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Photograph by Eric A. Carlson

Notes From the Underbelly

Razing San Jose

By Eric A. Carlson

"Isn't some congestion the hallmark of a vibrant downtown?"

--San Jose Downtown Association

PEERING into the window of Twice Read Books at 81 E. San Fernando St., in the old Lawrence Building, I was struck by the rich skein of spider web drooping over the display material. Jane Fonda's Workout Book is corrupted with dust, web and spider eggs the size of jumbo mothballs. I'm not complaining. Twice Read Books is the last used bookstore in downtown San Jose and should be protected as if it were a unicorn.

Also in the Lawrence Building is Cinebar, a neighborhood dive where laughter spills out onto the sidewalk and patrons sample aperitifs--on Sunday morning, for God's sake. I resisted the urge to join the hedonists and continued my hunt for fiberglass sharks in the direction of the Plaza de Cesar E. Chavez. If the San Jose Redevelopment Agency (RDA) has its way, the plaza and its gushing fountain will soon be removed to accommodate the construction of a subterranean four-level parking garage--1,150 parking spots. Destruction of the plaza will take a couple of years. The new plaza will feature an elevator shaft building and 10-foot-by-10-foot grated vents--stinking gateways from hell--to distribute the exhaust of 1,150 cars into the park. The dangerous influx of traffic and noxious fumes should keep pesky children out of the plaza and redirect the bums to the Guadalupe River Park. The leisured indigents won't be redirected to St. James Park--because that park is slated for destruction as well. Where is Superman when you need him? Albert Ruffo can't do it all.

Ross of Oz suggests an award for visionary projects such as leveling city parks--the Captain Thomas Fallon Award for Community Service. If the Plaza de Cesar E. Chavez and St. James Park capers are approved, the RDA wins hands down. Close competition comes from the brainstorm to change San Jose International Airport ... to Norman Y. Mineta. (What about Ernest Renzel; doesn't he already have a bust in the airport lobby for making the airport possible in the first place?) Resistance to the Mineta rebaptism has surfaced from nabobs who argue that mayors should be dead--ideally for 10 years--before they have public structures dedicated to their holinesses. Why? Well, just in case they screw up at the last minute. Or it might take a few years to figure out what hell they were really up to. A 10-year cool-down period does seem prudent. Maybe a hundred.

Being dead is a start. And it occurs to me that San Jose has a perfectly good dead ex-mayor in Captain Thomas Fallon. The advantage here is that the Captain comes with his own statue--raising a flag, no less. And though the bronze masterpiece rots in an Oakland warehouse, its release and placement at the Captain Thomas Fallon International Airport in San Jose seems a no-brainer. Still, it is a shame to keep deleting San Jose from everything. The San Jose Arena projected a sense of place to one and all. Then San Jose sold the name rights to Compaq for $32 worth of beads and a free color printer. Compaq Center sounds like a garbage treatment plant.

The fiberglass sharks in downtown San Jose are a breath of fresh air, and many are truly ingenious. After my foray among the fishes, I visited the Blue Max lounge in Sunnyvale for a long-necked bottle of Budweiser. A spry gent in his late 60s, wearing a white tank-top T-shirt, gold chains and sunglasses tilted up over a perfectly tanned bald head, grinned widely and spoke of his misspent youth: "I can't believe the thousands of hours I spent as a youth watching pro football on television--just a bunch of assholes running around in circles." Well, that's the way people talk in preseason. Come game day he will be there with the rest of us.

Final Note: The RDA's scheme to spend millions of dollars to destroy downtown parks has a certain crazed nihilistic charm to it. Perhaps folks should just go with the flow, and be One with carbon monoxide.

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From the September 6-12, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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