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Michael Mulcahy

Running for: 

Council District 6

Campaign Website: 

1) PAC*SJ recently released its second annual “Endangered Eight” list of the most threatened historic places in San José. Which of these places (including those from our 2022 “Endangered Eight” of which some remain endangered) most resonates with you personally? Which of these would you use the power of your elected office to address, and how? 

First Church of Christ, Scientist: The most recent chapter of the First Church of Christ, Scientist in downtown San José has caught my attention for many reasons, but key among them is that it was previously owned by my family, who gave free use of the building to the San José Children’s Musical Theater (CMT) in the 1970’s and 80’s. CMT is the largest theater for youth in the US and the longest thriving arts organization in San José – now celebrating its 56th year.

I am a CMT alumnus and its former Executive Director who grew up rehearsing at what we then called the Palace of Performing Arts (POPA). My grandfather, Frank DiNapoli, was nicknamed Poppy, so CMT came up with a name to honor him, calling the building POPA. For years we enjoyed POPA and St. James Park as our playground as we traipsed across downtown to the only food source, McDonald's at San Carlos and 3rd Street.

The recent actions by the current owner have sparked reminiscing with the surviving family members of CMT founder John P. Healy, as well as my mother Shirlee DiNapoli Schiro (now 95), who shared that she was asked by her father Frank to “bring that young man (Healy) to [his] office.” There, he told John he could use the building for $1 per year. CMT moved into POPA in 1972 and used it continuously through 1981. Nine years of auditions, rehearsals, classes, set construction, costuming, homework sessions, and pure joy.

It was also the launching pad for countless professional careers, many of whom continue to bring their talents back to CMT. But more importantly, it was the place where thousands of young people – ages 6-21 – got their first experience of participating in theater arts. There have been many amazing chapters for CMT, and POPA ranks as one of the most formative.

The First Church of Christ, Scientist should be rehabilitated as a community or complimentary space for any new development that takes place at that site. It has presence, history, and architectural features not easily replicated. This should be the responsibility of the developer to accomplish – and if possible – the work of a public-private partnership that could allow it to be a publicly accessible space for future generations.

Behind each of the buildings recognized on your list, there is historic significance, and in each case, there are personal stories like mine that should be shared and celebrated.

2) Is there a historic place or preservation issue not on our 2022 or 2023 “Endangered Eight” lists that you would nominate to be added? If so, what solutions would you offer as an elected official to address the issue/threat?

I would nominate Grace Baptist Church for the Endangered Eight list, whose rich history is being threatened by potential redevelopment for housing, putting at risk its legacy as a central meeting place for civil rights movements in San José. Built in 1941, the church was once ministered by local legend Rev. Shorty Collins, who tirelessly worked for peace throughout his life and in his career in the city. The basement was used as an organizing location for the early United Farm Workers with Cesar Chavez having spoken there, and has been utilized in recent years as a meeting place for communities in times of strife. It is important that we protect centers that bring communities together, and as an elected official I would emphasize the importance of legacy community spaces for our city. We need to build housing where it makes sense – not where it deteriorates the character of our neighborhoods. As an elected official, I would prioritize community input on such issues and work to provide incentives for property owners to preserve important historic elements and structures, which mean so much for community engagement, city history, tourism, and culture.

3) In the past three years alone, at least six vacant historic buildings in San José have been lost to fire, and many more have suffered from chronic neglect and vandalism. Often, these properties were left vacant after former tenants were displaced in anticipation of future development that never materialized.  How would you propose more effective code enforcement and security measures to encourage better stewardship and to prevent the continued loss of our historic resources to neglect? What additional solutions would you propose to address these systemic problems?  

