1) PAC*SJ recently released its first annual “Endangered Eight” list of the most threatened historic places in San José. As a resident of the City, which of these eight places most resonates with you personally? Which of these would you use the power of your elected office to address, and how?
I think the “Endangered Eight” is a wonderful idea and an important list of historic places in San Jose that we as a city must preserve for future generations to learn and appreciate our history. Of the eight on the list, the site that most resonates with me is Diridon Station. The station served as both a symbol of opportunity and practical service for me, as I would take buses 2-hours each way each day to get to and from high school here in San Jose. I made the daily trip from Watsonville to attend Bellarmine as a work-study scholarship student, working on the grounds crew in the summers to cover my tuition costs during the school year. I distinctly remember the rising feeling of hope and excitement I would feel each morning as I arrived at Diridon Station, a feeling I have no doubt thousands of other immigrants to San Jose (including my great grandfather) must have felt over the years as they arrived at the station.
Later in life, when I came back to San Jose after my time at Harvard (and after convincing my wife that San Jose is the best place in the world to raise a family), Diridon Station became my means of getting to and from work daily. I would take the 7am Caltrain to my office in San Francisco where I was the CEO of Brigade. Just as Diridon Station represented “hope” and “opportunity” for me as I was growing up, it came to represent “home” for me each evening. Seeing the brick building from the train told me that my wife and daughter Nina were just minutes away.
As an elected official, I want to protect each of the “Endangered Eight,” and I’m especially excited to protect Diridon Station as we transform the station into one of, if not the largest transit hub in the western United States. We can preserve it and make it a place of hope, opportunity and home for future San Joseans.
2) Is there a historic place or preservation issue not on our “Endangered Eight” list that you would nominate to be added? If so, what solutions would you offer as an elected official to address the issue/threat?
We are so lucky to be in District 10, which has some of the most historic sites in all of Santa Clara Valley. Of the historic places not listed on the “Endangered Eight”, I would like to add the Old Almaden Winery to this list. The Old Almaden Winery was the first winery in California. It’s history as a place of importance in San Jose has been lost to many, but it remains a popular destination for San Joseans who live in South San Jose and who enjoy its beauty and the surrounding park. Thankfully, it has been protected as a California Historical Landmark. However, the winery has fallen into disrepair and may be further damaged if action is not taken soon.
As an elected official, my staff and I have already worked to enhance the beauty of the site through park cleanups, and by working with organizations such as the Friends of the Winemakers, an organization committed to telling the story of the early winemakers of Santa Clara County and the Santa Cruz Mountains.
To better protect the site, I plan to lobby City Hall to secure grant dollars for its preservation and restoration. I will continue to work with the Friends of the Winemakers (and PAC*SJ) to help bring this site back to life and as a place of education and learning. It’s through organizations like yours that we can fully utilize the talent of local historians and combine it with the resources available from the private and public sector. Beyond lobbying City Hall, I will help support this effort by bringing in private dollars to match the public dollars we can secure from the city (and other government agencies) to bring the winery back to its original beauty.
3) Do you believe that SB9, which allows by-right redevelopment of up to four new units on most single-family-zoned parcels statewide, is compatible with the preservation of older and historic homes and neighborhoods? Why or why not?
If implemented incorrectly, SB9 could pose a grave threat to our historic neighborhoods. I have been a staunch and consistent opponent of SB9 and similarly misguided blanket upzoning policies which lack nuance and fail to acknowledge local circumstances and needs. I was the first Councilmember to organize a public press conference and petition campaign in opposition to SB9 and Opportunity Housing, not only because I have concerns about densification without proper infrastructure investment, but also because I oppose by-right development in our neighborhoods without strong community input and Council oversight.
In the past, hasty upzoning and remodeling of single family homes has severely degraded historic homes and neighborhoods, such as in the South University Neighborhood, where many formerly beautiful homes were converted into duplexes or multi-plexes without regard for aesthetics, historic significance or the impacts on neighbors. The SUN neighborhood has suffered as it now houses a largely transitory population of student renters which don’t always show the neighborhood the care it deserves. We absolutely need to build sufficient student housing, especially as housing costs continue to rise, though it should be done smartly in dense university-adjacent apartments, not by gradually encroaching on historic neighborhoods — which Naglee Park successfully organized to curtail in past years.
When this issue came to Council in December, I voted against expanding SB9 to historic neighborhoods. I do not believe that its implementation, particularly the by-right nature of the law, is compatible with preservation of historic homes and I will continue to oppose efforts to use bills like SB9 to convert historical neighborhoods into high-density neighborhoods.
4) In the past two years alone, at least five vacant historic buildings in San José have been lost to fire, and many more have suffered from chronic neglect and vandalism. How would you propose more effective code enforcement to prevent the continued loss of our historic resources to neglect? What additional measures would you propose to address these systemic problems?
