Staedler: Boulevards or bust? All sensible housing ideas need to be implemented
Iconic journalist Dan Rather delivered the keynote address at Joint Venture's annual State of the Valley conference. Photo by Ramona Giwargis.

More than 1,300 people packed the McEnery Convention Center earlier this month to hear from urban designers, economic historians, leading tech companies and news icon Dan Rather during Joint Venture’s 2020 State of the Valley Conference.

The 2020 Index tells a story of economic good news: Silicon Valley continues a nine-year economic expansion and the region added nearly 30,000 jobs fueled by technology and related sectors. But the Index also highlighted a continuing three-year trend in which more people are leaving Silicon Valley than coming in. Santa Clara County ranked fourth among California’s 58 counties for net domestic out-migration between July 2018 and July 2019, the report also found, with a net loss of nearly 6,000 residents.

One of the speakers at this year’s event was Peter Calthorpe, founding principal of Calthorpe Associates. He outlined the Grand Boulevard Initiative (GBI), an initiative involving 19 cities, counties, local and regional agencies to revitalize the entire stretch of El Camino Real, starting in Daly City and ending near the Diridon Station in San Jose.

“El Camino Real will achieve its full potential as a place for residents to work, live, shop and play, creating links between communities that promote walking and transit and an improved and meaningful quality of life,” states the GBI website.

Calthorpe framed his argument for developing housing on boulevards by saying that while SB 50, the vilified Sen. Scott Wiener housing bill, would potentially displace low-income residents, his concept of building housing on existing boulevards would not have that issue. He added that significant amounts of housing could be created in areas that have the amenities that residents would enjoy.

In-fill housing makes a lot of sense on long business corridors. According to the GBI, communities along El Camino Real have participated in the initiative to revitalize the roadway into a vibrant, people-friendly place for the past 13 years. GBI has fostered the development of ten guiding principles and has won the endorsement of those principles by every community along the corridor.

Numerous studies and plans have been designed to give cities, counties and other agencies a path forward to upgrade land uses, public services and infrastructure; and, well-managed higher density development.

I’m not sure what is more depressing, that they have been meeting for 13 years or that the endorsement of those principles by “every community” hasn’t dramatically changed the whole stretch of El Camino Real.

Reflecting over the last several weeks on Calthorpe’s GBI presentation, I have come to the opinion that legislation like SB 50 is needed now more than ever.

It’s not a choice of infill development on boulevards or transit-oriented development — both are needed immediately. Also, it’s not a choice of market rate or affordable housing, it’s all of those income levels and densities. The Bay Area desperately needs housing, but the excuses for not providing it are evolving and never ending.

The 13 years of GBI meetings outlines how a common sense infill development concept can slowly transform into another idea that doesn’t become realized. I’m sure the GBI started off with fanfare and enthusiasm on implementation. I hope the current batch of housing plans, including the 2018 CASA Compact, doesn’t end up in a future column about a 13-year-old plan that was promising — but never came to fruition

I’m sure that this column will be attacked as a shill for housing developers, but that is not the case. We need to have the courage to build housing and not let the hysteria culture of NIMBYs stop a reasoned and balanced way to deliver housing. The cost of not addressing this housing tragedy is greater than the imagined world-ending Armageddon that would come from sensible infill housing development.

San José Spotlight columnist Bob Staedler is a principal at Silicon Valley Synergy, a San Jose-based land use and development consulting firm. His columns appear every first Monday of the month. Contact Bob at [email protected] or follow @BobStaedler on Twitter.

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