San Jose flirts with `big leagues' // Wishing, hoping for giant step
Haya El Nasser;Jonathan T. Lovitt
SAN JOSE, Calif. - A lot of people know the way to San Jose. They just don't
have too many reasons to go there.
That's been the unfortunate reputation of California's third-largest city, while
glamorous but smaller San Francisco, 50 miles to the north, keeps stealing the
But this week's agreement with the San Francisco Giants to move the major-
league baseball team here in 1996 - if recession-battered voters agree to pay for
all but $30 million of a $185 million ballpark - could put the Bay Area's poor
cousin into the big leagues.
And give frustrated San Joseans a chance to thumb their noses at San Francisco.
``The dowager is getting up there,'' San Jose Mercury News columnist Larry
Slonaker says of San Francisco. ``Maybe we should ... let someone else have
their moment in the sun.''
The rivalry is more than a joke. When San Francisco Supervisor Tom Hsieh
boasted he'd be the first Asian mayor of a major city if elected, former San Jose
mayor Norm Mineta - a Japanese-American - was incensed. Hsieh later added
insult to injury by saying: ``I meant a world-class city.''
Even San Jose native Mike Curl, 22, says: ``San Jose has always been a hick
San Jose, despite its status as the Silicon Valley capital, has had a horrendous
time putting behind its agricultural and provincial roots. The city is sprawling
and mostly flat and congested by traffic. Some call it the Bay Area's arm pit.
Even some of San Jose's 782,248 residents are embarrassed. ``I don't see how
anything can help our prestige,'' says machinist Mike Taylor.
But city officials have put a lot of effort into creating a big-city atmosphere: a $2
billion renovation of downtown, two new museums, and recently attracting its
first major sports team, the National Hockey League's San Jose Sharks.
Mayor Susan Hammer says luring the Giants shows ``for all the country to see
that San Jose is taking charge of its destiny,'' but the deal isn't done.
She'll have to prove to voters that higher taxes are a small sacrifice to make -
even in a bad economy - to join the big leagues. It's not clear how big a tax hike
voters will be asked to approve in June, but it will likely include a jump in utility
taxes, gambling taxes and maybe cigarette and hotel taxes.
Hammer says the tax increase will be ``modest.'' Hiking the 5% utility tax by two
percentage points would cost the average household 9 cents a day for 30 years.
And officials are hopeful because in 1990 San Jose was the only city in Santa
Clara County to approve a similar countywide initiative.
``We're not going to spend millions of dollars to get out of the shadow of San
Francisco,'' says Steve Tedesco, president of the San Jose Metropolitan Chamber
of Commerce. ``The reality of it is that in this decade, the best way to buy the
visibility a city wants for economic development is to get a major- league
The city says the 48,000-seat, open-air ballpark will generate $90 million a year
in extra revenues - through food and beverage, hotels, parking and a portion of
``Most significant will be the designation of San Jose as a destination city,''
Hammer says. ``It's an investment in the future.''
But city officials will have to justify raising taxes when city services - fire,
police, libraries - are being threatened. The city is in its worst budget crisis in a
decade - a projected shortfall of $29 million next year. It proposes a $16 million
annual debt for the ballpark.
``I'd vote no,'' says Carol Adams, a city secretary. ``I don't want my taxes raised,
and I don't want more traffic. Who needs prestige?''
Observes Slonaker: ``The argument could be made that it's a frill, not a necessity.
The vote could be really close.''
EAR CUTLINE:HAMMER: `Taking charge of destiny.' CUTLINE:SO HAPPY
TOGETHER: Mayor Susan Hammer and San Francisco Giants owner Bob Lurie
hug on Wednesday after announcing their `San Jose Giants' agreement.
GRAPHIC;b/w, USA TODAY (Map,Calif.);EAR