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Policy Proposal: Jump-Start Development Near Transit with Temporary TOD
By Benjamin Grant, Urban Design Policy Director
May 16, 2019

Putting temporary uses on the land around BART stations could help build demand for more intensive development, like housing, down the road. Rendering by Gensler from SPUR's article "The Future of the Berryessa BART Station."

The passage of Assembly Bill 2923 in 2018 means Bay Area cities must change their zoning to accommodate development on land that BART owns around its stations. This could allow the agency to create as many as 20,000 new housing units in the Bay Area. The station areas around BART and other transit are a scarce and critical resource in a region with too much traffic and not enough housing, offering direct access to the region and opportunities for growth that would support transit use. 

But building near stations will take time, and right now most of this land is used for surface parking lots. All that parking sits on land that could both support and benefit from transit service, making for an environment oriented toward cars rather than people, just where we need the reverse.

Cities and transit operators — with the support of regional, state and federal agencies — have long sought to develop these station areas through transit-oriented development (TOD), compact, walkable, communities built around transit access. But these efforts face considerable obstacles, including slow and cumbersome local approval processes, unfavorable market conditions and antiquated transportation policies that prioritize parking.

Often the first step in station-area development is to build a big, expensive parking structure to free up parking lots for development. This takes time and creates high up-front costs for the station operator, making the often-marginal financial feasibility of station area development even more difficult. A major investment in structured parking also guarantees that transit station areas will remain designed for cars and not people, which works against the region’s goal to reduce driving. The advent of ride-hailing services and the prospect of autonomous vehicle technologies are already making the parking garage a dubious long-term investment, and all the more so in scarce transit station areas.

In addition, developers often balk at the densities necessary to support transit, preferring simpler products like townhouses in places where the market is unproven. Once garages and lower-density housing are built, they lock in a kind of lukewarm urbanism, foreclosing the possibility of a really transformative urban place.

A Solution: Temporary TOD

How might we give station areas a jump start that doesn’t build driving in — one that could enable real transformation as the market gets stronger?

One way to start is by borrowing the insights of tactical urbanism, the now-widespread practice of introducing low-cost, temporary amenities, uses and design interventions to get quick results, test ideas and, critically, shift the public and market perception of a place. This approach was pioneered by the New York City Transportation Department under Jeannette Sadik-Kahn. Throughout the city, temporary street designs and public spaces were quickly prototyped with a minimum of regulatory burdens, then assessed on the ground. 
 

New York’s Times Square before and after the city deployed tactical urbanism projects to transform a space for cars into a space for people. Image courtesy New York City Department of Transportation.


Tactical urbanism was quickly adopted by planning provocateurs, who created things like temporary parklets, and by real estate developers, who sought to seed market interest in a particular location by curating a compelling mix of arts, retail and events on a temporary basis.

The same concepts can be applied to transit station areas to catalyze transit-oriented development without major capital investment. We explored this idea in a 2014 article on plans for San Jose’s first BART station at Berryessa. Here’s how it might work, both there and at existing stations:

1. Use demountable parking decks to create temporary, removable parking structures.

This could immediately cut the footprint of surface parking by more than half, making the most desirable station-area parcels available for other uses. Standardized turn-key parking structures already exist for purchase or lease. A transit operator could acquire one or more structures and deploy them sequentially in different locations.

 

A removable parking structure in Rome, Italy. Image courtesy Edilsider Modular Housing.2. Create temporary amenity spaces geared toward the needs of transit riders.

These could be housed in temporary modular structures or shipping containers and might include coffee shops, retail, dry cleaning, food trucks, etc. They should be located immediately adjacent to station entrances and designed to serve both existing riders and potential new ones.

 

The Juicebox kiosk in San Francisco’s Proxy SF project was built off site and designed to be reuseable. Image courtesy Julian Paul Design + Craft.3. Lease commercial office space in temporary structures.

Office and flex space near transit is scarce and expensive in the Bay Area. Many small companies, startups and nonprofits struggle to find affordable space. Attractive temporary structures could be leased at moderate rates, providing employers with the transit- and amenity-rich environments that workers demand. These areas are also well-suited to co-working facilities. In addition, temporary projects can benefit from lower regulatory burdens under the California Environmental Quality Act.

Why offices, when we need housing so badly?

The office market is volatile and cyclical. Companies come and go, and so does demand. Temporary office can offer a pressure valve when costs are soaring in many transit-oriented locations.

Office space is reversible. It can be leased on a relatively short-term basis, providing a ready use that (unlike housing) can be phased out easily when the long-term development of the station area proceeds.

