San Jose council mulls infrastructure backlog, commercial fees and more

Thanks to Measure T funding, San Jose’s infrastructure backlogs are due to get some relief.

Approved by San Jose voters in last November, the bond measure aimed at addressing public safety, disaster preparedness and infrastructure needs is expected to bring $650 million for a variety of projects. Roughly half of that money is slated for repairing nearly 400 miles of the city’s most damaged streets with work expected to begin in 2020.   

Without Measure T revenue, the street repair backlog was expected to reach $1.1 billion by 2028 but, according to city documents, will now be sliced roughly in half.

The measure also reduces backlogs for storm-related funding by $35 million, puts $20 million toward bridge repairs and replacement and provides another $20 million for outdoor and streetlight-related work.

During a San Jose City Council meeting Tuesday, lawmakers will receive a report outlining the various projects and funding availability with an additional focus on building and park facilities.

The overall deferred maintenance and infrastructure backlogs remains at roughly $1.5 billion with the 2019 Measure T income. An additional $86.9 million will be required each year to maintain city infrastructure, according to city documents.

Downtown height limits revisited

Councilmembers on Tuesday also will consider a measure to raise downtown building height limits.

City officials and airport leaders recommend developing taller buildings exceeding up to 35 feet from the current limits in downtown and up to 137 feet in the Diridon Station area. The airport commission, however, calls for an alternate plan that would allow higher height limits around the Diridon Station area but not downtown.

The council will consider creating a fund to offset costs to airlines as a result of taller structures in downtown, which could require some airlines to reduce weight by bumping passengers.

New downtown development projects would be subject to an Federal Aviation Administration obstruction evaluation.

Mayor Sam Liccardo, Vice Mayor Chappie Jones and Councilmembers Carrasco and Peralez pushed for accepting staff recommendations to raise height limits.

“As Downtown San Jose urbanizes even further, we must build up rather than out to avoid more suburban sprawl,” they said in a joint memo. Efforts for this growth have always been stymied by a pendulum swing between a successful airport or a thriving Downtown. However, for the first time in the city’s history, we can meet both goals with the proposed changes.”

City resumes commercial linkage fee talk

After postponing plans to look into a fee on commercial development as an affordable housing revenue, lawmakers will again pick up the discussion on Tuesday.

The city previously set a goal of developing 10,000 affordable housing units between 2017 and 2022, but current city funding appears to cover less than a third of that target. A commercial linkage fee could potentially boost affordable housing stock, officials said.

Fees would be collected on new commercial development projects as a way to offset the need for affordable housing created by the development.

In 2015, the council placed the commercial linkage fee on its priority list. Now city leaders will ask the council to study the fees, setting aside $150,000 for a consultant.

Five other cities in Santa Clara County use commercial fees to generate revenue, according to city documents.

Councilmembers Raul Peralez, Sergio Jimenez and Magdalena Carrasco suggested the city look at fees on various types of future development, including high tech, retail, industrial and office space. “Our city is rapidly growing and changing,” the lawmakers wrote in their proposal. “As new talent and innovation comes to San Jose, it will soon be reflected in our landscape. Our feasibility study cannot simply look at the landscape now.”

Council to vote on Light Tower Monument location

The Guadalupe River Park at Arena Green has been chosen for a new “artistically inspired” Light Tower landmark to be gifted by the San Jose Light Tower Corporation.

The council will vote on the location and allowing the donor to embark on an “international ideas competition” to solicit design ideas locally and around the globe. The goal is to construct a design that weaves the city’s history into an inspiring piece that celebrates innovation and collaboration, the group said.

The competition is expected to run through 2019 with a winner selected in January.

The Arena Green was chosen as the best site among six other locations identified by the nonprofit’s consultant. The locations, which included Plaza de Cesar Chavez, Diridon Station and Discovery Meadow, were judged by a series of criteria including capacity for outdoor gatherings, proximity to public transit and an absence of environmental influences.

The city received dozens of letters opposing the chosen site, many citing environmental concerns. The San Jose Parks Advocates claimed that parking considerations, other development spurred by BART and the social and environmental impacts were not considered when selecting Arena Green.

“The impact of local homeless persons in the short-term and long-term was not analyzed,” the advocates wrote in a letter. “Tourists and visitors tend to avoid places with large numbers of unhoused persons. For example, the impact of unhoused users was highlighted in the Arena Green Park 2015 study and their presence was cited as a barrier to use for those surveyed.”

The City Council meets 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at the council chamber inside San Jose City Hall, 200 East Santa Clara Street.

Contact Carina Woudenberg at carinaw86@gmail.com or follow @carinaew on Twitter.

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