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].