It supports reverse commutingOutside the region’s urban core, most rail stations are largely residential areas (where transit trips begin) rather than job centers (transit trip destinations). Adding jobs here can fill up empty trains in the reverse-commute direction. In addition, a daytime population is critical to supporting station area amenities that serve both riders and area residents.

It supports transit ridership. Locating jobs near transit has a markedly higher impact on travel behavior than locating housing near transit.

Office space is fiscally desirable for local government. Housing often raises fiscal concerns for local governments. Temporary office and retail would be fiscally attractive in the near term, improving the chances of city support.
 

Containerville, in the Shoreditch neighborhood of East London, provides startups and small businesses with self-contained office spaces made from converted shipping containers. Photo courtesy the Max Barney Estate.4. Provide space for arts, culture, nonprofit and community uses.

To broaden the population of users and serve community needs, transit operators or local governments could provide subsidized or noncommercial space to arts and culture, nonprofits, child and senior care or other uses.

5. Organize station-area circulation to support amenities.

Cities and transit operators should keep the goal of reduced driving in mind throughout the process. Temporary parking structures, new uses like offices or arts space, and drop-off zones should be organized not just for the convenience of drivers but to attract those arriving on foot, bike or other modes of travel.

Conclusion 

Temporary TOD would create a hub of activity and a sense of place, backed by a meaningful revenue stream. Critically, it would offer proof of concept for both the community and the market. Instead of embarking on a long, expensive and risky process, Temporary TOD would allow all parties to see benefits quickly. The up-front costs would be much lower and wouldn’t commit resources counterproductively to auto-oriented infrastructure.  Longer term station area development can then proceed on far stronger footing. In this way, the Bay Area’s scarce station-area land can be used proactively to support regional planning goals.

 

Special thanks to Ratna Amin for contributing to the development of this article.

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The Case for Increased Rail Service in South Santa Clara County
By Nicole Soultanov and James Lightbody
May 9, 2019

The Gilroy Caltrain station. Photo by Sergio Ruiz for SPUR.

The Bay Area is in the midst of a transportation and housing challenge as jobs grow faster than housing and commute trips get longer. In the South Bay, multiple commuter and passenger rail projects are in the works — BART to San Jose, Caltrain upgrades, high-speed rail — but most of them target just a few travel corridors. Left behind are many areas with more limited transit options and a high dependence on automobiles.

One of them is South Santa Clara County, which follows the rail corridor south of Tamien Station. With an estimated population of more than 200,000 people, the south part of the county is mostly residential. VTA and Caltrain do provide some bus and rail services along the corridor, but they are neither frequent enough nor time competitive enough to be an attractive option. As a result, most of the corridor’s residents commute by driving, and more than 35 percent of South County commuters drive more than 45 minutes each way on congested freeways.
 

Residents and employees of South Santa Clara County have limited options for getting around, and there are few plans for transit improvements. Transportation plans developed by the California High-Speed Rail Authority (project No. 8 on the map) and the Peninsula Corridor Joint Power Authority only allocate more trains to serve this corridor after 2029. Map of the Regional Transit Systems Improvements, Plan Bay Area 2040, Circle annotation by SPUR

But this corridor has an under-utilized asset: the Caltrain/Union Pacific rail tracks from San Jose to Gilroy. Currently, Caltrain shares tracks with freight along the corridor and runs only three trains per direction each day of the week. But the State Rail Plan, released in 2018, identifies this as a key growth corridor linking the heart of Silicon Valley to South Santa Clara County and other areas such as Monterey County. A recent paper by James Lightbody, a senior transportation manager at AECOM and a member of SPUR’s San Jose Policy Board, explores why increased rail service is needed and how it could be developed in the coming decade. This article explores some of the key findings of the paper’s analysis.

Why Do South Santa Clara Residents Need More Transit Service?

Residents of South San Jose, Morgan Hill, San Martin and Gilroy currently have limited transit options, experience long commutes, mostly drive alone to work and travel on some of the most congested roadways in the county, including routes 85, 87, 101 and 280. Bus routes and light rail serve parts of the corridor, but they don’t provide time-competitive service outside of central San Jose. More than 25,000 residents commute to North County jobs daily. These commuters are potential Caltrain customers. Currently 3 percent of all trips in the corridor are taken by transit. Substantially increasing this number would greatly help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
 

Projected Growth in People and Jobs Around Caltrain Stations by 2040

 


South Santa Clara County stations could play an important role in the sustainable growth of our region around transit. These stations alone could welcome more than 500,000 additional people (shown in light blue) and jobs (shown in dark blue) within 2 miles of the stations by 2040.
Image courtesy: Caltrain Business Plan, Quarterly Update Presentation, January 2019
​​​​​

According to analysis Caltrain has done for its forthcoming business plan, South San Jose station areas have population sheds comparable to other Peninsula stations that have more frequent service, and several areas have been, or have potential to be, developed at higher densities. The station areas around Morgan Hill, San Martin and Gilroy, while smaller, have been growing rapidly in recent years. Overall, stations south of Tamien could significantly help in supporting the sustainable growth of our region around transit. But to do so, these places need access to frequent and reliable rail service. Otherwise, driving will remain the most convenient way to move around.

