wise. Until the City Hall brain trust attempts to deal with these issues honestly, downtown will struggle, parking will continue to be an issue, and we’ll be writing these same things years from now. Too bad.

  10. Saw the holiday parade in downtown SJ last Sunday.  The Merc reported that as many as 120,000 showed up to watch.  The weird thing is that most of the people left right after the last float.  The handful that lingered were not even enough to cause any lines to form at the restaurants that were open.  Parent is right.  Downtown doesn’t offer enough amenities to families and children

  11. Holiday Parade??? 

    Isn’t the term “Holiday” non-inclusive and offensive to Quakers?  Why should the Quakers be singled out and disenfranchised by our city? 

    I demand that our city leaders remove term “Holiday”  removed from “Holiday Parade” and “Holiday Tree” and going forward be called “Parade” and “Tree” so that our celebrations are truly inclusive of *all* religious and ethnic minorities.

    But I’m curious, what Holiday was being celebrated?
    Buddha’s Enlightenment Day?
    Wiccan Yule Day?
    Transgender Remembrance Day?
    Be Kind to Office Furniture Salesman Day?

  12. I too was at the parade but did not see any businesses even open (except Starbucks which was mobbed.) Why didn’t some of the restaurants open for coffee, hot chocolate & pastries for the throngs on people down there. They may not have made tons of money but would have gotten some people in there who might otherwise not know about them…

    There is a huge shopping center featuring target, etc. going in on Coleman near Taylor St. which everyone I know downtown is very excited about. I hate driving to the suburbs to shop!

    I think that living downtown is kind of like camping – you either grow with it and like it or you don’t. I hope that I am wrong.

  13. You should be greatful that downtown San Jose has all these amenities, including video stores.  Camera 12 is a great movie house.  Smoke lounge has just opened, and Domini is about to open, too.  Are you guys looking for to Chic Chateau opening this month?  You see, there’s alot going on, and the police are finally cracking down on clubs that attract troublemakers.  Hey, you should be glad that you’re not living in downtown Chicago or LA since there’s no nightlife in the downtown cores of those cities, only on the fringe in Chicago’s case and none in LA.  There’s no grocery store in those downtowns and no movie house.  Believe you me, I know what’s going on in other cities since I travel often.  Things might improve in those cities by 2008 because they’re building mixed used projects that include Whole food and other convenient retails, but that’s a little way off.  For now, downtown San Jose is great!

  14. Single Gal, I would live downtown myself if we could get some sort of tipping point where people who graduate from SCU, Stanford, Berkeley and SJSU don’t immediately leave for SF and then commute down as soon as they get a decent paying job at a tech company, bank, or law firm.

    As for families, that seems doubtful.  There’s still more dogs than families in almost every city downtown in the US.

  15. Most of my friends move to the City and commute hours so that they can have the perks of the nightlife.  That is sad when people would rather spend 4 hours a day in their cars just to enjoy the City on the weekends. 

    There needs to be a movement or an incentive to people living downtown.  The city gives subsidies to businesses, why not to condos and apartments so that they could charge less?

  16. I have lived downtown for more than 5 years now. I moved from Los Altos. I can happily say that living downtown is wonderful for the following reasons. There is anything you need within walking distance minus retail. I rarely use my car. I walk for groceries at Zanotti’s,
    there are great restuarants, theatre, comedy, opera, broadway shows, concerts,  the library,light rail, and cal trans all within walking distance from my condo. I think that downtown living is not for families with young children for the obvious lack of space. But for young professionals, retirees, childless couples, its the greatest. Also when you go out of town you don’t have to worry about the garden and people knowing your house is empty.

  17. #16 You are all over it.

    Where do I sign the petition to have my tax dollars spent on subsidizing people that live downtown?

    While we’re at it, I’m starting a petition to have our sales tax rounded up to an even 10% just to help out our little downtown.  Details will be provided in a future post.

    FWIW, on my 7mph lightrail journey this morning I overheard a couple of CH types talking about city subsidized self-esteem counseling for our downtown denizens.

    Other alternatives?
    – drop a large bomb on downtown and be done with it
    – let the suburban luddites and cretins vote on whether or not to secede from San Jose.

  18. Single Gal,
    I would love to live in a loft or condo flat downtown, albeit not in the “core downtown” around first and San Fernando…to much “excitement” and density around there for me.  My areas of choice would be either west of the Arena (The Alameda or W. San Carlos street) or Japantown.  Again, if we see more loft or condo developments in the future, you might find me empty-nesting in the greater downtown.  By the way, to all you baseball naysayers…I’d rather pursue a “fictional” baseball team than be forced to pay homage to second-tier sports like soccer or lacrosse.  Let’s get some real major league sports to our major league city!

