Neighborhood leaders in the Diridon area have launched a nonprofit to keep some San Jose residents in the know about construction in their community.
The group, Stakeholders + Neighborhoods Initiative, or S+NI, created an app and website where residents can track development plans and public meetings relevant to Google’s Downtown West campus and other projects.
The Downtown West project will be built over the next decade. Plans include 7.3 million square feet of office space, 4,000 housing units, 15 acres of parks and a 30,000-50,000 square-foot community center. The project also boasts 500,000 square feet for retail, cultural, education and arts uses. A quarter of housing units in the area will be affordable.
It’s one of many developments in the works as part of the city’s Diridon Station Area Plan to build out more high-rises and housing—leaving residents concerned about construction impacts and displacement due to rising costs that will come from living in a redeveloped downtown.
“This area is going to be impacted by decades of development and infrastructure. And the worst part is when you hear (residents say) the phrase, ‘I have no idea. I didn’t know where to look. How was I supposed to know?’” said Bob Staedler, the nonprofit’s consultant and columnist with San José Spotlight.
The app is a closed-loop social media application without comments, chat or ads to “allow all neighborhoods and stakeholders to filter out the noise and keep current,” S+NI’s website reads. It focuses on the Diridon Station area that spans over 250 acres—80 of which is Google’s Downtown West project.
The nonprofit has been in the planning stages for four months and publicly launched last week. Staedler said the timing was intentional because there are some important development and Google votes coming before the San Jose City Council in March, including Tuesday’s vote on how to spend millions of community development dollars from the tech giant.
Kathy Sutherland, co-president of S+NI, said Google’s plans are a main focus for the group, but she is more concerned with smaller developments that fly under the radar.
“Development is good, but you have to make sure that you have appropriate development that properly interfaces with the existing neighborhoods,” Sutherland told San José Spotlight.
She said this is especially true in the Diridon Station area where single-story homes built at the turn of the century are close to each other. As the city planned development, auto shops started sharing property lines with those homes—something she said doesn’t fit with the community. Now some parts of the neighborhood have been rezoned to allow for development up to 150 feet high—much taller than a single-story home.
Sutherland, who has lived in the Delmas Park neighborhood for 40 years, calls the area “the poster child for bad city planning.”
‘We don’t want chatter’
Members of the nonprofit said the app doesn’t have a chat function because they want to keep the space information-centered rather than as a forum for advocacy.
“We don’t want chatter, we just want to find information,” Sutherland said. “If people want to take it to their own neighborhood associations or their Nextdoor group and start making opinions and letters, that’s more the forum to go do that.”
That’s not to say the group doesn’t want advocacy and community engagement to be a by-product of the app. Sutherland was one of the founders of the Diridon Area Neighborhood Group (DANG) and said there will be overlap with that group and other neighborhood organizations. DANG is a coalition of three neighborhood associations—Shasta Hanchett Park, Delmas Park and North Willow Glen—that formed in 2019 to ensure Google, the city and other development interests hear their voices as the tech titan prepares to move into their neighborhoods.
Helen Chapman, former president of the Shasta Hanchett Park Neighborhood Association and a policy/legislative advisor in Councilmember Sergio Jimenez’s office, said the information gathered at S+NI will help shape the work done by residents. She’s acting as a mentor for the group and said community engagement with the city has dwindled over the years, which is why such an app is “sorely needed.”
“There’s generations of people who are seeing issues in their city and they’re frustrated, but they don’t know how to channel that,” Chapman told San José Spotlight. “So if we give people information, then they can draw their own conclusions and they know who to contact and they know how to be strategic about getting something for their neighborhood.”
Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.