Santa Clara County grant will transform section of East San Jose
Jessica Paz-Cedillos, co-executive director of the School of Arts and Culture, envisions offering cultural and social services at a mostly vacant building on Alum Rock Avenue. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

    With a financial boost from Santa Clara County, a blighted, mostly vacant block of stores in East San Jose will be transformed into a performing arts space, cafe and sorely needed mental health clinic.

    On Tuesday, the county Board of Supervisors approved a $250,000 grant for the School of Arts and Culture, which wants to expand to a set of storefronts along Alum Rock Avenue across from the Mexican Heritage Plaza. The grant will go toward predevelopment and consulting costs. An additional $250,000 was provided by the Hewlett Foundation, with another $250,000 from the David & Lucile Packard Foundation, as well as funds from family foundations and individual supporters.

    A gym, eatery and nail salon operate out of a strip of mostly vacant storefronts in East San Jose along Alum Rock Avenue, across from the Mexican Heritage Plaza. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

    Gardner Health Services provided COVID testing and vaccinations at the plaza, and will provide mental health services for the community at the new location.

    “For the county to support a project like this, that’s them taking a stance on equity,” said Jessica Paz-Cedillos, co-executive director of the School of Arts and Culture. “Gardner can bring mental health services to a community that has been devastated by the pandemic.”

    Maritza Maldonado, executive director of Amigos de Guadalupe, said the Si Se Puede Collective is in full support of the redevelopment as a way to preserve its community’s culture, language, music and dance, and help children feel pride in who they are. The collective is comprised of five community organizations, including Amigos de Guadalupe, and provides services to the Mayfair community.

    “We are worth saving, preserving this beautiful community,” Maldonado told San José Spotlight. “We have had to endure generations of social and racial inequities that have plagued this community. We are the people that kept the economy humming… the essential workers.”

    Across from the Mexican Heritage Plaza, a mostly vacant, blighted building will become a mental health clinic, cafe and performing arts theater. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

    Maldonado said mental health programs are needed for the community which suffered trauma from losing loved ones during the pandemic and not being able to attend funerals in their home countries when a parent or sibling died. She said youth were especially in pain, losing their self-esteem, including two she knew who committed suicide.

    “We are also the community that had the highest COVID and mortality rates across the city. We are literally fighting for our very existence,” she said.

    Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez said the impact to mental health is one of the biggest challenges coming out of the pandemic.

    “Having those resources (be) easy to get to, is going to make a significant difference both for children being able to do well in school and families being able to get back on their feet and back to work,” Chavez told San José Spotlight.

    Chavez said the Mexican Heritage Plaza and the surrounding properties are critical parts of both San Jose’s history and its future, especially with the “deep and meaningful relationship” the School of Arts and Culture has with its community. She said providing this redevelopment grant for East San Jose is essential to growing its economy.

    “It’s such a tremendous opportunity to reinvest in a community that has such dramatic needs after COVID-19,” she said. “This reinvestment is really a sign that we have faith in the community and we see the promise there.”

    Hills Training, a martial arts gym owned by Marica and Isaiah Hill, is one of the tenants clustered by a corner of the storefront. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

    Paz-Cedillos envisions bringing vibrancy and culture to the proposed extension of the School of Arts and Culture, while supporting the existing businesses. More than 70% of the building has been vacant for seven to eight years, with 20,000 of its 28,000 square feet unoccupied.

    Hills Training, a martial arts gym owned by Marica and Isaiah Hill, is one of the few tenants in the building. Marica Hill said they relocated from downtown last year due to the large homeless population.

    “I would hope to see a lot more mom and pop businesses in this community,” she told San José Spotlight.

    Paz-Cedillos is eager to bring this investment in commercial space, cultural events and family wellness to East San Jose.

    “The wind is behind our backs,” she said. “We’re going to be able to do this and it’s exciting.”

    Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected].

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