San Jose Diridon Area Plan Could Add Parking, Lose Trail, Pass Council Tues.

SAP Arena’s existing surface parking lot. San Jose has already agreed to expand the parking available to Arena visitors by over 900 spaces in the Diridon plan. Photo: Google Maps

Just four days before San Jose’s City Council was expected to approve the Diridon Station Area Plan, a four-year-old community-based plan to guide the next 30 years of transit-oriented redevelopment around the Diridon Caltrain Station, city officials released a memo on June 6, proposing numerous amendments in response to City Council questions and public comments made at the council’s preliminary review of the plan on May 20.

These amendments include adding a “Parking Policy 9″ to the plan’s Implementation Strategy Report, developed in close collaboration with SAP Center. The sports and entertainment arena has requested that over 20,000 car parking spaces be constructed in the Diridon Station Area — double what the city’s recommends based on its projections of parking demand — and has criticized the city’s plans to improve transit as “unlikely to allow convenient transportation.”

Development projects within 1/3-mile of the Caltrain station or SAP Center would be affected by Mayor Reed’s June 10 proposal. Image: City of San Jose

The city’s memo recommends adding new conditions to future commercial development within the Diridon Station Area. Shared parking, which would allow SAP Arena visitors who arrive for events to park in the parking lots of future office buildings, would be a required for all development projects located within 1/3-mile of the Caltrain station, “if necessary to mitigate the loss of parking” of new buildings constructed on existing parking lots.

Mayor Chuck Reed, who is also represented on the San Jose Arena Authority’s Board of Directors along with City Council members Pierluigi Oliverio and Kansen Chu, proposed additional development conditions in his own June 10 memo [PDF]. City Council members Sam Liccardo and Pierluigi Oliverio voiced support for the Mayor’s proposals in a June 13 memo [PDF].

Mayor Reed’s new development conditions would give SAP Center control over any future city plans to reduce the existing parking supply, proposing that the implementation of the Diridon plan include ”a goal to maintain the current parking availability until the City and Arena Management agree that transit ridership is robust enough to reduce parking supply without negatively impacting SAP Center operations.” (emphasis added)

The Reed-Liccardo-Olivero proposal would also expand the required parking studies to all projects located within 1/3-mile of SAP Arena, in addition to those located within 1/3-mile of the Diridon Caltrain Station as proposed by city staff. These parking studies would need to “identify the impacts of the project on the existing parking supply within the Diridon area, and suggest ways to mitigate the impact if it is deemed significant,” possibly resulting in the construction of surplus parking spaces, the cost of which would be borne by developers and passed onto tenants in the form of higher rents.

In an encouraging step, the council members’ joint June 13 memo also supports the creation of a Transportation Management Association (TMA) to encourage the use of alternative modes of transportation, and that the SAP Center be “a key stakeholder” in any such TMA. Local transportation advocacy groups agree that the Diridon Station Area Plan’s implementation should pursue approaches that reduce the demand for parking rather than maximizing parking supply as SAP Center has requested.

“This is a bold new step encouraging the SAP Arena to step up and join the efforts of the entire Downtown/Diridon area at shifting transportation away from driving,” wrote Friends of Caltrain Director Adina Levin.

“We should plan for the tens of thousands more who might live and work in downtown over the next thirty years — not just those who drive in today,” said SPUR Transportation Policy Director Ratna Amin.

City officials also proposed eliminating several items that enjoy widespread public support and had been explicitly recommended by the Diridon Station Area Plan – including the restoration of Los Gatos Creek, which currently runs through an enclosed concrete culvert just south of the Caltrain station.

The Los Gatos Creek Trail has already been constructed under many busy city streets, including Bascom Avenue. Photo: Google Maps

Reconstructing Montgomery Street and Park Avenue, to allow the creek and a trail to pass underneath in an open channel, would fill in the missing link between the Los Gatos Creek Trail and the Guadalupe River Trail. This connection would link Los Gatos, Campbell, and Willow Glen with existing off-street trails that extend all the way to downtown Mountain View and Palo Alto, via the San Francisco Bay Trail. Restoring the creek and constructing a multi-use path along it would also create new and very valuable park space in the center of a dense urban area — a rare opportunity.

The draft Diridon Station Area Plan recommends a continuous off-street trail along Los Gatos Creek, connecting to the Guadalupe River Park. Image: City of San Jose

“This Plan also identifies a potential trail connection across the intersection of Montgomery Street and Park Avenue that should be explored as opportunities arise,” wrote city planners in the draft Diridon Station Area Plan. “This Plan recommends that, if funding and construction opportunities arise, the City re-explore this rerouting of the Los Gatos Creek and/or the reconstruction of this intersection as a means to both daylight this creek segment and to provide an off-street trail connection.”

But city staff are instead recommending that the creek restoration project be shelved, citing high costs and the older 2008 Los Gatos Creek Trail Reach 5 Master Plan as justification.

“The Los Gatos Creek Trail Reach 5 Master Plan does not propose daylighting the creek at this location because it would require a bridge structure that possibly elevates Montgomery Street and Park Avenue over the creek, and requires the acquisition of private property,” wrote city officials.

Trail advocates point out that San Jose has already spent $25 million acquiring private property to woo the Oakland A’s baseball team to relocate and play in a new stadium to be constructed there, disagree that any existing streets would need to be elevated, and that other engineering solutions should be investigated in more detail, rather than reject the project simply because one design option is relatively expensive.

“Regarding the need for elevated bridges,” wrote Diridon Good Neighbor Committee member Dr. Larry Ames in response to the June 6 memo, ”the creek is twenty-some feet below grade, which leaves more than enough height for a trail above the creek’s high-flow level and beneath an at-grade roadway.”

Cross sectional drawings of Los Gatos Creek in a covered culvert, vs. an open channel. Image: Larry Ames

“By providing a safer way for folks to reach the Diridon Station Area, more would be willing to walk or cycle, which further reduces the traffic impacts,” wrote Ames.

“It is disappointing that staff suggests taking daylighting of Los Gatos Creek off the table,” Greenbelt Alliance Regional Director Michele Beasley wrote in a letter to the City Council. “San Jose should put as much emphasis on the area’s natural amenities, like Los Gatos Creek, as it does on the needs of SAP Center.”

City officials have also recommended against requiring bird-safe building designs (glass treatments, landscaping, low-impact lighting), a low cost design idea which many residents spoke in support of at the City Council’s May 20 meeting. City officials said the “costs should be assessed” first.

All of the changes described above would have to be approved by the City Council at their meeting on Tuesday, June 17, which begins at 11 am.