The Mercury News editorial board recently offered its opinion on the difficulties surrounding the San Jose Airport. The city is about to cut the ribbon on a slick new facility, but there’s not enough money to run the place. “Airport Needs To Study All Options To Cut Costs,” read the headline. No kidding.
The people of San Jose are learning that the airport, much like the new Civic Center, was designed as much to make a “statement” as it was to fulfill a purpose. “Image” is almost everything around here, and it has cost us dearly. “It’s ironic,” the Mercury News writes, “just as San Jose’s airport is about to open a terminal Silicon Valley can be proud of, it is struggling to stay solvent.” It may be “ironic,” but it certainly should not come as a surprise to anyone. City leaders voted to break ground on a pricey expansion and renovation of the airport at a time when the trend line for passenger traffic was falling. Was the airport in need of upgrades and modernization? Of course, but to what degree and expense?
Some very costly mistakes have already been made. First of all, there’s the question of the missing “people-mover.” A people-mover was supposed to be built in the new terminal but was canceled due to budget concerns. How could such an important and useful feature be eliminated from the design? Also, for some strange reason, office space was not provided for the airport’s executive staff. The airport’s administrative offices are still located on North 1st Street! (Wouldn’t it make economic sense to house the airport’s offices at the airport?). San Jose Airport Director Bill Sherry has suggested that the airport’s offices be moved over to the airport for a potential cost savings of around $2 million per year.
For San Jose, cost savings and other practical ideas seem only to be in vogue when the city’s budget is failing. San Jose keeps issuing bonds to build fanciful things that we can’t afford to maintain, and it’s all done in the name of civic pride and a quest to satisfy some perceived lack of national prestige. Like the over-priced, built-too-small signature building at 4th and Santa Clara, the city government has bet big and seemingly lost again with the airport project. In both cases, the Mercury News editorial board voiced its strong support from the very begining.