Housing nonprofit to San Jose Diridon Station area planners: Go big
The Diridon Station in downtown San Jose is pictured in this file photo. Photo by Janice Bitters.

As community members and San Jose officials work to revamp development and growth plans around Diridon Station, one housing nonprofit has been working on its own vision for the area — and it includes a lot more housing.

Silicon Valley at Home on Friday unveiled an analysis showing how San Jose could feasibly allow up to 15,000 homes to rise in the Diridon Station area, which is slated to get a major update to its existing long-term vision for growth, known as the Diridon Station Area Plan, or DSAP. City leaders have said they intend to require 25 percent of the homes in the Diridon Station area be affordable, though the exact levels of affordability are still undefined.

That plan, approved in 2014, currently calls for 2,588 homes, though that number is expected to jump when the new DSAP is approved.

“Our hope is that we’re participating in a discussion that we think should probably be more robust,” said Mathew Reed, policy manager for SV@Home. “There’s a lot on the line here and it’s been difficult to figure out how and where to plug in when we start talking about the actual magnitude of what people are envisioning.”

The DSAP, which encompases 236 acres near Diridon Station, is currently on a track to be finished by the end of the year. Simultaneously, councilmembers are expected to vote on a massive development proposal by Google that would bring about 6.5 million square feet of office space and between 3,000 and 5,900 new homes near the growing transit hub, within the DSAP boundaries.

SV@Home included in its calculation Google’s proposed housing, along with about 1,900 homes that are currently under construction or recently completed in the area.

A color-coded map shows how Google plans to develop in the 60 acres it owns around Diridon Station in downtown San Jose. Image Credit: Google | City of San Jose

The organization’s calculation also assumes the same ratio of parking spots to commercial and residential space that Google included in its plan submitted last year, which is fewer parking spots in the area than might be required today — before the DSAP is complete.

The vision assumes workers and residents will live close to their jobs in the area or use the transit options at Diridon Station, which is slated to get billions of dollars in investment in the coming years.

But there’s flexibility in those assumptions, Reed said.

“I think the concern about parking is tied to the question of how tall we’re willing to build and how we’re going to approach it,” he said, noting that more parking would likely come with taller buildings to reach the 15,000 residential unit goal.

The vision and calculations for Diridon Station’s growth come with one overarching message for planners and for residents: go big — and not just for housing.

“Don’t be afraid to think big when it comes to jobs,” Reed said. “It’s a train station; it’s going to be the employment center of the city in a way the downtown didn’t used to be … If we get it wrong somehow, or just make it smaller than it has the potential to be, that’s just going to be a shame.”

That mirrors the message of other local groups, including nonprofit public policy advocacy group Working Partnerships USA, at least when it comes to housing.

“I think it’s really important to think about what is possible,” said Jeffrey Buchanan, director of public policy at Working Partnerships USA. “Specific to this capacity issue, I’ve been concerned that the city is perhaps, in an effort to move things quickly with amending the plan, not aiming to the right North Star of how big, how significant we should really be thinking when it comes to housing.”

SV@Home’s vision of 15,000 new homes is relatively close to what Working Partnerships has been hoping for to help offset the jobs that would be added in the area, Buchanan said.

Google is expected to bring 25,000 jobs the area alone, but several other office developments are also proposed or underway in the area.

Currently, two planning bodies are studying how the city will grow in the future. In addition to the Diridon Station Area Advisory Group — which is helping to shape the DSAP — the city has convened a group of local community, business and planning leaders to update San Jose’s general plan. The general plan includes broad guidelines for the entire city’s growth, including downtown San Jose.

SV@Home hasn’t shared this plan with either group directly, Reed said.

Instead the group has been sharing its analysis with community members and other groups, hoping to generate interest in the vision and catch city planners’ attention.

“Our goal was to get people thinking and to try and present some analysis that showed if we commit and invest in the opportunity and the potential … for the station area, that there’s a tremendous amount of flexibility to put a lot of jobs and a lot of housing and a lot of great places to have fun,” Reed said.

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

Editor’s Note: Derecka Mehrens, executive director of Working Partnerships USA, serves on San José Spotlight’s Board of Directors.

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