Many of the estimated 25,000 people who commute from South County to North County currently drive and park at the Tamien and Diridon stations. Increased transit service along the corridor could significantly reduce the demand for parking at these stations by providing many commuters with a good transit option closer to home. This would leave more room for people to live and work close to Diridon Station, where more than $10 billion in transportation investments will connect all the main regional rail services over the next decade.

 

Station

Population 2017

Households (2017)

All Jobs

Within 1-mile radius of the station

Blossom Hill

          17,893

             5,472

          13,581

Capitol

          36,935

          11,017

             4,873

Gilroy

          17,098

             4,668

             5,859

Morgan Hill

          15,781

             4,990

             5,292

San Martin

             2,344

                640

                609

Tamien

          28,079

             9,342

             8,902

Total

118,130

36,129

39,116

Source: 2017 Census Blocks Analysis by AECOM for SPUR


With more rail service to the South County stations, South County residents could easily access the rest of the region by transit. Increasing the frequency and reliability of the region’s rail network would also require local transit agencies to provide more frequent, coordinated transit services to rail stations, playing the role of feeders for the system. In this way, more rail service to the South County stations would leverage the opportunity to improve local transit systems and increase their attractiveness.

Why Is Rail Service the Best Option?

While bus service is an option, VTA’s operating budget limits potential expansion. And because most VTA transit service shares traffic lanes with cars, even the agency’s express buses suffer from traffic congestion. This means VTA’s most rapid transit mode is not currently time-competitive with driving. On the other hand, Caltrain has proven to be cost-effective, capable of moving a lot of people using less space and able to operate at speeds that can match or better driving times.

Rail service already runs on dedicated infrastructure. Increasing rail service in this part of the corridor would help support the state and regional frequent, reliable and convenient rail network as planned in the 2040 State Rail Plan, California High Speed Rail Authority 2018 Business Plan and forthcoming Caltrain Business Plan. In addition, potential state funding and other assistance, along with other rail partnerships, can be focused on rail service expansion.

What Would Increased Rail Service Look Like?

In the near term, Caltrain could run twice as many trains as it does today in each direction during peak hours and could add trains mid-day. Santa Clara County’s 2016 Measure B sales tax program includes $314 million for additional South County Caltrain service. VTA is coordinating with the Caltrain Business Plan to better understand transit needs and strategies in the corridor. The Caltrain Business Plan lays out a longer-term plan, with frequent express service to Blossom Hill and less frequent, all-day service to Gilroy. The business plan service could proceed in advance of, or in conjunction with, high-speed rail. 

How Can More Service Happen?

The 2018 California High-Speed Rail Authority Business Plan for blended, electrified service to Gilroy offered a path to higher service levels for this corridor, with service expected to run by 2027. However, Governor Newsom’s 2019 State of the State address prioritized the delivery of high-speed rail in the Central Valley over the Bay Area and Southern California, creating some uncertainty around when the project will reach Tamien and Gilroy. The Caltrain Business Plan proposes an alternative approach that could provide interim service until high-speed rail service starts.

The Caltrain Business Plan approach would potentially electrify the tracks from the Tamien station to the Blossom Hill station, providing faster, more frequent and more environmentally friendly service on electric trains instead of the current diesel trains. Implementing this plan would not be easy. It would require Caltrain to sign a new agreement with the railroad owner, Union Pacific Railroad, as well as significant work on the rail infrastructure. South of Blossom Hill, diesel service to Gilroy would be retained, but the frequency could increase, depending upon the new agreement’s terms with Union Pacific.

In the near term, existing agreements with Union Pacific provide a framework for modest service expansion. These agreements allow two additional peak-hour round trips. Another five daily round trips could be implemented in conjunction with specified track and station improvements. Measure B funding could help implement this service, although other funding may also be needed. 

Given the time and money needed to build major new transit projects, this opportunity to incrementally develop new transit service using existing infrastructure is attractive and could be a cost-effective strategy.

What Are the Key Challenges?

Funding is critical. Caltrain and VTA — as the Peninsula Corridor Joint Power Board member representing South Bay service — will need to identify both capital and operating funds to increase its service beyond the limited available Measure B funds.

An agreement with Union Pacific would also be needed. This could range from negotiating additional track usage rights (in return for capital improvements and direct payments) to purchasing the right-of-way for public use. The State of California would be a key participant in these negotiations.

