REQUEST FOR HONOR ON NEW CONVENTION CENTER RENAMING
April 19, 1991
By Yolanda Reynolds
On the night of April 16 at the San Jose City Council meeting, a small group of campaign contributors and supporters of a former mayor, Tom McEnery, were successful in their request that the city’s new convention center be renamed in his honor. Rumor had it that the decision was made the week before. Tuesday night’s Council meeting was merely staged to satisfy a formality.
With the exception of Council members Blanca Alvarado, Jim Beall and George Shirakawa, the new Mayor and the remaining Council members chose to disregard the voice of two of the City’s important Commissions, the Historic Landmarks Commission, and the Human Rights Commission on Tuesday night, April 16 after a lengthy hearing with most of the speakers opposing the renaming.
The issue decided that evening by the Mayor and the City Council is quite volatile due to San Jose’s extremely diverse community, many of whom have felt excluded from City government. Hispanics, in particular, have become vocal and active in drawing attention to their exclusion and frustration over actions and decisions promoted by the former mayor and a majority of the City’s Council.
Unrest and frustration on the part of many citizens reached such a point that, this last June, citizens voted a two-term limit for San Jose’s City Council. Lawsuits have been ﬁled by citizens. One such suit against the City, over the manner in which citizens were displaced for the Convention Center Construction, was successful but the City has been slow in honoring the orders of the Court. The new Convention Center has caused much controversy, because of its location and the displacement it caused of so many, primarily poor families, most of whom were Hispanic. Later there were enormous cost overruns for the project, coupled with a marked lack of success in achieving the promised goals for drawing visitors to San Jose. The proposal by the former mayors backers and allies to honor him by renaming the Convention Center, a building constructed and operated at taxpayer expense, is greatly adding to local citizen unrest. Currently the City is facing a $24 million dollar shortfall which adds a crisis atmosphere to the problems facing the City.
Al Rodriguez, owner of a Spanish language radio station, entertainment promoter and business spokesperson in San Jose said that changing the name of the new San Jose Convention Center, in the midst of a major marketing campaign, was folly. In the last four years the City has spent millions of dollars in promoting the “San Jose” name throughout the nation and abroad; the City would lose much of the investment that has already been made in promoting the City. In addition, the cost of changing the naming itself, signs, billboards, etc., would be signiﬁcant, particularly in a time of budget shortages.
The City of San Jose has spent over $500 million and has assumed over $1 billion in debt over the last six years to redevelop its downtown area and many more millions to promote the new Convention Center, the centerpiece of its redevelopment plan.
The primary advocate for San Jose Redevelopment has been the previous San Jose mayor, (44-year-old Tom McEnery.) He and his family are major landowners of property surrounded by the City’s Downtown Redevelopment Project area.
The former mayor was prevented from running for reelection by a two term limitation on that office. He has said in the past that he had no ambitions for a higher political office. Many citizens did not believe that statement when it was made, and believe it even less now, since some of his former staff were leaders in the naming of the Convention Center for McEnery.
City Ordinance has here-to-fore limited the naming of public property for individual/politicians to those who were safely finish with their careers, by either death or age. This was to avoid the use of such actions as political capital by active politicians, as well as the possible risk of future embarrassment to the city.
A coalition of veterans groups, VALOR (Veterans Action Lobby On Remembrance), demanded that if the Convention Center were to be renamed, it should be renamed as a memorial to the veterans. They asked the City Council for a delay in the hearing date in order to allow the veterans organizations, many of whose members are still unaware of the proposed renaming, more time to participate in the discussions. The current mayor, Susan Hammer, rebuffed their appeal. (Hammer and the former mayor’s friends first announced their intent to rename the new Center a scant 36 days after he left office.)
Older veterans are quick to remind those who will listen that San Jose veterans had been promised in 1936 (a promise renewed several times since) a ﬁtting memorial – to date they are still waiting. VALOR, whose membership is mostly Vietnam veterans say, if not (a memorial) now, when VALOR, just this last year, approached then mayor McEnery and City Council members to ask that an arena, now under construction and owned by the city, be named in honor of the veterans. That request was denied on “ﬁscal considerations,” even though the veterans were certain that their fundraising abilities would allay that concern.
Other citizens joined the dispute on the renaming of the taxpayer built Convention Center at Tuesday’s meeting.
The City’s Historic Landmarks Commission” (whose duty by City ordinance is to advise the City on the naming of public properties) determined, on April 3rd, that the renaming of the new Convention Center in honor of the former mayor was both “premature and inappropriate.
The new mayor, Susan Hammer, promised that citizen participation, in particular the role of Commissions and Committees. would be a mainstay in her administration.
The decision to ignore the advice of two important Commissions does not augur well for the City – as Council woman Alvarado pointed out – there were some disturbing actions taken and attitudes expressed that evening towards those who objected to the renaming of the new Center for which she expressed concern.
The breaking of all promises made to encourage citizen participation, at the first opportunity does not augur well for the future. Are we to face four more years of the triumph of personal and special interests over that of the public? Only time will tell; but it will be interesting to see if a laudable desire to encourage major league baseball to San Jose is to be followed by an ove urge to give public money to private interests.