Diridon Station neighborhoods form coalition before Google-spurred development boom
Kathy Sutherland of the Delmas Park neighborhood and Laura Winter of the Shasta Hanchett Park neighborhood pose outside of Crema on The Alameda. Image courtesy of Janice Bitters

A trio of San Jose neighborhood groups around Diridon Station — the epicenter of change in the fast-growing city — have banded together, creating a united front to advocate, negotiate and work with city officials and developers on the changes to come.

It’s the first time a united group of neighborhood associations have independently come together as one coalition to ensure Google, the city and other development interests hear their voices since the tech titan’s 2017 announcement.

The Diridon Area Neighborhood Group, or DANG, is made up of Shasta Hanchett Park, Delmas Park and North Willow Glen neighborhood associations. All of those neighborhoods sit near where Google is expected to redevelop what is now a low-slung, parking lot-speckled neighborhood around the city’s busy Caltrain station into a more than 8 million-square-foot mixed-use tech campus in the coming decade.

But the group’s efforts are about more than just Google, said Laura Winter, a neighborhood leader with the Shasta Hanchett Park Neighborhood Association.

“It’s everything that is coming to the area as a response to Google,” she said. “We’re saying that right now in the city of San Jose planning and City Council, it’s the Wild West when it comes to development.”

Currently, San Jose officials are working multiple planning efforts to reimagine what the city will look like in the coming decades as the city prepares for billions of dollars in investment to make its way to its primary transit hub, Diridon Station.

City and community leaders this year will work on an update to the city’s general plan, essentially the land-use bible for the entire city. Officials are also re-thinking the approved development plan for the area around Diridon Station and are set to develop a refreshed zoning plan specifically for that area.

Google will submit a formal development plan next month for the area around Diridon, where the tech titan has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on real estate and where the company anticipates more than 20,000 employees will work one day. Councilmembers this year already raised the maximum building height limits in the city’s urban core and around the transit hub on the west side of downtown in anticipation of future growth.

Meanwhile, the Station Area Advisory Group, a 38-member advisory group of community members and San Jose leaders convened by the city, have been meeting for more than a year to discuss priorities for the area’s future redevelopment.

Community leaders from all three DANG neighborhoods have a spot on the Station Area Advisory Group, known as the SAAG, including Winter. But some say they still don’t feel well-represented in the group.

“Almost everybody sitting at that table … was paid to be there as their job, so they were representing a specific area and a specific agenda,” said Kathy Sutherland, a community leader with the Delmas Park Neighborhood Association who sits on the SAAG. “We (neighborhood representatives) all have outside jobs and this is what we do in our free time; there’s no way we can keep up with the magnitude of a project this big.”

As Google prepares for a potential 2020 approval of its massive project, Winter said this felt like the right time to speak up with a collective voice.

“One of the most important things that we have mutually agreed upon is that even though we represent different areas … is that we are standing together,” she added. “We are not going to let the city or Google peel off neighborhoods. We are doing this for the collective, common good.”

The group formed officially on Sept. 9, and retained land use consultant, Bob Staedler, principal of San Jose-based Silicon Valley Synergy to help organize the conversation they hope to have with elected officials and developers. Staedler, a longtime land use expert, writes a column on development for this news organization.

DANG doesn’t have a list of “asks” yet, save for acknowledgement. But if there is one thing the group wants people to know for now — it’s that they aren’t trying to stop development.

“The time for the conversation, and the time for their input in a positive and proactive fashion is now,” Staedler said. “This is a group full of positivity and eagerness to be part of the solution and they’re not trying to game the system; the impacts are just something you can’t ignore.”

Contact Janice Bitters at janice@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @JaniceBitters on Twitter.


 

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