Caltrain corridor updates: San Bruno, Millbrae, Redwood City, Menlo Park, Mountain View

Here are updates on land use and transportation policy decisions in progress in cities along the Peninsula Corridor.  Do you live or work in these places and have information and thoughts? Share ideas in comments. Would you be interested in reporting and blogging? Let us know…

San Bruno Height Limit Ballot Measure

On Tuesday night October 21st at 7:30, the League of Women Voters will moderate a forum on a San Bruno ballot measure to raise the height limit near the Caltrain station and El Camino.   The city has seen minimal change in its downtown area since a ballot measure in the 70s set a 50 foot height limit.  The event will be at 1555 Crystal Springs Road, San Bruno.

Millbrae Station Area Plan

In Millbrae, City Council held a meeting to review the process for the Millbrae Station Area Plan, and comments were due on the Environmental Impact Report on Sunday October 19th. Refresh this page for an update on the meeting and next steps.

San Mateo Downtown Plan

San Mateo is starting a process to update its downtown plan.   The planning process may consider policies to increase housing for all incomes and age levels, policies to reduce vehicle trips, consideration to raise the current height limit, and better integration of the El Camino Real area to downtown.  Next step related to the project will be a review of the city’s draft sustainable Streets plan by City Council on November 3.

Redwood City Community Benefits 

On October 15, Redwood City held a meeting to solicit feedback on the community benefits that developers should help to fund.   Staff’s project plan calls for Council to review a draft Community Benefits Ordinance by March.   Such a plan would not apply to projects that have already been approved.

Did you attend the meeting? Let us know what happened in the comments – we’ll update this post with information. You can also contribute ideas in writing here, including funding for bicycle and pedestrian improvements, vehicle trip reduction benefits, and affordable housing with transit access.

Menlo Park Council requires Stanford project to reduce trips

Menlo Park City Council reviewed a traffic study conducted for a proposed Stanford development at 500 El Camino Real, with 199,500 square feet of  office space, 170 apartment units, and 10,000 square feet of retail space,  would exceed the city’s trip thresholds. The project will be therefore required to conduct an environmental impact report.

City Council members gave guidance that they want to see the excess vehicle trips reduced; approaches mentioned included stronger vehicle trip reduction programs or making the development smaller. However, the guidance to reduce trips would be moot if Measure M passes in November, which would require the Stanford development, and another proposed development on El Camino on the North side of the train station,  to be redesigned.

Proponents of Measure M contend that it will reduce traffic, although evidence shows that offices near transit are the easiest vehicle trips to reduce, and more retail may generate higher traffic.   Click here for material supporting Measure M, and here for material opposing Measure M.

Mountain View Council tones down recommendation for improved jobs/housing balance in San Antonio

On October 7, Mountain View City Council backed off of an earlier goal to improve the jobs/housing balance in the San Antonio Specific Plan area.  Council moved forward with rules allowing about 3000 new jobs and 1245 new homes, and rejected a staff proposal to require phasing of offices and homes. The reasoning is to enable offices near the train station, where people are most likely to take transit.

Instead, Council members  indicated they might be willing to reduce allowed office development in North Bayshore to compensate. Council members also removed provisions to list public benefits in advance, allowing benefits to be negotiated on a project by project basis.  And the large Merlone Geier development was removed from the plan, so its provisions will also be negotiated separately. Council members  Bryant and McAlister opposed the changes, and Council member John Inks did not vote because he owns property in the area.

Next steps are an Environmental Planning Commission review of the plan is set a Nov. 17 meeting, and Council’s final vote is for December 2 – before new City Council candidates would be seated.


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Menlo Park Council requires Stanford project on El Camino to reduce trips; moot if Measure M passes

Menlo Park City Council recently reviewed a traffic study conducted for a proposed Stanford development at 500 El Camino Real, with 199,500 square feet of  office space, 170 apartment units, and 10,000 square feet of retail space,  would exceed the city’s trip thresholds. The project will be therefore required to conduct an environmental impact report.

