by Yolanda Reynolds • June 27, 2008
As stated in the last installment, we were suddenly faced with a real challenge to the preservation of the quality of life for almost every part of the SHPNA neighborhood from St Leo’s all the way to Naglee and north and south from San Carlos to Stockton Avenue as well as other residential and commercial side streets that linked in to the neighborhood.
Word came from City Hall sources that the then mayor, Tom McEnery wanted a sports facility in downtown San Jose . The value of a sports arena was declared to bring increased visitors to downtown San Jose, which would increase tax revenues, encourage greater numbers of restaurant patrons and, best of all, propel the City of San Jose into the big leagues for a stellar national reputation.
As discussions progressed, it was becoming increasingly apparent that the preferred location for the sports facility was within walking distance of our neighborhood. With that location in mind there were many environmental impacts that needed attention and remediation. Primary among these were traffic, parking, access and security. Other critical environmental problems was the location: it was directly under the incoming flight path for planes approaching the San Jose International Airport; there were and are major underground utility lines; it is in close proximity to the Guadalupe Creek and the site included toxic contamination from previous uses of this previously zoned heavy industrial site.
At the time, there was no major league sports team hoping to snag the sports facility. As our neighborhood raised many concerns and quickly mobilized neighbors and others to assert our concerns not only for the environmental issues and traffic impact, but the impact such a venture would have on the already scarce maintenance services such as street sweeping, long neglected city street maintenance and repair and faltering library programs especially for children. These later concerns were shared by many throughout the city.
Though City Hall spokespersons continued to point to other possible locations, we were led by other sources to understand that there was a thought of making Shasta and Hanchett Avenues the major access point from 280 to the then preferred sports facility site across from the Diridon station.
The plan was to widen both the streets by removing the parking strips and trees making them both able to accommodate 4 lanes of traffic!
As president of SHPNA, we formed with other neighborhood organizations, “The Neighborhood Network”. This informal organization was very important in recruiting others to help but also enabled a real discussion of how City Hall decisions for one area can and does impact the City as a whole.
Since Shasta Ave. was and is a “major neighborhood collector”, our then City Council person, Nancy Ianni, was able with the cooperation of her colleagues on the council, pass legislation that “major neighborhood collectors” were ineligible for widening.
There were debates, coverage and letters to the editor in the San Jose Mercury news and much television. One TV newsperson was most memorable when he became very upset and quite angry because I did not behave as he wanted. He asked some question regarding my thoughts about the proposed arena. When I began my litany of unmet city services, the environmental impacts, and the beleaguered City’s General Fund, he grabbed the microphone and threw it to the ground and demanded that I wave my arms and shout out my displeasure. He then handed me the the microphone and again asked me the question and I continued as before. I never did see that segment on the air. He really wanted me to appear the “deranged housewife”.
He was not the only news media from whom we had less than candid coverage. The Mercury News under the ownership/management of Tony Ridder, gave scant opportunity for the neighborhood to get out our concerns. In an article that appeared in April 29, 1998, MN writer Michelle Quinn quoted from a memo that Tony Ridder, owner and publisher of the MN, wrote to Mayor McEnery from Miami regarding the Arena and the neighborhood opposition in which he wrote “Beat the bastards”.
My message to neighbors and other who wrote letters to the MN editor was to always bcc. (blind cover copy) SHPNA as a way to monitor the media bias and to also gauge our real support in the community.
With any large project, an EIR (environmental impact report) is required. We raised many issues. This aspect of the challenge we faced was fraught with attempts to disrupt the Association and our trajectory. Even so we were successful in getting an adequate hearing and comprehensive results for our efforts.
Although the report found major environmental impacts such as parking, traffic, congestion and contamination, the council decided that the “community benefit” over rode the environmental impacts.
With regard to this aspect of the arena story, the then MN City Hall reporter, Bert Robinson, when given a copy of the huge EIR report immediately broke the story in the paper with front page coverage of the impacts that up to then had been downplayed by the sports enthusiasts. Upon reading the huge EIR report, which was left at my doorstep before others had time to read or even see the document, I had dashed to his office. It gave him a grand opportunity to have breaking news and provided the neighborhood with, until then, unprecedented coverage for our real and now officially confirmed concerns.
More shenanigans went on. There was big money riding on this project. How much was increasingly apparent. Strange people appeared at City Council meetings none of whom looked like local folks. Others in the City, people I did not really know, offered sympathy and offered to help but “needed more information to be of real help”. I demurred their help. At some time during the challenges we faced, I was asked if I was getting policy direction from a defeated mayoral opponent of the mayor! That was actually a complement since without “professional campaign consultants” we were able to totally fill the Council chambers, hallway, and cafeteria in the old City Hall with hundreds of concerned neighbors and others. This was a reaction that until that evening was unprecedented.
The environmental report had been accepted by the city’s Planning Commission, and then Chairman, Chuck Reed, who at that time was described by many, as a close friend of Mayor Tom McEnery.
At the Council meeting there were cheerleaders, flags, music and sports enthusiasts including a large contingent of labor union folks who strongly supported the thought of a $100,000,000.00 building that promised construction and perhaps other long term jobs.
