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San Jose Approves Diridon Plan, With Creek Restoration and Reduced Traffic

The Diridon Station Area Plan proposes a complete network of linear parks featuring the Los Gatos Creek and Guadalupe River. Image: City of San Jose

On Tuesday evening, the San Jose City Council finally approved the Diridon Station Area Plan. The final plan retains a creek trail restoration project that had been on the chopping block, while strengthening requirements for SAP Center to help reduce demand for driving to the arena and Diridon Caltrain Station.

After transportation and housing advocates complained that the San Jose City Council wasn't planning to allow public comment during their final review of the plan, Mayor Chuck Reed agreed to hear from the public one last time, before finalizing and approving the 30-year land use and development plan for everything within walking distance of the City's downtown rail station.

At the City Council's preliminary review of the plan on May 20, several residents spoke in favor of the recommendation by the Diridon Plan to "daylight" the Los Gatos Creek Trail, and extend the trail along the creek to connect with the Guadalupe River Trail, just north of Santa Clara Street. The creek currently flows through an enclosed culvert underneath Montgomery Street and Park Boulevard.

Despite this public feedback, and support for the project within the draft Diridon Station Area Plan, city officials instead proposed on June 6 to eliminate the restoration of the creek from the plan's recommendations, saying that "acquiring the land would be extremely costly... and the bridge structures [of the streets above the creek] would still shadow much of the creek".

One possible alignment of Los Gatos Creek under Montgomery Street and Park Boulevard. Image: Larry Ames

Council member Pierluigi Oliverio wanted real numbers. "Daylighting the creek -- is there any idea what that cost would be?" he asked at the June 10 review of the Diridon Plan.

"We don't have a cost estimate, but it would be quite expensive," replied Jim Ortbal, San Jose's Assistant Director of Transportation.

"Tens of millions of dollars?" suggested Oliverio.

"I would assume so, yes," confirmed Mr Ortbal.

Veteran trails advocate Larry Ames suggested ways to reduce these costs four months ago, as part of his comment letter on the Diridon Plan's Draft EIR. He explained that both construction costs, and the length of creek that would be shaded by the overhead streets, could be minimized if the creek's channel were constructed to cross Montgomery and Park at nearly right angles.

"This is our chance to right a wrong from half a century ago, when the creek was buried beneath the roadway to create a fast right-hand turn lane," said Ames at Tuesday's meeting. "Off-street trails will also result in fewer cars, less parking required, and reduced traffic congestion."

The City Council unanimously approved a motion by Sam Liccardo to keep restoration of Los Gatos Creek included among the goals of the Diridon Plan.

The Los Gatos Creek Trail continues from Lexington Reservoir south of the Los Gatos Hills (shown here) to within just 1.5 miles of the Diridon Caltrain Station in downtown San Jose. Photo: Ronald Horii

Others stressed the need to get the plan's parking policies right. SAP Center's parking needs had already been carefully considered by the Diridon Plan, which includes a detailed parking analysis based on future transit improvements over the next 30 years, including the arrival of both BART and Caltrain electrification.

"What the Diridon Plan did was what the Mayor was saying: 'do you protect the SAP Center, do you protect downtown, do you protect the future ballpark area?' " asked Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition Board Member Scott Lane in his public comment. "They're putting 900 more parking spaces at St. John and Montgomery," referring to the plan's recommendation to construct a new public parking garage on the north side of the stadium.

No one at Tuesday's meeting asked for more parking spaces to be included in the Diridon Plan. "Ultimately, the more parking you build, the less walkable the neighborhood is -- and the harder it is to bike someplace," said resident Soren Spies.

Instead, there was broad support for programs to reduce the demand for driving to the Diridon Caltrain Station area, and the SAP Center in particular, by establishing a Transportation Management Association (TMA). “We support of the creation of a TMA that includes, but is not limited to, the Diridon Area,” wrote Reed, Liccardo, and Oliverio in a joint June 13 memo [PDF], “and want to ensure that the SAP Center is a key stakeholder in any TMA.”

A TMA is an organization that would manage and promote programs to manage transportation, and in particular reduce driving demand by workers, residents, and SAP Center visitors. A TMA can arrange benefits like free or discounted transit passes, car sharing stations, and carpool programs, for example.

SAP Center (left), downtown San Jose (center), and the Diridon Transit Center (right) as envisioned by the Diridon Station Area Plan. Image: California High-Speed Rail Authority

At the meeting, SAP Center's owners also voiced cautious support for the progressive transportation policies being crafted by San Jose's Department of Transportation.

"Sharks Sports and Entertainment continues to be very supportive of the goals of the Diridon Plan," said Sean Morley, representing the 19,200-seat SAP Center's largest tenant, "although the organization still has concerns about the adequate supply of parking in the plan over time."

"The Sharks look forward to working with the City and all the other stakeholders on the Transportation Management Association," said Morley.

Also, council member Donald Rocha proposed that the Diridon Plan adopt a clear goal to set aside 15 percent of residential units as affordable housing. The motion also adopted unanimously, and received support from several members of the public speaking in support of affordable housing near near transit stations. Esha Menon, a research associate for Working Partnerships USA, commented that the "widespread planning consensus is that high-density transit-oriented developments are particularly suitable for affordable housing."

"This area is unique, and it will be transit-rich, and therefore should make accommodations for those who have lesser means," said Shiloh Ballard, VP of Housing and Community Development for the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. "We're very enthusiastically supportive, and want to see this get moving."

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