Sunnyvale, “the Heart of Silicon Valley”, is the second largest city in Santa Clara County and seventh largest in the Bay Area with a population of 147,000. Home to such companies as Yahoo!, Juniper Networks, and NetApp, Sunnyvale lies along the El Camino Real and Caltrain corridor and is currently experiencing explosive growth.
This is testing the community which sees itself as suburban in nature, despite being ground zero for the hottest job market in the country. If Silicon Valley’s cities fail to approve more homes within existing urban boundaries, this booming job market will only increase housing prices as well as the pressure to sprawl out onto our open spaces. Here is a quick update on how Sunnyvale is addressing these challenges.
Sunnyvale El Camino Real Corridor Specific Plan
Greenbelt Alliance has been spending more time in Sunnyvale, in anticipation of the upcoming update of the El Camino Real Precise Plan. This plan received an award from the Grand Boulevard Initiative in 2007 for being visionary. It calls for features that will make El Camino more hospitable to pedestrians and cyclists and encourages a more compact mix of homes, shops, and jobs that support public transportation at four key nodes. See a map of the plan area.
Development interest perked up with the adoption of the plan, but the plan’s lack of specificity and incentives doesn’t do enough to encourage developers to provide community benefits, such as affordable housing. El Camino accounts for 25% of the city’s retail sales tax revenue, most of which comes from auto sales. This has also made it difficult to transform the corridor into a complete street that caters to multiple travel modes and that meets changing retail needs. These and other issues will be addressed in the update which will kick off in June.
Take Action: On March 17, Sunnyvale planning staff is scheduled to go to City Council to determine the process for creating the citizens’ advisory committee for the El Camino Real Specific Plan.
Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)
At their February 24 meeting, the Sunnyvale City Council voted 4-3 in favor of mixed-flow Bus Rapid Transit instead of dedicated lanes. This disappointing vote happened despite overwhelming support for dedicated lanes from residents and students—over 700 petition signatures and 150 emails were collected and submitted to the City by our partner, TransForm. Dedicated lanes provide a time competitive alternative to driving and meet the needs of changing demographics, especially millennials who have demonstrated a preference for a more urban, car-free lifestyle and make up a significant percentage of the workforce at Silicon Valley companies.
Bus Rapid Transit is taking off in cities around the United States and the world. However, here in the heart of Silicon Valley where buzzwords like “innovation” and “disruptive technology” are thrown around daily, getting people to think about a mode of travel besides the car has proven to be a challenge. As cities and transportation corridors add new homes and jobs, it is critical that we design streets to be walkable and bike-friendly and ensure new development supports increased ridership on buses and trains.
Take Action: Thank Mayor Jim Griffith, Vice Mayor Tara Martin-Milius, and Councilmember Gustav Larsson for their support of dedicated lanes. Find their contact info here.
Housing Impact Fee
This past December, the Sunnyvale City Council voted to expand its existing commercial linkage fee across all job-generating uses, setting the fee at $15 per square foot ($7.50 for first 25,000 square feet). The revenue generated will support the creation of new affordable homes in Sunnyvale. While many new jobs are being created in this booming economy, most still do not pay enough to afford the average two-bedroom apartment. The supply of new homes continues to fall way behind demand, and every new job created will be filled by someone who needs a place to live.
Now, the Sunnyvale City Council will vote on a housing impact fee at their March 17 meeting. Both Sunnyvale’s Planning Commission and Housing and Human Services Commission recommend a $21 per square foot fee which would be assessed on new market-rate homes.
The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Sunnyvale is $2,257 per month. The minimum wage in Sunnyvale is $10.30 per hour. The gap is growing between what people earn and what it takes to afford a home. Increasing the supply of new homes is critical, as is providing new affordable housing funding streams to ensure that those earning at the lower end of the wage spectrum can continue to live in the community in which they work.
Take Action: Join Greenbelt Alliance and our partners in speaking up in favor of a $21 per square foot housing impact fee at the March 17 council meeting.
Lawrence Station Area Plan
On February 18, the draft Lawrence Station Area Plan, the plan for the neighborhood around the Lawrence Caltrain Station, was released for public review. Goals of the plan include improving access to and from the station and allowing the surrounding area to evolve into a lively place with homes, jobs, and shops that make better use of this lightly-used Caltrain station.
The plan is incentive-based meaning that developers can build above the minimum density (36 homes per acre) in exchange for additional community benefits, such as providing for more affordable homes or public parks. The plan calls for adding far more jobs than homes, further exacerbating housing costs.
Take Action: Attend Sunnyvale’s Sustainability Commission and Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission on March 16 and March 19, respectively. Speak up for more homes, especially more affordable homes, and more walkable, bike-friendly streets in the Lawrence Station Area Plan.
Onizuka Crossing breaks ground
On February 3, city and county leaders celebrated the groundbreaking of Onizuka Crossing, a 58-unit affordable rental community for families, with 29 units reserved for the formerly homeless. Greenbelt Alliance staff were affectionately called the project’s “guardian angels” for being a resource to the developer, MidPen Housing, and connecting them to local advocates, like Sunnyvale Cool. We are especially excited about this project’s location across the street from a large park!
As you can see, Sunnyvale has many irons in the fire when it comes to addressing sustainable and equitable development. Greenbelt Alliance encourages Sunnyvale residents to engage in any of these efforts. Your ideas are powerful and the Sunnyvale City Council wants to hear from you.
To learn more or get involved, contact Michele Beasley.