San Jose kicks off environmental review for Google project, seeks community input
Community members gathered Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019 to discuss their environmental concerns related to Google's sprawling proposed development in San Jose. Photo by Janice Bitters.

    San Jose officials Thursday night kicked off the environmental review process for Google’s sprawling, mixed-use development proposal for the west side of downtown.

    The kick off is an important milestone as city leaders push to approve the project by the end of next year. Dozens of residents showed up for the event, known as a scoping meeting, to tell city officials their concerns and questions about the more than 60-acre proposal so those issues could be addressed in the project’s Environmental Impact Report, or EIR.

    “In today’s meeting we were not answering any questions, but we are listening to the community,” said Robert Manford, planning deputy director. “And to the extent that those concerns have anything to do with the environmental impact of the project, they will be addressed as part of the environmental impact report.”

    Mountain View-based Google aims to build about 6.5 million square feet of office space in tall towers alongside between 3,000 and 5,000 homes and 500,000 square feet of retail, hotel, community and other “active uses.” Google initially outlined those plans in August.

    San Joseans Thursday night for about an hour told city officials they were concerned about a myriad of impacts, including displacement of longtime residents, ADA compliance, tree loss, flood mitigation, construction noise and emergency vehicle access in the area.

    Some criticized the city for not advertising the critical environmental kick-off meeting well enough and challenged officials to do better.

    “I think they’ve got a speedy timeline, so it feels a bit rushed,” said Harvey Darnell, a resident of the North Willow Glen neighborhood. “I’ve been highly involved in this but I wish they had better outreach because I think someone pointed out it was an awfully white crowd tonight and it didn’t even have a lot of Asian folks and certainly not many Hispanics.”

    Darnell is also a member of the Station Area Advisory Group and the Envision San Jose 2040 General Plan update task force set to meet later this month. Overall, he is supportive of Google coming to San Jose and feels the tech giant has been willing to listen to community feedback.

    Community members gathered Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019 to discuss their environmental concerns related to Google’s sprawling proposed development in San Jose. Photo by Janice Bitters.

    Notably, Alphabet Inc.-owned Google’s formal plans, submitted to San Jose last month, show the company wants to study the environmental impacts of a much larger development than proposed to residents last summer. Its plans aim to consider a project that could span 5,900 homes and 7.3 million square feet of office space around the busy Diridon Station.

    But Google spokesperson Michael Appel says despite the larger maximums in the plans submitted to the city, the company’s vision remains the same as it has been since last summer.

    The San Jose City Council is expected to vote on the project before the end of 2020, a fast, but important timeline because Google has told city leaders it intends to use a 2011 law known as AB 900, which helps streamline large projects that meet specific requirements.

    In order for Google to utilize AB 900, the project will need to meet a list of requirements and get eligibility approval from the governor by Jan. 1, 2020. The city would need to vote on the project by Jan. 1, 2021 to qualify. City officials have stressed, however, that San Jose is under no obligation to stick to that timeline if the project needs more time.

    A drawing of Google’s proposed “Downtown West” development, which would span more than 60 acres of land around San Jose’s Diridon Station. Photo courtesy of Sitelab Urban Studio | Google

    For now, the city is moving ahead based on that timeline.

    Before the project is approved, San Jose will release a draft of the EIR, hold a public hearing at a Planning Commission meeting next year and then hold another public hearing ahead of the final City Council vote on the proposal, Manford said.

    “I think everybody who was here was allowed to be heard,” Darnell said in an interview following the meeting Thursday. “The question is when you boil this down and you turn it into an EIR, that’s where the proof is in the pudding.”

    Meanwhile, officials are also working on a major update to the existing specific plan for the Diridon Station Area, of which about one-third is taken up by the Google project. That update will likely be completed around the same time the Google project is up for approval.

    The new Diridon Station Area Plan will take into account major changes since the last plan was adopted in 2014, when the city believed a new Major League Baseball stadium would rise in the area and building height limits were shorter than they are today.

    The city has set up several more community feedback sessions about the Google project and about the Diridon Station Area Plan.

    • Nov. 18, at 6 p.m.: A Diridon Station Area community meeting at the Leininger Community Center at 1300 Senter Rd.
    • Dec. 5, at 5: 30 p.m.: A development application (for the Google project) community meeting at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library in Room 225 at 150 E. San Fernando St.
    • Dec. 7 at 10 a.m.: A Diridon Station Area community meeting at the Gardner Community Center at 520 W Virginia St.

    But the meeting Thursday wasn’t the only chance to provide feedback, Manford said.

    Residents can also tell city officials their environmental concerns by sending an email to City Planner Shannon Hill at [email protected]. The city will accept feedback about what should be studied in the EIR until Nov. 22.

    Contact Janice Bitters at [email protected] or follow @JaniceBitters on Twitter.

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