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San Jose Diridon Development


You are a councilman for the City of San Jose, a supervisor for Santa Clara County, a board member of VTA or BART, the Google project representative, or leader of a citizen advocacy group. You have strong views about what attributes the development should (or should not) have. You will meet with your peers to negotiate major aspects of the project. You want the best for all stakeholders, yet you have a duty to represent your organization and its interests. You want to be prepared with facts and evidence. You are thoroughly familiar with the Community Engagement website and its key background documents.


Grand Central Station in NYC works extremely well. Train from Stamford CT is faster than driving. Once at GC, you can get anywhere by subway in 15-20 minutes. San Jose isn't willing to pay for that kind of infrastructure. Transit from Diridon to anywhere in southern Bay Area is an hour or more. Our only fast mode is Caltrain, which can get to Mountain View in 19 minutes. The Santa Clara Convention Center is only 8 miles away, a 14-minute drive at 4am. But at 8am it's 20-50 minutes. Light rail takes an hour. Much of that is crawling through downtown SJ. An express route underground or along CA87 could drop that to a reasonable time. How do we get that to happen?

On a more local scale, we have wide boulevards like El Camino Real, Stevens Creek Blvd., de Anza Blvd., and so on. They are reduced to a crawl because we refuse to synchronize the traffic lights, build vertical separation (over/underpasses) for vehicles or even just for pedestrians. It's politically correct to prioritize bicycles and pedestrians, but we pay a steep price in commute times. How can we apply pressure to motivate due attention to traffic? It's one of the biggest complaints of Bay Area residents. Gary Richards (Bay Area News Group) reports, "There is a plan to widen the stretch [of Coleman] from Taylor to Hedding streets to six lanes, but it’s currently unfunded. Google, can you spare a few million dollars?" Do these infrastructure projects need to cost so many millions of dollars? Is there good reason? Or is corruption involved? Is there any oversight?

In the Camp Fire of November 2018, people burned to death in their cars as they tried to evacuate. I calculated that Skyway alone, properly managed, could have evacuated Paradise in an hour and a half. Then I learned that Paradise recently did a 'road diet' on a key stretch of that road, cutting its capacity in half. They did it to themselves. Actions have consequences.

A new comprehensive development like Diridon needs to incorporate provision for all kinds of transportation, not just parking and transit. Bike racks and lockers. Rideshare parking for things like rental cars / Zip cars, bicycles, and scooters, and eventually self-driving shared-usage cars. Package and grocery delivery. People are more willing to bus or bike if they don't need to manhandle bags of groceries. ADA will make new construction accessible, but we see increasing usage of motorized wheelchairs and scooters. We have a rare opportunity to make that whole area pedestrian-accessible, ideally without grade crossings of streets.


By now, we should all know how cities like Mountain View chose self-interest over public interest. They welcomed business (higher tax revenue base) and discouraged residence. We pay the price in mind-numbing commutes and sky-high housing costs. That's beginning to change, and Diridon is a major development in that direction. Housing and business together with good transit access. We have various mechanisms to encourage and support affordable housing. The only tool cities have to motivate developers to include more housing, especially sub-market housing, is to allow them to build more commercial development to help pay for the housing. As a result, we still don't build enough housing. Who should pay for that? Housing benefits the whole Bay Area. It's reasonable to expect the Bay Area to help pay for it.

Displacement and Gentrification

Is that good or bad? Should granny, who has lived there for 200 years, be allowed to stop the whole development? How can we use public domain condemnation for the public good, while avoiding abuses of that power? Our society is beginning to address the homeless problem. I would like to see us do it better. But that's independent of the Diridon development. That's a great place for affordable housing, but not a good place for homeless housing. The common strawman of a compassionate city becoming a magnet for the homeless just hasn't happened.

Much ado has been made about the Google purchase of the cute little home at 538 Loraine for over $2 million. That's a red herring. Google bought the land, not the home.

Coordinated Development

Even a single major building requires a long time for planning, negotiations, zoning, permits, environmental impact studies, and so on. That's generally invisible to the public, who doesn't see anything happening until construction starts. A coordinated development of this scale, with many stakeholders involved, takes even longer, but can produce significant benefit from the coordination. As I've said many times, it provides a unique opportunity for transportation improvements because of coordinated design an planning and because of integrating road construction with building construction. We can run streets and rail lines below ground level at much lower cost this way. We can finally provide fast transportation (car, bus, rail) to and through the downtown area. We can make it so that pedestrians and bicyclists rarely need to cross a street at grade level. Such a large area of simultaneous new construction can place all retail facilities on a second-floor level connected by walkways also suitable for shared bicycles and scooters. It's much cheaper to elevate that than to elevate roadways or rail lines. Perhaps steel grating like we see on some bridges covering the entire street area, even including some outdoor dining areas. That leaves ground level for streets and delivery access, and underground areas for parking and for streets with vertical separation. It's a prime opportunity for out-of-the-box thinking.

References and Resources

Dec 4 article with great comments by Dave Simpson