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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Thursday 7/17: help transform the Millbrae Station Area

On Thursday, July 17, Sierra Club and Friends of Caltrain are co-hosting a free workshop about Millbrae’s plans for major changes to the Millbrae Station Area. The City of Millbrae is working quickly to update the Millbrae Station Area Specific Plan to provide guidance for two major developments being proposed in the station area, on current parking lots, and along El Camino.  The new developments would bring retail, offices, housing, and possibly hotels to the station area.

The Millbrae City Council and Planning Commission will review the plan Tuesday, July 22, 2014 at 7:00 p.m. at the Chetcuti Room in Millbrae City Hall.  The Council will then consider the plan, and may vote to approve it then and there!

To help ensure that the plan and developments have good pedestrian, bike, and bus access, and good policies to foster transit use, come on Thursday night to a free workshop – 7-9pm at Peter’s Cafe, 10 El Camino Real in Millbrae (from the station, head toward El Camino Real and turn left toward Millbrae Ave). RSVP for the meeting to, or call Ann to RSVP at 650-697-6249.

For more background on the Plan, see the Summary from the community workshop on June 26, and Handouts from the Workshop on June 26

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Mountain View Council directs better jobs/housing balance in San Antonio Plan area

Yesterday, July 8, the Mountain View City Council gave direction to improve the jobs/housing balance in the San Antonio Specific Plan area.  The draft plan included office and retail space expected to employ over 4000 workers, while providing 1575 units of housing.   City Council gave direction to change the zoning of some areas to mixed use with retail and housing, and to set thresholds to check that office construction was not getting too far ahead of housing.

Last week, City Council had already directed a major development, which was moving forward in the area in advance of the Specific Plan, to replace one of two good-sized office buildings with housing.

Other changes at last night’s meeting included increasing the priority of affordable housing as a public benefit, and investigating the potential of including residential and multi-tenant mixed use buildings in the city’s transportation demand management programs (not just office).

The Council’s changes responded to the feedback of Mountain View residents who had been organizing and speaking up in favor of improvements to the jobs/housing balance, with the goal of improving housing affordability and reducing traffic and parking impacts.

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Update: Mountain View Council holds San Antonio decision to consider housing

Faced with a room full of constituents raising concern about housing prices, plans to move due to housing prices, wanting children and grandchildren to be able to stay in the area, the need to add more housing and affordable housing, Mountain View City council held off a decision on the San Antonio Precise Plan.  The Council will return in a special meeting on July 8 to decide whether they can make progress on the plan. At least three Council members (Abe Koga, Kasperzak, Clark) wanted information on how the plan could be changed to accommodate more housing.

The Council did not get to details of bicycle and pedestrian accommodations, setbacks, and other specifics, faced with a major shift in community preferences toward housing. The San Antonio Center has long been a regional shopping center.  Considering the prospect of a greater mix of uses, Council members turned to the example of Santana Row as a familiar local example where housing is added on top of retail uses.

Before returning on July 8 to discuss the Precise Plan, Council plans to consider the Phase 2 of the Merlone Geier development which is proposed to contain office, a movie theater, retail, and no housing. The newly formed Campaign for a Balanced Mountain View is threatening seek to overturn the development by referendum, if Council approves the development without added housing.

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Mountain View reviews key decisions for San Antonio Station Area, Shoreline Corridor

Tonight in Mountain View starting at 5pm, City Council will be giving critical direction for the San Antonio Precise Plan, and feedback the Shoreline Corridor.

Shoreline Corridor

At 5pm, Council will review  plans for the Shoreline connection to North Bayshore where Google is.  Good proposals include protected bike lanes on Shoreline for the especially for the 1/3 of employees who live within 5 miles of work, and a dedicated lane for shuttles, which would speed the route to the transit center by up to 45% in the AM Peak and 67% in the PM peak.    Making the connection from the Caltrain station faster for shuttle users and safer people with bikes will make Caltrain and transit a more attractive option.

Mountain View staff expect that these changes will help the shuttle use grow fourfold, from 800- 900 shuttle riders in the morning peak today, to 3,200 riders.

Update: City Council gave direction to staff and consultants to move forward with the recommendations for a dedicated transit lane and cycle tracks on Shoreline, and longer term plan for a bicycle/pedestrian bridge.  In the interim before the larger projects are constructed, Council leaned toward improving the Permanente Creek Trail route with signage and protected bicycle lanes on Middlefield.

Plans for bicycle facilities on Stierlin are in doubt due to concerns about the removal of parking; adding protected bike lanes would cause the removal of over 100 car parking spots, and unprotected bike lanes would also cause the removal of some car parking. Staff and consultants had not yet done any study about the amount of available parking on neighborhood streets, and how the removal would affect the availability of parking.

