Santa Clara Council approves Related CityPlace with some transpo improvements

This week, the Santa Clara City Council approved the largest ever development in Silicon Valley.  While the development remains car-centric compared to other recent major developments, the agreement including some changes in response to encouragement from sustainable transportation advocates and transit agencies.

Santa Clara CityPlace compared to other major developments (Source: SPUR)

Santa Clara CityPlace compared to other major developments (Source: SPUR)

In order to define needed transportation improvements, there will be a “multi-modal improvement plan”.  As part of that plan, Council directed $500,000 to be set aside to study improvements to the Great America Stations to be able to carry up to 50,000 passengers in the future. Concepts to consider include consolidating light and heavy rail stations and a pedestrian overcrossing.

bay trail in rwcFor walking and bicycling, and enjoyment of nature, the Sierra Club had advocated that higher density be allowed in order to pull the buildings back from the Guadalupe River and allow for a green promenade along the river with connections to the development.  The idea for the trail is inspired by models such as the bay trail in Redwood City (see image)

There was higher visibility for transportation demand management to reduce trips, including third party reporting, although unfortunately the city council did not take the opportunity to set a strong goal.

While the City Council did not explicitly launch an area plan or general plan update in order to plan for more housing to balance the jobs, the city is moving forward on plans for the “Tasman East” area which will have substantial housing nearby.

People who are interested in sustainable transportation and the jobs and housing balance will have more opportunities to encourage improvements as specific development proposals come forward for CityPlace, as the multi-modal improvement plan is developed, and as the city plans for more housing.

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City of Santa Clara plans largest project ever in Silicon Valley to be car-dominant

The City of Santa Clara replied to comments from transit agencies and sustainable transportation advocates, urging the City to strengthen sustainable transportation in the largest development project ever in Santa Clara County.  The response, to date, has been a “no.”

The development is located on the site of a former landfill, currently being used as a city golf course.  The area is served by the Great America stations serving ACE and Capitol Corridor long-distance trains, and VTA light rail trains, in addition to VTA bus service. It would provide an entertainment center for a city without much local dining and entertainment, additional office space, and some housing.  Because the development is on the site of a former landfill, there are regulatory challenges in providing substantial housing.

Comments submitted on the Environmental Impact Report for the project urged Santa Clara to look to cities including Mountain View area and San Mateo for practices designed to reduce car trips in major new developments.  However, the City replied that the development would have 90% or more driving compared to developments with minimal transit access, and would be expected to continue to be car-dominant.


Need for much stronger sustainable transportation goals

On the bright side, The city agreed to include priced parking and unbundled parking as tools to provide a more balanced transportation incentives; historically, developments have provided fully subsidized parking, while people need to pay out of pocket for transit.

However, the city has been unwilling to set a stronger goal for car trip reduction, with accountability for the developer.   The city argued that it was unrealistic to reduce car trips, because there will be multiple tenants on the site, unlike Stanford, or North Bayshore with a few major employers. Meanwhile, the San Mateo Rail Corridor Plan requires 25% fewer trips than a car-dominant area, in a plan area with multiple developers and multiple tenants.

The city also contended that it is unrealistic to set goals for mode share, since mode share surveys are voluntary and unreliable.  However, the City of Palo Alto’s Downtown Transportation Management Association hired a reputable research firm to conduct a random-sample survey assessing mode use and transportation preferences among the 10,000 worker downtown employee base.  It is feasible to conduct robust and reliable research if this is a goal of the city.

The city of Santa Clara argued that the development could not, and should not, provide assistance for restaurant and retail workers to use sustainable transportation.   Because such workers often get to work before or after the period with peak congestion, their cars don’t contribute as much to traffic. However, driving by retail workers also contributes to greenhouse gas and particulate emissions, potentially at a high level due to older cars and long commutes.  By contrast, one of the focus areas of Palo Alto’s downtown transportation demand management program is transit support for service workers. It is feasible and desirable to include retail and service workers, and it is inequitable not to do so.

