San Jose’s General Plan sets the right direction for growth

San Jose is taking a monumental step toward its long-term health: On Tuesday, the City Council is on track to approve a General Plan that lays the foundation for transforming a suburban, auto-centric city into a more walkable, dynamic city of neighborhoods and people-friendly streets. Despite struggling with budget deficits and an eviscerated redevelopment agency, San Jose has taken the long view to envision a 21st century city. The challenge now lies in creating the city imagined in this progressive plan.

  • Environmental benefits

Greenbelt Alliance, which served on the General Plan Task Force and participated in much community outreach, is particularly pleased to see open space conservation mechanisms and smart growth principles in San Jose’s plan.

Urban development of the beautiful Coyote Valley and South Almaden Valley Urban Reserves is off the table for the next 30 years. Instead of building homes on those and other treasured open spaces, San Jose plans to direct new development into its already-urbanized areas near transit.

The General Plan allows for up to 120,000 homes in key places like Diridon Station so that the expected new employees can live close to work and transportation choices.

That kind of smart growth planning is good news for the climate. By proposing to reduce by 40 percent how much people drive in cars over the next 30 years, the city is making a decisive shift toward a more walkable, bikeable city.

  • Health benefits

By making land-use changes that emphasize alternative ways of getting around, San Jose is helping its residents make better health choices. When young and old alike can choose to walk or bike to school, stores and parks, the air quality improves, and the resulting neighborhood appeals to diverse populations. More eyes on the street also enhance safety, and communities that come alive after five attract a creative class of workers, reaping an economic benefit as well for downtown.

San Jose’s General Plan has earned the praise of health experts. “The plan represents one of the strongest land-use policy statements on healthy communities that we are aware of in California to date,” says Heather Wooten, senior planning associate at Public Health Law and Policy. “It will go far to ensure that San Jose’s vision for a healthy community becomes a reality.”

  • Regional leadership

San Jose has set the tone for good policies that Greenbelt Alliance hopes other cities will follow. If more cities adopt General Plans similar to San Jose’s, the Bay Area will live up to our vision of a more climate-friendly, affordable and economically competitive region, while protecting our farms, forests and watersheds.

More exciting work is still ahead — implementing the vision and spirit of the General Plan. Other interests may distract city leaders from achieving all that is described in this blueprint for San Jose’s future. Yet, with the support of business leaders, equity and environmental advocates who understand the need to make the vision a reality, we can create a healthy, thriving city. It’s the sustainable future we imagine for all Bay Area residents.

JEREMY MADSEN is executive director of Greenbelt Alliance, a Bay Area smart growth and land conservation advocacy organization. TERESA ALVARADO, communications manager for the Santa Clara Valley Water District, is a Greenbelt Alliance board member and Envision 2040 Task Force member.

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