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XHigh-Density High-Rises
at Alma Bowl - Status Report
by Ken Eklund and others
July 2003

Bulletin: Developer takes heavy flak
from neighborhoods on high-rise issue.

7/17: Over 100 people attended the community meeting on the Alma Bowl project. We saw people present from most of the impacted neighborhoods. They listed about 40 concerns to the developer's representative. Highlights:

Traffic. The traffic study focused on eight signalized intersections: the intersections of Lelong, Lick, Vine and Almaden with Willow Street and Alma Avenue. The traffic consultant also looked at Minnesota and Willow at Bird, but found insufficient traffic here to warrant further study. To make a long story short, the methodology used to estimate traffic is faulty to a serious degree: when people speed down residential streets, for example, it actually registers as less traffic.

Transit-Oriented Development. The original Tamien Specific Plan called for "transit village" design - developments with a mix of retail, office and residences. Transit village design provides amenities to transit users and the neighborhoods around the station. Earlier this year, this use was changed for Alma Bowl to residential only - no transit village. The developer stated the local neighborhood wanted this - which contradicts what we heard from people in the neighborhood. When asked about how many people were present when this decision was made, the developer was evasive. Why was no effort made to consult the people who actually use the station? Or people in the station service area, who may use it more if amenities were present? If you want to know why light rail isn't easing your traffic burden, maybe you need look no farther than here.

Height. The developer's presentation - well, you really had to be there. It focused on communicating that things look smaller the farther you are from them. Really. But if you expected to see a representation of how the project would actually look as you approached it on Minnesota, or passed it on 87, you were disappointed. The developer had no views of the project as it will actually be experienced by most people.

Parks. People who thought that the high-rises would create available "open space" for public recreation were disappointed to learn that the space between the towers would be private, for project residents only. (Of course, since the towers would serve to funnel freeway, train and air traffic noise into that space, its merit is debatable anyway). The developer noted he would contribute $3 million towards parks - but this amount is calculated by number of units built, and isn't dependent on height. The same number of units in a non-highrise plan would contribute the same.

Of course, the contribution towards parks doesn't necessarily equal a park for the Tamien neighborhood. Development in the Tamien Specific Plan area in District 7 has already generated almost a million dollars towards a park - but the money was spent down on Tully Road, not in the Tamien area. Late last month, Cindy Chavez presented a sketch which showed a park just north of Alma Bowl - but since that idea depends on buying some VTA land, moving her side's Tamien Station parking into an expensive structure on Ken Yeager's side, and developing xhigh-density residential units on the rest of the VTA land, it is a future concept, not a plan. Cindy's chief of staff, Jonathan Noble, confirmed that the park sketches "were more of an exercise conducted with the community."

More about the Thursday 7/17 Meeting.
One of the community members attending wrote:

Just a couple of comments about last night's meeting you may want to add: Parking. The developer completely skimmed over and did not listen to residents' real concerns about Parking and Retail/commercial space. One gentleman asked about parking - there are going to be 242 units, with average 2 cars/unit, but only 364 parking spaces? There will be 500+ new cars as a result of this project being fully occupied...where will the residents and their guests park? Hmmm, maybe the train station parking lot? Or, maybe at your house! Is this the new math? I think I missed class that day. I think this issue does go back to the City's faulty and outdated (1-car families don't exist here - we're not living in the 1950s anymore) criteria for development.

Retail/Commercial. Regarding mixed-use - Maybe I'm missing something, but my understanding of this term is to mean that useful, viable businesses would be within walking distance of residents - a small grocery/market, post office, dry cleaners, coffee shop, maybe apparel or restaurants, too. The developer's definition seems to be train station kiosks - a newstand or coffee kind of thing? I don't think so. They are building a project that does not deal with reality - a bit delusional, I'd say.

"Affordable" housing.
Oh, and affordable, low-income housing - I thought that meant housing that teachers, bus drivers and police officers can afford, which is probably <$200,000. What the City needs is real affordable housing, with viable retail/commercial districts and public parks within walking distance - how is this project addressing these needs? And, if it isn't, why isn't it?

Copyright 2003