New San Jose Airport: An Icon?

Perhaps you’ve seen the advertisements that have appeared in the newspapers inviting San Jose residents to attend the “Community Open House” at the “new” Mineta San Jose Airport.  If you have seen the ads, perhaps you noticed that several words and letters were highlighted in the text of the headline to spell out the words, “NEW ICON.”  Is the new airport really an icon?

At the top of the first page of a special 16 page advertising supplement found in last Sunday’s Mercury News, the headline read, “The New Airport In Silicon Valley.”  The letters in the word “NEW” were printed in gold color, as were the letters “I-C-O-N” in the word “SILICON.”  The rest of the letters that appeared in the text of the headline were in black print.  The gold printed letters spelled out , “NEW ICON.”

What’s an “icon” anyway?  The first two dictionaries that I consulted both offered the definition of “icon” as, “a religious image printed on a small wood panel.”  I kept searching, and found the more appropriate definition for icon as, “an object of uncritical devotion.”  But, in the case of the airport, there’s much to be critical about, and the place offers little to warrant our civic devotion.

“Now Arriving,” the ad proclaims, “The Most Convenient, Passenger Friendly Airport In The U.S.”  Let’s hope so, and it better be…the project costs a fortune.  The airport’s “improvement program” costs $1.3 billion.  In August 2007, the city sold $725 million in bonds, the largest bond issue ever done by the City of San Jose.  The airport will begin paying debt service on the borrowed funds “for the next 30 to 40 years.”

The airport has a huge deficit.  Last year, workers were laid off, and this year, the city is looking to outsource airport janitorial services.  The city’s biggest construction project ever is being completed just in time to meet a depressed demand in passenger traffic.  Well…at least it looks nice.

San Jose is a place where ceremony is placed before substance, and policy over purpose.  Here, we actually spend more on the frame than we do on the picture.  In the end, maybe “icon” is exactly the right word to describe the new airport.  Perhaps it really is something that we should admire without questioning, and we should all make it, as the dictionary describes, “an object of uncritical devotion.”  We have to think this way, otherwise our minds will wander to the realization that we’ve just completed San Jose’s second billion dollar pyramid.


  1. someday – maybe in 10-15 years when “they” finally have sense enough to move the airport and allow better use of downtown Real Estate (think up) then the much balleyhooed terminal will make a nice terminus for the high speed rail and BART connections up the peninsula and light rail around the county and excess airport land can be sold to A. finance the airport move and B. pay off the bonds.

  2. OK, so I think that the “icon” nonsense can be safely chalked up to marketing hype. Anyone who’s been paying attention during the last several decades knows what “spin” is and your example above is a perfect example. We don’t need another essay like the one above pointing out the obvious.

    Also, everyone needs to remember that a few years back, the airport terminal expansion was scaled back because the airlines were balking at the cost. At the time, I think that the cost was in the $4 billion range rather than the current $1.3 billion. But costs at the airport remain high due in part to stupid “prevailing wage” laws.

    But all of this anti-airport whining and “move it now” nonsense is as removed from reality as the state budget. The new airport terminal B opens at the end of the month and will be a welcome improvement.

    SJC is not going anywhere. There is an Regional Airport Planning Committee study currently under way to see how existing aviation assets in the Bay Area can be used most efficiently in the future. Staff has just submitted its “Mid-Point Screening Analysis and Recommendations” to the committee, the report is here:

    All of the committee’s scenarios envision a role for SJC, starting with the “Reference Scenario 1-2035 Base Case” plan where SJC handles 16.3 Million Annual Air Passengers (MAP), this goes up to 24 MAP under the New Scenario C. Close/move SJC? Isn’t going to happen. Get over it.

    • I think you are wrong about “costs at the airport remain high due in part to stupid “prevailing wage” laws.” Talk about marketing hype. The airport likes to blame prevailing wage for much of their economic woes but the numbers don’t make the case—at least they wouldn’t if the airport used accurate numbers. I don’t buy the prevailing wage hype anymore than I buy the “icon” hype. Neither should you.

