This article was originally published on June 6, 2014 by Streetsblog San Francisco.
By Andrew Boone
SAP Center, the corporation that owns the 19,000-seat arena across Santa Clara Street from San Jose’s downtown Caltrain station, doubts that the next 30 years of transit improvements will bring more visitors to events at the “Shark Tank.” Instead, they insist that 20,000 new car parking spaces be built within its redeveloping neighborhood.
“It is unlikely that public transportation will allow convenient transportation from throughout the area the Arena draws from,” wrote SAP Center Vice President Jim Goddard in the Arena’s EIR comment letter on the draft Diridon Station Area Plan, which aims to guide future development toward land uses that support transit ridership, and to “create a world-class cultural destination” within the walkable radius (1/2-mile) of the Diridon Caltrain Station. The plan will allow 2,600 housing units, 420,000 square feet of retail space, 5,000,000 square feet of office space, and 900 hotel rooms — and up to 11,950 new car parking spaces to support this infill development — over the next 30 years.
But SAP Center claims that its customers will always drive in, and that they will demand an extra 8,050 parking spaces, creating a parking crater in downtown San Jose. “Vehicular access will be the most significant method for our patrons and their families to attend Arena events for the foreseeable future,” wrote Goddard. ”Any limitation in the effectiveness of vehicular access to the Arena… would degrade the customer experience and discourage attendance at the Arena.”
In April, the City of San Jose responded by recommending against SAP Center’s request to add more car parking.
“To revise the Diridon Station Area Plan to include the more than 20,000 off-street parking spaces as suggested in the comment would be contrary to the City’s goal to encourage the use of public transit, bicycling and walking and to discourage the use of single occupancy automobile trips, particularly for everyday work related commute trips, in an area well served by transit, bicycle and pedestrian facilities,” wrote city staff.
But SAP Center representatives were not convinced, and Mayor Chuck Reed appears concerned that the city’s prediction of future parking demand might be too low.
“I have to confess I don’t fully understand the differences in the fine points between [SAP Center] and the city staff over the parking analysis,” said Mayor Reed at the City Council’s May 20 preliminary review of the plan. ”They assume that the parking demand is going to be much greater than [city staff] assume.”
“I don’t want the Sharks to become endangered in San Jose,” said Reed, referring to the far-fetched possibility that the San Jose Sharks professional hockey team might relocate from the arena to another city just because some fans can’t readily park cars right at the stadium.
City staff summarized the key differences between theirs and SAP Arena’s predictions for future car parking demand in their April letter:
“The Diridon Station Area Plan parking analysis is based on a projection of 60 percent total auto trips with the remaining 40 percent of trips by other modes of travel (transit, walking, and bicycling). Given this goal, parking ratios for commercial office land uses were adjusted from the current downtown ratio of 2.5 spaces per thousand net square feet of development to 1.51 spaces, which is a 40 percent reduction.”
This goal to reduce vehicle trips was one of many set by the city’s Envision 2040 General Plan, adopted unanimously by the City Council in 2011.
The letter also explains that greater transit connectivity will result when an electrified Caltrain, BART, High-Speed Rail, and new Bus Rapid Transit feeder lines all connect with each other at a centrally-located Diridon Transit Center. SAP Center’s estimates claim that few will connect between these new transit services, and so 6,082 new parking spaces will be needed to get transit passengers to Diridon Station — basing its claim on outdated estimates issued separately by each of the transit agencies. The city instead projects that between 1,350 and 2,200 spaces will be needed around Diridon for transit passengers.
A recent analysis conducted by SPUR explained how a shift to transit, bicycling, and walking is not only feasible but likely, given that San Jose is already pursuing efforts to expand more transportation choices to more people.
“People choose to drive less — and take transit more — as you combine pedestrian-friendly and transit-oriented land use with a set of policy tools and transit improvements, like Bus Rapid Transit feeder routes, discounted transit passes, and flexible parking standards that can include shared parking,” said SPUR Regional Planning Director Egon Terplan. ”Not every building has to provide parking for every car that might be driven there, but instead some of the space for car storage can shift to more productive uses.”
The Arena’s assumptions also preclude the sort of walkable stadium experience that have proven popular with fans and lucrative for cities. “If their customers are mostly driving to the stadium for events, and our freeways continue to get more clogged, they’re not going to enjoy that experience,” said Greenbelt Alliance Regional Director Michele Beasley.
“SAP Center’s request to double the parking would severely degrade the quality pedestrian experience that San Jose is trying to create in the Diridon Area,” said Beasley, adding that a walkable entertainment district outside the arena will draw more visitors. “A place dominated by parking cannot also be a destination that attracts visitors to the area.” [emphasis added]
Despite the city’s clear response to its parking plan back in April, an SAP Center representative said that his team was continuing to “negotiate” with city staff over the levels of parking recommended by the plan. According to sources in City Hall, those negotiations continued this week.
The Bay Rail Alliance has set up a customizable email asking the City Council to reinforce the Diridon Station Area Plan, and to create a great place to visit by foot, bike, or transit, and with an appropriate amount of car parking. The San Jose City Council will hear public comment and then conduct its final review of the plan, item 10.2 on the council’s agenda, beginning at 7:00 pm this Tuesday, June 10.