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A Story
of Two Towers
by Alison England
July 2003

The July 13 and 14 editorials concerning the Tamien Place development were just as they were presented; the Opinion of the Mercury News. There was only a sprinkling of facts included, presented to support the Mercury’s stand in favor of high density infill. The Tamien saga is, however, a much more involved and sordid tale than the clash between two districts. The players include VTA, Barry Swenson, labor unions, a mayor frustrated with a big city with a small-town image, and decisions being made based on money rather than good planning.

A major point being lost here is that the local government is supposed to be driven bottom up, not top down. Council members are supposed to listen to and represent their constituents in council decisions. The good of the overall community should be the goal, not just benefit for some at the expense of others. The Mercury News’ heavy-handed suggestion that the Mayor needs to take Council member Yeager behind the woodshed for having these higher (well, in this case lower) goals flies in the face of proper government.

There have been several neighborhood associations kept informed about this development. All of them are in districts three and seven. Only one neighborhood association is in favor of the projects – yes, there is more than just Tamien Place going on – the other associations object to the height, density, and cost of the housing. All they want is the park that has been owed them since housing infill began in the area in the late ‘80’s. These extreme high density projects are being characterized as "necessary" in order to glean enough developer contribution monies to build the park they’re asking for.

There should already be sufficient funds collected and kept from past development in the area to develop a park. Barry Swenson has gotten the "mixed use" designation eliminated from the development, so the neighborhood will not gain any new and badly needed amenities. The area will be saddled with a huge population burden, with the only benefit being an undersized park which will be guarded on either side by the new "neighborhoods" (as the planning department describes the developments.) All but one neighborhood association think the cost is too high.

The "best" part of the story is that the end is already written. The council policies allow the mayor and council to dictate what will and won't be built, regardless of how dummied up the environmental impact reports might be to show "no negative impact." While real legal issues may exist, the state-wide "tradition" in cases between the citizens and their government is to let the government win. Litigation is prohibitively expensive, and, since the game is rigged, playing that game makes no sense.

The ideal scenario for the bigger picture is this: San Jose should adopt a planning process similar to one used in San Diego that allows the public to be involved in land use issues at their inception. The city is divided into planning zones. Citizens within each zone are educated as to the city’s growth goals, planning processes and zoning issues, as well as other pertinent topics. This "board" is then consulted and allowed to temper (within reason) developments as they are proposed. The process is a little slower at the front end, but streamlined during the final approval. Growth goes on, as it must, but amicably with all affected populations considered.

This proposal has been discussed with some in San Jose’s planning department, and has not yet been requested of council. If the idea is rejected, angry citizen reactions will dog high density infill at every step.

So buckle your seat belts, kids. After Tamien Place and the other 600-plus dwelling unit development go in, the sky’s the limit, literally. These towers are "only" 120 feet tall because of the vicinity to the airport. The next towers, to be built in your neighborhood, have no height limitation. Say goodbye to your view of that greenbelt we’re protecting. Say hello to overpopulated schools, more traffic headaches, overcrowded grocery stores, and an L.A. skyline. At least the mayor will be happy.

Copyright 2003