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Community advocates demand access to jobs in exchange for public subsidies

July 31, 1996

By Yolanda Reynolds

Photos by Mary J. Andrade

La Oferta Newspaper.

ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform, fed up with Redevelopment Agency staff and Board member claims that the use of millions in tax payer dollars to attract development and business to San Jose is good for “job creation” are demanding accountability for these claims They want to see any evidence that San Joseans are getting the first chance at the “good paying jobs” that supposedly “are created by these subsidies.”

This group of community advocates, unique in their vocal and direct actions, made a protest march through downtown San Jose on July 19 with demonstrations in front of some of the buildings and projects that had received at least $10 million in tax payer subsidies.

San Jose has one of the largest Redevelopment (urban renewal) programs in the State of California. Redevelopment programs use what is termed ‘tax increment dollars’ to fund the many projects that have engrossed San Jose for the last 30 years. Redevelopment began in San Jose with the construction or the Center for Performing Arts (CPA). This symphony hall was built by Redevelopment funding after the voters of San Jose three times voted down a tax to build a new performing arts center in San Jose.

Tax increment funding was a funding mechanism that was designed to free tax payer dollars for the renewal of “blighted” inner city communities in the US. This program was empowered with very unique laws that enabled the extensive use of eminent domain power and was intended to be controlled by the residents within the areas designated for redevelopment.

The funding comes at the expense of City, County and State general fund revenues. It is all taxpayer (property tax revenues) money. The only difference is in how it is spent and by whom. Some local control advocates claim that, since much of the money that is diverted to redevelopment would only have gone to the City, County or the State. They forget the role that they provide to the local, regional and statewide services such as education from Kindergarten to post graduate schools, correctional facilities as well as other services that have been promised the people.

There are also eminent domain powers which were intended to get rid of slum landlords and recalcitrant property owners. Both residents and business owners were to be protected in the original laws. If the area with primarily residential, no less than 20% of the tax increment revenues were to be spent on economic development. Conversely, if the area was primarily commercial, no less than 20% was to be spent on housing (generally very low or low income housing).

In time, this policy became subverted and Policy makers now state over and over again that redevelopment must set aside only 20% for housing, while never acknowledging that if there is need as much as 80% can to be spent on housing.

In addition, the law requires that residents within the project area participate in the selection of a ‘project area’ committee in order to determine the needs within that blighted area. That has come to be a committee, not made up of the project area residents, but rather of appointed individuals who are close associates of the overseeing policy makers.

San Jose officials were instrumental in changing the Redevelopment Law in California to allow the City Council members to both serve as the Redevelopment Agency Board and to continue their City Council duty to oversee the actions of the Agency Board. Evidently no one pointed out the major conflict of interest of this arrangement.

San Jose officials were also instrumental in altering State law to allow the merger of redevelopment project areas. It was this occurrence during former mayor McEnery’s second term and accompanying the passage of the infamous Measure J charter revision, that permitted tax money collected in the ‘blighted’ IBM property in Almaden Valley and the ‘blighted’ farmland in north San Jose to create the “Golden Goose” of tax revenues that has provided the billions of dollars that have and will continue to pay for the endless redevelopment projects asked for by die Agency staff.”

ACORN flyers at the demonstration listed just a portion of the Agency projects. The vast sums of money that have been provided to lure these enterprises to San Jose is staggering to many San Joseans. The flyers listed: the Fairmont Hotel – $33 million; the Hotel St Claire – $10 million; the Technology Museum – $40 million; the Hilton Hotel – $19 million; the ‘‘IBM” building at 303 Almaden Blvd. – $16 million; Adobe Systems – $30 million; the San Jose Arena, almost exclusively for the use of the Gund Bros. and their losing hockey team – $137 million and the Prison Plaza condominiums – $9.7 million. Altogether, the City/Agency has spent over $1.5 billion since the early 80’s alone and that sum does not count the interest costs that range from 5% to over 7% depending on the conditions for the loans.

Holding placards with various statements of protest, the group marched through town. On the way they chanted Hey! Hey! Ho! Ho! Corporate Welfare Has Got to Go! and Nuestro Impuestos! Nuestros Trabajos! (Our Taxes! Our Jobs) and Que No Hay Dinero! Si Hay Dinero! (They say that there is no money but there is money) for such services as better street lighting and more security (neighborhood police).

The group is asking for a “First Source Agreement” that would require that companies or enterprises receiving subsidies from the City would have to agree that their first source for hiring people would be San Jose residents.

At the end of the Friday march, the group decided to go to the fifth floor of the IBM building where they had expected to find Adobe Systems executives. Instead they found a number of engineers and a maze of cubbyhole offices into which it appeared they had only recently moved. The corporate executives, they were told remain, in Mountain View.

Obviously, the chanting of the group disturbed their work. One young woman drew up the behind the rear of the group and began to shout M-o-o-ve IT UP!! G-e-t Al-o-o-o-n-g!! She may have been from Texas or some

cattle raising part of the country. She did admit that she was not a resident of San Jose and, upon further questioning, admitted she was a contract employee at Adobe Systems. She would not say what her normal responsibility was and finally decided that she would answer no more questions.

Another male explained to a co-worker, “they’re mad about the $30 million,” adding “we should give it back to them.” This writer suggested that many San Joseans would be delighted to have the money returned. The man lifted his nose and offered that “I don’t like it here anyway – I prefer working in Mountain View!”

Another woman stepped forward and admonished the protesters that if they “would go out and gets degree as she had done they would have a chance at a job like hers.” That caused a ripple of derision from the protesters – a number of whom were college graduates.

The morning protest seemed as if a scene from a California version of the Milagro Beanfield War. The dissimilar worlds of the have and the have riots was painfully evident and between the two sides at the demonstration there is it deep and frightening opposing view of reality.

Political and spiritual leaders must take heed of this stark difference of reality or the horrendous conflicts reported in other parts of the world could appear on our shores as well.

The police were summoned to make arrests. The team of San Jose police officers who arrived dealt calmly with the volatile situation. Officer Merksamer impressed the demonstrators with his wise handling of a tense situation.

ACORN leaders had stated that they were demanding an appointment with either San Jose Mayor Susan Hammer or the City Manager before they would exit the 8th floor or the building. No one seem available from the Mayor’s office – it appeared that all of the top officials were on vacation.

Officer Merkasamer used his cell phone to make the calls.

After more than an hour wait, City Manager Regina Williams was located. Her first remark on the phone to the ACORN spokesperson was that the protest demonstration “was not good for San Jose.” After a flurry of calendar reviews, an appointment was scheduled for her and ACORN members to meet on July 29.

Mayor Hammer has promised ACORN that the Agency/Board/City Council will be reviewing a “First Source Hiring” proposal early in August.

In the meantime, Agency Director Frank Taylor has announced plans for more major projects and will soon be submitting these proposals for Agency Board/City Council approval. The Agency Board/City Council will be back in their offices in August.

For the dates and agendas of upcoming meetings of the City Council and the Redevelopment Agency, contact your City Council person. Their names are listed in the government pages (blue) at the beginning of the San Jose telephone directory or call the Mayor’s office at 277-4237. © La Oferta Newspaper.

 

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