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The Alma Bowl Proposal
Letters Sent to the Press
by Frank Discussion
September 2003


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Published in the Mercury News, August 18, 2003


High-rises are fine -- in the right place. San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales stated that it's time for San Jose to grow up -- not out (Opinion, Aug. 10).

By all means, keep our green areas green, expand our public transit system and build well-planned, high-density housing in underdeveloped, urban neighborhoods that can support and even benefit from such structures. But the proposed high-rises at the Alma Bowl/Elks Club site will achieve none of these objectives.

Gonzales' assertion that this project will "take more cars off the roads'' and "give us cleaner air'' flies in the face of common sense. Instead, the initial studies show the proposed development will increase traffic congestion and noise on these narrow, suburban streets to intolerable levels.

The parties who will benefit most from this project are the developers, who will no doubt try to market Willow Glen charm, even as they destroy it. Local politicians who are supporting them are selling out residents of all areas of the city.

Jody Wilson
San Jose


Sent to the Mercury News on 8/14/03. Not published.


Dear Editor,

People who support "smart growth" and "transit-oriented development"
should not support the development at Alma Bowl, because it is neither. This type of project has a place in the downtown core where 120 foot high glass and steel towers are appropriate, not in a working class neighborhood where most homes are a single story.

No project should be approved merely because it has high density and is near a transit stop. Upon closer investigation, this project contains a park for residents only (not the community), no retail space to serve the residents of this gated community, and will dramatically add traffic to the area with no positive gains for the community. A one bedroom condominium is expected to cost $325,000, so this is not affordable housing.

It is a fiction that this development is pedestrian-friendly as the tower residents will get into their cars to get their food and services, not utilize light rail. There is no local infrastructure for residents to walk to. Do not be fooled-- the Alma Bowl gated community flunks the criteria of transit village.

The neighborhoods impacted by the Alma Bowl high-rises do not oppose smart growth, and they most emphatically support transit-oriented development. But this poorly planned development is an example of growth without the appropriate infrastructure to support the development. Simply putting an expensive gated community near a transit stop will not make mass transit work in San Jose.

The Mercury News has published four editorials relating to Alma Bowl, but as of this writing (8/14/03) no story has been written about the development itself. Such a story would reveal that the Alma Bowl development converts Tamien Station into sterile glass and steel towers with harmful impacts to the neighborhoods, maximizes traffic impacts, and can never pass as "transit-oriented" in cities with successful transit systems.

Neighborhoods are taking a thoughtful role in their future. The neighborhoods impacted by the Alma Bowl high-rises do not oppose smart growth, and they most emphatically support transit-oriented development.

Mayor Gonzales--do not let these unaffordable towers be your legacy to the city. Yes, we need affordable housing, but the Alma Bowl project does not provide it and is a bad fit for the neighborhoods.


Tom Smith
San Jose


Published in the Willow Glen Resident, August 13, 2003

Citizens and the city should be partners

Regarding the Tamien Place Development and the Tamien Specific Plan, I would like to request that the San Jose City Council and city planning revisit and adhere to the General Plan, which specifies maximum building heights of 65 feet, mixed use, and density. These are the specifications that were arrived at through intensive communication and involvement with the community and should serve as a model for all of San Jose.

I ask the council and planning commission that when a project is proposed, that the unique character and needs of each district affected by the project be taken into consideration and that the residents of each of the impacted districts be notified and their input solicited in the proposal stage of the development process.

It's a fact that San Jose needs more multi-family housing, and I do not oppose new development to support the growth of the area. However, I do oppose the careless and unfair manner in which this project has been handled so far.

What the City really needs is affordable housing with viable shopping and commercial. And preferably part of the development itself consists of more than a coffee kiosk or newsstand in a train station; and public parks are within reasonable walking distance of residents.

How is Tamien Place addressing these needs? If it isn't, why isn't it? How will future developments address these needs? From what I have seen so far, the proposed developments run completely counter to meeting these needs, which I thought were primary goals of the city.

