December 5, 1992
By Yolanda Reynolds
Redevelopment in San Jose is causing fewer and fewer residents to have a sense of well-being – with many fearing that Redevelopment will claim, by eminent domain, their home or business. Others fear for a future for their children, a future laden with debt acquired by government spending of tax payer money on speculative ventures of dubious value.
At a recent (Thursday Nov. 19) San Jose Redevelopment Agency Board meeting, many decisions were made which may have dire consequences for both individuals, citizens and the City as a whole.
At that Nov. 19 Agency Board meeting many community members and leaders had appeared before the Board to protest the worth of the proposed Mexican Heritage Gardens which will cost the City more than $10 million dollars. Homeless advocates were there as well. In all, it had been a very exhausting and emotional meeting.
It was that day that the Agency stood ﬁrm with its intention of displacing a family business of ﬁfty years standing from its home in Alum Rock, along with more than 40 residents to make room for the Garden.
Those protesting the Mexican Heritage Garden pointed out that the Gardens are a “nice” idea, but not only was the site inappropriate but that there were many other more pressing needs in the community such as; after school programs for the youth, housing for the homeless, and the cleanup of filthy, roach infested housing such as that found in many apartments off of Poco Way and at the Santee Apartment complex.
David Wall, a downtown homeowner, waited patiently for the closing minutes of the meeting to ask (under “oral communications”) if his home was slated to be claimed by the City under eminent domain.
Wall said that, on the Agency map outlining areas of future development in the downtown, his house appeared on one map but was missing on the other.
Wall had studied the Agency staff reports that the Agency Board had hurriedly approved on Nov. 19.
The Agency Board all laughed nervously when Wall asked for clarification of the discrepancy in the maps. Mayor Hammer asked the staff for an answer, but the staff said that they would have to “research the issue and would get back to Mr. Wall.”
His concern has validity; in an Agency report asking for approval of the “Downtown Strategy Plan,” it is that “approximately 140 existing dwelling units will be demolished.” The Agency says that in their place there will be built between “1700 and 3600 new housing units.” Of these units, a minimum of 102 would be required to be affordable to very low income persons and 153 would be required to be affordable to low and moderate income households.
At the Thursday meeting, the Council approved the “demolition and asbestos abatement of properties” along Vine Street. In another highly and speculative and costly – to the tax-payers – move, the Agency Board voted to approve an arrangement with Goldrich Kest and Kimball Small Properties. Kimball Small has been the recipient of millions of dollars for the construction of the Pavilion and for other construction along the Paseo de San Antonio.
The Agency Board (San Jose City Council) also unanimously approved the erection of a single snake, the “Plumed Serpent,” at the South end of Plaza Park.
According to Agency staff, the Plumed Serpent makes a timeless statement about the “rich, diverse, and complex history of the Mexican people; about the transformation and evolution of those of Mexican heritage: and about the power and wisdom that is integral to the Mexican people’s pre-Hispanic roots.”
That view of the meaning and the signiﬁcance of the “Plumed Serpent” to the Mexican people is challenged by a number of those who are of Mexican ancestry. They say the Agency has chosen the wrong expression of Quetzalcoatl, and further they question the expense in these hard times.
The total costs for the statue are expected to total at least $500,000. The statue will face the new St. Claire Hotel and the new Convention Center. It was originally planned for the “South Gateway,” but the committee organized to approve that sculpture did not think it appropriate for that site (Gore Park, between South Market and South First Street) in downtown San Jose.
The controversial make will replace the Fireman’s Memorial Bell at the south end of the Plaza Park. Reportedly the sculpture measures some 15 feet in diameter and will likely require the removal of one, if not two, of the stately trees at that end of the park.
The extent of the controversy was painfully evident at the Redevelopment Agency meeting. A number of persons spoke on behalf of the Plumed Serpent. Father Rubio of St. John Vianny’s Catholic Church said than contrary to some opponents of the statue, a snake is not a demonic ﬁgure and that in fact snakes have been given a “bad rap.”
Other supporters of the statue, such as Consuelo Santos Killins, a former member of the California Arts CounciI, said that she found that some young Mexican American students that she had contact with felt great pride when told about the significance of the Plumed Serpent.
Alan Leventhal, an archaeologist speaking on behalf of the Moyekma Ohlone tribe, said that this (statue of a plumed serpent) is a step towards recognizing Indian culture and because of that welcomed Quetzalcoatl (the plumed serpent).
On the other hand, Enrique Dominguez, informed the City Council, in Spanish, that their image of Quetzalcoatl in stone was the preferred image of a cult that engaged in human sacrifice to appease the god. Holding a book survey of Mexican archaeology, Dominguez said that the image of Quetzalcoatl as a wise ﬁgure was portrayed differently and that to bring that plumed serpent made of stone did not augur well for San Jose’s future.
One San Josean, Marvin Gardner, was appalled at the selection of the Aztec Plumed Serpent in the center of town – he felt the statue served as a tribute to cannibalism.
Ernestina Garcia, speaking on behalf of la Confederacion de la Raza explained. to the Council that, contrary to hearsay her objections before the Council regarding the recently approved Mexican Heritage Gardens and the Plumed Serpent were not a “vendetta” against Councilwoman Blanca Alvarado, but were made in order to bring about institutional reform.
Garcia, like many others such as Ignacio Hernandez, Rachel Silva and Kathy Napoli who spoke in opposition to the statue, pointed out the many unmet needs in the community and the severe cutbacks that are planned for the City’s libraries, parks and other City programs. Programs and services that they feel are needed in the community.