Shoreline proposed transit lane, cycle tracks

Shoreline proposed transit lane, cycle tracks

San Antonio Precise Plan

Starting at about 8pm, Mountain View City Council will be reviewing the precise plan for the San Antonio area.  Council will set important direction tonight for how successfully the area will evolve from a car-dominant regional shopping center to an area with retail, homes and offices, and a lower share of driving.

While Mountain View has stong transportation goals for the North Bayshore area,to reduce the drivealone rate to 45%, the San Antonio area does not have such goals. (Although individual developments are expected to have individually negotiated transportation plans to reduce driving.)   Strong overall goals would help the area successfully transition to a more compact and less car-centered place. It would help the Council make pro-active decisions about topics like whether and when to start charging for parking, the role of bus and shuttle service in reducing driving, and how aggressively to support better Caltrain service and area-based GoPass programs.

Mountain View has a widening jobs housing imbalance contributing to spiking housing prices and long commutes.  The plan proposes 1575 housing units (including the Merlone Geier Phase 1 project already built) and 3700 to 5000 office jobs (depending on the amount of office space per worker, and not counting retail jobs).  On the one hand, it’s good to have jobs near Caltrain and El Camino bus service;  having a job close to transit is the biggest factor in using transit. But Mountain View overall has a worsening jobs/housing balance; the San Antonio area could shift the balance more toward housing.

A key goal of the plan is to improve bicycle and pedestrian access.  The area, which is currently a sea of parking lots, will evolve a much more bike and ped friendly connected street grid.

San Antonio Proposed Street Grid

San Antonio Proposed Street Grid

Important questions for consideration at tonight’s City Council meeting include bike lanes on San Antonio, the quality of pedestrian and bicycle connections to and from Caltrain, and the safety of bicycle and pedestrian connections across El Camino Real to Los Altos, particularly important for schoolchildren who live in Mountain View and go to school in the Los Altos school district.

One idea that has been discussed and rejected to date has been building a school in the San Antonio Precise Plan area.  It’s complicated because the school district is separate from the cities, and because area landowners have been reluctant to provide land for a school.   Enabling kids to get to school without crossing El Camino would improve safety and reduce area traffic.   Are there opportunities to come up with compromise solutions for a school?

The San Antonio discussion might start late. If you want to come but don’t want to sit for hours in Council chambers, watch the web video and come over when the previous item is finishing up.

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San Jose Council approves Diridon Plan, steers Sharks toward reducing driving, revives plan to free the creek

This afternoon San Jose City Council voted to approve the Diridon Station Area Plan and its Environmental Impact Report.   In an important step forward, the Council supported the staff recommendation to move forward with a strategy to reduce driving in the Downtown/Diridon Area by setting up a Transportation Management Association to pool funds and manage programs.  Council specifically set an expectation that the SAP Arena would participate in the TMA to support the City’s goals to reduce driving.  The guidance for the Arena is an important step, since the Sharks have been highly cautious and skeptical about the possibility that the need for parking would be reduced by increased use of transit, bicycling and walking.  Seeing the direction of the City Council, Sharks public affairs representative Eric Morley accepted this goal in his public comment, saying:  ”the Sharks continue to look forward to work with the City of San Jose as a member of a future Transportation Management Association to help reduce demand for driving, traffic, and parking.”

The Plan includes a shared parking provision that requires new office developments  that replace existing parking to make their parking available to be used after hours by Arena fans, a good feature that encourages the efficient use of parking space. Unfortunately, this provision could also require new developments to overbuild parking, if the building’s tenants are expected to use less parking than the surface parking being replaced.

City Council clarified some troubling language in the staff recommendations and Council memos that came out after the May 20 public hearing.  A memo by Mayor Reed  had proposed that the implementation of the Diridon plan include ”a goal to maintain the current parking availability until the City and Arena Management agree that transit ridership is robust enough to reduce parking supply without negatively impacting SAP Center operations.” (emphasis added). This could be read to imply that the Arena would have a veto on a City decision to reduce parking due to higher use of other transportation modes.

Council Member Kalra was crystal clear about the intent of the language. “We don’t want to give anyone veto power over the planning decisions we make.   The commitment to reducing parking ratios is a goal I hope that we and future councils keep, with the end result of moving this area away from autos and toward transit, bike and pedestrian. SAP is our partner in that, and we don’t want to detract from their operations, and we want to see them supporting our goals.”

City Council also responded to community protest in reaction to a staff recommendation to remove the proposal to daylight the Los Gatos Creek. Doing this would connect the Los Gatos creek trail, improve wildlife habitat, and create a beautiful place.  The staff memo expressed concern that the project would be too expensive since it would require raising the roads.   Analysis by longtime creek advocate Dr. Larry Ames suggested there would be cheaper ways to implement the project without raising the roads.  Council members Liccardo and Kalra among others supported having ambitious goals even though the funding and implementation for the goals aren’t fully known in advance.