City Council members commented that they want to see the transportation impacts mitigated; approaches mentioned included stronger vehicle trip reduction programs or making the development smaller.  The analysis only took into account 10% reduction in trips taking into account a location on the El Camino corridor, about a half mile from Caltrain. By contrast, a recently approved office project in Sunnyvale, about 1.5 miles shuttle distance from Caltrain, required a 35% trip reduction.  Also, the Menlo Park analysis did not yet take into account reduced vehicle trips if residents or workers walk across the street to the supermarket or the nearby downtown.

However, the City Council guidance for the project to reduce trips would be moot if Measure M passes in November. This ballot measure would maintain the overall limit of of commercial space in the plan area, but would attempt to shift away from general office, to other kinds of office and retail, such as real estate, medical, educational services, product sales, etc.  The amount of general office space in the area near Caltrain, El Camino, and Downtown would be limited to 240,000 square feet, with a maximum of 100,000 square feet per development. If the ballot measure passes, the Stanford development, and another proposed development on El Camino on the North side of the train station, would both need to be redesigned.

Proponents of Measure M contend that it will reduce traffic, although evidence shows that offices near transit are the easiest vehicle trips to reduce, and retail may generate higher traffic.   Click here for material supporting Measure M, and here for material opposing Measure M.

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Cities, developers explain how to reduce traffic, parking at Growth Without Gridlock event in Sunnyvale

Experts including Trudi Ryan, Martin Alkire, City of Mountain View, Jeff Oberdorfer of First Community Housing, and Ann Cheng of TransForm gave presentations and answered questions regarding how cities, commercial and residential developments can add housing and jobs, while reducing the amount of car traffic and parking burden.

Here are slides and video of the event, and a few insights from each presentation.

Trudy Ryan, City of Sunnyvale

Sunnyvale requires trip reduction in areas including Moffett Park, and new plan areas including Peery Park and Lawrence Station Area Plan. They have found that success criteria include location near rail, ongoing transit discounts, parking pricing, and effective marketing.

Jeff Oberdorfer, First Community Housing

First Community Housing builds affordable housing in the Silicon Valley Area. They locate sites near transit and offer transit benefits. This is economically valuable for the developer and for tenants – one structured parking space costs $50,000, and transit passes cost less than $65,000 for all 14 properties in Santa Clara County Combined.

Ann Cheng, TransForm

TransForm’s new parking database shows the amount of parking used for housing developments near transit, that offer transit discounts, in 68 developments. TransForm found that the total cost of empty parking spaces at just 68 locations reached $139 million – and developers, cities, and residents are paying for it.

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City of San Mateo previews Downtown Area Plan initiative

On Thursday, October 9, the City of San Mateo held a stakeholders forum to engage the community and stakeholders before it begins the formal Downtown Area Plan update in mid-2015. Nearly 100 citizens and community members from City Council, commissions, Police Department, downtown businesses, Chamber of Commerce, homeowners’ associations and the County participated in the fun and engaging three-hour long forum at the Peninsula Italian American Social Club.

The event was moderated by City Manager Larry Patterson. Participants were first served dinner, seated at round tables, while discussing what defines downtown. Economic Development Manager Marcus Clarke talked about the transformation that downtown has gone through in the past few years and showed a video of what the public thinks makes Downtown San Mateo special. An eclectic, diverse and walkable place for start-ups and families alike, with more than 150 restaurants and 700 businesses, were a few of the highlights.

What do you like best about Downtown San Mateo?

Chief of Planning Ron Munekawa went on to provide context on the 2009 Downtown Area Plan and how this update will further strengthen opportunities for new mixed-use development and walkability. In addition, the audience was informed that Urban Land Institute will hold a Technical Assistance Panel for downtown to provide expert, multidisciplinary advice to the city on complex land use and real estate issues. Furthermore, once the formal update is initiated in 2015, the City and project consultant M-Group will hold a series of Downtown Future’s forums focused on singular topics, similar to the on-going Taste & Talk series.

After dinner, the participants moved into small group discussions, focused on whether the downtown boundaries need to change, whether new sub-areas should be formed, and what land use and planning issues should be addressed. Highlights from these discussions were the need for extended height limits, opportunity sites for new development, the possibility of moving City Hall downtown, a strong need for downtown housing serving all levels of income and age, desire for outdoor seating (particularly in the movie theater plaza), gateway treatment and real-time parking wayfinding, continued focus on a Park Once-environment with low parking requirements, EV charging and carsharing, the tradeoffs between on-street parking and outdoor dining and/or expanded walking and biking facilities, and the transformation of El Camino Real from a barrier to a natural extension of downtown.

