West San Carlos

West San Carlos (WSC), with its cool vibe and eclectic mix of businesses, is not only a destination in-and-of itself, but it also plays a pivotal role linking downtown San Jose and Santana Row. This area also happens to fall within both the city and county jurisdictions. This dual jurisdiction has historically thwarted development, and has made consistent code enforcement difficult. But with recent annexations, there now exists the opportunity for positive private economic development to happen on WSC.

Small, family-run business, many of which have been in place for decades, help give the WSC business district its unique character. You may choose to feast at Falafel Drive-In, Time Deli, Gojo Ethiopian, Korean Palace, Pizza Jack’s or Race Street Seafood Kitchen. One can also shop at several interesting stores, including Antiques Colony, Crossroads Trading, Moon Zoom, Just Leather, Winchester Western Wear, Ginseng Shop, Sam’s Downtown Feed, Mel Cottons and a variety of national chain stores.

Some of my earliest memories of WSC date back to high school, when I used to cover shifts at the Burger King on WSC and Race Street in the mid 80s. This particular Burger King location had a colorful cast of characters as its clientele, and bizarre incidents frequently ensued. Occasionally the police were even called. This “edgier” side of WSC still exists, and today one can find an adult bookstore, tattoo parlor, medical cannabis collective, the Pink Poodle, a pool hall and even a bar that just sold a winning million dollar lottery ticket. Although this may not be ideal for some, there is no denying the fact that these businesses contribute to the commercial offerings of the WSC business district.

Economic development via private investment occurs incrementally, and almost always takes place parcel by parcel. Last week I participated in a WSC community meeting that was well attended by residents. The main topic of discussion concerned the fate of a vacant and blighted building on a high profile corner. The request from the BMW motorcycle and Vespa dealership, a prospective occupant of the building, was to allow an incidental vehicle repair use so that they could then improve and subsequently rent space in the vacant building. Coincidentally, 40 years ago this same corner housed a business that sold BMW cars and motorcycles.

Council approved a similar request over a year ago for a Tesla store to locate within Santana Row. Tesla has been a fantastic source of sales tax revenue and the benefit of such tax remittances redounds to the entire community. The expanded store on WSC, which plans to sell a variety of vehicles that cost up to $20,000, would be one of the few dealerships of its kind in the Bay Area, and would thus bring in customers from other cities.

Although this is only one corner parcel, it certainly represents a positive step in the right direction. In order to fill vacant storefronts in a timely fashion, our planning department should expedite the process and “rubber stamp” new tenants the same day they apply for a business permit. If not, WSC and other areas of San Jose may lose out to other cities—even though those same cities have higher rents, they yield they faster turnaround time on such permits.

An incentive program has been proposed recently that would, in effect, give tax dollars to private property owners for the purpose of subsidizing rent for tenants. This seems confusing to me, especially given the fact that many tenants I have spoken with seem more concerned about lengthy time to market factors associated with the permit process. I am not certain our limited revenues should subsidize this when the city controls the permitting process, which has the potential to enable commerce today. Why subsidize a process that we have the ability to change?

The Redevelopment Agency (RDA) spent over $6 million dollars on improving the WSC neighborhoods with new medians, street lights, palm trees, sidewalks, pavers, curbs, gutters and many new retail stores facades. The RDA also devised a 250-plus page master plan for the street in 2003, which ended up costing taxpayers approximately $1,000 a page. After countless public meetings and substantial community input, 100 recommendations were outlined in this exceedingly expensive report. It is significant to note that most of the recommendations in the report failed to materialize, as many of the suggestions it contained required continued government spending and/or control over private property. Such efforts often breed unrealistic expectations, and usually lead to unsatisfactory results. Excessive reliance on government funding and control over private property rarely—if ever—produces a successful outcome.

WSC continues to evolve into an area filled with mixed-use development. Private investment construction is currently underway at the corner of Meridian Avenue. This project will yield a development with market rate housing units situated above street level retail establishments. Meanwhile, year after year, on the other side of the street, an empty lot sits waiting for government funding to build affordable housing. Private investment will change WSC over the next 20 years. However, in the meantime, we should appreciate and celebrate the cool funkiness of WSC now. This funkiness is what makes WSC truly one of a kind.