I am committed to fully staffing our police department and making sure our new officers are patrolling in our neighborhoods, putting a stop to quality-of-life crimes like vandalism. I am first and foremost a business founder. The skills I’ve obtained through this work have made me uniquely qualified to tackle systemic issues including incomplete or stalled development, chronic neglect, and poor stewardship. Working with other members of the City Council and other stakeholders, we can and should explore:
● Implementing stricter enforcement of property maintenance regulations for vacant historic buildings.
● Requiring property owners to submit maintenance plans for vacant historic buildings.
● Installing attractive yet substantial fencing with story-boards to tell the site’s story.
● Requiring security cameras and lighting to deter vandalism and unauthorized access.
● Collaborating with law enforcement to increase patrols in areas with vacant historic buildings.
● Conducting fire-risk assessments and implementing fire-prevention strategies in vacant buildings.

4) Do you believe the City should require compensatory mitigation fees and/or surety bonds from developers who request and receive entitlements to alter or demolish historic resources?  If such policies are instituted and enforced, how would you like to see those funds directed? 

I believe that compensatory mitigation fees and surety bonds can be an effective strategy to incentivize preservation and mitigate the loss of cultural heritage – but my career and work to revitalize our neighborhoods has shown me that we can’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to these issues. If such policies are implemented, they could be directed toward initiatives such as:
● Neighborhood public space revitalization and enhancement projects.
● Supporting a San José historic preservation fund and preservation incentives.
● Maintaining and updating the city’s Historic Resources Inventory (HRI) and related surveys.

5) The City has long acknowledged that its 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 for communities and developers alike?

It is vitally important that our city maintains its Historic Resources Inventory (HRI). Our city’s leaders are not fully equipped to make important development decisions without updated information on the status of our historic sites. I would need to thoroughly review the budget and program to determine how to best address this issue, and we need to adequately fund the HRI to ensure it is an effective resource. Community engagement and transparency are important to me. On City Council, I will ensure robust community engagement in discussions about proposed developments through public forums. I will also ensure that clear and accessible information about proposed developments is available, including potential impacts on neighborhood character and historic resources. This is key to making sure that our city’s leaders and residents can make informed decisions about development projects.

I have had personal experience redeveloping an important site; our family’s former Sun Garden Packing Company on Monterey Road at Alma. Now stands Sun Garden Shopping Center, after a 5-year entitlement process to convert the former cannery. During that time I worked personally with members of the PAC*SJ board and historic preservation community BEFORE we submitted any plans to the city for redevelopment. We did the same with the Three Creeks Trail boosters to satisfy access through our development, committing an acre of land to keep the connection. We did the same with neighborhood leaders to answer their number one wish to bring them a grocery store.

We offered and delivered on several elements of historic mitigation, including a Bob Cartier photo-documentation of the site and its interiors, a narrative of the site and the industry’s history, and utilized architectural elements and construction materials that worked to represent the eras of the site as a cannery – stucco (to mark its early California Mission era), red Sacramento blend brick (representing early structural and fire separation), corrugated metal (used for early warehouse sides and roofs), and structural steel (marking the food machinery transition from wood and metal in the 70s). Additionally, the grocery store bears three (3) 20’ tall x 10’ wide artistic murals capturing the spirit of cannery workers and the labels branded at Sun Garden and the former Bisceglia Brothers. I wanted to erect a water tower to mark the entry of the site, but the city's planning department would not allow it, as it would be against the sign ordinance – that was a bitter pill and a big missed opportunity.

You can also ask me about my personal work to purchase and rehabilitate old buildings on Lincoln Avenue in Willow Glen and my efforts to restore historically significant neon signs.

6) San José has yet to receive final approval for its State-mandated Housing Element, and is therefore currently subject to the “Builder’s Remedy” law requiring streamlined approval of otherwise non-conforming residential development projects. How would you help ensure that citizens continue to have a voice in developments that might threaten the character and livability of their neighborhoods, particularly if there are historic resources at risk? 

