Welcome to SV@Home’s Policy Rundown, your need-to-know overview of important housing policy actions and developments from the past two weeks.
VTA Pauses Consideration of Service Cuts, Impact on Affordable Housing Remains Outstanding
Last week, in an abrupt about face, the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) announced that the planned December Board of Directors vote on transit service cuts through the Draft 2021 Transit Service Plan was being indefinitely paused. VTA cited the increased severity of the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to ensure the safety of riders and staff as the reason for this delay of any service cuts. Indeed, the VTA plans to actually increase service on routes that are currently experiencing unsafe overcrowding conditions.
As previously laid out in earlier Policy Rundowns, SV@Home has been engaging a coalition of affordable housing developers and organizations to present our concerns regarding the potential impacts that service reductions would have on residents of affordable housing and our ability to create new affordable housing County-wide. We laid out these concerns in a coalition letter to members of the various VTA sub-committees.
While we’re happy to hear that VTA is doing its utmost to keep riders and staff safe during this difficult time, we do not expect the challenges of potential service cuts to go away. We will continue to closely track this issue alongside our affordable housing development partners to ensure that the VTA adequately takes into consideration how any future proposed reductions will impact affordable housing residents and development.
San José City Council Holds Study Session on the Diridon Station Area
After many months of public and community engagement, last week the San José City Council held its first study session on the full range of Diridon-related topics: the Diridon Station Area Plan (DSAP), Google’s Downtown West proposal, the DSAP’s draft design guidelines, and the Diridon Affordable Housing Implementation Plan, among several other items. You can check out the full staff presentation here, which covered an immense amount of ground, given all of the important components that make up the future of San José’s Diridon Station Area. No single issue dominated the Council questions or the public comments, which demonstrates how wide-ranging and impactful the redevelopment of Diridon will be for the entire city of San José. That’s why it’s so crucial that the City continues to think big and plan for a future Diridon neighborhood that includes new jobs, new housing at a range of income levels, new open space, and a vibrant district that is connected to the most transit hub in the region. And, of course, housing and affordable housing that is accessible to people of all incomes and abilities is key to creating a more equitable future for the entire city and its residents.
As SV@Home outlined in its letter to the City Council in advance of the study session, we strongly support City staff’s proposed housing-rich vision, which targets a realistic capacity of 12,900 new homes (inclusive of Google’s Downtown West proposal) alongside the 1,904 homes that have been recently permitted, are under construction, or have recently completed construction since the original DSAP was adopted in 2014. Overall, this equals 14,804 new homes total in the Station Area, which is in line with SV@Home’s position that the City should plan for 15,000 new homes as part of the Diridon planning process. We continue to support the City Council’s decision that at least 25% of these new homes must be deed-restricted affordable and are in the process of reviewing City staff’s proposed Affordable Housing Implementation Plan, which outlines various strategies for achieving this level of affordability.
At the same time, we are aware that consideration is being given to proposals that would reduce heights and overall capacity in response to some neighborhood concerns. We are extremely concerned about these proposals, which could reduce the number of homes in the Diridon Station Area by 600-700 units, per Planning Staff estimation during the last Station Area Advisory Group (SAAG) meeting. Given the location of this iconic development, adjacent to multi-modal transit options, it would be a tragedy to develop the site at lower densities. Additionally, we are encouraging the Council to support increased flexibility of uses on different parcels throughout the Station Area to provide additional opportunities for the city to meet its overall housing and jobs goals. SV@Home also believes that the VTA and Caltrain-owned parcels in the Station Area should be prioritized for affordable housing.
In December, the City of San José will be hosting several community engagement meetings and Planning Commission study sessions on the components of the Station Area Plan. More information about these upcoming events is available on the city’s Diridon website. We expect the City to convene a final SAAG meeting in early 2021 as they target a Spring 2021 timeline for a final City Council vote on the entire package of Diridon-related items. We will continue to provide Housers with updates and opportunities to weigh in to push the City Council to adopt a housing-rich vision that will create a vibrant, more equitable Diridon Station Area for all San José residents to enjoy, no matter their background, income, or abilities.
San José General Plan Task Force Holds Final Meeting
Last Thursday, the San José General Plan Four Year Review Task Force held its final meeting after months of discussion and a COVID-caused interruption. When the first meeting was held in November last year, the plan was that the Task Force’s work would be completed by the summer and recommendations would be coming forward to the City Council this fall. Now recommendations are set to move forward to the Council later this spring.
During this final meeting, two work items were on the agenda– a review of the Evergreen-East Hills Development Policy (EEHDP) and a review of the final recommendations of the Task Force.