Pierluigi Oliverio is a councilmember for San Jose’s District 6.

9 Comments

  1. Really,

    PO I try to give you the benefit of the doubt, but you are losing it.

    WSC as you call it is a dump, it is not SCB and Santana Row.  Other than Mel Cottons no reason to even drive down that part of town unless your looking for a prostitute.

    Maybe you need to go back to flipping burgers instead of going down the road of low income housing AGAIN!  Next your going to say it will be the gateway to the new A’s stadium.

    • Snob I mean rob your have no vision.
      West San Carlos st. reminds me of an early Melrose Ave.
      yes way back when it was cool and edgy. With a few more good restaurants and cool retailers (ie Cliffs Hardware , Deluxe Donut, El Cheapo Burrito, Mancave consignment it could easily be a destination for the Ba Area tragically hip crowd. raspberry

      • Thanks for correcting me, you are so right. Lets add cheap fast food for the low come housing can grab a late night meal.  Having worked this area for 30 years, it is a great area for fights, drugs and sex.

        No one wants to come south of HWY 17/880.

        Unless you want to buy a used car.  Wow, these are great places you propose, I want to go get a donut or a burrito.

        No vision because nothing the city will ever do here for at least 20 years.

  2. San Carlos changes names at Hwy 17.  The San Carlos/Stevens Creek transition is almost a demarcation between downtown and West San Jose/Santa Clara.  Maybe that’s why the Stevens Creek side has done better.  It’s less affected by San Jose’s central planning.

    The Stevens Creek side of the freeway was run down 20 years ago too.  I don’t think any redevelopment agency was responsible for joining the Emporium and Macy’s shopping centers and later for building Santana Row over what was Town and Country and the Chevy dealer.

    If you really want to spiff up that West San Carlos area, the first thing you should do is rename the portion of West San Carlos from the Safeway to 17.  Call it Stevens Creek.  If you do that, people will stop thinking it’s an extension of downtown.

    BTW, if you want to help the “Stevens Creek side” of San Carlos, you should think about a pedestrian walkway between Valley Fair and Santana Row.  That would help traffic and allow more people to get in and out of that area.

    • San Carlos St actually becomes Stevens Creek at Bascom Ave. So even Falafel Drive In, Elixir Weed Shop, and the Valley Park hotel escaped the stigma of San Carlos St…..at least on paper.

      • Google maps says you are correct.  Just knowing it’s on Stevens Creek is going to make the food taste better at the Falafel place.

  3. Typical Pierre , lets rubber stamp things without any oversight or process .  This City loses out on Opportunity because this City and Council are a Joke .  Priorities in this city are skewed , should the #1 priority not be the Publics Safety ??  Other than for a Sharks Game there is Zero reasons for anyone to come to San Jose . The RDA has left us $4 Billion Dollars in Debt , Were you not on the RDA Board Pierre???? If Im not mistaken all of City council and Mayor comprised the RDA Board ! you all talk about RDA as if its somebody else , it was all of you.
            And your solution is MORE low income housing? Hasnt this City Built enough low income housing? No other surrounding City has done as much as San Jose in this specific area , its time other citys in the county to step up . Why dont you try focusing on keeping San Jose residents safe !

  4. Wow. Expedite and “rubber stamp” applications for same day approval? Sounds like a developers dream but a nightmare for the rest of us.
    Certainly an efficient process for applicants is an admirable goal but that has to include appropriate review and oversight. In general, all a one-day turnaround will get us is is bad planning decisions.
    You have cut the Planning Dept. to the bones. How are they supposed to process applications in one-day and still provide adequate review? You don’t have to answer because all know the answer is that they can’t do it.
    Our neighborhoods are already falling apart and becoming unsafe and now you want to dump potentially bad projects on our streets in the name of quick turnaround.
    Please give us a break!

  5. Recall the City Council Criminals!  This has gotten out of control.  Expedite?, Rubber Stamp?  Maybe the words you are looking for “pier” is “continue to circumvent”.  But then again, you will claim this once more as the “will of the people”.  Whenever have the people of Willow Glen given a Rats behind about anyone not living in Willow Glen?