The City of Santa Clara has also not yet made clear that transportation performance would reported publicly (as it is in San Mateo, Mountain View, and other cities with strong TDM policies.)  The city did not support the concept of penalties in the case of noncompliance with the transportation plan.

Invest in Sustainable Transportation

An important strategy used in San Mateo and Mountain View is requiring major developments to make substantive contributions to major transportation improvements – such as a Caltrain station reconstruction and grade separation in San Mateo, and a dedicated transit lane connecting Mountain View transit center to North Bayshore, were identified as part of the transportation planning for the plan area.  Major improvements that would be candidates for such investment include substantial improvements to the Great America Rail station, an elevated pedestrian walkway across Tasman Drive at Centennial Boulevard, and additional bicycle/pedestrian crossings allowing access into the project area.

Housing, Transportation, and Project Phasing

Regarding housing, the development would generate space for 19,000 jobs, and only provide 1500 units of housing, exacerbating the city’s jobs/housing imbalance.  In response to comments, the city amended the environmental impact report with a goal to add 11,000 units of housing in the city to address the jobs/housing balance as part of an upcoming update of the city’s General Plan. Potential locations for this housing might include areas near the Related CityPlace development.

Given the impacts and concerns about transportation and housing, it would be even better for the city to  phase approval of the project, based on achievement of housing and transportation goals.  In order to reduce traffic, pollution and other impacts, the city should create an Area Plan that includes plans to facilitate non-driving access for short trips in the adjacent areas, and to maximize the value of investments in sustainable transportation in the area.

A deliberately car-centric strategy

Unlike other cities in the region, which are moving forward with strategies to significantly reduce driving associated with major new developments, supporting the climate goals of the region and the state, Santa Clara is still moving forward with an older, car-centric vision. The city expressed this car-centric vision clearly:  “Motor vehicles constitute the primary travel mode in the City of Santa Clara, Santa Clara County, and the greater Bay Area and are expected to continue to be the primary travel mode during the time frame of the Project. Therefore, the Project site plan contains site access roadways, internal roadways, and parking facilities with motor vehicles as the primary mode. However, modifications can be made as mode shares shift over time.”


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Should Santa Clara improve Great America station to serve largest-ever Silicon Valley development?

Santa Clara City Council is soon planning to review the proposed development agreement for CityPlace, the largest development ever proposed in Silicon Valley. While the developer has shown illustrations of substantial improvements to the Great American Station, currently served by ACE and Capitol Corridor, buses and shuttles, with light rail not far away, there is no indication yet that the city will demand major investment in these improvements.

The development is advertised as “transit-oriented development” but is planning for the vast majority of visitors and employees to arrive by car, without strong policies and programs to reduce driving. In nearby areas planning major developments, cities have required developers to make major investments in transit infrastructure. In San Mateo, the developments in the Rail Corridor needed to contribute to an overhaul of the Hillsdale Caltrain station and grade separation of the tracks. In Mountain View, developments in the North Bayshore area are expected to contribute to improvements including a bus-only lane from the Mountain View transit center, potentially a high-capacity connector in the future, and bike/pedestrian crossings of major barriers.

In Santa Clara as of yet, there are no clear signs that the developer will be expected to make a major contribution to transit center improvements. In various meetings, the Project Developer has described concepts for a “Great America Station Area Plan” (see image) which provide improved bus/shuttle access, improved passenger waiting facilities and improved pedestrian/bicycle access. However, these concepts were not included in the Environmental Impact Report.


Major improvements are logically possible, given the proximity of the heavy rail and light rail stations. Imagine a European-style double-decker station, serving heavy rail, light rail, and bus connections with a short upstairs/downstairs connection. Imagine frequent rail shuttle service between Great America and Diridon, in addition to the long-distance commute options provided by ACE and Capitol Corridor.