A secondary issue will be the right mix of operators. Caltrain envisions expanded service to Gilroy, but an inter-city operator such as Capitol Corridor might better handle new service to Salinas or beyond. Amtrak will also continue to operate in the corridor. 

In the longer term, particularly with the implementation of high-speed rail, there will be impacts to existing road crossings, some of which have the highest level of traffic on the Caltrain line. Grade separations will likely be needed at several locations, presenting another funding challenge.

What Should Cities Do?

South County Cities can provide advocacy for better transit to South San Jose and South Santa Clara County, focused primarily on implementation and funding of the Caltrain Business Plan. One key area would be to support the state’s efforts to negotiate an agreement with Union Pacific.

Cities should also plan for their station areas, paying particular attention to land use and development strategies that support walkability, a mix of uses and good station access. Planning for future grade separations that provide a great experience for people who walk and bike should also be a priority.

Next Steps

The further development of a specific plan and funding strategy is timely given the planning work being undertaken by Caltrain, VTA, California High Speed Rail and other agencies. However, political and community support will be needed to ensure that this corridor is adequately represented in these plans. In the near term, the Measure B program may provide a modest service expansion. Longer-term strategies will be guided by the direction established in the coming year through the Caltrain Business Plan, high-speed rail environmental documents and VTA planning studies.

About the Authors: 

Nicole Soultanov is San Jose Project Manager at SPUR. She leads SPUR’s research and advocacy for the transformation of Diridon Station into a world-class multi-modal hub.

James Lightbody is a Senior Transportation Manager at AECOM. Jim has an extensive experience in transit and transportation planning and over 30 years as a senior planning manager at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority.

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We All Deserve to Be Counted: The Importance of the 2020 Census
By Sarah Jo Szambelan, Research Manager
April 25, 2019

In a little under a year, government agencies, local community groups, volunteers and — hopefully — every resident in the United States will work together to do something foundational to our democracy: tally every person as part of the once-a-decade census. Counting everyone once, and in the place where they live, is a profound expression of who our nation is and who deserves to be included in our political systems and public services. Throughout 2019, SPUR is hosting a series of events on local strategies to make sure everyone in the Bay Area gets counted — including how communities could navigate the citizenship question, which seems a likely addition to the census given the Supreme Court’s initial take on the issue.

The census as a tool for our democracy dates back to the Constitution, where it’s mandated to determine representation in Congress (Article 1, Section 2 and Fourteenth Amendment Section 2). Since the very first census in 1790, its importance has only grown. It is now also used for drawing the boundaries for state representation and school districts and by educational institutions, businesses and nonprofits to understand how populations and demand for services are changing.

It is also fundamental to a vast array of public services. In 2015, census information underpinned 132 federal programs that distributed $675 billion in benefits across the United States. These programs include food assistance for families and school children, unemployment insurance, head start educational programs, housing vouchers, crime victim assistance, grants for transit infrastructure, wildfire protection, emergency disaster relief and much more.

The success of the 2020 census means fully counting historically undercounted populations, such as African Americans, and hard-to-count populations such as young children, renters, immigrants, those experiencing homelessness and those with limited English proficiency.

What’s the cost of not counting everyone? Well, in the 1990 census, California was undercounted by roughly 2.4% or 835,000 people. It’s estimated that this undercount cost the state one seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and about $200 million in federal funding.

Despite its importance, less than a third of U.S. residents are familiar with the census. Ongoing national trends also show declining response rates to census questionnaires, increasing distrust of government and public institutions, and people moving more often and living in complex living arrangements, which makes them difficult to reach. In 2020, a complete count will be more of a potential challenge for two additional reasons.

First, the potential inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 census has fueled fear and distrust among immigrant communities, leading to lawsuits by cities and states. The federal administration argued that it wanted to include a citizenship question in order to better enforce the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but this data is not needed to enforce it. And many have argued that including a citizenship question will discourage legal immigrants and communities of color from filling out the census forms, which will in turn limit their political representation and public service funding for at least a decade. This was one of the reasons for taking it off the census in the 1950s. When you think about the programs that are determined by census counts, a decade starts to look like a very long time. It’s nearly all the years a hungry child may receive free or reduced school lunches, for example. A complete count in 2020 could be the difference between some people getting services during their lifetimes — or not.

In addition, this will be the first 10-year census in which respondents can fill out the questionnaire they get in the mail by going online and the first in which field workers can record responses on phones and tablets. While the U.S. Census Bureau did test runs with the new digital format, 2020 will be the first time it is deployed at scale. Some are concerned that while this format will save costs, it leaves the U.S. vulnerable to cyber-attacks and online campaigns to discredit the census. If realized, such efforts could undermine a complete count.

