The Loma Prietan - June 2014

San Jose’s Diridon Station Area- A Plan to Create a “World-Class” Destination?

By Leonard Druker

Photo: Graphic by Naomi Yung
Photo: Graphic by Naomi Yung

The City of San Jose is at the brink of passing a plan and its draft program environmental impact report (DEIR) for one of the Bay Area's largest transit center, the Diridon Station. Why should we care?  Well, this transit hub currently services a large variety of transit agencies, including, but not limited to: Caltrain, Altamont Commuter Express (ACE), Monterey/Salinas Transit,  Santa Cruz Metro, and the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA). Moreover, Diridon will soon be welcoming the California High Speed Rail, the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) and VTA's Bus Rapid Transit.

The Diridon Station Area plan is quite visionary, but there are a few quirks that need to be worked out within it and some forces that want to degrade it. The plan calls for a 40% mode share which means that 40% of Diridon users would walk, bike, and take transit as opposed to drive. This equates to a significant greenhouse gas reduction strategy and creates a much more vibrant, active, and lush Diridon community than its current dilapidated state.

A few tools the plan includes to achieve this are workforce affordable housing, reduced parking, and attractive place-making. However, the plan currently has loose language of securing 15% workforce affordable housing, the SAP Center (San Jose “Shark Tank” hockey rink) is demanding 20,000 more parking spaces for its fans, and the Los Gatos Creek  is entombed and locked-out from public access by a culvert with little regulations on building setbacks.

Why does anything spoken about the Diridon Station matter? This is an opportunity to take action on climate change in the 10th largest city in the nation by reducing drive alone vehicle trips and bringing back pivotal habitat for residents and tourists to enjoy, explore, and protect. Our local chapter and several other organizations (E.g. Greenbelt Alliance, TransForm, Public Advocates, & more) have been working tirelessly to create a greener Diridon Station that has “teeth” in its plans to achieve its visions by submitting comment letters, meeting with planning commissioners, planning staff, city council members, and holding a community engagement workshop. 

Our chapter and our allies have asked City Council to increase its workforce affordable housing percentage to 20% or more as a mandate and not as a loose goal. Councilmember Don Rocha stepped up and took the lead in preparing a memo for a definite achievement of 15% workforce housing and directing staff to explore the options to potentially increase the percentage.Although the Mayor supports the Shark's request to increase a ridiculous amount of parking spaces, staff doesn't, and a majority of the City Council supports our recommendation of requiring shared parking and forming a “transportation demand management association” (TDMA) within the Diridon area. Simply put, a TDMA is an agreement between property owners, the City, and residents to supply its residents with tools to reduce driving such as discounted transit passes or shuttles.

The biggest challenge is going to be “day-lighting” Los Gatos Creek. City staff has looked at only one way to daylight the creek by requiring a bridge structure that would possibly elevate Montgomery Street and Park Avenue and recommend getting rid of the daylighting goal out of the plan. City Staff has only considered this solution without researching other possibilities.

The Sierra Club Loma Prieta Chapter and the Audobon Society partnered in attempting to include bird friendly building design in the Diridon Station Area Plan. However, the San Jose City Staff came to a conclusion that this is more of a city-wide issue since the DEIR said very few birds would be affected in the Diridon Area. Nonetheless, we have champions: Sam Liccardo and Kenson Chu. They created a memo supporting staff to draft a city-wide ordinance for bird-friendly design in the Rules & Open Government Committee on Wednesday, June 11th. Guess what!? The Committee voted unanimously for birds!  The San Jose City will now be joining Sunnyvale, Oakland, and many other progressive cities in conserving birds.

The Diridon Station Area is the future of public transportation and technology for the Bay Area and the City of San Jose. Not only will this create a better way of getting around without driving in the area, but the plan can create more vibrancy, open space, and reduce climate impacts in San Jose. We will keep you in touch with the results of what the City Council decides on this hot topic.

 

Author Bio: Leonard Druker is Loma Prieta Chapter Community Outreach Intern and San Jose State University environmental studies major with an energy emphasis.