The transit agencies serving the area, including VTA, ACE, and Capitol Corridor, are strongly supportive of major station investments. In particular, in its comments on the Environmental Impact Report, VTA urged the developer to build near-term transit center improvements with better bus, shuttle, bicycle and pedestrian improvements as part of initial phases of the project. In addition, VTA is seeking funding for “a Station Master Plan in coordination with the City, VTA, ACE and Capitol Corridor to advance the design of a future integrated, intermodal Great America Station that brings together ACE, Capitol Corridor, VTA light rail, buses, and public/private shuttles.”

Because of Santa Clara’s policies, such investments would need to be negotiated in the development agreement. The meeting to review the development agreement is coming up soon, and there is no evidence that the city will seek such major investments. The city has also not yet released drafts of the development agreement for public review.

Instead, the city, developer, and VTA are in disagreement about issues including a proposed new, signalized at-grade crossing at Tasman and Avenue C, which VTA contends will substantially slow light rail service and pose safety concerns for all modes. Such a crossing would need to be approved by the California Public Utilities Commission and VTA, and VTA reports that they would not give approval of the current proposal.

Do you think that the City of Santa Clara should demand major transit improvements for the largest development in Silicon Valley history? If so, send a note to City Council at, and feel free to copy us at

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Tonight: Community meeting, San Bruno walk and bike plan

Do you walk or bike in San Bruno? The City of San Bruno is hosting a public workshop tonight on the Walk and Bike plan that has been in the works. The workshop is Tuesday, 5/3 from 7pm to 9pm at the San Bruno Senior Center, 1555 Crystal Springs Road). Refreshments will be served and there will be activities for children.

The plan includes many specific projects and recommendations to improve conditions for walking and biking in San Bruno. Improvements include:

  • pedestrian crossing improvements on El Camino Real
  • improved walking and bicycling between the BART and Caltrain stations
  • a citywide bike network

Here is a fact sheet with highlights.   You can find the full draft plan here


In addition to the workshop, you can share your thoughts in an online survey. Respondents will be eligible to win one of three $50 gift cards for

The plan is anticipated to move forward to the Planning Commission on June 7th, 2016 and to the City Council in July. Watch the website for updated dates.

To submit comments, or ask questions, contact Paula Bradley (Associate Planner at the City) at or at (650) 616-7038.

SanBrunoBike SanBrunoPed

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City of San Mateo considers taller buildings to provide workforce housing and keep companies downtown

Tonight, San Mateo City Council will consider the results of a project to assess potential uses for two centrally located sites in the downtown area, in the context of goals for San Mateo’s downtown. The project was led by Urban Land Institute, with a stakeholder group including local business and neighborhood leaders. The properties were formerly managed by the redevelopment agency.


The stakeholder group agreed that workforce housing is a major priority, since spiking housing costs are driving low to moderate income workers to leave San Mateo and endure long commutes to their jobs. Another priority for the stakeholder group is to be able to retain tech companies in the downtown area as they grow instead of having them leave downtown. The height and density limits of the site were seen by stakeholders including residents as barriers to the goals of workforce housing and retaining companies, and the group was interested in raising the height limit to better achieve the goals.

Stakeholders see walkability and transit access of the downtown area as a major benefit to the location. Parking is an challenge; the main solutions favored by the group were better management of the existing parking inventory, and increased use of multimodal transportation. The group saw area plans as valuable tools to set goals and standards and facilitate development that achieves the community’s goals.

Council will be discussing the results of the study at the city council meeting this evening.

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Mountain View Council study session – North Bayshore neighborhood

Tonight at 7pm, Mountain View City Council will consider decisions regarding creating a car-light neighborhood in North Bayshore where Google and LinkedIn are headquartered.

The staff report proposes mixed use development in three areas with up to 10,250 housing units, in an area that is currently a office park. Topics that the Council will consider including
incentives for landowners and developers to add housing, and incentives for more below market rate housing, and policies to enable for a car-light neighborhood, including transportation demand management and parking.

Because some of the land in the areas proposed for housing currently has office buildings, it would be very helpful to allow the owners of those buildings to add more office space elsewhere in North Bayshore, if those buildings are taken down and the land used for housing.