The good news is the state is also investing a great deal in this census — over $150 million in coordinated statewide educational campaigns and for on-the-ground outreach, technical and legal assistance and more led by counties, tribal governments and community-based organizations. The on-the-ground efforts are being coordinated by officials in each California county and are referred to as local complete-count strategies.

SPUR understands the importance of such local leadership. That’s why we’re hosting events in the Bay Area’s biggest cities to showcase and solicit feedback on the local complete-count strategies underway. Our first public event on the 2020 Census will be at our downtown Oakland location on May 15 and is co-sponsored by New America CA. We’ll have a similar event this summer in San Francisco, and another this fall in San Jose. We hope you’ll join these events and help make sure that, both today and in 2020, everyone counts.
 

Attend our first census 2020 event >>
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We All Deserve to Be Counted: The Importance of the 2020 Census
By Sarah Jo Szambelan, Research Manager
April 23, 2019

In a little under a year, government agencies, local community groups, volunteers and — hopefully — every resident in the United States will work together to do something foundational to our democracy: They will tally every person as part of the once-a-decade census. Counting everyone once, and in the place where they live, is a profound expression of who our nation is and who deserves to be included in our political systems and public services. This year, SPUR is hosting a series of events to look at ongoing local strategies to make sure everyone in the Bay Area gets counted.

The census as a tool for our democracy dates back to the Constitution, where it’s mandated to determine representation in Congress (Article 1, Section 2 and Fourteenth Amendment Section 2). Since the very first census in 1790, its importance has only grown. It is now also used for drawing the boundaries for state representation and school districts and by educational institutions, businesses and nonprofits to understand how populations and demand for services are changing.

It is also fundamental to a vast array of public services. In 2015, census information underpinned 132 federal programs that distributed $675 billion in benefits across the United States. These programs include food assistance for families and school children, unemployment insurance, head start educational programs, housing vouchers, crime victim assistance, grants for transit infrastructure, wildfire protection, emergency disaster relief and much more.

The success of the 2020 census means fully counting historically undercounted populations, such as African Americans, and hard-to-count populations such as young children, renters, immigrants, those experiencing homelessness and those with limited English proficiency.

What’s the cost of not counting everyone? Well, in the 1990 census, California was undercounted by roughly 2.4% or 835,000 people. It’s estimated that this undercount cost the state one seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and about $200 million in federal funding.

Despite its importance, less than a third of U.S. residents are familiar with the census. Ongoing national trends also show declining response rates to census questionnaires, increasing distrust of government and public institutions, and people moving more often and living in complex living arrangements, which makes them difficult to reach. In 2020, a complete count will be more of a potential challenge for two additional reasons.

First, the potential inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 census has fueled fear and distrust among immigrant communities, leading to lawsuits by cities and states. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case before census forms are printed in June. Many have argued that including a citizenship question will discourage immigrants and communities of color from filling out the census forms, which will in turn limit their political representation and public service funding for at least a decade. When you think about the programs that are determined by census counts, a decade starts to look like a very long time. It’s nearly all the years a hungry child may receive free or reduced school lunches, for example. A complete count in 2020 could be the difference between some people getting services during their lifetimes — or not.

In addition, this will be the first 10-year census in which respondents will be allowed to fill out the questionnaire they get by mail online and field workers can record responses on phones and tablets. While the U.S. Census Bureau did test runs with the new digital format, 2020 will be the first time it is deployed at scale. Some are concerned that while this format will save costs, it leaves the U.S. vulnerable to cyber-attacks and online campaigns to discredit the census. If realized, such efforts could undermine a complete count.

The good news is that some do not expect an undercount in California in 2020, due to a redesigned operational plan by the Census Bureau and the use of better data to double check total counts. The state is also investing a great deal in this census — over $150 million in coordinated statewide educational campaigns and for on-the-ground outreach, technical and legal assistance and more led by counties, tribal governments and community-based organizations. The on-the-ground efforts are being coordinated by officials in each California county and are referred to as local complete-count strategies.

SPUR understands the importance of such local leadership. That’s why we’re hosting events in the Bay Area’s biggest cities to showcase and solicit feedback on the local complete-count strategies underway. Our first public event on the 2020 Census will be at our downtown Oakland location on May 15 and is co-sponsored by New America CA. We’ll have a similar event this summer in San Francisco, and another this fall in San Jose. We hope you’ll join these events and help make sure that, both today and in 2020, everyone counts.

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The Politics of Potholes in Oakland: Fairness, Equity, City Budgets and the Public Good
By Robert Ogilvie, Oakland Director
April 18, 2019

Oakland's proposed street paving plan would triple the current annual budget for repairs. Photo by Sergio Ruiz for SPUR.

