The Circus is Back in Town

Downtown Redevelopment
Tony Brown

It seems like this city throws up it’s hands about every fifteen to twenty years in frustration at the state of things downtown and commences to produce a very expensive analysis and plan for improvement. Somewhere at City Hall there is a collection of these detailed, professional reports (none of which have ever been used).
Well, we’re at it again and the next version of the redevelopment of our downtown is well underway so I thought I’d check in on it to see how it’s going.
First I checked the published 2010 City Council Priority List to see how much money we were spending on this latest exercise. The list does show that this is a high priority and it shows that the CC budgeted $250,000. Seems like a lot to me but apparently it’s peanuts as the actual cost is sitting at $571,000 right now. Wow, for that much money they must be doing a lot of drawing and conceptualizing.
The planners have stated that they think we need more buildings (they need to do a lot of drawing for the dough). Certainly they must be aware of all the empty space in town – both retail and other commercial space. Having lived here for about thirty-five years I know that keeping existing space filled has always been a challenge in our town. I would think they would concentrate on upgrading existing buildings with maybe a few key new buildings in prominent locations.
Next I attended a meeting where I watched the planners perform a presentation in front of about thirty-five people. They showed some good ideas and said the right things to get our “buy in”. I was, however, surprised to see that they had drawn in a new building on the parking lot of a building that my wife Orrie and I own (Plaza de Prosperidad). A drive thru area of the lot has also been turned into El Camino Real. No, we weren’t consulted on this “improvement” and when I discussed this with a few of them they gave me a vague answer that I didn’t need to worry about the parking. No parking? OK. Are we talking about Eminent Domain here? I’m sure I’m not the only property owner downtown who will be wondering about this.
I want to have a bustling, vibrant downtown as much as anybody and I think this can be achieved by focusing on just a few things.

  • Make downtown clean and safe. If people feel safe more of them will go there at night.

  • Spruce-up or upgrade those areas that are owned by the City so we have a good-looking scene.

  • Encourage the building owners to spruce-up or upgrade their properties and then let Capitalism do its thing. Get out of the way.
I believe if this City can refrain from micro-managing and use of Eminent Domain good things will happen. We need to turn away from government control and embrace the private marketplace. I will be following this planning exercise to it’s completion, to see if it actually helps us or if it finds a spot on the dusty shelves of City Hall archives.
But right now I don’t think this is the best use of over $500,000. Stay tuned.


Anonymous said...

I am a commercial real estate consultant of 31 years and live in San Juan. I can say that there has been an excess of commercial and retail space in SJC since 1986. With the current high level occupancy and weak tenant mixes throughout the City, I see no reason for the City Planners to get involved in future building plans. These staff jobs should be eliminated to save money and then the City should enforce the local building codes to get landlords to comply. Other than the few properties by the Mission, there is really nothing that we should be proud of.

Anonymous said...

Do you know of a city that does not employ city planners?

Jonathan Volzke said...


First off, there has been absolutely no talk of emient domain in this plan -- in fact, the city's power to use eminent domain has expired and is quite complicated to restore. I think you know that and you're just trying to stir people up.

Seconly, didn't you take city money -- tax money -- to improve your privately-owned building downtown? How do you balance your comments that Capitalism should rule when you in effect relied on socialism (public money for your private gain) ?

It seems like you think it's OK for the city to use tax dollars to help you, but no one else.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like John Voltzke has allready cashed the check from the local chamber of commerce in which the company he works for- picket fences- is going to publish a local business directory with sjc local stories/trivia...doesn't the Chamber get $25,000 from city hall? Conflict of interest for a journalist who is suppose to report not misconstrue?
Hey, John when the council pays over $500,000 to consultants to put a city redevelopment plan together -they might want to tell them not to draw all over private property may conclude eminent domain if they had 1/2 a brain.
You know what else is complicated John--illegally buying property out of the city with bond $$$ for open space, city didn't have to much trouble getting around that quickly did they?
Next time you try to spin the facts you might want to give more credit to the intelligence of the people who may read them.