  19. Also Single Gal,
    I’m not one to recommend websites, but take a look over at http://www.loftsunlimited.com to see some beautiful loft units and developments (SF and Oakland).  Build something like this in downtown SJ, and I might relocate in a heartbeat!

  20. What a shock! The mayor and the mini-mayor actually lied about the garbage deal. Many of us (unfortunately, not most of the Council) didn’t need an investigation to know that Gonzo Inc. have conducted a regime of lies, deceit, vindictiveness, and harrassment since day one.  Boy Joe had a thug-like reputation since his days as a verbally abusive council assistant. The mayor was warned about Joe before he hired him and as usual with Gonzo he ignored the advice of those with a history within the City.
    The Council must take action now (what do you think the chances of that are?) Cindy must come up with a new convoluted excuse about why she voted for this gift of public funds. She should also be looking for another line of work since the mayor’s office is now one that she won’t be inhabiting. No more GonzoChavez gifts to the union. It’s time for open governement in SJ. It’s time for everyone to speak up and toss these bums out of office.

  21. One last thought for tonight Single Gal,
    The other day while shopping at Santana Row an idea came to mind…why not relocate the old, domed Century Theaters to downtown San Jose.  They “New” Century’s could be built across the street from the Shark Tank…talk about an infusion of people on a regular basis.  While not downtown experts, many of my friends believe that the now defunct UA Theaters, and adjacent Pavilion Retail, failed because the theaters weren’t Century’s to begin with.  What’s you take?

  22. Gal, there have been people downtown all along in Naglee Park and other surrounding neighborhoods.  They’ve put up with lack of conveniences and overall lower quality of life since the late 50’s when Valley Fair began the killing off of downtown’s shopping district.  Harts eventually moved to Westgate and Hales folded.  Penney’s hung on for quite a while (longer than Roos Atkins) at 1st & Santa Clara with Thrifty’s next door.  Look at that corner now and hey, there’s a Walgreens there.  The need for certain retail has always existed as Walgreens’ presence has shown.  Just west of the arena there’s a Long’s going in.  These aren’t dept stores, but there’s still hope.  The sewer that is Lucky/Albertsons can’t even be considered a supermarket option for civilized people.  Zanotto’s doesn’t fall into the “super” category.  That’s a void that still needs filling right away.

    I grew up off The Alameda and never lived too far from dowtown and did plenty of business there until I bought out by Los Gatos 15 years ago.  After several years exposed to the dimwit redneck factor that goes with the Cambrian territory, and being smitten with diversity, I went house hunting in Naglee Park but found the homes inadequate for my needs and overpriced so I stayed put.  My downtown is now in Los Gatos and I have 4 supermarkets within less than a mile in any direction.  Not a bad trade-off, I’ve decided.  There are plenty of people now who don’t feel a house & yard to maintain are their idea of the American dream.  They’d buy a condo with maybe just a balcony if something like that was available downtown.

    Now, if they’d just get the high rise condos built, downtown will start to take off.  Pardon that pun, but why would the nitwits at City Hall approve a 22 story tower right in the flight path?  Their own building several blocks to the east of the Palomar site had to be shaved off due to airport issues so what were they thinking?  Delays of this nature are avoidable, but we have what will likely go down as the most inept sitting Council and Mayor this town has ever seen. 

    When, oh when, is this town going to stop shooting itself in the foot?

  23. Building a stadium on the site of Reid-Hillview is the stupidest idea proffered yet.  Just where will all of the General Aviation go that uses RH? Away?  If you’re looking for a large piece of property (underutilized) that would be a perfect site for a soccer-stadium – think about the moribund Santa Clara County Fairgrounds.  You could drop a bomb on that dump and no one would miss it.

  24. Ok, ixnay on dropping a large bomb on downtown SJ.  I think I’ve got it this time.

    After hi-tech, what is SJ’s greatest resource?
    Why it’s our veritable plethora of strip malls.

    Density, verticality, and mixed use retail/housing is city planning nirvana right?

    So what is CH waiting for? 

    If by chance the city council isn’t in the pocket of the strip mall lobby, we should all use our 2 minutes to demand an ordinance requiring strip mall owners to construct Santana Row-esque lofts on top of their stores.

    Like exercising?  Buy a loft above 24hour fitness.
    Run afoul of SJPD on occasion?  Buy a loft above a bail bondsman.
    Like Falafels?  Buy a loft above the Falafel Drive-in.

    Smart Growth?  Smarter Strip Malls!

