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.