Mountain View is already planning for higher capacity transit connections to North Bayshore. Parking ideas being discussed include shared parking for uses that need to store cars at different times of the day, unbundled parking so residents can buy/rent only the space they need, and “district parking” – where everyone parks and then walks to home, store, or park.

Another key question is the amount of below market rate housing. The staff report recommends 15% at a basic level of density and 20% at a higher level of density. MVCSP (see below) recommends having up to 25% or 30% as a community benefit.

Mountain View Coalition for Sustainable Planning has written a letter with detailed policy comments – if you’re interested in attending and commenting, the letter is useful for information and inspiration.

North Bayshore Neighborhood Areas

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Millbrae, Belmont, and Redwood City move forward on transit-oriented development

Last week, Millbrae and Belmont City Councils made key decisions to advance new development on the Caltrain corridor.  Meanwhile, Redwood City City Council leaned against putting the brakes on growth in the downtown area, despite some community anxiety about the pace of change under the city’s downtown plan.

Millbrae City Council approved a station area specific plan allowing mixed use development with office, housing, and retail in 116 acres of land around the Millbrae transit center with Caltrain, BART, bus and shuttle service.  The first two proposed developments proposed for the Millbrae Station area would bring 400,000 square feet of office space, about 79,000 square feet of retail  and more than 800 residential units on land currently occupied by a parking lot and some underutilized commercial buildings near El Camino Real.

The next step will be reviewing developments for approval, with Republic Urban first in the queue, proposing 164,000 sqft of office space, over 300 units of housing including about 60 below market rate units, nearly 47,000 square feet of retail, and possibly a hotel.

In the Council’s review of the plan, concerns from the school district surfaced as an important issue; in the end the Council was satisfied with a plan to work with the school district to enable resources for schools.

Advocates had successfully made a case for inclusion of below market rate housing in the Republic Urban development, and for affordable housing to be considered for community benefits.  The approved version of the plan also included the option for stronger vehicle trip reduction – but only as an option, not as a requirement. The parking requirements are still higher than supporters of sustainable transportation urged.  These specifics are going to need to be worked out on a case by case basis for individual developments.

Unfortunately, in its review of the plan, the City Council included additional turn lanes for El Camino Real and Millbrae Avenue, in the hopes that this would alleviate traffic, although these lanes would add even more hazards for pedestrians and cyclists in an already dangerous area.

The City Council does plan to review multi-modal transportation on El Camino Real, but not until the city takes up its General Plan update several years into the future.

The Council vote was split 3:2, with Council Members Papan and Lee unable to persuade their colleagues to turn down this plan, and to hold out for alternatives that would have more hotel, retail, and entertainment, and less office and housing. This alternative vision hoped that the Millbrae Station would be a major destination like Grand Central Station in New York, or the Transbay Terminal in San Francisco, but without the dense jobs and housing in Manhattan and downtown San Francisco.

Belmont approves transit corridor housing

On a smaller scale, Belmont City Council approved a proposal to redevelop aging commercial space on El Camino Real near Caltrain into a 73-unit apartment complex with nearly 5,000 square feet of retail space.    Residents and Council members talked about the need for more housing to address a shortage in San Mateo County, which has added over 40,000 jobs and only 3,000 housing units in the last few years. The development won’t include below market rate housing, but Sares Regis will contribute $1.6 million in fees for the construction of below market rate housing elsewhere in the city.

belmont_todTo alleviate resident anxieties, the development includes more than two parking spaces per unit, even though it is a half-mile from Caltrain, a Safeway, two coffee shops, and other services, and just one minute from a bus line that’s a quick ride from the Hillsdale mall and downtown Redwood City.

Millbrae and Belmont both took notable steps to advance infill development on the transit corridor, although the cities haven’t yet adjusted to the different mix of transportation needs for developments in transit-rich areas.  The residents and workers in those areas are likely to drive less, need less parking, and want safer walking and bicycling environments for their day to day trips.