  3. Hugh vs. Hugh?  I like it!  In this case however, I’m going to have to agree wholeheartedly with HB #1!  While the improvements to SJC are welcome, In the long-term (20-30 years out) we should begin studying for the eventual closure/relocation of airport operations out of the Mineta site.  Imagine 1,000+ acres of central Silicon Valley real estate being transformed into Santana Row-style commercial/residential developments with parklands?  A downtown core with no building height limitations?  No noise/visual blight for vast swaths of Central San Jose?  It should become a reality by 2040!  If the RAPC projects only 14.4 million passenger at SJC by 2035 (with high-speed rail), SFO and OAK could (along with outside regional airports) easily accomodate the “extra” 14 mill.  Improved quality of life for thousands and San Jose reaching its full development potential…or just a few more flights at SJC?  I think the answer is a no brainer!

    lastly: “New” SJC terminal an “Icon?”  No!  Nice piece of architecture that beats the old Terminal C, but definetely no Golden Gate Bridge.

    • One last thing for SJ pols: no more big-ticket expenditures at SJC!  Please!  No people mover, personal rapid-transit system, terminal expansions, etc.  Thank you.

  4. An airport is an inconvenient nuisance.  Most people try to spend as little time as possible at an airport, and avoid them like the plague any other time. 

    Yes, it is pretty.  It is also a pretty good waste of money, and a pretty big contributor to a lower quality of life for northern Santa Clara county.  Not to mention it is a pretty good example of poor urban planning, and an incredibly huge waste of valuable land.  Land that could be used in an intelligent manner to make San Jose a true big city with urban appeal.

      • “why is (it) that some feel the need to make SJ a big city with urban appeal?”  Because they have every right to feel that way GH; count me as one of them!  San Jose will grow regardless of how you feel; 1.3 million + by 2035.  Much better to develop SJC and lift height limitation in downtown core/N. First Street corridor than build in Coyote Valley/foothills.  And while I agree with Pronto’s sentiment, nothings happening in terms of possibly closing/relocating SJC anytime soon; especially with new terminal coming on line.  But at the very least, the discussion and planning should begin in 10-15 years.  SJC can’t exist smack middle of San Jose forever.

        • Whatever… it just seems that government contrived destinations fail in our fair city.  After several billion dollars poured into Downtown, we have nothing to show for it.  Yet, Santana Row was built on the private dime and thrives beyond what one could have imagined.

      • “I can’t quite figure it out – why is that some feel the need to make SJ a big city with urban appeal?  Move to SF if that’s so important.”


        I think what people want is the culture, fun, and variety of a modern city while still enjoying our comfortable suburban homes (and without driving an hour each way).  That’s not unreasonable.  Think more like San Diego than SF.

        Unfortunately, city management seems to think what we want is big ticket items that other cities generally have, like airports.

    • Just another monument to the arrogance of man, like the New City Hall. Nothing that grows by the hand of our creator. 100% inorganic glass, steel, concrete. But yes its oh so hip. I jog by on the service road several times a week. The terminal is hardly noticed behind the “Flowing Hands” parking garage. Wonder what the original street-scape renderings portrayed?

  5. I don’t know yet, haven’t done more than wave at the hands on the garage while driving by on 87 South.  Can I get there on a bicycle or public transit easily?  I’ll try it out in the next few weeks and report back.  I like the McDonald’s at Terminal A that didn’t mark up its prices just because it was at an airport.

    I’ll be keen to see if I can lock a bicycle up somewhere, walk around and be a tourist in my hometown and then safely get out without undue damage to my wallet or person.

    Is Southwest in the new terminal?  If so, maybe I’ll book a weekend trip to San Diego and check it out thoroughly.

  6. No matter how much hype they hang on the new terminal, it will NEVER beat the old Terminal C where you could, literally, get off the plane and be in the parking lot driving away in less than 5 minutes. Plus, you had to love the “Casablanca” feel of the old-style roll-up staircases that allowed passengers to exit from BOTH the front and back of the plane simultaneously. 

    Sometimes modern improvements look like setbacks. This could well be one of those times.

    • Back in the late 70s and early 80s I was a Field Service engineer, and did a lot of flying.  I would get to the airport a few minutes before departure, park in the lot across from the terminal, drop my bag at the curb, and get on the plane. 

