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XHigh-Density Housing
Proposed for Alma Avenue at Tamien
by Ken Eklund
August 2003

More info:


Q: What's going on?

A: Developer Barry Swenson is proposing extra-high-density housing on Alma Avenue near Tamien Station, south of North Willow Glen and on the east border of Willow Glen. He wants to build two 11-story condominium towers and a row of townhomes - around 260 units (with 400 bedrooms) in all. This is the "Alma Bowl" project (the developer calls it "Tamien Place").

Q: 400 Bedrooms! How many cars will that add to area streets?

A: Depends on how many people you think occupy a typical bedroom in this town. If you think the number is close to 2, then the Alma Bowl project will add upwards of 700 cars to surrounding streets. (Planners apparently use the equation "2.75 x no. of units" for estimates. This also equals around 700 cars.)

Q: 700 cars. That seems like a lot. Is that a lot?

A: They would make the line of cars waiting to get onto morning 87 about a quarter of a mile longer. These additional cars alone would stretch from the on-ramp down to Lelong, south on Lelong to Alma, east on Alma under 87 to Lick, north on Lick back into the project's parking garage and clog all its aisles. Fun!

Of course these cars won't do that. Since 87 is already a parking lot during traffic hours, that's not even an option. They will drive through your neighborhood instead.

Q: What's being done to accommodate that increased level of traffic?

A: Currently, nothing.

Q: Wait a minute - did you say those towers would be ELEVEN STORIES tall?

A: Yes. High-rises higher than any all-residential structure in downtown are coming to your neighborhood viewscape! Glance down Minnesota and there they'll be, looming larger than life.

Q: I don't remember ever agreeing to anything like this.

A: You didn't. The City worked out a general plan with the people of the surrounding neighborhoods back in 1995, which called for mixed-use (residential + retail + business) development at about 30 units per acre and a height limit of 65 feet. City Council amended the plan two years ago to encourage "transit village" developments along the light rail corridor. But the current Alma Bowl proposal is not a "transit village" in any way - it's residential only, with no retail or business. At 80 units per acre and buildings now 120' tall, it adds a whole neighborhood's worth of people to one site - and since they have to drive just to get a loaf of bread, it also adds them all to our streets. Since Alma Bowl is the logical commercial-use site of the Tamien area, to make it residential-only betrays the whole "transit village" concept for all of Tamien.

So, to repeat: the people in the neighborhood of Tamien agreed to 65' high buildings, 30 units per acre density and mixed-use (transit village) land use. Now, less than a decade later, they are being given 120' high buildings, 80 units an acre density, and no transit village design. What happened to the plan the neighborhood supported? It has apparently been trashed, and there is no new plan to take its place - just piecemeal projects like Alma Bowl.

Q: Is it too late to modify this project into something more like the neighborhood plan?

A: Not yet. City Council has yet to decide on the rezoning crucial to this specific project. The public has found serious problems with this proposal. Four of the main objections:

  1. BROKEN FAITH. The City entered into a contract with the neighborhoods in the Tamien area when they all collaborated on the Tamien Specific Plan. The City has now significantly changed that Plan, without any discussion from neighborhoods. Thus we have a proposal for high-density all-residential high-rises at Alma Bowl, which is specifically what the neighborhoods did not want for the site.
  2. BROKEN TRAFFIC STUDIES. The City's method for quantifying traffic burdens is woefully inadequate and inaccurate. (It's downright laughable.)
  3. BROKEN COMMUNITY OUTREACH. There are guidelines that dictate how, at a minimum, developers must interact with communities, to inform them of plans and to solicit and consider their input. The developer has failed to perform even the minimum.
  4. BROKEN PLANNING. When neighborhoods and the City collaborated on the Tamien Specific Plan in 1994, there was a vision for what would happen in the Tamien area - a transit village. The vision has been lost. Nobody now knows what will happen at Tamien, and thus nobody knows if the Alma Bowl proposal benefits the area or destroys its potential. The Specific Plan has become a Non-Specific Plan, and area development has gone piecemeal.

Go here to read the two-part protest document. You are encouraged to add your comments and signature.

Also, have you read our Further Info on Alma Bowl?
Go here and click on the images and text in the sidebar at left.

Q: Realistically, what can I do?

A: Yes. We've already done quite a bit to make Tamien a better place (read about that here). To continue to apply pressure to do the right thing at Alma Bowl, do three things:


Consider signing your name to the protest to Planning's Negative Declaration regarding environmental impact of the project. You can read the two-part protest document here. You can email here to comment on the document or to sign it.


City Planning and City Council need to hear you say that you do not want a high-rise residential development, that you want mixed-use non-skyscraper "transit village" development at Tamien, as per the original Specific Plan.

First, email Anastazia Aziz, Planning's project manager for the Tamien area, to enter your views into the Project Permanent Record. This is the Record the Councilmembers will review before the meeting.

Then email or phone your Councilman - for North Willow Glen, Willow Glen and other District 6 neighborhoods that would be Ken Yeager, or 277-5166; for Alma, Gardner, Tamien, Goodyear-Mastic, Washington and other District 3 neighborhoods that would be Cindy Chavez, or 277-5231; for District 7 neighborhoods that would be Terry O. Gregory, or 277-5226. You should also let Mayor Ron Gonzales know your thoughts:

THE CITY COUNCIL MEETING, tentatively scheduled for
AT CITY HALL - Room 205.
This is when it all hits the fan, so put this on your calendar! it's very important that you attend the meeting and speak your mind.

Q: What exactly do we need to accomplish?

A: The project requires approval from the City Council (for the necessary rezoning). City Council needs to realize that neighborhoods reject the Alma Bowl high-rise proposal, because it is not compatible with the neighborhood, and voters reject the high-handed way this proposal has been introduced. It is a clear blueprint for how NOT to integrate growth into neighborhoods.

Okay, while you're at it, ONE MORE THING you should do:

Finally - DO THIS NOW
Contact Us and give us an email address. We'll send you updates as necessary about this project and other local infill projects of concern.

Thanks to all who have expressed their thoughts and taken action on this issue. Every little bit is helping to pressure decisionmakers to include neighborhoods in the decisions that affect their quality of life.














At 80 units per acre,
the "Alma Bowl"
project far exceeds
the average density
of housing around it.
At 120' tall, its two
towers will be by far
the tallest all-residential
buildings in all San Jose.
It is urban-scale density
mushrooming in a
suburban area.
It's a plain old
housing project
trying to sneak into
a spot zoned for a
"transit village."

It can only be stopped
through political action -
citizens must speak out
against the project,
to give City Council
good reason
not to approve it.

If it's allowed to
proceed, it will
add many more cars
to our streets and
two ugly skyscrapers
to our neighborhood
view (which will soon be joined by more). If this sounds wrong to you,
speak up!





Copyright 2003