California 16th District
With more people than San Francisco, a tradition of high-tech innovation, and a professional sports team, San Jose finally has great claims on national attention and respect. Yet San Jose does not register on the national consciousness as it should. At the southern end of the Bay, it remains in the shadow of the city on the Golden Gate. San Francisco is every tourist’s idea of a city: geographically compact, with picturesque public transportation; old and new immigrant groups; an economy historically based on heavy industry and sea trade; a large city bureaucracy; and a monumental City Hall. San Jose is quite different. It got its start as a farm-market town, with canneries and fruit-packing operations for the produce from the surrounding fertile plains. Farm-labor icon Cesar Chavez settled with his family in the East San Jose barrio of Sal Si Puedes (“get out if you can”). San Jose sits not on the Bay but on the Southern Pacific rail line above the marshes and salt evaporators. Its major transportation arteries are the freeways—U.S. 101, Interstates 280, 680, and 880, California 17—that encircle its revitalized downtown. In August 2008, voters approved a 16-mile extension of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system into Santa Clara County.
2008 Presidential Vote
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Starting in the 1950s, San Jose grew in every direction, with developers hopscotching across the farmland and at times putting up subdivisions faster than the few city employees could update the street maps. Economically, San Jose has been sustained by everything from its traditional agriculture to manufacturing to the high-tech businesses that are centered in Silicon Valley towns just to the west but are omnipresent here: an American city, 21st-century style. Santa Clara County had the highest median household income in the Bay Area, and it held up comparatively well when the recession hit in 2007.
For many years, San Jose has been viewed as a focal point for immigration issues. It has Northern California’s largest Mexican-American community, many of whose members are farmworkers. Now there is a diverse immigrant presence, with large numbers from Latin America and East and South Asia. Nearly half of all Santa Clara County residents speak a language other than English at home, mostly Spanish, Vietnamese, or Chinese, and one in three are foreign-born.
The 16th Congressional District of California consists of about two-thirds of San Jose, plus a nearby unincorporated area to the south. More than 90% of its residents live inside the jagged city limits of San Jose. It includes the old and new downtowns and the heavily Mexican-American areas to the east. It has the largest Hispanic share (38%) of any district in the Bay Area, and the largest concentration of Vietnamese in the country. Politically, it is solidly Democratic.