Redwood City Council discussions growth management, refrains from hitting brakes

Meanwhile, Redwood City City Council members leaned against calls to pause growth in the city at a study session on managing the effects of growth.   While a good number of residents expressed concern about the pace of building under the downtown plan, a large number were enthusiastic about the much livelier downtown, and wanted the city to continue on its current trajectory.

In response to high levels of resident concerns about housing affordability, council members supported the need to continue to add housing, and seek more opportunities to create below market rate housing for a broad range of income levels.  In the words of Council member Alicia Aguirre, “ housing affordability is important so that residents can stay, so children who grew up here can stay.”  Council Member Diane Howard talked about ensuring that the city remains welcoming for longtime residents and for newcomers.

Responding to residents concern about transportation and traffic, council members showed high interest in transportation solutions, especially ways to help people get around with less driving.    There was interest in renewed shuttle service, for helping seniors get downtown, and for ensuring new developments are staying within their vehicle trip allowances; for a strategy with short and long-term measures.  Council members supported the creation of a transportation demand management association to pool funds and invest in supporting alternatives to driving, including for existing businesses and developments, not just new buildings. Council members and supported conducted a traffic study for the city that looks at multi-modal transportation, not just driving.

Council members expressed different ideas about parking; Borgens talked about the underutilized Caltrain parking under Sequoia Station; whereas Seybert wanted a new garage. Council Member Gee was interested in expanding the residential parking permit program to protect existing residents from potential impacts.

Council members were strongly supportive of ongoing community engagement, so the study session is expected to lead to more opportunities for community members to participate.  City council did lean toward accepting a recommendation for more Planning Commission review of development proposals, which could create opportunities to improve sustainable transportation and affordable housing, or for those who dislike denser development to make buildings smaller.

The Caltrain corridor is original “transit oriented development”, with cities growing as walkable places around the rail stations, but in the mid-20th century development changed to a car-centric pattern, with single family homes away from downtown, and larger office buildings further from the train.  This pattern is now shifting. All along the Peninsula corridor, communities are evolving with infill development on the transit corridor, with a mix of housing, offices and stores closer to transit.  Participation will continue to be essential in helping this change to move forward, especially in addressing the region’s housing crisis, and helping cities take the next steps in supporting more sustainable transportation.

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Mountain View North Bayshore – more housing would bring less driving

This week Wednesday in a meeting starting at 7pm, Mountain View Environmental Planning Commission will provide feedback on neighborhood options for the North Bayshore area where Google and LinkedIn are headquartered.   A range of choices are being reviewed for a neighborhood with varying amounts and locations of housing, retail, and public space. One question is where to put a main retail area – on the Shoreline main transit avenue, or on a side street off the main drag, or in a square.   Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 2.09.06 PM

Retail area - street or square?

Retail area – street or square?

More residents leads to less driving Interestingly, the scenarios that would have the most residents – up to 13,000 – would result in the most walking, bicycling, and transit use (see chart),. According to city staff answers to a follow up question, the scenarios with the most housing would also likely lead to less driving miles per person, and less traffic in the peak hour and peak direction. This is logical because more people would be able to have very short local commutes.  Even though many residents wouldn’t work in North Bayshore, even the those who would car-commute elsewhere would be have a reverse commute out of the area. The high level assessment was done by city staff with consultants; a full analysis would be done in an environmental study.   Another question is types of housing – how much should be studios, 1 bedrooms, 2 bedrooms or more.



Share your thoughts in an online survey or in person To share your thoughts, there is an online survey open until November 9.  And if you want to comment in person, come to the Planning Commission meeting on Wednesday at 7pm in Mountain View City Hall, or the upcoming Council meeting, date tbd.

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City of San Mateo updates transportation fee to help fund multi-modal improvements

Last week, San Mateo Council approved a project to modernize the city’s traffic model and impact fee, which will help the city assess and fund a mix of sustainable transportation improvements, rather than focusing primarily on moving more cars.