In recent weeks the Oakland Department of Transportation (OakDOT) has begun publicizing its new $100 million, three-year paving plan. Ordinarily a plan that triples annual spending — especially in a city whose residents are famous for their outcry about potholes — would meet with universal acclaim. But this plan — which incorporates equity, as well as street condition and safety, in deciding how Oakland spends money on paving streets — has some parts of town happy and other parts up in arms.  

The old policy took the “80/20” approach: 80% of paving dollars were spent on major arterials, like Telegraph and Broadway, and 20% were spent on side streets, especially those that got the most complaints.  Now, if the Oakland City Council approves the new plan in the coming weeks, OakDOT will use a what amounts to a “25/75” approach: $25 million will be spent paving the main arterials, and the remaining $75 million will be spend in the neighborhoods.    

 

 

Given the tripling of the annual budget, the amount that Oakland spends paving its major roads will remain virtually the same. The shift will come in the amount spent on paving streets in the neighborhoods and in how decisions will be made about which streets to pave. And therein lies the controversy.

Injecting Equity Into Delivery of City Services

According to the proposal, OakDOT will look at street condition and traffic safety history when deciding which major streets to pave. For local streets, the department will look at street condition, proximity to schools and equity as the criteria. Specifically, the department divided the city into zones and weighed two factors equally to decide how to dole out the money among them: how many miles of poor roads lie in each zone, and how many households qualify as “underserved” — meaning they are low income, people of color, non-English speakers, elderly or young.  

What this means practically is that two kinds of streets will now get more of the funds: those with more vehicle volume and more traffic from heavier vehicles (and thus more wear and tear), and those in neighborhoods populated by underserved people.

  Current Pavement Conditions, City of Oakland

Roads shown in dark purple are those in the worst condition. Map courtesy OakDOT, https://oakland.carto.com/u/coolintern1/builder/64daaaa0-1186-4723-af12-b65a80ed805a/embed

 

A look at OakDOT’s map of street conditions shows that those two types of streets tend to be in the same neighborhoods. To some, spending more on paving those streets is what fairness looks like. 

“Personally, I’ll say the consensus among our neighbors is that we’ve been fighting for this for years. We should not have to beg and plead — it should just be automatic,” Preston Turner told the San Francisco Chronicle after OakDOT presented a preview of the plan at the Eastmont Police Station in East Oakland. Though he welcomed the paving plan and the greater focus on his neighborhood, he said that he wouldn’t actually believe it until he saw the paving starting.    

Others weren’t so pleased.

“I feel that monetarily it’s horribly unfair — we’re paying 500 percent more in taxes and only getting 10 percent of the money,” a resident told OakDOT Director Ryan Russo at a presentation of the plan in the North Oakland hills. 

This new approach is the result of the city’s attempt to become equitable in how it spends its money. City Council directed OakDOT to include equity in the paving plan, and this intention was also in the department’s 2016 strategic plan, which SPUR supported. Oakland defines equity as fairness grounded in the belief that identity should have “no detrimental effect on the distribution of resources, opportunities and outcomes for our city’s residents,” according to the OakDOT presentation.

The use of equity as criteria for deciding how to spend city funds is a relatively new concept in Oakland, and it is a result of the creation of a Department of Race and Equity in 2016. This department, and the set of equity indicators it has developed for Oakland, is changing the way the city creates public policy: Addressing these disparities is now a core goal . This is evident in the Downtown Oakland Specific Plan, and it is evident in the 2019 three-year paving plan. 

Though public surveys indicate support for the equity plan, community meetings about filling potholes on neighborhood streets are painting a different story. This approach is a new one for Oakland, where, when the rubber hits the road, the squeaky wheels are accustomed to getting the grease.

SPUR has written on the subject of equity, specifically in Oakland, in the past. We have often noted that the best equity plan is one that finds a way to grow for everyone’s benefit. By focusing on the places that are most in need, and by trying to bring the infrastructure in all parts of the city up to a functioning level, that is exactly what OakDOT’s new paving plan is doing. We think that is a worthy effort.

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Big Win: A Taller Skyline for San Jose
By Michelle Huttenhoff, San Jose Policy Director
March 27, 2019

Changes to flight paths at Mineta San Jose Airport will allow taller buildings downtown and around Diridon Station. Photo by Sergio Ruiz for SPUR.

For years, people have asked why San Jose’s skyline is so … diminutive. This month, the city made a big decision that will finally allow its downtown to grow upward: Changing flight paths at Mineta San Jose Airport will allow taller buildings — without compromising safety or impinging on the airport's growth.