Rachel Silva pointed out that Redevelopment takes money from the County government where the enormous budget shortfall is so great that at Valley Medical Center, (VMC), a sick person has to wait eight hours to be seen by a doctor. VMC is funded by the County.
Some of those who spoke in favor of the statue explained to La Oferta afterwards that they did not really care for the statue but felt that “it was time that the Mexican community had some recognition in the City.”
Others felt that the rationale for the statue was based upon faulty scholarship and not worthy of such expenditure. Their criticism was similar to that leveled against the Fallen statue whose signiﬁcance to the history of San Jose was largely fabricated and embellished in a book by an amateur historian who was also a politician.
So too, the claim that Quetzalcoatl is basic to an appreciation of Mexico’s Heritage, excludes the history of the many other tribe so Mexico other than the Toltecs and the Aztecs who adopted Quetzalcoatl.
According to scholars of pre-Columbian history, Quetzalcoatl is believed to have been a military leader who was driven from power by another military leader, Tezcatlicopa.
The defeat of Quetzalcoatl is believed to have taken place between the eleventh and thirteenth century, at which time the Toltecs were driven out of Tula, located in the Valley of Mexico.
Over time, Quetzalcoatl became recognized as a God and became one of many important religious figures to the defendants of the Toltecs, who in defeat, scattered to the Yucatan peninsula and Guatemala. There are some who object to an expenditure of public dollars for a statue of religious signiﬁcance.
Kathy Chavez Napoli questioned the City’s ability to pay for all of the projects planned for the Agency Board/City Council. Mayor Hammer attempted to restrict Napoli, saying that the matter of “ﬁnding was not on the agenda.” Napoli proceeded with stating her concerns.
Ignacio Hernandez asked if the City‘s interest in the Plumed Serpent was a ploy to enable them to bring the Fallon statue out of storage. His challenge went unanswered.
At the time of the Fallon statue controversy, the City promised that the statute would not be placed in public view until three other art works were completed, and that there would then be a simultaneous unveiling. At that time the sculpture to trigger that unveiling was supposed to be a sculpture that had been promised at the South Gateway.
Funding for all of these projects is becoming an increasing problem and concern. The Agency seems to be frantically shifting project starts form one year to the next – rearranging the financing – and is causing great concern to those who seek greater accountability from City Hall.
This concern became very clear that every afternoon when almost two hundred PACT members came to support the auditor’s recommendations for the Redevelopment Agency.
In spite of the powerful support going to these recommendations which required more clearly stated goals, objectives and outcomes as well as more precise cost accounting and project controls; the City Council Agency Board, in an 8 to 3 vote rejected those two key recommendations of the auditor.
Those same recommendations appeared in the auditors 1987 Redevelopment Audit report.
PACT spokesperson, Aurora Solis, said that Redevelopment needed a new direction and that Redevelopment director Frank Taylor “was out of control.” PACT urged that the City form a citizen’s oversight committee for the Redevelopment Agency.
Father Tim Kidney, also a PACT spokesperson, challenged the claims made by Hammer, other Council members and the Redevelopment Agency staff, regarding job creation. On behalf of PACT, Father Kidney asked that the City hire an outside independent ﬁrm to audit the claims benefits including job creation, that have been mad.
Father Kidney stated PACT’s investigations reveal the two types of jobs that have been created; one short term, high paying construction jobs and the others long term but low paying (frequently without health and other benefits), he said “we need to know if this had been a boon or a boondoggle.
Councilmembers George Shirakawa, Nancy Ianni and Jim Beall voted to adopt all of the auditor’s recommendations.
Beall questioned the amount of money went on downtown, where assessed valuation of properties have fallen far below the amount of tax-payer money poured into the area projects.
Geoge Shirakawa pointed out that, with new Council members coming on board, it was “unfair” to put them in a “strait jacket” by deciding the future of Redevelopment at the last Council meeting of the outgoing Council members.
David Pandori, along with Hammer, pointed out that Redevelopment money has indeed gone to the neighborhoods via the San Jose BEST program. This-last year, that amount has been 32 million dollars and in future years will be $1 million per year.
Altogether for the 92-93 year the Agency will spend approximately $90 million, most of which is planned to go into large projects in downtown San Jose. The Council, at that same meeting, later voted to spend $1.2 million towards the planned $25 million renovation of the downtown Fox Theater.
Mayor Hammer lectured the citizens in the Chamber as to why Redevelopment was important to create jobs – especially in these pressing times, and that “ﬂexibility” was of the utmost importance. She also admonished the citizens that the Agency Board has developed goals and objectives that are very clear and understood by knowledgeable people.
Earlier, Councilwoman Shirley Lewis said that her greatest failure on the Council was her inability to clearly explain to the taxpayers of San Jose the beneﬁts derived from Redevelopment.
Thursday. Lewis, along with Nancy lanni, Judy Stabile, and Pat Saucedo, attended their last City Council meeting as elected City Council representatives.
The new City Council will be left to cope with the decisions of the old one, including the growing doubts and frustration of many citizens regarding the administration and goals of the Redevelopment Agency.
For further information contact your City Council representative at 277-4241 or Mayor Susan Hammer at 277-4237. You may contact PACT at 998-8001 or La Confederacion de la Raza at 262-6803. © La Oferta Newspaper.