I can imagine how the medium-density townhomes that the developer is proposing, plus viable shopping with mature trees and plenty of parking with a large, publicly accessible park would fit in with the neighborhood just fine. And make everyone involved happy, not just the developers.

Maybe we could take a cue from the e-Government Portal Project launched by Senators Joseph Lieberman and Fred Thompson to enable citizens to help shape legislation. This could be done on a smaller scale by the city of San Jose, and be a truly interactive and collaborative forum for citizens to read and participate in through discussions of key issues. Comments could also be sent and suggestions made to the city council and the planning commission.

—S. Kusters


Published in the Willow Glen Resident, July30, 2003

High-rise project out of place as proposed

It is a known fact that San Jose needs more affordable housing, and a well-planned "transit village" may increase property values in the area but the Tamien Towers project, as proposed by Barry Swenson Builders, is not affordable and is not good for the neighborhood.

There are 242 condos proposed for the Tamien Towers, units priced from $325,000 to $500,000, of which 20 percent (48 units) have been dedicated to low-income homeowners.

In the city of San Jose low income is defined at 110 percent of the median income and with the median income of San Jose currently at $108,000 this means a family must make $120,000 to be able to afford one of these units. In my opinion this is not low income, and I estimate that not many working class families could afford these units. [According to the San Jose Department of Housing, low-income is defined as a household making 77 percent or less of the median income.]

As this project is located next to the VTA light rail and Caltrain station, residents will have the option of taking public transportation, reducing the number of cars on the road. But since the Tamien Towers development does not include any stores or restaurants residents will still need to get in their cars to do any shopping, thus eliminating the concept of the transit village where residents would not need a car for most needs. This project will add approximately 500 cars to the neighborhood on a single residential street.

In addition, the Tamien Towers project does not become part of the neighborhood but rather a private enclave separate from the neighborhood. There are no public parks as part of this project and no public access to the facilities within the project. Although the builder is required to contribute funds for a public park, there is no guarantee that this money will go to a public park in the neighborhood. The land proposed for the public park is currently owned by VTA and is used as a parking lot for VTA, and Caltrain would need to purchase this property from VTA to develop it into a park.

Furthermore, this project is a prime example of the fiefdoms of the San Jose City Council. All of the project community meetings and negotiations with the builder have been limited to the council district where it is located, even though it borders two other council districts.

This is larger than the normal residential project proposed in the city of San Jose, but the communication with the community has been limited to those living within 1,000 feet of the project. Barry Swenson Builder should have taken the extra steps to extend this notification to all the surrounding communities and neighborhood associations.

Finally, this project is the tallest residential structure outside of the downtown core. If this project goes through, San Jose could see many more of these towers at any station along the light rail line. There is enough land on the proposed site to create the same number of units without creating concrete towers in an unsuitable area.

—Robert Kusters


Published in the Willow Glen Resident, June 2003

High-rises should be
built in the downtown

When Willow Glen residents think of high-rises, they think of downtown. But all that's going to change next month, when in all likelihood the city council will approve zoning for twin 11-story towers on Alma Street, at the eastern edge of Willow Glen. These will be the tallest all-residential buildings in San Jose, the first part of a new generation of high-density development that will look down upon North, South and West San Jose neighborhoods.

With little fanfare or public awareness, the plan for San Jose changed two years ago to allow 120-foot-tall buildings outside of downtown, at sites within 2,000 feet of transit stops.

While placing high-density housing near light rail is reasonable, putting skyscrapers there is not. The Alma project puts two modern, 11-story high-rises directly across the street from turn-of-the-century bungalows. A companion tower on Alma at Lelong will look down into east Willow Glen backyards. More high-rises will follow, shadowing homes within a half-mile of the Fruitdale and Curtner light rail stops.

Many people in Willow Glen believe that skyscrapers belong in downtown, not surrounding our neighborhood. If the Alma project passes its public hearing at city hall on July 23, it will change the way all of us look at the Santa Clara Valley--literally.

—Ken Eklund


(more letters to come)


Copyright 2003