By Yolanda Reynolds
A Mexican Heritage Garden and Cultural Center is planned for the corner of King and Alum Rock avenue, an area surrounded by a high concentration of Mexican American families. The Council approved the plan in concept, provided that the Mexican Heritage Corporation is able to raise the needed $3 million dollar contribution it has made towards the cost of the project.
The Redevelopment Agency also approved a $9 million contribution towards the Project, as well as the award of another $65,000 to conduct the requisite Environmental Impact Review. Councilmember Alvarado has worked hard to bring this project to her District on the East Side.
Other Council members voiced their support and said that this project was evidence that the Agency’s attention extended beyond downtown San Jose. San Jose residents of the East Valley and East Side have become increasingly vocal over the lack of parks, community centers and the general neglect that their neighborhoods have experienced over the years from City Hall.
The Alum Rock project is planned to include a Community Center, a public plaza, a landscaped garden and also provide parking space.
The community center is slated to have a large assembly room which “may contain space for performances, meeting rooms, classrooms and studio spaces.”
The garden will be designed to reflect Mexican design and architectural accents. The gardens will be available for private and community functions.
Future plans include 8 acres. That land is now home to State’s EDD offices, 5 small businesses, three homes and a part of the Alum Rock School District (some acreage in the San Antonio Elementary School grounds).
School District Board member, Gary Serda, spoke in support of the project as did many others. Felix Alvarez, executive director of El Teatro de los Pobres, commended the planned project and reminded the Agency Board (City Council) that many groups, particularly theater groups, like his own, hope for access to performances space when the building is completed.
Small theater, performing and art groups in the City have increasingly complained about the lack of a proper venue for an audience to see their works.
2.5 of the 8 acres will be set aside to accommodate senior housing.
Esther Medina Gonzales, MACSA’s Executive Director, expressed support for the project, in general, but specifically praised the planned housing which, she said, will help give older San Jose residents an opportunity to “age with dignity.”
Also in attendance at the Council meeting were members of the Mexican Heritage Corporation, some of whom are: Eastside Union High School District Superintendent, Joe Coto; retired San Jose State University Professor, Dr. Carrillo; ’91 mayoral candidate Frank Fiscalini and San Jose artist and sculpture Gil Hernandez.
Frank Fiscalini commended the City Council for the courage to embark on three major projects all within several days of each other – a stadium for the Giants, new quarters for the Tech Museum and now the Mexican Heritage Gardens and Community Center at Alum Rock “while other cities were feeling the “pinch” by virtue of huge budget deficits and cuts in City services. In fact, the desperation to fund the stadium may yet down other projects as well other City services.
Also in attendance were members of a family whose business will be relocated to make room for the Garden. Carlos Posada, who spoke on behalf of his family to the Council, said that they did not know that their business would have to move until they read about the project in the local daily.
The family had many concerns. Their business, Bayshore Radiator Shop, has been in that location for 50 years. The family had just negotiated a new ten-year lease with the owners of the building and were very concerned as to what the consequences of the Council’s decision will mean to them.
Mayor Hammer directed Redevelopment Agency Deputy, Richard Rios, to see that the City should “deal fairly with the Posada family whose business will be displaced by this project. The Posadas’ presence at the Council meeting seemed to catch the Council by surprise.
In San Jose, the Redevelopment Agency staff acting on behalf of the Agency Board/City Council, has been notorious for the manner in which it has dealt with families and businesses that stand in the way of their projects.
For example, the City treated many families who were displaced by the Convention Center so poorly, that a lawsuit against the City over this matter won a judgement in favor of the plaintiffs. The City has under court order to build the required replacement housing and had to pay out thousands in rental assistance.
The City is still working out settlements with many of the business people who were recently moved to make room for the arena now under construction in downtown San Jose.
The Mexican Heritage Gardens and Center is located in the Alum Rock Business District, which is a part of the Alum Rock/King Road Redevelopment Area. When these business districts were formed along with the Alameda and San Carlos Districts many citizens were concerned about the inclusion of these properties in Redevelopment Project Area. At that time, members of the Shasta/Hanchett Neighborhood Association were assured that none of these areas were subject to imminent domain powers (the power granted to governments to remove private owners from their property – by law, should private property by acquired by government it must pay “fair market value” in compensation).
At Thursday’s meeting, it was announced that the imminent domain powers of the Redevelopment Project Area for the corner of Alum Rock and King had expired and that the Agency/Council should extend its imminent domain powers until 1998, in order to evict the current owners from their property. According to the Agency memo this project was expected to have been completed by 1993.
Besides the requirement that the Hispanic Heritage Corporation contribute $3 million towards the total cost of the project, the City/Agency must complete an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) before any plans can be implemented. The City must address the possible impacts that trafﬁc, circulation, noise, resident relocation and hazardous material contamination, that will be made to the area by the project.
Contamination can become a big issue – until people better understood the hazards of contamination, little attention was given to the disposal of contaminants. For example, contamination found at the arena site reduced the amount of money paid to the property owners because, by California environmental law, the seller of the land has the responsibility of cleaning up the contamination – even if they had no desire to sell in the first place.
Before the concrete is poured for the Center, there is yet much Work to complete, such as, a master plan for the eight acres. The Agency hopes to begin construction by 1994. If all goes well, the project will be completed by 1995. Site acquisition will begin when the Heritage Corporation makes a deposit of $1 million with the Agency; after another $1 million is deposited, construction will begin and after the third $1 million is deposited, the Corporation will take control of the Center.
Councilwoman Bianca Alvarado said that she was very happy with the agreement and predicted that the fund raising would move ahead rapidly and successfully. The group has already raised several hundred thousand dollars. The Corporation is planning to host, the first ever, Northern California Mariachi band rally – a hoped for money maker. Alvarado said that by April, the Corporation plans to have speciﬁc details on this and other fund raising activities.
An issue is a continuing concern to some of the Council/Agency members is the problem that the city has had in maintaining many of the facilities that it has built. That very afternoon. Councilwoman Saucedo won a reprieve for the new Community Center in her District, which was slated to have its staff cut in half in order to help balance this year’s budget. Saucedo was very unhappy because it was just this Saturday that the Center held its Grand Opening!
Alvarado had asked that, upon completion, the City would pay the long term operational and maintenance costs of the Gardens and Center. Evidently, the Council could not agree on this before the public meeting and they agreed to discuss this aspect of the project at a later date. The City’s General Fund, which pays for these costs, is expected to have less and less money over the years for many of the services if now provides. Councilwoman Saucedo says that the City must look for new ways to fund to maintenance and operational costs of the City’s parks and community Centers.
For more information on the Mexican Heritage Gardens and Community Center contact Blanca Alvarado at 277-5156 or Fernando Zazueta, Chairman of the Mexican Heritage Corporation at 984-1164. © La Oferta Publication.