of the Tamien Vision Coalition
by Ken Eklund, for the Coalition
Draft - August 30, 2003
by the Tamien Vision Coalition
In July 2003, the President of the Goodyear-Mastic Neighborhood Association invited representatives from the neighborhoods around the proposed Alma Bowl development to meet at the Alma Senior Center to trade views and information about the development proposal and discuss appropriate actions to take. This document intends to summarize the common ground these representatives found during six meetings in July-August 2003. This is a draft document, and the authors welcome comments and clarifications.
According to the Planning Department, at the current contribution level, the developer will pay between $1.75 - 2 million in park fees after deducting all available credits. Attendees agreed that this sum seems woefully insufficient to obtain any kind of open space for Tamien area residents. Attendees also agreed that the current Alma Bowl proposal does not guarantee that any park will be built any time soon, and that such a guarantee must be made part of the Alma Bowl development.
At one developer meeting, residents were shown a concept that converted the current Tamien Station east parking lot into a two-acre park. This concept did not deal with costs. Attendees calculated the rough costs of obtaining the two acres, relocating the existing parking, and developing the park to be (conservatively) $8 million. Attendees agreed that this was an unrealistic amount to spend on a park. Attendees also noted that the concept did not deal with other realistic obstacles to the design: it depends on contributions from the VTA, which is in fiscal crisis; it depends on agreement by Council District 6, which has apparently not yet been consulted about the plan.
Attendees noted that Tamien Station is an undesirable location for a park, for a plethora of reasons. Main considerations given were:
Attendees also noted that the potential for transit-oriented projects makes the land around Tamien Station prohibitively expensive to procure.
Attendees wanted to see a realistic proposal for a multi-acre park or parks from the advocates of Alma Bowl.
Coalition attendees noted that Alma Bowl is the third high-density residential project to be proposed for the Tamien area. The first two generated park fees of close to a million dollars, yet these funds were not spent in the Tamien area, but were siphoned away for a park miles away from the site, in District 7. Attendees noted that no guarantee is in place to prevent the exact same siphoning to occur with Alma Bowl fees, and agreed that such a guarantee is critical to neighborhood approval.
To repeat: high-density developments within the Tamien Specific Plan area have impacted area neighborhoods, adding traffic burdens and exacerbating the already critical need for open space, yet no park is currently planned for or even realistically proposed.
Attendees agreed that an irrevocable city commitment to open space must be made concurrent with development. The city should act decisively to fulfill its obligations to a neighborhood area that has long been underserved regarding the pressing need for open space.
Action Summary: Neighborhoods must see a realistic plan for meeting their enduring and critical need for open space, and one which has an ironclad commitment that locks before development begins.
The Alma Bowl development should be in line with the community vision expressed in the 1995 Tamien Area Specific Plan. This document, developed in coordination with the community and adopted by the city as the Tamien Specific Plan (part of the city's General Plan), stated that projects would be:
The Specific Plan specified that developments would have a density no greater than 30 units per acre and a height limit compatible with the low-rise neighborhood, set at 65 feet. An Environmental Impact Report studied the impacts of development at these levels, and revised the proposed limit of total units for the area (1500) to a final level of 1225.
Attendees agreed that the current proposal for Alma Bowl does not conform to any of these central tenets.
Attendees also noted that the project specifications (two towers at 120' height, and 80 units per acre) are double and almost triple the limits set by the 1995 consensus. The limit on total units has been similarly increased, to around 1660. Attendees agreed that the city's unilateral cancellation of the limits set by the consensus constituted a serious breach of trust with the city.
Attendees noted that the current Alma Bowl design is effectively anti-transit, because it blocks "transit village" development for the area. They noted that the 1995 Specific Plan has apparently been set aside, but no new plan has been brought forward. They noted that this creates a fatal decision vacuum, because without a plan to refer to, there is no way to evaluate whether or not a project proposal advances a desirable city vision for the area, or destroys it.
Attendees expressed deep concern that piecemeal development of this area will be a disappointing missed opportunity for the key transit hub, Tamien Station, and a disaster for area neighborhoods.
