State of the City: Poised to March Forward Into the Past


By Tom McEnery

San Jose, 1985. Yet I want you to remember another time, another city.

On a gentle spring day, back then a family could ride the Peninsular Railway from Meridian corners to the city’s playground, Alum Rock Park, and back.

It was a chance to gaze upon the expanse of the Santa Clara Valley – to the north were the red tile roofs of Stanford and the imposing hulk of the dirigible hanger at Sunnyvale Air Base. Dead ahead was the city itself with its scattering of “skyscrapers.”

Rippling out from this core were residential districts with attractive streets, comfortable homes and we-tended gardens. Taking in the broader vista of the valley, we would marvel at the blanket of white and pink blossoms bursting forth from 9 million fruit trees.

At First and Santa Clara streets, we would get off – filled with anticipation as we weighted our options – the variety of smart shops and stores, many theaters, fine dining and dancing, and the favorites for children of all ages – O’Brien’s confectionery and my grandfather’s San Jose Creamery.

Permeating this environment was a spirit of pride; pride among a people who knew that they lived in one of the truly unique spots of the world. It was a pride and optimism based on accomplishment, a great natural endowment and a community that cared.

The present is a place very close to the past.

Today, we are another city; but look closely, the people share the same spirit, the same pride and aspirations as those earlier generations. Let us give more than a passive allegiance; let us make an active commitment to build and to fight if necessary to re-create in this valley that special place.

My task as mayor is to focus this city on that basic dream – to make San Jose a city worthy of its past and worthy of the tremendous hope and promise for its future. In a recent film, “The Year of Living Dangerously” – not, incidentally, about my last 12 months in office – they used a phrase to symbolize the seemingly unattainable: “water from the moon,” a piece of wonderful imagery.

Perhaps we can’t reblossom this city with 9 million fruit trees – that might be “water from the moon” – but we can restore that pride in community and that livability of the past. For two years, the council and I have been working to realize that restoration of pride and livability, that fulfillment of the basic dream.

First we have tried to ensure that the city continues to provide good service – a cop on the beat, a firefighter, open branch libraries and parks with programs.

Second and related to the first, we are working to make our city government more efficient and responsive.

Third, we have sought to strike a proper balance of growth in San Jose. We have sought to preserve the remaining natural qualities of the Valley of Heart’s Delight, while promoting the tremendous potential of Silicon Valley. We have sought to create a city of trees and technology.

Fourth, we have sought to transform San Jose away from its recent history as a bedroom community, into a vibrant, mature city. More accurately, we have sought to restore San Jose to the position it held in the past – the nucleus of life in this valley, and the manifestation of a proud and industrious community.

As a new city council is seated and as I reach the midpoint in my term as mayor, let us review our progress. But before I speak about the many things for which we can be proud and optimistic, I must comment about something that is neither.

Much as been written about the $60 million investment loss the city suffered this past year. Much also has been done. We have established an oversight committee of preeminent business, banking and finance people to advise the city administration on the investment of city funds. We are charting a course of increased prudence and a course of greater investment in our local banks and our local economy.

We are not a city free of troubles; we are not insensitive to the importance of our recent problems. But, they are past. We have learned. The city goes on.

Basic services
Our city’s strength – its foundation – lies in its ability to provide basic services: simple things like good police protection, libraries that are open, and parks with programs. If any consider the cost of police and libraries too expensive, consider the price of crime and ignorance. Basic services should always be a city’s first priority and they are San Jose’s.

We should also work toward a second goal: making sure that City Hall is responsive to the needs of a changing community and tailoring local government to current challenges, making it user friendly. We must look at old problems in new ways.

A charter review committee has been established and it will function under the able leadership of Frank Fiscallini. Over the next year, it is important that this committee carefully considers and, if appropriate, recommends changes in city government to better serve the citizens.

Balanced growth
A third major goal during the last two years has been to strike the proper balance of growth for San Jose. One major step toward this goal has been the adoption of a new general plan – a blueprint for growth and preservation to the year 2000.

The plan contains bold steps – one is to create a permanent greenbelt of open space around the fringe of San Jose. A greenbelt is an idea that can be achieved piece-by-piece, and year-by-year. Shortly, I will announce a task force led by Council members Shirley Lewis and Judy Stabile, as chair and vice chair.

As with traffic and open space, quality air and quality drinking water are issues related to the proper balance of growth. Foremost, in our concern is the quality of our ground water.

It is clear that these problems cannot be solved without the help of county, state, and federal agencies. It is also necessary that we reorganize and develop, within our own city, the technical expertise to focus on this problem.

I will ask the city manager to report to the council before the end of this quarter on the development of a new office, the Office of the Environment, our local E.P.A. It will bring together all concerns related to water quality, air quality, and solid waste, and give them the attention they cry out for.

The fourth part of our vision has been nurturing the rebirth of the city of San Jose, transforming the sprawling bedroom community back to its rightful station as the ambient and dynamic center of this valley, a diverse and mature place to live.

Perhaps, our greatest victory has been the selection of San Jose as the permanent home of the Technology Center of Silicon Valley. Outside of the gleaming new hotel, it has been the highest goal of our city.

The center is not the only thing that San Jose can be proud of. Next door to the science center will be the Children’s Discovery Museum. The San Jose Museum of Art will also be expanding, assisted by $2 million from the city. More will follow.

The significance of all our projects – the Technology Museum, the children’s Discovery Museum, the new Convention Center, a Fairmont hotel, the light rail trolley system, and an arena – lies not in the construction of new buildings and byways. Their real importance lays in the fact that San Jose is becoming, again, a place for all of us to live in and enjoy, a better place for families and children.

Once again – let us go to the First and Santa Clara streets, but this time our mind’s eye peers forward – to the end of this decade. A trolley stops and a traveler gets off. He has ridden from the edge of the city – ridden through block after block of neighborhoods: some grand, some not so grand – but most all showing that people care. He has ridden past children playing in the parks and school grounds, past many open libraries.

As he leaves the trolley and melds with the crowd on the tree-lined mall, his senses are assaulted, but pleasantly so, with the movements, sounds and sights of a city – that critical mass of shops, cafes, museums, hotels, office buildings, apartments, homes, and theaters that create so much more than mere shapes and spaces.

Our traveler’s choices abound:

A quiet lunch at the Fairmont, the amusement and informality of a sidewalk cafŽ, a concert at the Fox, a play at the Montgomery, a musical at the CPA or a movie at Camera III, a chance to observe a child’s joy at the Discovery Museum, a chance to satisfy one’s curiosity about things scientific at the technology center, or a chance to ponder creative works at the Fine Arts Museum.

A good city.

And now as we build and stabilize this good and compassionate city, we must think again of the hopes of others, both here and long ago; we must hold the same worthwhile thoughts, pursue the same laudable goals, and not be afraid to dream again. For more than genetics or even history, those dreams are what bind us together.

Let us push back the frontiers of the mind and spirit, and perhaps, one day, we may meet here again with some “water from the moon.”

Bookmark the permalink.