The City Manager wrapped up the evening by informing the audience that all of these issues and opportunities will be discussed in detail through the update process, and that the vision for El Camino Real will be discussed at a November 3 City Council hearing when the San Mateo Sustainable Streets Plan will be presented to the community for the first time.

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Better buses in the South Bay transit network?

At the Mountain View City Council Candidates Forum on Housing and Transportation last week, Council candidates mentioned Caltrain, shuttles, light rail, walking and bicycling as key parts of their vision for improved transportation for Mountain View.

Unfortunately, none of the candidates mentioned the VTA public bus as part of their vision for the future of the city’s transportation system, even though VTA buses carry many riders today. In Mountain View, the El Camino Real bus routes carry about 40% of Caltrain’s ridership, and in Sunnyvale, Caltrain and the 522/22 carry about the same number of riders.   The buses do a better job of handing short trips of 5 miles or less, and will increasingly serve people living on El Camino, as land use plans in Mountain View, Sunnyvale, and the Grand Boulevard initiative are implemented to add housing along the transit route.

All of the Mountain View candidates said they were against VTA’s plan for Bus Rapid Transit with dedicated lanes – even though a preview of VTA’s transportation study has strongly positive results – the dedicated lane version option will speed bus service by 50%, while causing only one intersection to degrade in performance!  The bus service would probably be even better with more frequent north-south connections

This week, there are two meetings in Sunnyvale where you can learn about proposed improvements to the bus network.

* on September 9 at 5:30pm, VTA is hosting a community workshop at Sunnyvale City Hall where they will share the results of a study of proposed improvements to North South routes intersecting with El Camino Real.

* on September 11 at 6pm, TransForm is hosting a panel discussion about VTA’s plans for Bus Rapid Transit along El Camino, at the Sunnyvale Heritage Museum. Click here to learn more and RSVP.

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This week: Mountain View Candidates Forum and Land Use/Transportation Decisions

On Tuesday, September 2, at 6:30pm, come hear Mountain View City Council candidates answer questions and share their views at a Candidates Forum on Housing and Transportation. Mountain View faces key decisions in the coming years regarding land use and transportation. Housing prices are skyrocketing as companies increase hiring and new housing isn’t keeping up; more people are walking, bicycling, and using transit and seeking improvements. There are nine City Council Candidates running for three seats on the council to make these decisions.

The event is co-sponsored by Friends of Caltrain, Community in Action Team (CAT), Safe Mountain View, Greenbelt Alliance, Great Streets Mountain View and Bicycle Exchange.

The event will be held at Rengstorff Community Center Auditorium, 201 S. Rengstorff Ave, Mountain View. Rengstorff Community Center Auditorium, 201 S. Rengstorff Ave, Mountain View. Please email by Monday, September 1st, to reserve a childcare space. There is additional space to park your bike in a side yard. Click here if you need to register to vote?

Want to hear about the candidates views on other issues? There are other candidates’ forums coming up as well, click here for information about additional forums.

North Bayshore Precise Plan – Wednesday, September 3

On Wednesday, September 3, 2014 the Mountain View Environmental Planning Commission is scheduled to hold a study session on the North Bayshore Precise Plan, and Council will review the plan on Tuesday, September 9. The Plan has strong transportation goals to reach 45% nondrivealone mode share, and the city has been moving forward on initiatives to achieve the goal, including a transportation management association, and better connections for transit shuttles and bikes.

BUT – the draft Plan calls for 3.4 million square feet of new office space and no housing. The area is expected to bring in over 15,000 new jobs, and Mountain View is planning for less new housing in the entire city. When more jobs are added than housing, housing prices go up, and longtime residents are forced out. The current City Council has decided against housing in North Bayshore – but would a new council change direction?

Local advocates of sustainable land use and transportation are divided on the question of housing in North Bayshore. Mountain View Coalition for Sustainable Planning supports adding housing in North Bayshore to create a neighborhood, so fewer people will need to drive to work. Sierra Club is concerned about the endangered burrowing owls, and fear that residents will bring cats that will pose even greater hazards than the current population of feral cats. What do you think? Share your thoughts on this blog post.

