Staedler: A hard look at the San Jose Downtown Association
Scott Knies, San Jose Downtown Association executive director, spoke Friday at the organization's annual meeting. Photo by Katie Lauer.

The deeply troubling comments of the San Jose Downtown Association (SJDA) Director Scott Knies shows the toxic nature of the national political scene has fully infected San Jose.

It has never been clearer to me than when I witnessed Knies going off the rails at his yearly member meeting. It is generally a victory lap of the great things happening in Downtown San Jose plus committee chair reports. This year, Knies invited me to the meeting and said that I would like what I heard.

It couldn’t have been farther from the truth.

Knies bemoaned the evils of a labor-backed Fair Elections Initiative measure that he characterized as “devious” and “duplicitous.” This can be corroborated by the reporting of San José Spotlight freelance reporter Katie Lauer, among others.

Knies then derided San Jose City Hall and how the local government is run, calling for a strong mayor form of government to replace our city-manager system. He shook up the crowd when he expressed frustration with some councilmembers — often called the City’s Council’s “Latino Caucus” — and how “we must not succumb to the tribalism beginning to infect our city.” He added that he was dismayed the “issue of race” was invoked by councilmembers on the losing side of two 6-5 votes earlier this year.

Two days later, Knies retreated after being admonished by Councilmember Raul Peralez, who was personally offended by his words and demanded an apology. Knies responded the next day with what I would characterize as a “sorry, not really sorry” letter that truly missed the mark.

It’s one thing for any and all advocacy groups to have extreme positions on the state of San Jose. They have a right to say what they want, but the SJDA oversees the Property Based Improvement District (PBID) money taxed on downtown property owners and receives subsidies from the city of San Jose.

If the SJDA chooses to continue to go down this road of vitriol and hate, it should be replaced as the managing entity of the PBID. As I have stated in a previous column, the GroundWerx crew is doing a great job in making Downtown San Jose a much better place. Team San Jose is an example of an organization that could easily replace the SJDA.

The SJDA Board of Directors needs to take a hard look at themselves and decide what kind of organization they want to be.

It would be really easy for me to take a shot at Knies while he’s down and call for his resignation. Knies needs to look inward and question what he wants. If he really thinks this poorly of our city leaders, then he needs to move on. I agree with Knies that San Jose has never met its true potential, it’s an ever-changing road that we all go down. Not an excuse for his diatribe.

The most troubling part of his “sorry, not sorry” letter to Peralez, in my personal opinion, is “I appreciated that your letter pointed out we had a chance to talk in advance about race being raised from the dais on a couple Council votes while I was on sabbatical. I acknowledged the topic in my speech because race had been introduced into the conversation – and it is a hard, uncomfortable conversation we need to become more comfortable with in our respective roles.”

Let me be perfectly clear about this: I am not a union-backed operative on a mission. Just a reasonable person questioning whether or not the soul of the SJDA has been compromised.

My conclusion: if the SJDA wants to continue to go down this path, step away from the PBID and any city of San Jose subsidies. It’s gut check time for the SJDA board and for Knies. I wish them the best in whatever decision they make.

San José Spotlight columnist Bob Staedler is a principal at Silicon Valley Synergy, a San Jose-based land use and development consulting firm. His columns appear every first Monday of the month. Contact Bob at bob@svsynergy.com or follow @BobStaedler on Twitter.

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