Op-Ed: San Jose’s Proposed Light Tower Leaves Us in the Dark

If you’re like most residents of San Jose, you haven’t heard that the city is poised to give its Arena Green park space over to the private nonprofit San Jose Light Tower Corporation (SJLTC) to share with us what they claim will be “an artistic and iconic landmark that builds civic pride within San Jose.” Sounds great, maybe, but will it really be something we want?  How can we know when we’ve been left in the dark?

Now that SJLTC has selected our public space, they plan for an international design competition. But you and I won’t be judging. SJLTC has relieved us of that burden, too; they will decide the make-up of a small panel of judges.

Only after this investment in dozens of international architects and artists and expected millions of dollars raised in donations from civic and business leaders including our mayor, a council member, U.S. congresswoman, and others you’ll recognize from the sides of buildings and construction vehicles, and city staff time, will the City Council be forced to take it or leave it. The pressure to take it will be tremendous regardless of what you and your neighbors may have to say.

Most of us would love to see an iconic feature at the Mineta San Jose International Airport or at the future transit center that will be the largest rail hub outside of New York City with High Speed Rail, BART, and Caltrain at the Diridon Station or elsewhere. Perhaps you might have had some good ideas.

Arena Green is a confined narrow park strip that strides the confluence of the Guadalupe River and Los Gatos Creek. Even while impacted by downtown urbanization, the streams still provide habitat and critical riparian corridors for endangered steelhead anadromous fish, migratory birds, and other wildlife negotiating through an urban center on their way to larger and healthier habitats.

Will light be cast onto the wildlife-sensitive streams by this San Jose Light Tower Corporation iconic feature? Who’s to say? But it won’t be you or me.

Public art is often fraught with controversy. After the city’s experience with the Quetzalcoatl Park God, which some see as an important religious and cultural symbol and others see as a pile of dog doo—that some feel was a deliberate poke in the eye of San Jose leaders by a frustrated artist (spell Park God backwards), you might expect that the San Jose City Council would demand a transparent process with a great deal of citizen involvement and oversight. But this has not been the case.

SJLTC did present to the city’s art commission, parks commission, and City Council. But their presentations were just that—presentations. It has not sought direction nor incorporated public input.

The motives behind SJLTC are noble but the process has fallen short of the respect residents deserve especially with a structure to “build civic pride” with a landmark that represents us to the world.

After skirmishing with environmental and parks advocates, SJLTC finally agreed to a single community meeting in which they again presented their concept and dismissed a chorus of frustration expressed about their preselection of Arena Green open space.

SJLTC responds that they considered the environment in their selection process. But their environmental review ranked how much the environment of park space benefits their project rather than the impact of their structure on the environment.

So just as planned before the community meeting, they expect approval of the Arena Green site next week at the March 12 City Council meeting.

We think the wildlife in our streams should be left in the dark—not you.

David Poeschel chairs the Guadalupe Regional Group Conservation Committee of the Sierra Club Loma Prieta Chapter. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to [email protected].


  1. Hopefully, SJ will not see the light as we have a penchant for gauhe neon pigs, outdated Hardware signs, and creosote soaked trestle bridges! Grow up SJ!

  2. Perhaps this pile of civic art could be place over the rotunda of the “Capital of Silicon Valley” as those inside need to see the light.

    What High Speed Rail?

  3. Do you know what’s more depressing than a city taking pride in an old light pole? Looking to the Sierra Club’s Loma Prieta Chapter to actually solve any problems in a progressive or cooperative manner.

  4. if the good folks at this project want to bring an iconic presentation to San Jose, why not consider putting talent and energy to work on finishing the restoration of our town clock tower? This is the unfinished clock tower on what is now the Museum of Art. it got knocked down in the 1906 quake and restoration of the tower – the belfry – was never finished. This is a registered National Historic Landmark, thus no design team is necessary – it will have to be restored to Sec of Interior Standards for Historic reconstruction. The Nels Johnson mechanical Century Clock is one of the oldest pieces of hi-tech still running after all these years – – just sadly neglected. There is a huge bell in the clock tower which has never been rung – because – well – there is no belfry. Learn more at http://www.sjclocktower.org and like YOUR town clock on FB san Jose clock tower. and if these guys fix it up San Jose will have a very cool 120 y/o landmark that no other city has. And then they can put lights on the outside to light it up and on New Year’s Eve – it can be San Jose’ own Time’s square

  5. San Jose is ignoring its existing icons.The Guadalupe River and adjacent park, the Bank of America Building with its green spire light, the former Post Office’s Clock tower and the neon signs representing SJ’s businesses from its industrial and agricultural past, are but a few. It would be wiser and more honest to support the restoration and renovation of these genuine and existing icons rather than building new structures as imagined by people with very little knowledge of San Jose.

  6. Public land should be not be given away to private investors. Please attend the meeting if you can and stop this project. With all the apartments being constructed we need to keep this open space. We do not need a Light Tower but need more sport fields, playgrounds, dog parks or areas residents can just visit and relax. We are California and can never be Paris or like cities in Europe. What we do have are beautiful forests, mountains and sunshine. Thank you David for writing this article.

  7. I attended the public meeting and can attest to how the speakers ignored the audience. They typically answered straw man arguments and ignored the value of people’s comments.

    It is not physically possible to put a landmark on Arena Green that will make our skyline distinctive because it’s under a flight path, between a sports arena that will overshadow it and a nature corridor with environmental restrictions that preclude anything shiny, colorful, or lighted.

    If philanthropists want to contribute to San Jose, perhaps they should ask the community what it needs–which is probably not a landmark. The most logical place to combine utility and landmark status would be to create an architecturally brilliant New Diridon Station, but the committee rejected that proposal because they’re afraid they wouldn’t live long enough to see it. So is this for San Jose or for the committee?

  8. Clock tower looks like a nice idea John Mitchell, But I can see the atheist will go nuts as it look to much like a church steeple. Aurelia points out California is about natural beauty, I think she maybe on to something here. How about a 100 foot tall grizzly bear made of stainless steel and glowing red eyes. Perhaps a life size giant redwood tree that conceals a cell tower. We could get Disney to build it, or maybe just a real one……………….They last 3000 years!

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