Update: Sierra Club clarifies that they had additional reasons to oppose housing in North Bayshore, including that the initial proposed development was 1100 housing units, not large enough to support neighborhood services, distance from transit (though there is a regular Caltrain shuttle), and sea level rise (which will also impact workplace uses), and the proximity to amphitheater noise.

Sierra Club strongly supports improved jobs/housing balance in Mountain View, just not in North Bayshore.

Update: At the last MV City Council meeting, Google representative John Igoe said in response to a Council member question that they would be willing to support a 5000 unit development which would have better ability to support neighborhood services.

Will El Camino Real Precise Plan include transportation goals?

On Wednesday, August 28, the Mountain View Environmental Planning Commission reviewed the paln and made some helpful recommendations on Transportation and Housing. Unlike other Mountain View Plans, the El Camino Draft Plan doesn’t have any goals or goal-setting process for transportation. With feedback from Friends of Caltrain and Mountain View Coalition for Sustainable Planning, the commission recommended investigating potential goals. Encouragement to Council will be needed to make this happen!

Thanks to support from Greenbelt Alliance, PIA, and other groups, the EPC also recommended an affordable housing goal (which can help reduce driving, and support the needs of lower-income workers and elders.) Another important Council decision will be prioritizing Community Benefits, such as transportation demand management and affordable housing.

Council will need to hear from folk in Mountain View to ensure strong transportation policies. Pencil these dates: Study Session Sept 29, EPC review of plan and EIR, November 13, Council November 18.

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Community benefits to help Redwood City grow into its new skin

Downtown Redwood City is full of cranes and construction gear and streets downtown are bustling, as the city moves forward with the downtown plan approved in 2011.

photo credit: Walking Redwood City

With more people flocking downtown, there isn’t as much room for people to drive, but there are also more opportunities for people to get around without driving.   Investment in public and spaces can fosters social life and nature in the city.

Meanwhile, rising prices driven by the region’s economic growth present challenges for lower income workers and for seniors who rent.  Workers who can’t afford housing often drive from far away, causing traffic and parking problems. A recent study by TransFrom shows that people who live in affordable housing near transit drive much less, which helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

To help the city grow and mature into its new form, Redwood City is working on a Community Benefits policy that will use funding from developments to pay for infrastructure and services.  The city is asking for input about what the money should be used for.

According to guidance from city council earlier in the year, potential uses of money include:

  • transportation investments and benefits that can help residents and workers get around without driving (like transit passes, carpool, and carshare programs)
  • streetscape investments that make it safer and more pleasant to walk and bike, and spend time
  • open space improvements that can be enjoyed by residents, workers, and visitors
  • support for affordable housing

Other potential community benefits include “living wage” requirements, local hiring policies, and support for local nonprofits.   The selected community benefits will  ultimately become part of a “menu” which would be updated on a periodic basis.

To share your thoughts about what should go into the menu of community benefits, go online here:

To learn more about housing and affordable housing in Redwood City, there is a City Council and Planning Commission study session on Monday, August 25 at City Hall at 7pm.   The agenda will be here later today.

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Wednesday 8/27: Growth Without Gridlock Panel in Sunnyvale

The economic boom in the area is bringing traffic jams, parking challenges, and fears of worsening problems. Meanwhile, a trend toward cities taking charge of traffic and parking in the Silicon Valley area is picking up speed.

Sunnyvale has been an early leader with the Moffett Park Business and Transportation Association coordinating among participants to reduce vehicle trips in the area. San Jose is moving toward creating a Transportation Management Association (TMA) for the Downtown/Diridon area to reduce vehicle trips. Mountain View is getting its TMA under way for the North Bayshore and Whisman areas, and Palo Alto is moving forward with plans for the downtown and California Avenue areas to reduce trips and parking demand. TransForm is coming out with rich new data showing the effectiveness of transit oriented development practices at reducing parking demand, implemented by developers including First Community Housing and many others.

The panel includes those with expertise about how cities, employers, and residential developments are addressing traffic and parking issues.
Trudi Ryan, City of Sunnyvale
Martin Alkire, City of Mountain View
Jeff Oberdorfer, First Community Housing
Ann Cheng, TransForm

Come and learn whether and how it is possible to have “growth without gridlock”.

