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Improv Theatre: Redevelopment's cruel joke

All That


A Grown-Up City? Coming Soon!

By Gary Singh

IN THE MIDDLE of the last century, San Jose was a pretty dense city. It still is--but it was dense in terms of population back then, not in terms of stupidity.

How things have changed.

In 1950, San Jose's population of 92,000 people was squeezed into 17 square miles, centering around the downtown area. Twenty years of machinations by City Manager A.P. "Dutch" Hamman spawned a monstrosity known as the "suburb," where nearly half a million people stretching over 137 square miles set up Eichler homes in California paradise.

The result: San Jose suburbs to infinity, and a downtown black hole of '70s-era porn.

Then came the 1980s, and Mayor Tom McEnery, someone who longed--and rightly so--for a downtown that at least remotely resembled something urban. He figured we needed vertical growth instead of horizontal growth; thus construction abounded. For most of the middle part of that decade, downtown was a mess of torn-up streets, PG&E trucks, detour murals, light rail construction and those god-awful omnipresent peppy signs that proclaimed, "San Jose Is Growing Up."

Inspired culture-jammers immediately saw an opportunity. Very quickly, a few of the signs cleverly read, "San Jose Is Throwing Up."

Although projects like the convention center and the light rail system indeed pointed toward a new phase of "growing up" at the onset of the 1990s, the darker side of that decade is what people still gab about the most: a botched shopping center, a gargantuan movie theater that was never filled beyond 20 percent capacity and the very curious difficulties that small businesses faced while trying to survive in downtown.

In fact, many of them didn't. Mom-and-pop establishments came and went in the blink of the eye--a scenario that continues to this day. Small businesses take over properties once held by other small businesses while the same empty storefronts highlight main drags.

It's almost as if the Redevelopment Agency is maintaining the blight just so they'll always have something to redevelop. The neighborhood always seems to be right on the brink of a major step that never happens, or some puzzling state of urban feedback where the output is fed back into the input.

With every restaurant opening, another one closes right down the street. When the bold sign for the new San José Repertory Theatre boasted the phrase "Opening Fall 1997," Biter immediately wanted to write "Closing Spring 1998" directly underneath it.

Now in June 2002, while meandering through downtown, Biter notices the curious existence of "coming soon" signs flaunting projects that obviously aren't coming soon. No one can place the exact date when downtown's continuous state of "coming soon" actually began, nor can anyone predict when the neighborhood will finally grow up. This city is such a tease.

Coming Soon

House of Blues
27 S. First St.

Perversely, soon after everyone found out that the place wasn't coming soon, a colorful mural was painted on the empty storefront: "House of Blues Coming Soon."

The San Jose Bar & Grill
85 S. Second St.

Progress does appear to taking place at this new restaurant on the former site of the excellent working-class Mexican eatery Salsa Fresh. Biter can only wonder why Salsa Fresh, along with the innovative and award-winning Mongo's Restaurant right next door, came and went so silently.

Jose Theater
South Second Street

Referencing the city's efforts to turn its oldest theater into a comedy club, the cruelly ironic marquee reads, "Improv Theatre Coming Soon: A joint project of the San Jose Redevelopment Agency and Improv Theatre." It's hard to keep track of how many times this project has been delayed. Enough times to convince Biter that maybe this entire redevelopment thing is itself just a 30-year-long piece of improv theater. Somebody better tell them to put that "e" back on the end of improv.


Who's Counting?

It is with great chagrin that I must inform potential investors that I have unearthed an accounting problem at MeCom Industries. According to an independent audit (prepared by Bob, who was standing in line behind me at the bank and is a wiz with numbers), MeCom's balance sheet contains some troubling irregularities.

Apparently, I overstated my earnings a trifle. As the chart above indicates, the $7.9 billion dollars in revenue MeCom recorded for the last five quarters do not accurately reflect the $26,417.54 in salary, tips, panhandling and garage-sale close-outs received during that period.

As near as Bob and I can figure, MeCom, using a perhaps overly creative interpretation of accepted accounting practices, anticipated that during the course of MeCom's projected life, $7.9 billion in Super Lotto winnings (adjusted for inflation) would be available now for capital expenditures of some kind or other.

As the sole member of MeCom's board of directors, I am shocked, shocked to learn of these financial improprieties. Believe me, if MeCom had a bookkeeper, I would fire him/her immediately.

MeCom trusts that this clears things up, and that trading in our stock will resume any day now.

Illustration by Jumma Jahdid

I Saw You: Old Perv

I saw you drive around the block in your fat white Mercedes Benz three times before I could duck into a club and escape your creepy advances. You nasty old pervert. Did you really think I'd just climb in your car and jump on top of you? I've got a news flash for you and all the other gross, desperate losers out there who haven't figured it out yet. Most of the girls you see walking along South First Street are NOT prostitutes. We may be pretty. We may be sexy. But we are not flattered. We are insulted. We are offended. We are disgusted. And YOU should be ashamed of yourself.

SEND us your anonymous rants, love notes, or diatribes about your co-workers, bosses, enemies, secret crushes, or any badly behaving citizen who gets your dander up. Send to: I SAW YOU, Metro, 550 South First St, San Jose, 95113, or .

Send a letter to the editor about this story .

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From the July 4-10, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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