One of San Jose’s greatest assets is the proximity between Mineta San Jose International Airport and the greater downtown district, including Diridon Station. Getting to and from the airport easily is a convenience many cities would love to have. While a tremendous asset, this close proximity to downtown has limited how tall buildings can be both downtown and in the area around Diridon Station. Seeing the opportunity to both strengthen the local airport and increase density within these two very important districts, SPUR started a discussion to examine the tension between downtown airspace and development capacity: Did the two really have to be at odds?

In early 2018, SPUR published an article that examined the current height restrictions within these two districts and how increased density would allow the city to maximize the amount of jobs and housing near transit. To consider the issue, the City of San Jose developed a cross-sector committee of business, labor and civic organizations, including SPUR, to examine downtown airspace and development capacity. With the technical support of the city's aviation consultant, Landrum and Brown, the committee evaluated several possible scenarios that would allow for increased development in downtown with the least negative impact on airport operations.

What we learned is that by changing some procedures that airlines follow for economic — but not safety — reasons, flight paths could be altered and development downtown and in the Diridon Station Area could be taller, helping San Jose to increase its commercial and residential growth and achieve its goals for community development, as laid out in Envision San Jose 2040, the city’s general plan.

After more than a year of intensive research, coordination with airlines and consideration on how to maximize community benefit, the committee recommended a scenario that would allow buildings to be 5 to 35 feet taller in the downtown core and anywhere from 70 to 150 feet taller around Diridon Station. SPUR supported the recommended scenario, and the San Jose City Council approved it on March 12. This will allow an additional 8.6 million square feet of development in the Diridon Station Area, resulting in net new construction value of $4.4 billion — and as much as $5.5 million in net new annual property tax revenue to the city (once all 8.6 million square feet is completed).  

What does this mean for San Jose, and why is it important to allow taller buildings in these two areas?

Maximizing the amount of jobs and housing within walking distance of Diridon Station will connect lots of residents and workers to high-quality transit and help to alleviate the congestion of workers flowing north by creating a regional job center for the South Bay. With $10 billion of public investment going to connect BART, Caltrain, high-speed rail and VTA light rail at Diridon, we must ensure that these services have the ridership needed to support them. Perhaps more importantly, maximizing development will generate more fees to support the creation of thousands of affordable housing units, as well as community amenities, such as parks.

As San Jose develops this policy further, we believe the city has the opportunity — and responsibility — to capture the value of these height increases. The incentive for increased square footage should require that new development follow the highest standards of good urban design. Commercial and residential properties should incorporate privately owned public open spaces and ensure access for all of San Jose. New development should use this density bonus to invest deeply in green infrastructure and create a model eco-district that helps further the city’s ambitious and vitally important climate goals. We strongly believe that a healthy and vibrant downtown, along with a well-operated and growing regional airport, will further the success of San Jose. This is San Jose’s opportunity to bring the vision the city set forth in Envision 2040 into action today.

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SPUR Impact Awards 2019: Silicon Valley Clean Energy Team Redefines the South Bay's Energy Supply
March 25, 2019

Members of the Silicon Valley Clean Energy Core Staff Implementation Team, left to right: Steve Attinger, Elaine Marshall, Kevin Armstrong, Andrea Pizano, Tim Kirby, Don Bray and Misty Mersich. Photo by Christie Goshe.

The 2019 SPUR Impact Awards, held on March 22, recognized outstanding job performance of those serving San Jose and the surrounding communities. 

 

Motivated by a common interest in taking bold and effective climate action, the cities of Sunnyvale, Cupertino and Mountain View and the County of Santa Clara formed an inter-jurisdictional partnership to develop Silicon Valley Clean Energy (SVCE), a community choice energy program that redefines where and how electricity is supplied in the South Bay.

The Core Staff Implementation Team played a key role in the intense, multi-year development of the program and in educating the community and other cities on program benefits. As a result, within the first year of operation, SVCE reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 14 percent, lowered rates for customers and became the first community choice energy program in California to make carbon-free electricity the default product. 

Team Members:
Kevin Armstrong (Santa Clara County), Steve Attinger (Mountain View), Don Bray (SVCE), Erin Cooke (Cupertino), Tim Kirby (Sunnyvale), Elaine Marshall (Milpitas), Misty Mersich (Cupertino), Demetra McBride (Santa Clara County), Andrea Pizano (SVCE), Melody Tovar (Sunnyvale)

 

2019 winners also include:

Martin Alkire Envisions a Greener Future for Mountain View’s North Bayshore

Consuelo Hernandez Manages Finances to Increase Affordable Housing 

Vallco Town Center Team Leads an Inclusive Process to Rethink a Declining Mall

Better BikewaySJ Transforms City Streets Into a Network of Bike Lanes

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SPUR Impact Awards 2019: Martin Alkire Envisions a Greener Future for Mountain View’s North Bayshore
March 25, 2019

Photo by Christie Goshe.