The EEHDP is primarily a traffic management policy that levied fees on development to fund mostly intersection improvements to ensure that traffic congestion wasn’t made worse by new development. New state laws have shifted the way we measure the impact of growth to focus on the distance people travel when they get in their cars. The new measure is called vehicle miles traveled (VMT), and environmental analyses are now required to be updated. This new approach to understanding environmental impacts still emphasizes access to non-car transit options, but also looks at how far people live from where they work.
Planning Department staff recommended that the EEHDP be retired and that, in keeping with the focus on transit and access to employment centers, development in the Evergreen-East Hills area be focused around the Eastridge Mall, Reid-Hillview Airport, and other transit corridors on the Southeast side of the city. After unexpectedly active discussion and public comment, the task force recommended that the existing plan be updated to reflect the new VMT standards, rather than be retired. In addition, the Task Force recommended that reports from a community visioning process, concluded in 2007 as the EEHDP was under development, should remain a part of the public record. Looking ahead, the planned development in the area promises to be the focus of much broader public discussion, as well as specific area planning processes that will determine the future of the real housing opportunity sites in the area.
Since this was the final meeting, Planning staff brought forward a summary of the task force recommendations that will return to the City Council in the Spring after the staff has completed additional planning work. Among the many recommendations of the task force are:
- eliminating existing horizons for Urban Villages to ensure that planning processes can be focused where the current development potential is the greatest
- eliminating the requirement for ground floor commercial in for affordable housing developments, which has proved to be a major obstacle to development feasibility
- beginning a community outreach process to consider gentle density – two to four units – to be built in areas current zoned exclusively for single-family homes.
While the task force recommendations are advisory and there will be ongoing discussions with city staff and council members before decisions are made, the task force recommendations should hold significant weight. The members of the task force, who were appointed by the City Council, have a reasonable expectation that their months of work to provide expertise and advice to the city as it rethinks its General Plan will be strongly considered.
Alongside many of its partners, SV@Home has already begun work on the “gentle density” policy (dubbed “opportunity housing” by city staff), and will be engaging with councilmembers on ground floor retail requirements. We expect much more to come in the months ahead.
County Supervisors Take Next Step towards Reid-Hillview Airport’s Future Redevelopment
In an evening marked by extensive and impassioned public testimony, the Santa Clara Board of Supervisors took the next step towards the closure and redevelopment of the Reid-Hillview Airport located in East San José. Since the airport broke ground in 1937, the city has grown around it, with development—including single-family neighborhoods, Lake Cunningham Regional Park, and the Eastridge Mall– circling the 180-acre site. Owned by Santa Clara County, Reid Hillview is a general aviation airport. Many small planes are housed there, as well as a training facility for San José State University.
Last year, the Board voted against accepting federal funding for the airport, which would have required them to maintain the use of the land as an airport for 30 more years. At last week’s meeting they received a report from staff on the community vision plan that was developed following that vote that included extensive community engagement. Multiple generations of East Side San José community leaders have long advocated for the closure of the airport due to longstanding concerns about neighborhood safety and environmental hazards. In its place they envision a mixed-use site with much needed affordable housing, good jobs, educational resources, green space, and a range of other community serving uses.
SV@Home was pleased to sign on to a broad letter supporting the local community’s calls to close the airport to address concerns about lead and other environmental pollutants and to redress the historic under investment in the predominantly Latinx and Vietnamese surrounding communities. The airport will be closed in 2030 at the earliest, but strong commitments from local leaders, robust community planning will continue to shape a new future for Reid-Hillview.
Palo Alto approves new apartment building, clears way for more housing opportunities
Last Monday, the Palo Alto City Council approved 102 new homes as part of a development at 788 San Antonio Road, led by Ted O’Hanlon. The Council also approved an extension of the city’s Housing Incentive Program (HIP) to similar properties on San Antonio Road, which city staff estimated could create the opportunity for another 700 units on the corridor over time. This program, originally adopted last year for several specific areas of Palo Alto, provides a number of height, parking, and retail-related incentives to developers who propose denser housing developments that include a certain amount of affordable homes along key transit corridors.
This approval was a big win for the availability and affordability of housing in Palo Alto, a city that over the last several years has struggled to meet its own Council-set goal of producing 300 units of housing per year. We especially want to highlight the work of local residents and community members, especially Palo Alto Forward, for turning out a strong group of Housers to support the proposal. SV@Home was proud to formally endorse this proposal and looks forward to continuing to work with the City of Palo Alto to meet its housing and affordable housing needs.