Neighbors, planners at odds over future of Diridon Station, Google development
The Diridon Station in downtown San Jose is pictured in this file photo.

Neighborhood leaders argue San Jose planners continue to portray them unfairly as “anti-housing and anti-development” amid Diridon area redevelopment talks, ramping up the potential for conflict with developers down the line.

All they want, say members of the Diridon Area Neighborhood Group (DANG), is for the city to pursue smart development and community engagement on a granular level.

The city is doing just that, according to San Jose’s top planner, both through the Station Area Advisory Group (SAAG) and boots-on-the-ground meetings with seven community partner organizations.

It is not enough for neighborhood group members, who penned a terse letter to city leaders following planners’ most recent presentation to SAAG about the ongoing Diridon Station Area Plan (DSAP) update.

Neighbors assert the city is dismissing DANG’s calls for lower height limits — and therefore fewer housing units — on buildings adjacent to 100-plus-year-old, single-story homes while at the same time considering nonresidential projects in areas that should be residential.

“It’s not necessarily the projects, it’s the hypocrisy,” said Kathy Sutherland, one of DANG’s leaders.

A primary neighborhood objective is to put the brakes on all nonresidential projects until the Diridon Station plan update is complete.

The San Jose City Council approved the DSAP in 2014. It established long-term goals for the 250-acre area, including a land-use plan, urban design guidelines, transportation and parking strategies, housing strategies and an art master plan, according to the city’s website. The DSAP includes 4.9 million square feet of commercial industrial space, 420,000 square feet of retail and/or restaurant space, 2,588 residential units and 900 hotel rooms.

Now, the DSAP is in the midst of an update, taking into consideration such issues as potential increases to building heights, open-space improvements, a new Diridon Station and Google’s 80-acre mixed-use Downtown West development.

The plan update process is, by necessity, one of tradeoffs, said Planning, Building and Code Enforcement Director Rosalynn Hughey.

“It’s important throughout this process for the amended DSAP that we are realistic, and that we are able to manage expectations,” Hughey said. “We are balancing the neighborhood concerns and their aspirations with the broader citywide goals and aspirations for the broader Diridon Station area.”

DANG formed in September 2019, bringing together the Shasta/Hanchett Park, Delmas Park and North Willow Glen neighborhood associations and other “like-minded neighbors,” with the goal of ensuring that development within the DSAP “will be respectful of the existing neighborhoods.”

And while DANG has bumped up against the city, leaders said they have developed a good working relationship with Google, which on Wednesday released its draft Environmental Impact Report as well as the Downtown West Design Standards and Guidelines.

“It’s been super collaborative,” Google spokesman Michael Appel said. “We have had over 3,000 touchpoints with the community throughout this process.”

That’s what DANG wants from the city.

Among the group’s concerns is that the SAAG is composed predominantly of broader-interest stakeholders who — now that big policy goals such as affordable housing and transportation are addressed — have largely checked out, leaders said.

DANG made some very specific requests in its Sept. 25 letter to the city, including:

  • defer consideration of nonresidential projects except Downtown West until the DSAP update is complete, which Hughey said should be in the coming months;
  • determine the number of housing units that would be lost if nonresidential projects are approved, and document the impact on the number of residential units in the DSAP update;
  • develop, with DANG support, a detailed community outreach process for the DANG neighborhoods.

“As neighborhoods, we want certainty, we want to be able to support projects that work within agreed-upon standards,” Sutherland said.

“What we’ve heard from developers is that they also want certainty. They want to know that if they bring forward a project that fits, the neighborhood will support it,” she said. “Without the thoughtful details and with the current blanket, broad-stroke height limits proposed by the Planning Department over existing neighborhood development guidelines, the scenario can be a set-up that pits developers who want to maximize heights against neighborhoods for every project. This is exhausting.”

DANG, Sutherland said, is concerned with just 4 percent of the entire DSAP.

“I think it is very reasonable for the Planning Department to work with the neighborhoods to get very granular in these locations,” she said.

Such community-level engagement is something “very near and dear to my heart,” Hughey said, and reaching out to voices that don’t normally speak up is where meetings with the local partner organizations — including the African American Community Service Agency, Latino Business Foundation of Silicon Valley and Trinity Episcopal Cathedral — come in.

But a chasm seems to exist between how the two sides see the process, as Hughey stressed that the DSAP is merely “a planning framework.”

“We are developing principles, guidelines, for how the entire 250 acres is going to develop over time, over decades. We’re not at the sidewalk-width level. We get to that level when we review individual projects when they come through the door,” she said. “DSAP is not going to get to that level of detail.”

And that’s unfortunate, say Sutherland and Laura Winter, another of DANG’s leaders. Both are SAAG members.

“These are the things that need to be addressed that were never addressed during the two-and-a-half-year SAAG process,” Winter said. “All these fine, nitty-gritty details that are easy to sweep under the rug early, now you can’t ignore.”

Contact Todd Perlman at [email protected]

9.25.20 To Councilmember Peralez City Manager Dave Sykes from DANG

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