At that time the Council gave 5 minutes for the spokesperson on each side to speak. When I arose to speak, I could hardly speak since I had forgotten to drink water for probably days and suddenly was aware that I was totally dehydrated. My tongue was like a banana but no water was offered me but happily there were many very well informed and articulate neighbors who spoke eloquently before the Council. Even so, that did not sway The majority on the Council. Among those many neighbors who spoke that night was Ed Glass, who followed me as President of SHPNA. Ed has since moved to So Ca. where he and his wife operate B&B near Julian.
Neither City officials nor I anticipated so many people would show up for that Council meeting in which the decision before the council was whether to go forward with construction of the arena. With one nay vote, that of Councilwoman Ianni, the vote was made to proceed with the project!
Sitting next to me at the Council was a long time and able community activist and city resident. Steve Cole. The Council decision so upset him, he immediately drafted a “referendum” of the decision and had the details ready for needed requirements to successfully collect the required signatures. This was where the neighborhood network became especially important because it was there that I met Susan Strain who headed up a neighborhood association near City Hall and was also an employee of the MN. Together we mobilized many in our respective neighborhoods, other neighborhoods involved in the network. Susan (who used her vacation time) and I worked every day for a month as did many others and, in that time, collected the needed valid signatures to force a referendum of the Council’s decision. This was a comprehensive and coordinated effort with some folks reviewing the signatures against the Registrar of Voters list checking for any invalid signatures. Our results indicated that we had collected the required valid voter signatures!
City Hall decided it best to negotiate a settlement and agreed to draft a regulation requiring an election regarding the construction of a sports facility involving city funds. This legislation, can be viewed in the “San Jose Code of Ordinances” Chapter 4.95 and in Sections 4.96.010 (“prohibition of the use of tax dollars wholly or in part said facility with general fund monies, redevelopment fund monies or any other indebtedness guaranteed by city property, taxing authority or revenues to build a sports facility”) and Section 4.95020 (Vote required to amend or repeal).
The more successful our campaign was the greater was the effort to divide the neighborhood, as rumors flew about.
Unexpectedly and gratefully, we were approached by an attorney secured by anonymous donor with thousands of $s to assist in our battle for good government. My mistake, as President of the Assoc., was not to pursue the issue of a “conflict of interest” but to instead sue over the serious environmental impacts of this project on our neighborhood.
We did not understand that the City could safely argue, with legal standing, that that our concerns were inadequate to the “greater benefit” of such a facility in the City of San Jose .
The citywide vote was held and though the pro [arena campaign at least half a million dollars along with support from all the major media versus our meager $6,000+,we lost with almost single digit margins in almost every voting precinct in the city. Our lasting legacy was to awaken many of the voters to what was really going on in the city and how the taxpayer money was being spent. Ultimately the arena now known as the “HP Pavilion” cost almost twice the initial projected cost.
Our neighborhood drew support from many quarters for serious consideration of preserving the quality of life for this part of District 6. That is the neighborhoods of St. Leo’s, Shasta Gardens , Hanchett and Hester Parks , Garden Alameda and all of the adjoining county pockets.
This Herculean effort involved forming a number of different sub groups. We had a sub group during the signature collection that we named “No Blank Check”. Following our defeat at the ballot box a citywide group came together which named PURGE (People United for Reform of Government Eventually).
St Leo’s with, yeoman effort, secured “permit parking”, Shasta and Hanchet roadways were not widened. The Hanchett Park part of the neighborhood has become more gorgeous with each passing year as has every part of our lovely are. The stately Sycamore trees on Shasta Ave. are still as beautiful as ever and providing us all with shade. These two streets no longer serve as an alternative roadway across the city.
The historical character of this entire area is now widely acknowledged. One of the early achievements was to recognize The Alameda as a historical treasure with the much desired restrictions and safeguards to preserve and enhance that famous early day roadway.
Through much labor, walking the streets, attending many City Council meetings (including the ever important SJ Rules Committee meetings), neighborhood meetings and radio and TV appearances we sought to get the word out of the greater impact of this project to the entire city. There was a major debate and presentations to civic organizations such as the Santa Clara County Association of Good Government, La Raza Roundtable, and university and college classes devoted to government and other social studies programs!!
We can accept the credit given our neighborhood in a the Wall Street Journal article years ago, for the perceived success of the Arena. We demanded and secured improved access via Highway 87 from the Almaden Valley into the downtown area, adequate and visible freeway and street signage directing arena patrons to the facility, demanding adequate patron parking for arena events and most importantly, visible and adequate police presence for traffic control in and around the arena and away from the neighborhood! We remain protective that arena parking be absent from street side parking west of Stockton.
It is with great comfort that this neighborhood and SHPNA continues its awareness of San Jose Council’s actions and, in particular, what impacts those decisions may have on every part of our neighborhood. As of today, late summer 2010 we again face the prospect of major developments that can negatively impact this historic area of San Jose which is home to many who have made a major commitment and a huge personal investment in the City of San Jose.