We must do much more to restore civic pride in San Jose and protect our built environment, from historic buildings to public infrastructure such as the Guadalupe River Park. We’re witnessing unprecedented levels of fires, vandalism and other forms of blight and destruction that ultimately boil down to a lack of responsibility and accountability on the part of both government and some individuals in our community. On government’s part, I believe that our City and County are not doing enough to enforce the laws on our books, provide in-patient addiction and mental health treatment for those who need it, and create cost-effective shelter to bring our homeless population in from the outdoors. By the same token, I believe that individuals have a responsibility to accept safe and secure shelter when it is provided. By working closely with community members, law enforcement, our Housing Department and other stakeholders, we can create stronger incentives for individuals to accept shelter, but first we must provide it. I’ve advocated for identifying government owned land, such as land surrounding the wastewater treatment facility, for cost-effective modular units and on-site services. Moreover, when individuals break the law, I will lean on our partners in the DA’s office and the County court system to create real and effective pathways for treatment as an alternative to jail (or, sadly, the de facto situation today, which is simply release without charges filed or any other intervention).
Of course, the unhoused community is only responsible for a portion of code violations. I will increase staffing for our Code Enforcement team, will explore splitting structural code enforcement off from street-level code enforcement, which may be better served residing under the auspices of SJPD, and will be a consistent and vocal advocate for safe and clean streets. My top three priorities as Mayor will be: reducing street homelessness, increasing public safety, and cleaning up our streets. All three priorities have policy and implementation overlap, and the strategies that will be required to advance all three priorities will simultaneously enhance the protection and preservation of our built environment. And I’ll look forward to working closely with you to ensure this is the case.
Finally, I will work with our development and landlord communities–which have been generally supportive of my candidacy–to better incorporate historical preservation into the way we do business in San Jose. As an example, developers who spend money to go beyond the basic preservation actions required by city code should be rewarded with lower fees.
5) Do you believe the city should collect compensatory mitigation fees from development projects that result in the demolition of historic resources? Why or why not? If such a policy was instituted, how would you like to see those funds directed?
I believe that a compensatory mitigation fee would likely be a valuable tool for incentivizing developers to protect and incorporate historic resources into new developments. It is important to maintain and restore our historic structures, and introducing ‘skin in the game’ for developers looking to redevelop historic areas could be greatly beneficial. I would like to see an analysis from City staff to inform the rules and structure related to such a fee — this may take the form of a cost-benefit analysis of the fee’s impact on investment in the housing and jobs that we need as well as the potential benefits of historic preservation.
I would advocate that any funds raised from such a fee be directly invested in historical preservation, such as restoring historic buildings, investing in historical markers like plaques and statues to educate the public on our local history, and other programs that promote and celebrate San Jose’s rich history.
6) The City has long acknowledged that our Historic Resources Inventory-- a citywide survey of historic sites intended to proactively guide development decisions-- is incomplete and out-of-date. Do you support increased City funding and staffing levels to ensure that the HRI is an up-to-date and effective planning tool?
Yes, I believe that the HRI is an important investment and I would support increased staff, though I would also like to see City Hall think more creatively about how to leverage the knowledge and passion of our residents, many of whom have greater knowledge and expertise in this area. In my City Council office, we have pioneered a set of community-led working groups that channel the expertise and passion of District 10 residents into productive action. We’ve empowered neighborhood leaders to join with other interested residents to tackle key issues with support from our office: gathering mental health advocates to help pass Laura’s Law, creek enthusiasts to clean up our waterways, and environmentally concerned residents to transition San Jose away from noisy and polluting gas leaf blowers.
I am certain that we have dozens, if not hundreds of knowledgeable and passionate San Joseans who would be eager to involve themselves their local government, especially to preserve history. I say this because San Jose faces serious budget constraints and thin staffing in general (I wrote a blog post on this in 2020:
https://mattmahansj.medium.com/big-city-small-budget-d53480942a42), though I also believe we can more effectively deliver city resources by being smarter about our use of resources.
7) What role do you believe that historic preservation should play in creating and sustaining a vibrant and culturally diverse future for San José? Is there a particular project or effort you have undertaken--either professionally or personally-- that best embodies your vision for historic preservation in San José?
San Jose’s history is not just an interesting story for me, but a part of my family’s story and my identity. On my mother’s side, my family roots go back four generations to 1911. I am blessed to have over a century of local history intertwined with my family’s history, including stories from family members who worked in the orchards, canneries and other places that made San Jose a special place. My mother has told me countless stories of my grandfather who was part of the first class to graduate from Bellarmine’s current campus site in 1929 and whose law practice was just a couple of blocks from St. James Park and of my grandmother, who was one of the first licensed female stockbrokers in the state of California. These stories helped shape my own future by attracting me back to this city of opportunity as a high school student.
I am particularly proud of the work we have completed around the New Almaden Ting—otherwise known as a pagoda—located in Quicksilver Park (adjacent to my Council district though not within the city limits). Once the most productive mercury mines in the continental United States, Quicksilver supplied large quantities of mercury to the Qing Dynasty in the 19th Century. To express his gratitude for the partnership, Emperor Qianlong gifted the Ting to the Almaden community. While the Ting unfortunately washed away during a series of floods in the 1980s, its presence in local archives recalls some of the most noteworthy footnotes of San Jose history and has been a preservation priority of mine since I entered office last January. Michele Dexter, the Community Relations Coordinator on our District 10 team, has led restoration efforts for the Ting, helping build out an informational website, work on reconstruction plans and build community interest in the Ting.