Jonathan Volzke said...

What facts did I spin Anonymous?

Your rant didn't address the issues of the Browns using public money to improve their private building.

As for the downtown plan, which I didn't address in my post, but you wanted to rant about, "concluding something" doesn't make it accurate. The city is setting development standards, so when the private market creates an environment for a building owner to rebuild his/her building, they have information up front about what will be acceptable under the zoning.

That is no different than zoning standards now, just more detailed.

That is an advantage for private enterprise.

As for a conflict of interest, Picket Fence Media publishes many speciality guides. We are not being paid by the Chamber to publish the guide. But that's apparently another incorrect conclusion you've drawn.

And it's Volzke, no T, but I imagine you're smart enough to know that, since I actually have the courage to post under my own name.

Anonymous said...

To John the courageous Volzke with no T,

As a journalist why dont you include the facts on how much and what for the Brown's improved their building since you are a journalist and these facts would impact your accusatory rant against them?
"The city is setting development standards....and this is an advantage for private enterprise" ha ha ha Are you in the private enterprise sector, because if not you might want to ask those that are what they think about this instead of telling readers that this is a good thing. Sounds like a quote from one of your buddies on the counsel.
Your incestuous relationship with poloticians and players in the community hardly puts you in a position to report accurately without emotion.
How many journalists and cities think it is ok to give an award to the very person who is suppose to be writing about them? What a joke.
You are simply a character in the drama "As San Juan turns."
Do you think you would have the opportunity to publish this in partnership with the city if you were accurately reporting the truth about them...nothing is free. The chamber gets money from the city and the chamber partners with you instead of someone else...get it John.

Chamber Connection Shop San Juan!

Dear Chamber Member,

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Anonymous and happy about it so I won't be one of your next targets like the Browns.

Tony Brown said...

I'd like to clarify a few points that were brought up.
Regarding the use/or not of eminent domain: I wasn't aware that the City's right to use eminent domain had expired. I had heard that this right might lapse but I had not heard that it actually happened. Aside from that, Orrie (my wife) and I have had first hand experience with the threat of
ED, a few years back, at the hands of this city. We managed to fend that off, at no small expense to ourselves.
The Studio 111 people have now produced a concept plan that, among other things, shows a new building and an extension of El Camino Real on a downtown property that we own ( and several other properties as well). If this is the visual document of record then any reasonable person could conclude that these buildings and roads were going to be built. It is not unreasonable to think that the city might use ED the gain their desired right of way over and through these properties. So unless I see, with my own eyes, a document signed by the CC that states that there will be no use of ED during the course of the downtown project, I will remain concerned about it. And I will continue to write and speak about it.
As for the use of public money for our privately owned building, that is correct.
Probably four years ago the city was promoting a downtown beautification project, which included signage. Douglas Dumhart was actively selling the project and he came to us to get us involved. Back then I was feeling much more cooperative with the city and I wasn't too concerned with being made to look bad so in the spirit of working with the city and other property owners I took him up on his offer to partially reimburse us for the cost of updating our signs. It amounted to somewhere between 2 and 4 thousand dollars. If I had the same offer presented to me today I would pass on it. BTW, Orrie warned me not to take the offer. Guess she was right.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Volzke really uncovered a big story, the Brown's split the cost of updating the sign in front of their building several years ago at the request of the city... splitting the cost of somewhere from 2000 to 4000.
What was his award for from the city anonymous is talking about?

Jonathan Volzke said...


It's probably easier to convince yourself you're right when you just make things up, but I can assure you the city wasn't even aware of any such partnership until the e-mail blast went out.

You, by the way, come across as an angry person.

Tony, thanks for the honest answers. But again, ED can't be used without many public hearings, etc. There's no way it can snuck back in.

Again, there might be a day when you as property owners look at the plan as a way to increase the value of your property, on your own free will.

Here's a good link about redevelopment law:

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