Google project won’t improve San Jose’s jobs-housing imbalance much, officials say
A rendering of Google's proposed Downtown West development, which would span more than 80 acres of land around San Jose's Diridon Station. Image courtesy of SITELAB Urban Studio.

Google’s massive downtown San Jose campus won’t make as big a dent in the city’s jobs-to-housing imbalance as city officials had hoped.

That was one of the revelations from a Planning Commission meeting studying the proposed project on Dec. 9.

“Even with the addition of these 20,000 jobs at full build-out, it makes a very small change in that ratio,” said San Jose Planning Director Rosalynn Hughey. “It’s definitely less than a 5 percent change in terms of the number of jobs citywide.”

San Jose has traditionally had more housing than jobs, with the imbalance causing the city to lose residents during the day to job centers like Mountain View and Cupertino. The imbalance makes San Jose a “bedroom community,” officials say, and causes a loss potential revenue.

During the Planning Commission’s study session, city staff and Google’s design partner SITELAB Urban Studio described various features of the 80-acre development.

Google unveiled its vision for the San Jose megacampus on Oct. 7, while the city simultaneously released the project’s 1,350-page draft environmental impact report.

Planning Division Manager Tim Rood gave an overview of the project’s planning phases and said the city’s development agreement with Google — to include the highly-anticipated community benefits plan — will be available for public review in early 2021, though neither Rood nor Hughey provided a specific date.

Hughey said city officials have finished negotiating the parks, utilities, infrastructure and transportation aspects of the agreement, but still need to work out Google’s affordable housing commitment and other elements.

Google plans to build up to 4,800 parking spaces, which will be shared by visitors and Google employees for all purposes, including retail, transit and recreation at the SAP Center, according to the city’s acting deputy transportation director Jessica Zenk. She said 2,850 of those spots will be beneath Google’s office buildings.

The tech company also plans to build up to 2,360 residential parking spaces for the 4,000 to 5,900 housing units it plans to build on its development. Similar to the parking spaces planned for other parts of the Diridon Station area, the spaces will be “unbundled,” meaning residents will need to buy or lease their own parking space outside of their housing agreement.

In some ways, Google’s project resembles its own small city, with parks, plazas, homes, offices, two central utility plants and an electric microgrid planned for the development.

Laura Crescimano, co-founder of SITELAB, said the company plans for a special “gateway” plaza, which would be situated between Santa Clara Street and San Fernando Street west of Highway 87. The plaza would serve as a meeting place for San Jose’s many marathons, Viva Calle and perhaps even a “prototype festival.”

Crescimano said her design team included riparian setbacks — or lengths of distance from nearby rivers — and space between buildings so that workers and visitors would have “access to light and air.”

Laura Crescimano, principal at SITELAB Urban Studio, describes the gateway plaza situated beside VTA’s light rail tracks. Screenshot by Sonya Herrera, courtesy of SITELAB Urban Studio and Google.

The buildings and pathways were designed to evoke a “sense of materiality” within inhabitants of the space, she said.

Crescimano added that the project includes plans for flexible or “dynamic” roads to allow for expanded lanes when traffic momentarily increases, such as during events at SAP Center.

Google’s San Jose megacampus was designed with several building standards in mind, according to Laura Crescimano, principal at SITELAB Urban Studios. Screenshot by Sonya Herrera, courtesy of SITELAB Urban Studios and Google.

Commissioner Pierluigi Oliverio asked how the Google project would impact the city’s jobs-to-housing ratio. The ratio was estimated to be between 1 and 1.5 jobs per household in January, according to a report by the Association of Bay Area Governments. By comparison, neighboring cities such as Palo Alto and Mountain View boast ratios that are more than 4 and 2.5 jobs per household, respectively.

The city of San Jose has long advocated for more jobs in the area to generate more sales taxes, and thus funding, for city services.

Hughey noted that Google’s project would not make a significant dent in the jobs-to-housing ratio.

“Our jobs-to employed-resident ratio, unfortunately, is not going in the right direction,” Hughey said.

Oliverio voiced disappointment, adding that there had long been an expectation that the project would provide a greater proportion of jobs to the city. The proposed tech campus is expected to bring some 20,000 new jobs to the city’s downtown core.

Oliverio asked how many acres of land in Google’s development would be dedicated to jobs. Nanci Klein, San Jose’s economic development director, said roughly half of the project’s 80 acres would be “non-job-generating.”

Commission chair Mariel Caballero asked how Google plans to begin building the project: from the center outward, or from some other specified point.

Alexa Arena, Google’s San Jose real estate development director, said construction would likely begin south of Santa Clara Street to get ahead of construction on the Bay Area Rapid Transit tunnel to downtown San Jose.

Alexa Arena describes while a city staff member indicates with their cursor (black) the approximate location where Google plans to begin construction. Screenshot by Sonya Herrera, courtesy of Google, SITELAB Urban Studio and the City of San Jose.

Caballero lauded the project for emphasizing public transit use.

“Our lower-income folks use transit and bike and walk,” Caballero said, adding that she does not own a car. “I know that there’s too much parking in general, but I’m probably one of the few people who will say that.”

Caballero asked if there had been any progress in the city’s discussion with the San Jose Sharks on parking and traffic problems posed by long-term construction in the Diridon area, as well as the loss of three parking lots adjacent to SAP Center. Klein said the city is continuing to work “collaboratively” with the Sharks to overcome those issues, though she did not specify what, if any, progress had been made in those discussions.

Gavin Lohry, a project development specialist with sustainable development group Catalyze SV, said he would prefer the area to be less traversable by private vehicles.

“We still think that a 35 percent drive-alone modeshare is still quite high,” Lohry said, referring to the proportion of trips Google estimates will be completed by solo drivers. “We would like to see that pushed even lower.”

Lohry said Google employees and residents of the area should be issued free transit passes to encourage greater use of public transit.

Readers can find additional details on the project and submit comments on the Diridon San Jose website.

San Jose Jazz is hosting a “Diridon Experience Workshop,” which includes a Q&A with city officials, on the Google project and other aspects of the Diridon Station Area Plan tonight at 6 p.m. Santa Clara County’s Airport Land Use Commission will also discuss the project in a referral hearing on Dec. 16 at 6 p.m.

No date has been set for when the project will be discussed by the San Jose City Council.

Contact Sonya Herrera at [email protected] or follow @SMHsoftware on Twitter.

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