Action Summary: The only existing coherent plan for the Tamien area is the 1995 consensus document. The Alma Bowl proposal must be brought into alignment with the city's 1995 consensus with neighborhoods. No Alma Bowl proposal can be approved until the city and neighborhoods agree on the coherent plan for the area.
Attendees discussed ways to reduce the traffic impact of Tamien projects, because all agreed that traffic was among the most pernicious problems that residents face.
Attendees noted that, in order to reduce traffic, the city must create viable alternatives to using cars. Methods other cities use:
As noted in Section (2) above, the current Alma Bowl proposal supports only the last method. For all other trips, Alma Bowl residents will have to drive their cars.
The official traffic study on Alma Bowl estimated 1774 trips a day to or from the project; attendees felt that the number would be higher, due to reasons listed below. The traffic study only considered signalized intersections, but included the area's only freeway access (to northbound Highway 87) in its study area; as attendees already knew, this non-signalized intersection already rates an "F" - before Alma Bowl traffic was considered.
Attendees noted that recent traffic patterns include heavy and disruptive flows of "cut-through" traffic - traffic that avoids signalized intersections and therefore is not measured at all by the City's current methodology. These traffic flows have caused many Coalition neighborhoods to seek traffic calming measures from the City.
Attendees noted that current traffic studies measured an abnormally low level of traffic, due to the economic downturn. They wondered if historic traffic data should be used to generate a more accurate traffic impact for the project.
Attendees noted that the current Alma Bowl proposal does not help to bring amenities or services to existing residents. This is another pressing need.
Alma Bowl also robs value from existing transit users; since no services exist at the station, transit users must make separate trips to go shopping, visit an office or pick up a video or dry cleaning.
Although the developer cites a proximity to Willow Street businesses, they are not making any contribution toward expanding this business area, or addressing walkability or other issues. This business area has been targeted for revitalization since 1990, but requires a higher level of city involvement before it can increase its business attraction.
Attendees noted that, if traffic calming or street improvements turn out to be necessary to try to mitigate traffic impacts of the project, these costs will be paid by the city and its taxpayers, not by the developer.
Attendees noted that, since the income levels of prospective Alma Bowl residents differ significantly from the neighborhood, they will probably not patronize local markets. They will drive instead to distant markets and vendors, and since they must use residential streets, they thus maximize their traffic impact on neighborhoods.
Action Summary: The coalition feels that the current Alma Bowl proposal places an unduly large traffic burden on adjacent and surrounding neighborhoods, and thus unnecessarily erodes our quality of life. We want to see the proposal modified to implement "transit village" features and thus reduce reliance on auto trips. This change will also increase the value of Tamien Station to transit riders and thus increase transit usage.
For reasons listed above, Alma Bowl residents are likely to be car-dependent. The coalition attendees agreed that the 360 parking spaces included in the current proposal were going to be inadequate, and that parking overflow would be an ongoing problem for nearby residents, for Tamien Station users and the child care center.
Action Summary: The coalition feels that the parking requirement for the Tamien Place development needs to be raised, or the density lowered.
As currently proposed, Alma Bowl is one-way-in, one-way-out. The reality of this site design in the event of fire or earthquake - or even something as elementary as a car fire - is frightening. Responding rescue workers would have only one access point - the driveway off Lick. As the Oakland Hills fire demonstrated, they would have to force their way in through a driveway jammed with escaping vehicles. (Side note: this scenario will be acted out in miniature every morning and evening rush hour, jamming traffic on Lick.)
Action Summary: At a minimum, Alma Bowl should have a second entrance to the parking garage, on the north side. To ease traffic flow, Pepitone Avenue should be extended south to reach this entrance, easing bottlenecks on Lick. West Humboldt and Floyd Streets should be extended to the west to intersect with this new portion of Pepitone, and better integrate the Tamien area and the Alma Bowl development with the surrounding neighborhood. Traffic burden has been better disbursed and there are multiple ingress/egress opportunities in case of emergency. Depending on new street width, opportunity for on-street parking would also be increased.