  25. Single Gal,

    One reason I don’t live downtown is the massive traffic problems (illegal turns, lightrail accidents/delays, friday night tourist traffic, etcetera). After trying (very hard) to find decent housing (read: not on 7th street or SJSU subsidized houses) I ended up on the border of San Jose/Campbell at Hamilton & Bascom ( and I still got in a car accident ) but I am right inbetween three hospitals, four grocery stores including Trader Joes and Whole foods, and lots of independant coffee/bookstores not to forget about the fabulous Sunday Campbell Farmers Market, Tannins Wine Bar, and EBay is my neighbor!

    Extra points…I can walk to work in less than five minutes to work…

    Until Downtown can figure out what it wants to do with those empty store fronts ( aside from a facelift ) and sponsor more independant small businesses will I be looking there again…

  26. Downtown Resident, what dope are you on?  Have you ever been to downtown LA?  Two 6 foot 5 guys are contemplating mugging you from the back while you’re walking, and that’s what’s like in LA.  There’s virtually no nightlife scene in downtown LA or Chicago’s loop except when there’s a performance at one of their usually dark theaters.  They’re ghost towns on weekend’s and during the evenings except, in Chicago’s case, it’s busy during the holidays because there are Xmas holiday activities. As for the rest of times,  it’s dead.

  27. Looks like Mayor Ron Gonzo has a real stinky situation on his hands.

    An independent investigator has proven the Santa Clara Civil Grand Jury was correct in its in-depth analysis of the Norcal garbage sweetheart deal, that has cost San Jose citizens millions in valuable tax money. 

    I wonder how he is going to distract the public this time?

    He might want to build a new Football stadium complex for the SF 49niners, or keep talking about the “safest city in America title”, or he just might resign as some of his city council peers have suggested.

    “Don’t pee on the citizens of San Jose and tell them it is raining”.

    “Report: S.J. mayor misled public on Norcal deal”

    http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/13346304.htm

  28. Alright already!

    There are fifteen high-rise residential projects proposed downtown, two of which are under construction and another three to five closing fast (City Heights 124 units at St James and San Pedro; Central Place phase I 156 units at San Fernando and 2nd are both under construction) If you want the details, go to the City of SJ Redevelopment Agency website and pull up the monthly housing report. They update it monthly and do a very good job of it.

    Since 1999 there have been more than 5300 homes built in the greater downtown area with another 3,800 units in the pipeline in and around the downtown core. There is no lack of interest in urban housing as some might suggest and as evidenced by a steady demand and rising values for high-density residential.

    A note of interest, the typical condo dweller in downtown is single (77%), under the age of 40 (68%) and on average has an advanced degree, 24% are over the age of 55, and about half of them are couples. This trend is a national phenomenon reflected in Portland, San Diego, LA, Irvine, Miami, San Francisco and coming to San Jose soon.

    As for grocery stores, we have Zanatto’s, Albertson’s (for the desperate) and a planned WHOLE FOODS at the corner of The Alameda and Stockton. In addition, we have the Mid-Town Safeway. Lastly, Trader Joes has been trying to find a location on the Alameda for the past several years, and almost landed at College Park (New Target Project on Coleman), but were not able to secure a large enough building and they couldn’t come to economic terms with Cousins Development. Trader Joe’s hasn’t given up and will land eventually somewhere near downtown.

    My family and I have been residents of Naglee Park (we call it downtown) for 11 years and I work downtown. Downtown is a great place to live, work and play.

  29. Dave #30:

    I’m glad for you that you have the wherewithal to pay Zanotto’s highly inflated prices for the goods that they sell.

    I’m stunned that they(Zanoto’s management) were surprised when they had to close a while back until they could get more deals from the city/RDA.  Just who did they think their demographic was that would/even could pay their prices?

    Albertons on E. Santa Clara—absolutely the WORST market in North America.

    But Dave, really, most of Naglee Park is definitely not dowtown, by any reasonable definition.  You may choose to call it so, but calling a horse a hummingbird doesn’t make it so either.  Naglee Park is mostly an enclave of the priviliged (until you get too close to E. Santa Clara Street, that is)nestled just outside (perhaps even surrounded by) very marginal pieces of real estate.

    High density is required to make “downtown” work.  If the residents are there, business will come.  Not the other way around as SJRDA has foolishly thought would happen if they invested a $billion or so.

  30. Folks, the Agency (AKA RDA) posts a regular newsletter proclaiming all the new “retail” going downtown. When one takes the time to read it becomes clear they mean bars, restaurants and nightclubs with the occasional shop thrown in for good measure.  http://www.sjredevelopment.org/downtownRetail.htm 

    Do us all a favor and send email them letting them know that we’d all like to shop downtown. Or, as one of the Naglee Parkers is wont to say “Where can I get Socks!?”