Poor San Jose – so far from God, so close to San Francisco.
San Jose is the 10th largest city in the United States, the third biggest in California – and No. 1 in disrespect. With more than 1 million people, it’s Northern California’s most populous municipality, but it’s constantly outshined by those 850,000 San Franciscans to its north.
San Francisco, California’s spoiled little brother, attracts the cool kids while never hesitating to throw punches at its big brother city, 50 miles south. This is an old fact of life. The original state constitution of 1849 made San Jose our capital, but it took just 18 months for San Franciscans to move the Legislature to Vallejo.
San Francisco has never stopped trying to get the best of San Jose. Last month, when the California High-Speed Rail Authority announced a new plan to start the bullet train with a Central-Valley-to-San Jose leg, San Francisco complained that the first phase should come all the way north to its new Transbay Transit Center instead.
That came on the heels of the San Francisco Giants blocking San Jose’s plans to build a baseball stadium next to its central transit depot, Diridon Station, for the Oakland A’s. In turning aside a lawsuit from San Jose, the courts found that San Francisco effectively owned the baseball rights to San Jose.
Worst of all, San Francisco has stolen the technological zeitgeist from its southern neighbor. San Jose might call itself the “Capital of Silicon Valley,” but San Francisco is now home to hotter tech properties – Uber, Airbnb, Twitter – and more startup money. In 2014, $11 billion in venture investments went to San Francisco firms, while just $1.1 billion went to San Jose companies.
San Francisco, never shy about playing dirty, has used public subsidies to attract companies. But San Jose’s struggles are also of its own making. Young Bay Area engineers prefer urban living, while San Jose remains suburban and residential. As a result, San Jose doesn’t have enough businesses to produce economic activity and taxes, leaving the city with budget problems and an understaffed police force. Last year, the Mercury News found that San Jose had the lowest ratio of jobs to residents of any big American city.
To be fair, San Jose is hardly the only place in California to have been disrupted by San Francisco imperialism. Bay Area Internet firms consume time once devoted to Hollywood’s TV and movies. Taxi companies and hoteliers across the state struggle under the force of San Francisco “sharing economy” companies. San Francisco’s obscene wealth has spilled over the city’s borders, raising housing prices to unaffordable levels across Northern California.
Since power follows money, San Francisco has all but taken over state politics. San Francisco’s Kamala Harris is likely to join former San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein in the U.S. Senate. Another former San Francisco mayor, Gavin Newsom, is off to the fastest start in the contest to succeed San Francisco native Jerry Brown as our governor.
San Jose’s predicament is thus a warning sign and a call to action. Unless California wants to watch San Francisco siphon off dollars and power from the rest of the state, San Jose must be built up as a bulwark against San Francisco.
As a start, California should point out-of-state firms seeking Bay Area locations in San Jose’s direction. The state also should make Diridon Station a signature California hub, with high-speed rail and attractions nearby to draw people. And the University of California should build a new campus in San Jose, the only one of the state’s top four cities without one.
To keep San Francisco at bay, we’ll need to find a way to San Jose.
Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square. He can be contacted at email@example.com.