Attendees were very dissatisfied with all aspects of the developer-led community involvement process. To many it appears that outreach was deliberately suppressed to prevent community awareness and participation. Those who did participate felt their input was disregarded; they felt "railroaded" in their participation. Attendees noted that one of the primary constituents for the Tamien area, the people who use Tamien Station transit, were never contacted by the developer for input. Attendees felt that the process reflected badly on the city, and further eroded the city's relationship with neighborhoods.
Action Summary: The attendees called for the city to review the outreach efforts, which they felt did not meet minimum requirements. The attendees felt that the Alma Bowl project should be delayed until a true, community-wide outreach meeting is held with all concerned parties (the developer has held no such meeting to date). The attendees called for immediate action by the city to prevent similar situations in the future, including:
The future of residential development in San Jose is most certainly high density. Introducing high density gracefully from both architectural and emotional perspectives is complicated; uniquely so in cases where best use of transit nodes is part of the equation. Alma Bowl is a first attempt at developing an important public transit hub. The timing of Alma Bowl is crucial, given the precarious state of our transit systems. Creating a bad project would not be easy to rectify and would taint future transit node proposals for some time.
While San Jose has a General Plan for growth into the year 2020, the general public is largely unaware of the Plan and its details, and the steady stream of confusing amendments doesn't help. Yet such knowledge is invaluable in understanding the context of individual development proposals. The Mayor has alluded to the frustration of dealing with a public that "doesnt get it," and neighborhoods faced with huge changes echo the sentiment about their government. With the controversial nature of taking neighborhoods in a whole new direction (namely "up"), it seems mandatory for the city to create an interface with neighborhoods that works.
Attendees urge the city to create Community Planning Committees similar to the group formed through United Neighborhoods. The people in the CPCs would learn the goals of the City, the methods they use to achieve those goals, the needs of developers, and add their knowledge of the needs, character, local attitudes and lifestyle of each individual neighborhood.
There are working models of this approach used in other cities, including San Diego. The city is broken down into communities. Each community has a complete city-recorded profile. Officially recognized Community Planning Committees exist for each of the areas, and review and comment on developments proposed within their area. In cases where development impact crosses community boundaries, all affected Community Planning Committees can comment. Without going into detail that can easily be gleaned elsewhere on this planning method, the process has been characterized as "a little slow at the beginning, but the overall development timeline evens out as the project is expedited in the final approval." The end results are better-targeted, more suitable developments, better-received projects and greater public buy-in and trust of city planning.
CPCs create a pathway toward eliminating the current mutual frustration and suspicions between citizens and the city. Creating Community Planning Committees would provide the mechanism for the citizens and city planners to cooperate in a meaningful way. The CPCs would also provide valuable (literally) information about local neighborhoods to developers and planners. Imagine having a development savvy board that could answer questions about business marketing issues, patterns of local cut-through traffic, public perceptions and expectations, even popular local destinations; all specific to a proposed developments local area. This would save money and time doing market and logistics research, while avoiding making expensive mistakes or the oversight of problems which are common local knowledge. Finally, Community Planning Committees would function as the city's missing "Department of Implementation," providing knowledgeable surveillance of project construction, including all contracted features, and follow-through for each development phase.
The time is right. With controversy and confusion raging over high-density infill, a sluggish economy that has people more concerned about home life, budget cuts to infrastructure improvements and services, and great undercurrent of dissatisfaction with an eroding quality of life in the city, rebellion against new development will be high. To counter this, the Strong Neighborhood Initiative (SNI) has proven citizens potential for organizing, becoming educated, and refining plans. Community Planning Committees could become a new direction for the currently stalled SNI groups. Since many near-future high-density projects fall in SNI areas, the processes are already connected.
Community members have invested hundreds of hours "catching up" with not only the Alma Bowl project, but the development process at large. On their own initiative, they have formed an amicable coalition of concerned neighborhood associations and carefully researched suggestions for improvements. This level of cooperation, positive compromises, and visionary improvements prove the determination and validity of citizen involvement in city planning of neighborhood projects.
Action Summary: use the SNI structure to create Community Planning Committees to participate in the development process.
Respectfully submitted by representatives of the
Alma, Gardner, Goodyear-Mastic, North Willow Glen, Tamien, and Willow Glen neighborhoods
With Support or Participation by representatives of the
Washington-Guadalupe, New Horizon and other neighborhood organizations