Wednesday, August 27
7-8:30 PM
Sunnyvale Heritage Park Museum
570 E. Remington Drive, Sunnyvale
Free. Snacks Provided

Click here to pre-register.

Co-hosted by Friends of Caltrain, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and Sunnyvale Cool

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Changing demand for commute services in San Mateo County

John Ford, the Executive Director of, reports a sea change in the market for commute services in San Mateo County. Since at least 1997,’s customer base came from the large corporations and new developments that were legally required to reduce peak hour vehicle trips with services including last-mile shuttles, carpools, vanpools, and more. Ford is now seeing demand from a new class of customers – property managers who manage and lease existing buildings. “What we’re finding”, says Ford, “is that property managers are getting hip to the idea that providing transportation options to their tenants is good for business.”

Seaport Centre, Redwood City

Reporting at a Grand Boulevard Initiative staff working group meeting, Ford commented that the commute alternatives are starting to be seen as a necessity to attract workers who would rather not drive. In earlier economic cycles, driving and parking were seen as the preferred commute mode. Now, workers and businesses are starting to demand other choices.

One such customer is Seaport Centre (see picture above), an office park in Redwood City, 2.5 miles from Redwood City Caltrain, with over 900,000 square feet. The office complex has multiple tenants in multiple buildings, needing multiple shuttle stops. The property manager works with the tenants in the property to bring a shuttle route, and other services to their tenants. can work with a single customer, rather than marketing to many different businesses. According to the most recent ridership statistics as of June 30, the route has 25,984 annual riders to and from the Redwood City Caltrain station, about 100 riders per day, up 6% in the last year. The property manager pays for the service, and passes the cost on to tenants in the lease or administrative fees.

Similar to the way that “green building” energy-saving features are now seen as a benefit for tenants, sustainable commuting is now seen as a benefit. This is a major change from previous economic cycles, when non-driving options were seen by many in the real estate field as an anti-business imposition. Of course, vehicle parking has long been a subsidized service provided to office employees; now transit services are seen as a necessary part of the mix.

The new popularity of commute services may raise opportunities for city programs to reduce commute trips via transportation management associations. Cities including San Mateo, Mountain View, Palo Alto, San Jose and others have started or are heading in this direction. A common dilemma facing new TMAs is how to provide support for existing developments that aren’t legally required to pay for transportation services via a development agreement. This is particularly important in areas where new development is a small fraction of the existing developed area. The concern has been that recruiting requiring participation by existing developments would be deeply unpopular. The trend reported by suggests that it may be easier to gain participation from existing properties.

The organization that provides commute services for San Mateo County has used for its website, a more catchy and memorable name than the Peninsula Traffic Congestion Relief Alliance, the former name of the organization. The organization is now changing its name to match the catchy website.

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North County update: Caltrain corridor news in Millbrae and San Bruno

In Millbrae, the City Council had a study session on the Specific Plan for the Millbrae Station Area. Council will come back after summer break, review the draft plan, and set guidance for the Environmental Impact Report. The ambitious schedule process would have the plan complete by March, 2015.

The current Draft Specific Plan allows for up to 1,500,000 square feet of office space, 220,000 square feet of retail, 1,620 housing units, and 360 hotel rooms.

Concerns include whether the wide and fast section El Camino Real will be traffic-calmed with lane reduction, pedestrian refuges and landscaping, and the design of the bus stop on El Camino to allow connection between bus and rail. The amount of affordable housing is not yet defined, and the proposed development would have about a 3:1 ratio of jobs to employed residents, putting even more pressure on housing prices.

Meanwhile in San Bruno, City Council voted to put a measure on the ballot to lift height limits from 50 feet to 90 feet near the Caltrain station, with lower limits in the downtown and El Camino areas. The current limits were set by a ballot measure in 1977 in order to preserve the character of city and limit density. Today, a vote of the people is needed to build a building taller than 3 stories. A staff report reported that the current restrictions severely limited the economic viability of development project, resulting in deteriorating and vacant properties. The ballot measure was an outcome of San Bruno’s Transit Corridors Plan, approved in 2012, and applies to 155 acres of land covered by the plan.

The South San Francisco Downtown Plan is out – see TransForm’s blog post for more.

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