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The Alma Bowl Project
Is Not "A"-Caliber Work
by Alison England et al.
September 2003

The information provided here is to be included into the public record for the Tamien Place Project Agenda Item currently scheduled for September 30, 2003. The information has been sent to the City of San Jose Mayor, Councilmembers and the City Clerk.

Thomas Smith


TO: Honorable City of San Jose Mayor and City Council

FROM: Alison England on behalf of the neighborhoods and groups listed below

SUBJECT: Widespread, Organized Opposition to the Tamien Specific Plan


Please read the attached information prior to the September 30th Council meeting. Please consider the concerns of the residents in your districts that are summarized below.

The following neighborhoods support the 1995 Tamien Specific Plan which contains development that is in scale with the existing neighborhoods, and also includes appropriate community outreach.

Neighborhood Associations:

  • Tamien
  • Goodyear-Mastic
  • Alma
  • Gardner
  • Willow Glen
  • North Willow Glen

Other concerned neighborhood and condominium associations:

  • Burbank
  • Santa Theresa
  • Berryessa
  • Sienna Seniors
  • Palm Seniors

Thank you for your careful consideration of the attached information.



Create a flagship development that shows off San Jose’s commitment to promoting public transit, neighborhood walkability and affordable housing.


Fulfill requirements of the General and Specific Plan


The Tamien Place Specific Plan FAILS

This project does not represent "A" work. Many questions have been asked about important aspects of the Tamien Place proposal, and every answer is basically the same: It meets the requirements of the General Plan. That a higher set of criteria called the Specific Plan were supposed to be met is always swept under the rug. Even the Planning Commission would not address why the Specific Plan has been ignored in not only this case but in three previous major developments — all were allowed to disregard Specific Plan requisites. Falling back on the General Plan for a looser set of goals is doing damage to a community that had created a planned compromise between the needs of the city and the needs of the local neighborhoods.

In school, an "A" project is one that meets more stringent requirements and goes beyond the basic requirements of the assignment. "C" work, on the other hand, typically just meets the conditions for acceptability. The Tamien Place project does not look outside of itself as prescribed for all development in the Tamien Station Area Specific Plan. It does not make contributions toward the neighborhoods’ needs beyond the minimum required in the General Plan. The potential for using mixed use to create a transit destination has been eliminated in favor of a large clump of housing. The architectural style is out of place. Considering the first-of-it’s-kind nature of this project, the City isn’t getting much bang for its buck.


Parks are a badly needed contrast to urban development, and are recognized as valuable in creating improved quality of life for nearby residents. Based on San Jose’s goal of providing 3.5 acres of park land for every 1,000 residents, the Tamien area was owed about two acres of parks before housing infill began around 1993. Since then, enough infill has been built to owe the area another six acres of parks, and the proposed Tamien Place development will introduce enough people to the area to bring the numbers up to ten acres of parks. Add the potential for additional development by VTA, which has been projected to introduce another 700 to 1,000 people and we’re looking at owing parks acreage equal to one tenth of the entire Tamien area. Zero parkland has been developed so far, and no monies have been collected toward park acquisition and construction in the Tamien area.

The city agreed that, as infill was taking place in Tamien, neighborhood improvements (enhanced walkability, façade improvements) and amenities (parks and recreation facilities, neighborhood centers) would also be created. Unfortunately, the city hasn’t been making developers turn in their homework. Like any student who hasn’t been building a grade throughout the course, the city and developers are engaging in some frantic bargaining over "make-up" work, and hoping cramming will get them a passing grade. Unfortunately it’s difficult to get the focus on the task at hand. Both San Jose and the developers have gravitated toward addressing only the most basic (and lucrative) needs such as housing. Providing the spectrum of human requirements including such "esoterics" as a sense of place, recreational opportunities, and a secure, predictable environment creates quality of life. Over focusing on basics results in "subsistence living," and creates an environment of hardship. Evaluating every plot of land by its profit potential is obscuring the original objective of balancing the burden of development with an enhanced environment. Realistically, fourteen acres of park will never be built in the Tamien Station area, but at this stage in the game time for some serious study has begun, and those make-up projects had better be stellar.


In the 1995 version of the Tamien Area Specific Plan height for buildings along Lick Avenue was allowed to go to 65 feet. This was considerably higher than existing buildings in the area, but it was considered to be a generous allowance for future density. In give-an-inch-take-a-mile fashion the height was changed to 120 feet (well, ok, 1/44 of a mile) with the apparent rational that the residents had already agreed to atypical building heights, so what’s the difference? The few residents that were consulted about the height change were merely "informed" ahead of time. When they objected, they were ignored.

The developer claims that tall buildings have no adverse affects on nearby neighborhoods by citing the vicinity of the office building on The Alameda at Taylor to the Rose-garden Neighborhood. As a direct comparison to the Tamien Place project however, this argument is flawed. In actual practice:

  • Office buildings cause a traffic impact of predictable commute patterns with little traffic throughout midday hours, late evening or weekends.
  • Employees are not likely to regularly cut through the local neighborhood in search of everyday goods and services.
  • In the Rose-garden neighborhood, mature trees that go on for many blocks effectively obscure views above the tree tops (about forty feet from ground level.) Not much is visible of any tall building.
  • Offices create little need for increased services.
  • Offices have little noise impact on adjacent areas.