      Yes, it was nice, but rather than live in the past, let’s embrace the future.  Close this albatross, and make San Jose a great city.

  7. Tony D and same Bozos’s rant on week after week about Closing SJC, a great convenient airport Move to Hollister or some other backwater town and drive to SFO or Oakland airport

    Get a life Tony, what does the D stand for ” Dumbass ”

  8. In a sense the new airport terminal IS an icon of our city. Our city is littered with similar iconic white elephants. Just as the new City Hall (particularly that cute little rotunda), the McEnery Convention Center, the Children’s Discovery Museum, and the Tech Museum are all striking visual reminders of the arrogance and wastefulness of our “leaders” and the apathy and ignorance of the people, this newest architectural marvel is a fitting symbol for a city that values image over substance, extravegance above utility, and crushing debt over financial independence.
    Let all those who gaze upon it’s magnificence remind themselves, “That there is a structure that wasn’t needed in the first place, cost way more than it needed to, was foisted on us by special interests, and we will be paying for it for a long, long time.”
    You know. Kind of like what the Egyptian slaves used to say about the pyramids.

  9. Think back, the majority grass roots against this expansion, and the worshiped Chamber and Leadership Group pro. Unfortunately our Icons are backed by the big shot back slapping San Jo big shots. Same for the New City Hall. You left out the millions squandered soundproofing buildings(yes, Fed funded). Also. lack of beltways to help less mobile travelers? Think ADA. Remember, the new Green Capital is heralding the most carbonated sector of our life. One flight to New York offsets any gain from our Prius and Solar Panels. Ha!

  10. So, where are all the HSR (Hilariously Stupid Railroad) zealots hiding out?

    Is this what they’ve been reduced to?  Sniping at San Jose airport?

    I miss having them to kick around and I miss thinking up ideas to snatch away their government money and redirecting it to more environmentally sensible projects like anti-gravity belts and Star Trek teleporters.

    Did you ever compare the carbon footprint of a two teleporter booths in San Jose and LA versus five hundred miles of concrete and steel railroad tracks and a CO2 spewing coal fired power plant to electrify the stupid train?

  11. While I won’t stoop to to the “dumbass” level, I have to question the wisdom of the “close/move SJC” crowd, most of whom seem to be of the pro-BART/HSR crowd and want downtown SJ to become more “dense.” This crowd also usually opposes “sprawl.” So what do you expect to happen is SJC were somehow closed and moved to hollister? But see my post above: Not. Gonna. Happen.

    Enough of this, I’m off to see what $1.3 billion will buy.

  12. I’d rather have an airport that’s easy to use than one that’s an “icon”.  An SJC flak defended the elimination of the people mover in a letter to the Murky News yesterday or today.

    Originally, we were told that budget constraints required it to be eliminated.  Recently, the head guy at SJC said they came in $150million or so under budget.  Surely you can build a people mover for $150million.

    A bold design does not make it easier to schlep all the bags and the kids hundreds of yards to get to a gate.  Eliminating the people mover was an extremely poor decision.

    How many people look at a bold, iconic airport design?  They want functionality and convenience.

    • JMOC,
      The “bold design” of Terminal B also lacks a pedestrian bridge from the new garage to terminal ala Terminal A.  Now, folks going back and forth between garage/terminal need to cross two busy roadways in all weather conditions.  I guess including a pedestrian bridge like Terminal A would have destroyed the “iconic” facade of the new terminal; just great.

    • How about a campaign to eliminate the position of that airport flak? That’s something we could all get behind. Do we really need a Department of Defending the Indefensible? I don’t think so.

  13. New Icon,  the only thing new is that most flights out of San Jose have more lay over stops just to get to Vegas or the L.A. area. What a Joke,I am finding it more convienient and cheaper to park and fly out of San Francisco. Ever since South West started flying out of San Francisco. San Jose International has became more of an inconvenience. The NEW ICON should state less direct flights to where you want to go and home of our newly re-remodeled state of the art waterless to standard flush urinals but you have to walk the distance to get there because we ran out of money for a people mover, but run to avoid the smell.

    Stephen Anthony Lima

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