In the last year, The City of San Mateo passed a “sustainable streets plan” which places greater priority on bicycling, walking and transit in the city’s transportation mix.  The San Mateo Sustainable Streets Plan calls for “A new development review process and fee based around transportation performance metrics that are more in line with Plan goals.” The new tools and the new method of calculating transportation fees will help the City fund a mix of improvements that is more inline with the Sustainable Streets strategy.

Like other cities, San Mateo has long had a “traffic impact fee” that requires developers to fund transportation improvements associated with new development.  The original program based the city’s assessment of the impacts, and the selection of improvements, based automotive level of service.  Auto LOS measures the number of seconds a car is delayed at intersections at the peak period of the day, then assigns letter grades to different wait times.   If a development would add traffic to an intersection that pushes delay past a threshold, the traditional solution was to add travel lanes and turn lanes to help speed the flow of traffic.

Unfortunately, the changes to speed cars often made it less safe and pleasant to walk and bike, encouraging even more driving and traffic, and discouraged infill development, which might slow cars but help shorten trips by putting more destinations close at hand.   While intended to alleviate traffic, the use of LOS as the main tool kept cities on a treadmill of widening roads leading to increased driving and increased traffic. The State of California, which had used auto LOS to measure the impact of traffic under the California Environmental Quality Act, is moving instead toward using “vehicle miles travelled” as a measurement, since reducing driving miles more directly reduces pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

Cities will need to follow the new state environmental laws, and can also choose additional metrics for local purposes like assessing impact fees. The City of San Mateo will assess several potential metrics, including trips, vehicle miles traveled, and vehicle hours traveled to assess which will best help improve the transportation system.    Using these metrics, the city will be able to consider improvements to transit, bicycle, and pedestrian infrastructure to reduce vehicle trips and miles.


Our region’s car-dependent transportation system is held in place by a set of policies such as the way that transportation impact fees are calculated.  A city’s change to the rules in calculating transportation fees is an important step in moving toward a less car-dependent and more sustainable transportation system.


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This week: planning for housing and offices in North Bayshore

This week there are two meetings that are important for Mountain View’s decisions about North Bayshore – study session on LinkedIn’s North Shoreline HQ on Tuesday, and a community workshop on creating a neighborhood with housing and services on Thursday.

On Tuesday evening, in a study session starting at 5pm, the City Council will be soliciting feedback and discussing the development proposal for LinkedIn’s planned new headquarters at 1400 North Shoreline.   With the transportation plans for the site, LinkedIn expects its 8,000 employees to have 35% drivealone rate, putting the company in the lead among Silicon Valley employers (Stanford and Google both have driving rates under 50%, and Mountain View’s limit for North Bayshore is 45%).  The complex is also proposed to have a 15-screen movie theater, 5,000 square feet of retail and a health club.

While the office component of the proposal is superb on transportation, including contributions to Mountain View’s bicycle, pedestrian, and transit connections, the development leaves out one element that could conceivably help reduce car trips and achieve Mountain View Council’s goals for the area – housing.

Earlier uses of the site were polluted with trichloroethylene, requiring a massive Superfund cleanup, and the legal process at the time granted release of legal liability for office but not housing.  However, the EPA has a newer policy to confirm cleanup which has the potential to address the legal liability issue.  Will Mountain View residents and Council ask LinkedIn to investigate whether this barrier can be overcome, to provide more potential housing in the area?

Proposed new LinkedIn Headquarters

Proposed new LinkedIn Headquarters











On Thursday, October 22nd, Mountain View is holding a second community workshop on the North Bayshore Precise Plan, on how to evolve an office park into a neighborhood with housing and services, building on the community feedback from July’s workshop.  At the July workshop,  participants talked about wanting to have a neighborhood that will be diverse in income and demographics, and that will enable residents to live a “car-light” lifestyle.  The meeting will be held at the Mountain View Senior Center, 266 Escuela Avenue,   6:30 PM – 8:30 PM.

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