A Revitalized Downtown And Preserved Open Space Are Conspicuous Testaments
IN eight years as mayor, Tom McEnery has left an indelible mark on San Jose, not just in the downtown skyline he built, but in the way the city is run and the way it has grown.
The Fairmont Hotel, the convention center, the Children’s Discovery Museum and the rest of the new downtown are memorials to McEnery’s tenacity and ability to wield political power. Making the plans was the easy part; getting them implemented, when there was little except faith to recommend the downtown as a place to invest, was an extraordinary accomplishment.
But the most important thing McEnery did for San Jose was to draw lines that limit the city’s growth: not its economic growth — there’s plenty of room for that, as there is for housing — but its sprawl across the valley floor. McEnery drew a line at the Coyote Valley, reserving it for industry and delaying any housing there until jobs are located nearby.
If builders had been allowed to move into Coyote, San Jose never could have focused investment on the downtown, and sprawling development would have sapped the city’s operating budget, cutting services to older neighborhoods. Instead, McEnery was able to strengthen the police department and improve other neighborhood services, adding youth programs, library hours and parks.
Despite some lean years, including this one, McEnery is leaving the city in good financial shape. It was operating on a narrow margin when he took office, and the $73 million bond loss in 1984 plunged the state of city finances to an embarrassing low.
But McEnery used the bond debacle to argue for Measure J, which concentrated more power in the mayor’s office and gave him greater control over the budget. Today, San Jose has a budget reserve approaching $30 million for emergencies. The single-minded drive that enabled McEnery to get things done left some segments of the community in the dust. Advocates for the poor had to fight to get the city to replace low-cost housing that it destroyed for downtown redevelopment. Members of minority groups felt cut off from city decisions and found some plans insensitive — most recently McEnery’s pet project, the statue of Capt. Thomas Fallon raising the American flag over San Jose, which offended Hispanics.
His blind spots caused controversy where there need not have been any. Tact was not his strong point.
Yet overall, McEnery has been a popular mayor. In citywide polls, a solid majority consistently has given him a high approval rating.
People love the new downtown; witness the crowds at Christmas in the Park this weekend. They know the changes in the city are not just an illusion of success but evidence that prosperity is within its grasp. In fact, that may be one of McEnery’s greatest accomplishments: He gave San Jose back its pride.
McEnery truly had a vision of what San Jose could be and what it can yet become. More than that, he had the ability as a leader to make things happen. It’s evident in the buildings downtown and, less visibly, in the neighborhoods where city programs are helping kids and pushing out drug dealers.
He did more than bring about change; he also set a course that could guide San Jose for decades to come, if succeeding leaders have the strength to hold to it.