Message to San Jose: Don’t park over Almaden Ranch!

If you had 43 acres of open space in the middle of a suburban neighborhood, would you dedicate most of the land to surface parking?

The City of San Jose plans to do just that as part of the Almaden Ranch site plan, which runs counter to the visionary policies and plans included in the Envision 2040 General Plan.

Please tell the San Jose City Council that the Almaden Ranch Site Plan plan is a mistake and a missed opportunity. For inspiration, read our letter (below) to the San Jose City Council and send one yourself! (Please feel free to copy and paste liberally.)

 

Monday, July 18, 2011

Honorable Mayor Reed and Members of the City Council,

For over three years, I have had the pleasure of sitting on the Envision 2040 General Plan Task Force where discussions focused on walkable, bikeable streets, high-quality neighborhoods, an interconnected parks and trails system and much more.

San Jose has a wonderful Green Vision that has received plenty of attention for its forward-thinking agenda that, among other things, promotes sustainable urban design as one way to address climate change.

Envision San Jose 2040 proposes reducing vehicle miles traveled by 40% over the next three decades — something that can only be accomplished by designing new development around people and considering the access and mobility of all users.

San Jose has much to be proud of … however, it is with frustration and disappointment that I have to speak out against the Almaden Ranch site plan which proposes a Coleman Marketplace style retail development with over 1,400 surface parking spots.

Greenbelt Alliance understands that the City is facing a dire budget deficit and that projects like Coleman Marketplace can be a revenue generator.

However, it cannot be stated enough that placemaking is an economic generator. Chasing sales tax revenue with no regard for urban design comes with a significant opportunity cost- the cost of lost sales from people who are attracted to vibrant, walkable retail districts.

Please consider the following example of Lodi, California: this town of 60,000 launched a $4.5 million pedestrian-oriented project where sidewalks were widened, street trees planted and benches installed. This helped to attract 60 new businesses, decreased the vacancy rate from 18% to 6% and increased downtown sales tax revenue 30%.

Almaden Ranch is currently configured so that cars receive priority to the detriment of people who want to walk or ride their bike. San Jose should be moving away from such auto-centric design as it promotes car use, increases traffic congestion as well as greenhouse gas emissions. Even in a low-density, single family home neighborhoods such as this one, residents would probably welcome a more people-friendly design.

San Jose would do well to start over with this proposed plan and begin implementing the vision of Envision 2040. Otherwise, Envision 2040 is just a plan that will never live up to the vision of the community members, city staff and elected leaders who have worked tirelessly on it these past few years.

At the very least, the City should push for a shift away from auto-centric design towards more people-friendly design, such as through the inclusion of very wide sidewalks, bike lanes, benches, mature trees and substantial outdoor plazas and parks.

Perhaps the most egregious piece of this site plan is how it treats the Guadalupe River. Instead of celebrating this asset and enhancing creek trails and focusing pedestrian and placemaking elements along it, it has surface parking coming right up to its edge.

This site is 43 acres of open space — practically a blank canvas to do the RIGHT thing. Here is the opportunity to take everything discussed at the General Plan Task Force and put it into practice. Business as usual will only lead the City to create another auto-centric retail complex lacking in soul and devoid of the elements that create a great place- and people like to visit and spend money in great places filled with character and other people (not parked cars).

Sincerely,

Michele Beasley
Senior Field Representative
Greenbelt Alliance

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