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Archive for April, 2011

Bad enough San Jose plans for a Sea of Parking around the Diridon station area, City Council also wants to make the area the most bland neighborhood this side of the Mississippi:

If the final plan is adopted next year, San Jose officials said, the area could ultimately be modeled after other popular regional destinations, including the L.A. LIVE entertainment complex in Los Angeles, anchored by the Staples Center; Union Station in Denver, near Coors Field; and the Kansas City Power & Light District, near the Sprint Arena.

And if that doesn’t strike you as a livable neighborhood, just wait because it gets worse:

Developing the area will be challenging, two consultants told the council Thursday. They noted that the public and private landowners in the area may have different ideas about land use, which could result in helter-skelter development. A master developer could solve those issues, the consultants said, though others noted that the odds of the cash-strapped city being able to subsidize a master developer is “close to zero,” as Horwedel put it.

This suburban planning mentality is wrong on so many levels. Real cities develop organically — what these consultants dismiss as “helter-skelter” development. A Master Planned community ensures a cookie-cutter approach to the neighborhood, characterized by bland buildings and boring public spaces. Even worse is the notion that developers should be subsidized to build such crap. This land will be served by subway, light-rail, and high-speed rail — what additional incentive would a developer require to build in such a location?

The "model" for Diridon Station development

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Why are so many kids obese? The YMCA has published a Health Snapshot survey that is supposed to answer this question.

As is often the case with these types of studies, absolutely no mention is made of the built environment. The view of the YMCA is simply that kids aren’t getting to the gym enough. Nowhere in the 29-page questionnaire does it ask parents “Do your kids walk/bike to school?” Or “how many hours per day do you spend chauffeuring?”

The good news is that for Healthy Kids Day YMCA recommends bike riding as a fun family activity — in a park (with helmet).

Oh, and check out these corporate sponsors:

YMCA "Kids Day" sponsors

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One of the quirks of Berkeley City government is its 35 citizen commissions. They advise City Council on topics ranging from foreign policy to waste management. As in every other budget cycle, staff is recommending some commissions be eliminated to save time and money. With the severe economic downturn, staff may get their wish:

The cost to run the commissions: $1 million a year, [City Manager] Kamlarz estimated in 2008. Meanwhile the city is looking to mend a $12 million deficit, mulling cuts in police, libraries, public works and virtually every other department. The City Council is likely to discuss cutting some commissions in May.

If there is one Committee deserving elimination, it is Berkeley’s “Community Environmental Advisory Committee”. Three years ago, as the City was studying BRT, this group of concerned environmentalists passed a resolution to oppose the BRT project. They sent a sternly-worded letter to Council expressing their disapproval. Buses, in their view were polluting, and would threaten the safety of bicyclists! (never mind the BRT project included Class II bike lanes).

Really, what else is there to say? When a taxpayer-funded “environmental” commission favors automobiles over buses, favors automobiles over bike lanes, it loses all credibility.

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Blighted Farmland

Is it possible for farmland to be blighted?

That was how San Jose described the North First Street corridor, an area that was farmland not too long ago. Thanks in part to efforts of the San Jose Redevelopment Agency, it has now been paved over into office park hell.

North First Street is another example where RDA’s fail to consider neighborhood livability and sustainability in development plans. The VTA built a billion-dollar light rail line along 1st St, but the development is purely auto-oriented.

Most galling of all is the RDA parcel at Holger Way, at 237/North First interchange.

A pretty good Class I bike/ped trail runs alongside highway 237. Some of it was built as part of the Bay Trail project, other segments were built as mitigation for the highway 237 construction. One annoying gap is between North First and Zanker. How easy would have been for San Jose to have fixed this gap, as part of redevelopment. Problem was, their staff had no idea the trail even existed.

Not only was this gap not filled, but for 10 years a fence was thrown up across Holger way, forcing cyclists to make an unnecessary detour.

The reason I bring up this planning clusterfuck is because the annual meeting of the California Redevelopment Association is being held in — of all places — San Jose. And this may be their last meeting ever, because Governor Brown wants to eliminate Redevelopment Agencies for good.

As reported in the Mercury News, the conference was more of a confessional:

Is it an Irish wake or an old-fashioned revival meeting? At this week’s annual meeting of the California Redevelopment Association, it’s been hard to tell. The three-day conference, which ends Friday at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center, may turn out to be the final gathering of almost 400 of the state’s active redevelopment agencies if a proposal by Gov. Jerry Brown to eliminate them comes to pass. Or, as the roughly 600 attendees are hoping, their last-minute efforts, counterproposals and reform pitches to state legislators may be enough to pull redevelopment from the grave. With crisis, some say, comes opportunity — and maybe even redemption. “We have to admit to ourselves that we have sown some of those seeds of our own destruction,” John Shirey, executive director of the association, told a general session audience.

San Jose has been one of the worst abusers of redevelopment process. What better place to bury RDA?

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