.Unfair Fare at Valley Fair

San Jose’s parking privilege shows over outrage at cheap parking

When Jesus Christ returns to life in San Jose, the entire city will stay home if there’s no free parking. 

The grand sweep of history suggests as much, considering what Valley Fair used to look like, compared to the hellscape currently unfolding on Stevens Creek Boulevard. 

After 65 years, Valley Fair recently started charging shoppers to park if they want to stay inside the monstrous complex longer than two hours. The first 120 minutes are free. Each additional hour is now one dollar.

Predictably, some people are pulling out the pitchforks over this. Silicon Valley shoppers are car-culture junkies, forever attached to their vehicles via umbilical cords, and consider it blasphemous if their entitled butts get charged to park anywhere. Decades of San Jose history support this attitude.

Judging by the reactions so far, some people would rather drive around the garage at Santana Row for 30 minutes looking for a space than shell out a few bucks to park at Valley Fair. These arguments come up whenever any policy tries to modernize the parking components of any San Jose project, anywhere, no matter how big or small.

Nevertheless, suburban parking wars always make me laugh, so I looked up an aerial shot of the original Valley Fair, photographed decades ago by Arnold Del Carlo. Cars filled the parking lot like swarms of bees latching on to their queen.

You see, what’s now the gargantuan Valley Fair complex used to be two separate plazas with a street running between them. The original Valley Fair was close to Highway 17 with Macy’s as its anchor. A second center, Stevens Creek Plaza, sat closer to Winchester, anchored by Emporium. In the mid-’80s, both centers were connected. The original Macy’s became the Macy’s Women’s Store, as it is now, while the Emporium was replaced by the Macy’s Men’s Store.

But that’s only part of the history. Valley Fair first opened in 1957, where acres of mustard once stood. Along with Macy’s, the first stores included Grodin’s, Woolworth, See’s Candies and several shoe stores. Another 50 tenants eventually came on board over the next year. It was as American as apple pie.

Until then, downtown San Jose had been the South Bay’s retail epicenter, featuring department stores like Hart’s and JCPenney, plus hundreds of stores, theaters, car dealerships, manufacturing and trade. It was a thriving commercial ecosystem with almost 25 percent of the retail market share for the whole county.

Macy’s wanted to build its new store downtown, for obvious reasons, but their efforts were stymied by the existing heavyweights. Hart’s and JCPenney did not want the competition, so the city encouraged Macy’s to instead build a mall out in the suburbs. Acres and acres of free parking could then be included with any shopping experience. As a result, people came from far and wide, barreling down expressways, freeways and boulevards to spend money at Valley Fair.

The rest is well known. From the late-’50s onward, suburbia sprawled in every direction, cannibalizing orchards, canneries and hillsides. Along with it came even more shopping malls with even more free parking, while downtown devolved into a blighted skid-row wasteland of boarded-up shops, drunks and crumbling retail, all while the former agricultural Eden on Stevens Creek Boulevard became a fiery lake of sulfuric capitalism. Ever since, suburban San Joseans have internalized a nonsensical attitude that they are entitled to free parking. Not even the Second Coming of Christ will change their minds.

In my opinion, they shouldn’t even get two free hours. Valley Fair should require shoppers to pay for parking and then use the revenue to cover parking for all the minimum-wage employees. If someone can afford to drop $400 for a shaver at Valley Fair, he can fork over two dollars for a parking space. Unfortunately, my opinion is not very popular around here.

So it’s obvious mere mortals will not solve this problem. We must wait for the Parking End Times to arrive. There will be carnage. Famine. Plague. Blown gaskets. Motor oil. Hub caps. Tire treads. Monsters and apocalyptic visions. When the Lord returns to rescue the planet from suburban San Jose parking addicts, only then will we discover who gets saved and who does not.

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