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EXCLUSIVE: City of San Jose Official Addresses Sharks’ Concerns with Development

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Credit: Photographing Travis (CC BY 2.0)

Over the last week, we’ve heard a lot from San Jose Sharks president Jonathan Becher about the team’s concerns with the city of San Jose and Google’s re-development plans around SAP Center.

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But what are the city of San Jose’s thoughts? Outside of a statement to San Jose Hockey Now and sightings in San Jose Spotlight and Mercury News stories, the city has remained mostly quiet about the Sharks’ criticisms.

To remedy that, SJHN spoke with the city of San Jose’s director of Economic Development Nanci Klein, touching on the city’s reaction to the Sharks’ incendiary e-mail to the fans, whether there’s flexibility with the proposed reduction in the street network, and why she thinks the Sharks won’t move.

Sheng Peng: Were you or the city caught by surprise by the e-mail that the San Jose Sharks sent their fans last Friday?

Nanci Klein: Well, not exactly. The Sharks are in close contact very publicly with fans. Parking and access is a topic that’s near and dear to everybody’s heart. So it’s not unusual that from time to time, our conversations are done through the media.

But they had not shared. They had not telegraphed this was coming.

SP: Sharks president Jonathan Becher said there’s been more communication between the city and the Sharks since that e-mail. How much communication was there before?

NK: We want to make sure that we’re communicating well. We’ve had pretty much weekly meetings with the Sharks, conversation with leadership. Not with Jonathan Becher, but others. Pretty much for the last couple of years. So the communication is very direct and regular.

SP: The Sharks’ largest concern is the street network reduction, especially on adjacent Santa Clara and Autumn streets. What is the city’s side on that issue?

NK: Let me just say the city is very much committed to making sure access and circulation and parking work for the Sharks. We have a very important relationship.

The Sharks have been incredibly important to the city for the last 20-plus years and we very much want that to keep going that way for the next 40, 50 years at least, right?

So the city has the desire to maintain the good working relationship. Other teams don’t necessarily enjoy such a great working relationship with the cities they’re in.

But we are fortunate: The relationships are good and the team has fantastic people.

SP: Is there a completion date planned for the reduction of the street network?

NK: There isn’t. I think what’s being referenced are drawings about plans that could happen. I don’t believe we would see it, if it were going to happen, for 10 to 15 years.

SP: But even at that time, will there be speedy public transportation to SAP Center available to places farther out like Morgan Hill or Gilroy?

NK: Well, you know from going to games regularly that there’s a bunch of different ways and programs that lead into good access.

One of them is what we refer to as a traffic management plan or TPMP. Right now, San Jose, in partnership with the Sharks, has been exceedingly successful using police officers at key locations and being very savvy about where to put those traffic controls. Where to change two ways into one ways and really block off turns until you hit the freeway or another arterial.

So TPMP will be part of the plans forever. We will work with the Sharks to keep maintaining.

Some of the transportation analysis that we’re doing shows that the traffic runs can remain at the same production. It can be managed so that the same amount of cars are getting in and out as they are today, even when the development program starts to build out.

It’s all about light control or having police in key locations. You can have continuous flow where police officers are directing traffic as opposed to following the lights.

SP: So you’re saying if someone is driving from a Morgan Hill, even with two lanes instead of four on Santa Clara Street, that if the traffic is handled correctly, that person will arrive at SAP Center at roughly the same time?

NK: Right. And that’s the same thing that is being done today.

In all, it’ll be a mix of things, as happens with many other locations for major sports or concerts. People often park a little further out and take shuttles in. They park at adjacent transit stations. And we have every intention of working with Caltrain to make sure that trains are much better timed.

I should also add, I didn’t say it would be reduced. There are initial notions. I’m not saying for sure. There is flexibility.

There are changes that could happen, but I don’t really see them until 10 or 15 years from now.

SP: That was going to be my next question: So it’s also possible to hold off on reducing lanes until you’re sure that the Sharks and SAP Center aren’t heavily impacted?

NK: Right. As mentioned, the Sharks are incredibly important to the city. We are going to be good partners, as we have been.

SP: A bit of an aside, but the Sharks clearly weren’t feeling heard before they sent out the e-mail. Why do you think they may have felt that way?

NK: That’s a very good question.

There’s a lot of opportunity to do things in different ways and because we haven’t landed on a certain way, perhaps there’s discomfort.

There was another quote that I heard today, which makes me really happy, that the leadership at the Sharks is feeling a little bit more heard. In some instances, we might have been talking past each other.

Like every long-term relationship, we’re going to continue to work on our communication.

SP: Now onto parking. You’ve said previously that the city of San Jose plans on honoring all parking obligations to the Sharks. So in that case, this issue, while important, shouldn’t prove to be an problem if you guys hold up your end?

NK: This is really important to the Sharks, and we totally get that. I think, on one hand, there is absolutely good reason to trust that the city will produce because we have. But I also get it from the Sharks’ point of view, that they want to see it, you know?

SP: Finally, the Sharks called for the city to hire a Master Planner to coordinate these multiple, simultaneous construction projects — we’re talking Google, the city, BART, and Caltrain. When will such a person be selected?

NK: The city is very much discussing this. We have done this in the past, there has been, I would lovingly say, a parking or a construction management czar. A coordinator.

Absolutely, that will be important.

I want to mention right now, there is no date for starting BART. There are tentative time frames, but there’s no solid date.

We don’t know what portion of the Google project will be built first.

So we absolutely have every intention of working on a construction mitigation program. The exact timing, the city is working with the other agencies, so I can’t give you an exact time.

We’re thinking it through. Absolutely no disagreement with the Sharks. But it’s a little hard to get it all nailed down at this particular moment because there’s so many unanswered questions.

SP: Do you believe, if these three central concerns are met, that the San Jose Sharks will be satisfied? Or will they want more?

NK: I think it’s a great working relationship. There’s always discussion about operations and neighborhood concerns.

But like I said, our relationship with the Sharks and the Sharks with us has been really good.

SP: Do you think the Sharks will leave San Jose?

NK: Well, we don’t want to take them for granted.

What we look to and as Jonathan Becher said, they were born here. They’ve grown here, an amazing team and amazing operation and amazing marketing package.

We fully intend to continue to be good partners. Should that be the case, I don’t see any reason they would leave. And as you’ve heard, that isn’t their intent.

SP: Finally, it’s fair to say that the city of San Jose has been cast in an unpleasant light over the last week or so. Is there anything you’d like to say, on behalf of the the city, to Sharks fans?

NK: I’m maybe sounding like I’m repeating myself because I guess I am. But the Sharks really are an honored and valued entity in San Jose. It’s part of our identity. It’s part of who we are. It’s part of who we want to be. It’s San Jose, for sure, and the entire region, I would argue.

So in case, if any of your readers had thought that we had somehow been taking the Sharks for granted or do not appreciate the Sharks, that is not true.

We will continue to work with the Sharks and be good partners.

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