The 2019 SPUR Impact Awards, held on March 22, recognized outstanding job performance of those serving San Jose and the surrounding communities. 
 

The City of Mountain View’s General Plan created a dynamic vision to transform North Bayshore — the city’s major employment center — from a predominantly suburban office environment into a mixed-use area with nearly 10,000 housing units while preserving its unique wildlife and habitat.

As the Long Range Planning Manager of the Planning Division, Martin Alkire oversees the implementation of the General Plan and the North Bayshore Precise Plan. Due to the plan’s complexity and innovative aspects, such as the Bonus FAR program, implementation requires extensive collaboration. Martin expertly navigated these intricacies and incorporated excellent planning principles, which are being used as a template for the city’s current work on developing the East Whisman Precise Plan. 
 

2019 SPUR Impact Awards: Martin Alkire, North Bayshore Precise Plan - Vimeo

2019 SPUR Impact Awards: Martin Alkire, North Bayshore Precise Plan from SPUR on Vimeo.

 

2019 winners also include:

Better BikewaySJ Transforms City Streets Into a Network of Bike Lanes

Consuelo Hernandez Manages Finances to Increase Affordable Housing 

Vallco Town Center Team Leads an Inclusive Process to Rethink a Declining Mall

Silicon Valley Clean Energy Team Redefines the South Bay's Energy Supply

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SPUR Impact Awards 2019: Vallco Town Center Team Leads an Inclusive Process to Rethink a Declining Mall
March 25, 2019

Chad Mosley, Piu Ghosh, Catarina Kidd and David Stillman of the Vallco Town Center Specific Plan team. Photo by Christie Goshe.

The 2019 SPUR Impact Awards, held on March 22, recognized outstanding job performance of those serving San Jose and the neighboring communities.

 

The Vallco Mall site has been in decline and underused for decades. To transform the area into a walkable, mixed-use district and restore economic vitality, the City of Cupertino assigned a team of planners to lead a specific plan process.

The Vallco Town Center Specific Plan team responded to the housing crisis by increasing the area’s housing allocation by more than 7.5 times and including a wide variety of housing choices for all income levels and abilities. The Vallco Mall’s history of controversy and past failures created many obstacles: a polarized community, an ambitious timeline and active opposition to the planning process. To overcome these challenges, the team led a widespread and inclusive stakeholder engagement effort. The completion of the Vallco Town Center Specific Plan is a testament to the team’s leadership, dedication and perseverance.

 

2019 SPUR Impact Awards: Vallco Town Center Specific Plan, City of Cupertino - Vimeo

2019 SPUR Impact Awards 2019: The Vallco Town Center Specific Plan team from SPUR on Vimeo.

 

2019 winners also include:

Better BikewaySJ Transforms City Streets Into a Network of Bike Lanes

Martin Alkire Envisions a Greener Future for Mountain View’s North Bayshore

Consuelo Hernandez Manages Finances to Increase Affordable Housing 

Silicon Valley Clean Energy Team Redefines the South Bay's Energy Supply

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SPUR Impact Awards 2019: Consuelo Hernandez Manages Finances to Increase Affordable Housing
March 25, 2019

Photo by Christie Goshe.

The 2019 SPUR Impact Awards, held on March 22, recognized outstanding job performance of those serving San Jose and the surrounding communities.

 

Funding from the $950 million 2016 Measure A Affordable Housing Bond and the state’s No Place Like Home Program has the potential to end homelessness for approximately 4,000 households.

As the Division Director for Housing and Community Development, Consuelo Hernandez has the critical job of building and leading the team that uses these funds to increase supportive and affordable housing units in Santa Clara County. Consuelo forged partnerships with local cities and agencies to better leverage these resources and ensure that developers have access to programs and processes that reduce uncertainty and provide sufficient revenue. These efforts are quickly yielding results: After only one year, projects have been funded that will grow the supply of supportive housing units by 11-fold.

 

2019 SPUR Impact Awards: Consuelo Hernandez, Office of Supportive Housing - Vimeo

2019 SPUR Impact Awards: Consuelo Hernandez, Office of Supportive Housing from SPUR on Vimeo.

 

2019 winners also include:

Better BikewaySJ Transforms City Streets Into a Network of Bike Lanes

Martin Alkire Envisions a Greener Future for Mountain View’s North Bayshore

Vallco Town Center Team Leads an Inclusive Process to Rethink a Declining Mall

Silicon Valley Clean Energy Team Redefines the South Bay's Energy Supply

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