Also, the Council approved a recommendation from Council Member Rocha to more clearly set a goal for affordable housing, which will need future funding in order to achieve.

These refinements at the meeting for final approval also reflected a victory for community organizing and democracy in San Jose.   A substantive staff memo recommending changes in parking policy and the Los Gatos Creek came out after public comment had been closed on May 20.   The City Council agenda indicated that there would be no further opportunity for public comment, despite substantial changes to the plan.  A network of neighborhood leaders, residents, and advocacy groups urged Council members to re-open public comment to address the substantive changes.  Council Members Rocha and Kalra championed the call to listen to the public, and the full council then incorporated the suggestions from members of the public.

Summary: Diridon Plan is approved, and San Jose takes the next step toward creating a more walkable, bikeable, transit-friendly, people-friendly Downtown/Diridon area.

Posted in Adopt-a-Station, San Jose | 2 Comments

Update – two year lead time for new SJ / Arena parking deal

Here is an update on process by which city of San Jose negotiates a contract with the Arena Authority committing the city to provide parking to the Arena.

This contract is up for renewal – but not for another two years.   Fortunately, this leave some time for the initial analysis and development of a Transportation Management Association for the Downtown/Diridon, potentially setting different expectations for mode share for the area with less driving, with a partnership designed to deliver fans not cars.

While these deals between the city and the Arena authority have been worked out in the past without public participation, the next iteration is expected to include participation from neighbors and potentially livable streets advocacy groups. Some of the neighborhood groups have been supportive of less parking/more multimodal transportation.

The Arena Authority is defined as an advisory body to the City, rather than an independent authority such as the New York New Jersey Port Authority which has had independence from local jurisdictions.   Local background and/or investigative research would be welcome in assessing how and whether the Authority has taken direction from City Council in the past.

The big variable is perceived to be the ballpark, which key players are still hoping to see (this means in denial about Not Happening, right?).

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Diridon Parking – Council memos urges Sharks to reduce driving, but offer Arena veto power over parking supply

For the first time, in a new memo with recommendations for the San Jose City Council’s final review of the Diridon Station Area Plan on Tuesday, Mayor Reed, Council Member Liccardo, and Council Member Oliverio recommend that the SAP Arena join the Transportation Management Association being planned for the Downtown/Diridon area, with the goal of reducing driving and encouraging other forms of transportation.

This is a bold new step encouraging the SAP Arena to step up and join the efforts of the entire Downtown/Diridon area at shifting transportation away from driving.   The memo uses San Francisco’s strong collaboration with the Giants as peer pressure for the SAP Arena and the Sharks: “The Mission Bay TMA that includes AT&T Park, for example, has been reported to have boosted the use of non-auto trips to Ballpark events to more than 50% of attendees.”

The Good Neighbor Committee which worked with city staff providing input into  the Diridon Plan had long recommended  that the SAP Arena participate in initiatives for the area to reduce driving, but that recommendation had not appeared in the draft Plan.  Arena management has strongly argued in favor of vehicle access and car parking as the predominant method of access long into the future.  This week, Reed – a strong proponent of the Arena – joins council colleagues in making the recommendation for the Arena to participate in efforts to reduce driving.

Simultaneously and unfortunately, however, the new Reed/Liccardo/Oliverio memo endorses a provision recommended by Mayor Reed last week – giving Arena veto power about when and whether to accept less driving and less car parking.

In the latest recommendation for the parking section of the plan, the staff memo from June 6 encouraged shared parking as a strategy to make efficient use of Diridon Station Area land, by requiring new commercial developments to make their parking spaces available to Arena visitors after 6pm at night.  This is very good.  But the staff memo also recommended that developers of new commercial buildings be responsible for mitigating the reduction of parking supply.

Mayor Reed’s memo clarified that policy in a potentially draconian way – proposing a “goal to maintain the current parking availability, until the City and Arena Management agree that transit ridership is robust enough to reduce parking supply without negatively  impacting SAP Center operations.”

This proposal has two bad implications.  First, a developer of a new office building could be forced to build more parking than their  new office tenants need, in order to preserve parking supply for the arena.   Second, the Arena would have veto power over whether and when new developments could be free to stop oversupplying parking.

So, on the one hand, the Mayor, Liccardo, and Oliverio are encouraging the Arena to step up to work with the city to reduce driving.  But on the other hand, they are proposing to give the Arena veto power, and imposing on new office developments the costs of maintaining the Arena’s familiar parking-rich business model.