Since this questionnaire was developed, San José’s Housing Element has been approved. But community engagement and transparency must stay front and center. On the City Council, I will ensure robust community engagement in discussions about proposed developments through public forums. As exemplified in my work at Sun Garden, developers shouldn’t have to be told to hold a community meeting or to speak to neighbors – that should be a given and first on their list. I will also ensure that clear and accessible information about proposed developments is available, including their potential impacts on the surrounding neighborhood and historic buildings. This is key to making sure that our city’s leaders and residents can make informed decisions about development projects. City leaders also need to advocate for local control over decision-making – including advocating to fix state laws that have taken away community voices in housing and neighborhood development. As we address our housing crisis, we must build where it makes sense – not where it affects our quality of life or destroys the unique character of our neighborhoods. It should be noted that our campaign was solely endorsed by Families and Homes San José, a network of 24 neighborhood associations in support of the preservation of single-family home zoning and smart infill growth that is best for affordability, environment, and transportation.

7) City park lands are a critical resource for the people of San José and are potential receiver sites for distinctive historic buildings that must be relocated to make way for new developments.  Would you support this as a mitigation measure for new developments with historic resources that would otherwise be demolished? How do you envision that these resources could be best utilized within the parks for the benefit of the public?

Supporting city park lands as receiver sites for distinctive historic buildings can be a viable mitigation measure, provided careful planning and community input guide the process. Utilizing parks for this purpose can preserve cultural heritage while enhancing public spaces. It can also foster educational opportunities and promote community engagement – History Park (and History San José) is our prime example. I envision these resources repurposed as community centers, museums, and cultural hubs that offer residents and visitors opportunities for recreation and learning about the rich history of San José. Increasing the accessibility of historic structures allows these resources to be shared more equitably by San José’s residents. However, such initiatives should be approached thoughtfully, considering factors like accessibility, maintenance, and the preservation of natural habitats within the parks.


8) In 2022 California passed SB9, which allows by-right redevelopment of up to four new units on most R1 (single-family-zoned) parcels statewide, but exempted historic properties, historic districts, and R2 (duplex-zoned) neighborhoods from eligibility. In 2024, City Council will consider expanding SB9-type entitlements to include historic properties and R2 districts. Do you believe this type of development is appropriate for historic homes and older neighborhoods? Why or why not?


While San José’s housing crisis remains a priority to me, we must protect the character of our historic properties and historic districts. (See above sole endorsement by Families and Homes SJ). When I am elected to City Council, I plan to tackle complex issues that have allowed San José’s housing crisis to reach a boiling point. However, laws like SB-9 don’t take into account the historic character of our neighborhoods, local input over how our city is developed, or the need to specifically build near jobs and transit in San José – where we already have traffic issues. Our beautiful neighborhoods are the heart and soul of our city and we don’t need to bulldoze them to create new housing options. The solution to the housing crisis isn’t just to build whatever developers want, wherever they want. What we do need to focus our work on is putting thousands of new homes and apartments downtown where they make sense, near jobs and transit.

9) 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 or would propose to undertake--either professionally or personally-- that best embodies your vision for historic preservation in San José?

My family has been in San José for four generations and has been deeply involved in the preservation and cultivation of neighborhoods and businesses that have become cultural institutions. This work is near and dear to me.

By safeguarding tangible links to San José’s past, the city fosters a sense of identity and belonging among residents while promoting economic development. Preserving our landmarks is vital to promoting tourism, creating cultural identity and sense of community, stimulating investment, and facilitating cultural exchange and understanding.

In my professional work I have invested in a number of properties along historic Lincoln Avenue in downtown Willow Glen, helping to revamp the area and stimulating our local economy. One such property is the Garden Theatre, which opened in 1949 and operated as a first-run movie house for the neighborhood. The stories I hear from people that saw Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or a Shirley Temple film back in the day are endless. We purchased the property from the prior owner who had worked to repurpose the structure to be multi-use while maintaining the original facade. We then completed the project to bring back the art deco color schemes, finishes, and artwork to reminisce with its past. We’ve been creative with its occupants as well. For much of 2023, we donated a ground floor space to a local arts education nonprofit – ArtHouse Studio. They transformed the Garden lobby into a student art gallery, hosting field trips and children’s’ art projects. The purpose of the building changed to meet the developing needs of our neighborhood, but it continued to act as a community center facilitating culture exchange, providing a sense of identity, and bringing young people together.

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