This valley is their valley

Original Reporting | By David Noriega |

A precarious state

As with regional light rail, nobody necessarily objects, in principle, to philanthropic donations to teacher training programs or housing trusts. Rather, it is the fact that they occur in a larger context of government disinvestment in the kinds of public goods (like good schools and affordable housing) that might better attack the root causes of polarization. This is an integral part of the larger ideological turn in the Valley toward “entrepreneurship” as a model for governance, in which social problems have corporate solutions and government exists primarily to allow the unfettered functioning of corporations. “It’s all in one piece,” Rhee said. “There’s the voluntary, corporate investment, then there’s the socialized costs around things like transportation, then there are the public subsidies to the corporate sector. And this is all happening within the context of the systematic erosion and degradation of public goods.”  

And so the public sector, at least in San Jose, strains to remain functional. The people who most frequently encounter its dysfunction are those who live and work in already underserved parts of town — people like Tamara Alvarado, who runs the School of Arts and Culture at Mexican Heritage Plaza, a complex of performance spaces that the city built in Mayfair during less straitened times. In 2007, the city turned over control of the center to Alvarado’s nonprofit, which charges private schools to use the auditoriums in order to fund cultural programs for poorer youths. Over the course of a recent month, five streetlights went out one after the other on a stretch of road leading to the plaza. Alvarado called the city.

“They told me it would be 12 months before they could fix the lights,” she said. “Other executive directors of other cultural facilities don’t have to deal with this.”

The city, Alvarado said, had arrived at such a precarious state that the panic and acrimony over police staffing levels were overshadowing a deeper, more mundane and insidious degree of malfunction. “We need to have a bigger conversation about our city,” she said. “Where is the conversation about livability? Where is the conversation about keeping somebody like me here? Rent is becoming an issue, even for me and my family, and I’m not working at Baja Fresh earning minimum wage. And when we have families working two jobs, and they still need to live with another family — what does that say about our city?”

Read the introduction (“Left behind: San Jose and the broken promises of the neoliberal era”)

Read Part 1 (“Deep-rooted dysfunction”)

Read Part 2 (“The delusions of an American Technopolis”)

Read Part 4 (“Forging a different path”)

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