Shared goals are needed for a successful TMA, and San Jose will need to develop a plan for incremental mode shift because the Diridon area won’t change over night. But San Francisco didn’t give the Giants an option of maintaining a 90+% driving mode share ad infinitum, and San Jose shouldn’t give that leeway to the Sharks.

Also, the City of San Jose is eager to see new development in the Diridon station area, particularly new offices and employment.  It is reasonable to expect the new developments to share parking, but seems unreasonable to burden them with the costs of providing more parking than their tenants need.

Hopefully the process of creating the TMA, with education and analysis about how to evolve from the auto-dominated past, will bring the Arena, and other old and new players on to the same page with practical goals and strategies for reducing driving and parking, to make better use of the land in the downtown and Diridon area, and to create a nicer place for people to live, work, and enjoy.


Posted in San Jose | 3 Comments

Electric Cloud moves to downtown SJ, employees stop driving

When Electric Cloud moved from a Sunnyvale office park to 35 South Market Street in Downtown San Jose a few months ago, employees who commuted by car to the software release management technology company started to leave their cars in the driveway and taking public to work.   Many of the 70 employees now take Caltrain, taking advantage of the company’s offer of a GoPass.  Several others take ACE from the East Bay, or VTA light rail from elsewhere in the South Bay.

The company was looking for a place to grow, and public transit was a key factor in choosing a location, according to Steve Vattuone, the CFO, who is a longtime Caltrain commuter from his home in San Mateo.   Current employees wanted less car commuting, and public transportation nearby is an advantage in recruiting, as is a location downtown instead of in an office park.  ”We really like the vibe of downtown San Jose, and it’s attracting more and more tech companies” – about 100, according to the city’s office of economic development. 

The company has about 130 employees and growing, with locations in San Francisco, the UK, China and Japan in addition to headquarters in San Jose.

Vattuone estimates that 25-30% of employees use Caltrain or VTA light rail, and another 5-10 people who walk or bike to work on a given day.  Between a third and a half of employees don’t drive to work now, compared to almost none in Sunnyvale.

It is new buildings near Diridon attracting companies such as Electric Cloud that the Diridon policy refinements proposed by Mayor Reed would require to provide more parking. That policy would provide incentives to drive for the employees otherwise more likely to take transit.


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Diridon update – council defers decision; details will matter on parking

The San Jose City Council took a few questions about he Diridon Station Area Plan last night, and then deferred deliberation and decisions until next week Tuesday.

On the critical parking issue, where the SAP Arena is pressuring the city to increase the parking supply, there are no recommended changes to the overall goals of the plan to provide a level of parking assuming that 40% of people in the area don’t drive.

But the devil is in the details. Some of the details are good, some bad, and some potentially ominous. On the good side, the staff report recommends that office buildings in the Diridon area should be designed with the ability to share parking, allowing Arena visitors to use the parking after 6pm when most office workers have gone home. This is a very good idea that allows efficient use of the space.  On the bad side, the report also recommends requiring office buildings within a half-mile of the Arena to replace the parking or “mitigate the reduction of parking”, if they build on a parking lot.

According to Mayor Reed’s recommendation, this provision would require the new building to provide more parking than they need, if they need less than the Arena.  If a building replaces 150 surface parking spaces, but only needs 100 for its own use, the developer would need to either build the parking anyway, incenting workers to drive, or be required to fund the addition of parking elsewhere near the ballpark.

A better option would be to take advantage of a practice that is already going on – arena visitors often park downtown near San Pedro Square, go out for drinks and dinner, and walk over or take a pedicab.   This creates business for San Jose and allows the Arena to benefit from parking slightly further away. The city could promote this, take advantage of underused downtown parking, and not require parking to be overbuild in the Diridon Area.    The staff recommendation explicitly excludes this strategy by requiring the replacement parking be within 1/2 mile of the Arena.  The San Pedro Street parking garage that is already used by many fans is .7 miles away, and there are other parking garages that are nearby but more than .5 miles.

The ominous part is that the city is renegotiating its contract with the Arena, which is done at a staff level behind the scenes.  The City has an agreement with the Arena to provide at least 6350 offstreet parking spaces.  It would be possible for the agreement to be changed committing the city to provide more parking, regardless of what is stated in the Diridon Plan.  It would be much better to have San Jose collaborate with the Arena more like the collaborations with Levi’s Stadium and AT&T Park, with efforts to create a multi-modal transportation plan with less driving as the area evolves.

For details on the changes in the staff proposal, and ideas about how to handle parking and access for the Arena, see the city council agenda for item 10.2, and under that item, the Supplemental distributed on 6/6, and the memos from Mayor Reed, Council Member Liccardo and Rocha.


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