Tall buildings are insisted on to reduce the building footprint. The "saved space" is used to provide new owners private recreational amenities identical to those the surrounding neighborhoods have been begging for for over twenty years. An "A" solution would be to increase the footprints, bring buildings down in height and articulate them to better suit the area architecturally, and create public recreation features that can service both the new owners and the neighborhood.

People who live within the bottom four floors are impacted by street level conditions. People living above six floors are isolated from the circumstances on the ground. The taller the development, the greater percentage of its population will be unconcerned and uninvolved with existing neighborhoods. "Residents" (of large apartment buildings) "are less involved in local politics, presumably because they are less connected with the public infrastructure and space that surrounds them." (Harvard Institute of Economic Research, Distance affects the likelihood and frequency with which neighbors encounter each other. This applies to vertical distance as well.


The Tamien Place project as well as the predicted development of the VTA-owned property just up the street will be introducing such a high population that the Planning Department has characterized the influx as "a whole new neighborhood." With this in mind, the exclusion of mixed use to provide some basic amenities displays a lack of commitment to creating a pedestrian friendly community. Forcing tenants to travel by car for the simplest of needs, as well as denying the surrounding neighbors walking distance amenities reflects a "don’t care" attitude that is typical of "C" work. An "A" solution would be to create the original vision of retail mixed use. By going to the all-too-ready existing neighbors, as well as transit riders for market research, and predicting needs of the new owners, business tenants could easily be identified. The argument that the location is "awkward" is overridden by the vicinity to public transit. Commercial business at public transit stops creates "destinations" for transit riders, increasing the appeal of ridership.

The inclusion of mixed-use retail in larger housing developments creates a "mixing place" where new residents can get to know their neighbors from surrounding areas as well as their own complex. This helps to bring residents down to ground level and make them more aware of street-level surroundings. It also promotes neighborhood walkability for everyone in the area, and allows new residents options to getting in their cars for every little errand. The suggestion that kiosk style business directly at the transit station will serve this purpose is missing the point. These are not likely to be "quality" businesses that will invite people to shop. The more likely scenario is one of either rush-through patronage (with the accompanying litter problems,) or loitering individuals disturbingly near the childcare center. Where is the benefit to the neighborhood?

The offhand suggestion that the existing Willow Street business area is within walking distance, while true, avoids discussing the likelihood that modern consumers are going to be regularly shopping in an ethnic niche district. That the increase in population in proximity to Willow Street will bring about improvements that will in turn attract more shoppers has already been tested through the building of nearly 600 new units since 1995. To claim that introducing another 200 units to the area is going to bring about the changes still necessary to make the business district inviting is a lazy "C" answer intended to avoid the "A" work of creating retail in the Tamien Place project.


The endorsement of the Tamien Towers project by one housing advocacy group after another is baffling. These consortiums do no appear to be concerned that this project does not propose to be affordable. One room units are going for the price of renting a small house. Prices for two and three room units are comparable to purchase prices of single family homes in the area. To be fair, an equal number of units from each floor plan should be offered at affordable rates, not just the smallest units. None of the so-called housing advocates have made any such stand for affordability; neither do they address the developments impact on the local community. To advocate any housing anywhere, the neighbors be damned smacks of an out-of-balance agenda. To assign much weight to this type of endorsement is either equally shallow or a transparent justification for promoting a project under another agenda. The developer seems more than happy to accept praise for benefits this project doesn’t provide, which raises concerns about how many other perceptions about this project are wrong.


The Tamien Place project is being opposed on several grounds, but the main issue has to do with the lack of adherence to the Neighborhood vision as defined in the 1995 Specific Plan. The original plan reflected an understanding that increased development in an already housing-dense area was going to create hardship for an already underserved area without special considerations and compensations. Rather than rejecting increased density outright the plan accepted a maximum threshold for housing infill with the understanding that overdue amenities would be created as part of the compromise. With no oversight committee to ensure the extra steps were included in the infill process, city planning has done the easy thing and enforced only the minimum requirements of developers.

The residents currently protesting the proposed Tamien Place development are being scoffed at for not objecting to the plans during early meetings with the developer. It has been overlooked that the developer characterized key aspects of the project as nonnegotiable. It has also been overlooked that residents with background in the 1995 Specific Plan were taking for granted that it was being adhered to. Residents were not being "passive," rather the predominantly Latina meeting attendees considered it impolite to criticize at public meetings ("A" students remember to attend all their classes, like "Working with Other Cultures 101.) Residents have not been "uninvolved," they have been patient: waiting for the city to fulfill its half of the bargain struck in the 1995 Specific Plan.


The best way to solve a problem is to approach it straight on, not run away from it or put it out of sight. The problems created when people are not involved in processes that affect them can be resolved in large part by creating a predictable, guaranteed forum for negotiations between stakeholders. One smart mode is the Community Benefits Initiative, suggested by the Working Partnerships USA organization. A second good model is San Diego’s City of Villages plan. Since the first review process is primarily business goal oriented, and the second is more neighborhood goal oriented, both processes could be used, each in its appropriate setting.

The more the neighborhoods organize, the more committed they are to taking on the training necessary to understand these more complex issues. Promoting Neighborhood Development Review Boards would shortstop the problems of introducing future infill into neighborhoods that by and large are ignorant of the city’s General Plan, and the processes of development and city planning. Create a smart public that "gets" the cities goals, give them an opportunity to create buy-in and make sure all stakeholders are involved from the beginning, and the future development in San Jose should earn an "A+."


Copyright 2003