Some Ideas for Policy Makers

[Note: this posted was originally part of a large submittal to the City of San Jose on 6/26/15].

The following are some general ideas for how to develop the Winchester Urban Village with the year 2040 as the endpoint. These ideas are not set in stone, but are intended to stimulate other ideas and help further the conversation.

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Illustration: The Bigger Picture

  1. A Bigger Picture – Policy makers and planners in Santa Clara, San Jose and Campbell should consider the area bounded by Hamilton, San Tomas, Pruneridge/Hedding and 880/17 as one continuous region when planning for the various urban villages that the 3.2 square mile area will contain. Of course, the areas that border these regions also need to be considered when approving new projects.
  2. Growth Oriented Mindset – If investors have no incentive to continue to invest, this area will not reach its potential. This means the local governments need to respond to proposals in a timely manner (e.g. based on comments from the developer, Santana West seems to be in a city hall purgatory and the developer is starting to have second thoughts about investing in an urban village signature project).
  3. TAANSTAFL – As a high school economics teacher once taught, There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. That is, policymakers need to consider unintended impacts of policies they may decide for this region or their cities. For instance, rent control sounds like a good short-term solution to make housing more affordable, but “[economists] have demonstrated that it [rent control] leads to housing deterioration, fewer repairs, and less maintenance.” 1
  4. Be Bold – this is Silicon Valley – we should be and have the opportunity to be on the cutting edge of what’s new and create an environment that is world-class.
    1. Win6
      A rendering of what a cap over 280 might look like – image courtesy of Win6

      People Movers & Things that People Move

      With people movers and/autonomous low-speed vehicles, it should be possible to build mini-villages that do not have automobile traffic. That is, the interface to automobiles would be away from the housing and commercial offices. This would free up land for more open space and/or argrihood potential, as well as make the area within these mini villages more walkable, bikeable and better able to support greater density

    2. Create New Land – look for ways to reuse airspace. For instance, the land above 280, near Winchester would be a prime candidate for some alternative use. Further, depending upon how it is designed, this could connect the two areas that are divided by 280. The Win6 project depicts what this could like in its rendering of a combination open space/parking. A good example of airspace reclamation is the Hudson Yards project in New York, a $20B project being built over approximately 28 acres of rail yard. When it is complete, approximately half of this mixed use project will be open space, will house 5,000 residents, a 750 seat school and is anticipated to have some 65,000 visitors a day.
    3. Apply New Technologies from the beginning. Fiber to the building/unit is a given to attract employers and to create satellite offices for existing employers. But, other seemingly mundane technologies, such as garbage that is whisked away by pneumatic tubes, eliminating the need for garbage trucks, should be considered (see Hudson Yards again).
  5. Engage Employers and Businesses with headquarters and offices in other nearby locales (SF, Palo Alto, etc.) to create satellite and shared offices in buildings in the Winchester Urban Village, allowing local employees to work closer to home. Having local employees will help with the jobs/resident imbalance and will create lower carbon footprints, by reducing vehicle miles traveled; a major goal of many high-tech companies., such as Apple and Google. It is conceivable that some of these high-tech companies would be interested in investing in an urban village project (e.g. Google with their Sidewalk Labs venture).
    1. The area needs a focused marketing effort to the attention of potential businesses that could be anchor tenants for the commercial space, as well as investors in the mixed-use projects. This could potentially be a city-led, privately-led or a hybrid approach of city/private-led.
    2. Turning Winchester into an urban village is a long-term transformation – a structure needs to be put in place that transcends politics and allows for long-term planning and, as importantly, plan corrections. At the same time, ensuring ongoing deployment of long-term infrastructure, will be necessary, to ensure successful implementation of the plan. Rezoning of certain properties may be required. Whatever plan is made today will probably be wrong, in terms of the ideal mix of commercial/residential/other uses. With people increasingly able to work from home and with home shopping becoming the norm, the demand for commercial space could be much different than expected..
  6. Community Amenities – As the area is redeveloped, consideration needs to be given for how to create amenities that will make the community a better place to live. Like everything else in this proposal, we need to rethink how things are typically done. Here are just a few ideas:
    1. Community pool – in this scenario, perhaps a pool is on one of the private developments. In exchange for providing what was formerly public rights-of-way, the pool would be open for some limited hours to the public. The rest of the time it might only be open to its members (e.g. the ownership and maintenance might be via a cooperative ownership method, like many pools that started as amenities of homeowner associations). This would be one way to create a community pool without adding to the city budget.
    2. Library Extensions/Community Resource Centers – The nature of libraries are changing from masses of paper books to more like community resource centers. It seems like there could be some clever partnership opportunities to fund such operations including:
      1. Partnering with private shops (e.g. coffee shop)
      2. Partner with a school (assuming a new one needs built). Why not look at designing libraries that have multiple uses. In a sense, this would be similar to SJSU/City of San Jose’s partnership.
      3. Partner with other government entities to create kiosks and help centers (of course, by the year 2040, this will probably mean interactive holograms and other virtual things that haven’t yet been conceived).
    3. Community Sports Center – Again, this could be a partnership opportunity with private-enterprise, such that a sports center would be a draw to their shops. This could be as simple as a covered basketball, tennis or racquetball court, serving as a buffer between an open space and denser areas.
    4. Community Policing – Making it a more walker-friendly community would lend itself to police and community service officers patrolling on foot or on bike; a much more personal experience than stuck in a police car.
  7. Diversity – Technology can divide us or bring us together. The ultimate goal should be to create a place where people of abilities, means and ages can live together. This is the kind of community where people can walk around and bump into neighbors, catch music at a local square and engage in conversation in outdoor cafe. It will facilitate the face-to-face encounters that may become increasingly rare, as technology allows one to have life delivered to them through a broadband tube and drone. The upside to increased density and smaller living spaces is that communal spaces will become that much more valuable. Additionally, it should be possible for an elderly person to downsize in their own neighborhood. We have an opportunity to create a place where senior citizens live among the young, where the poor have decent housing and the rich can live in a place that is exciting and alive with activity from their fellow citizens. The ideas from the Win6Village provide great insight as to how design and integration of local agriculture and affordable housing options create a richer lifestyle for all the citizens.
  8. Address the Urban/Suburban Interface: One of the biggest challenges is to build the infrastructure and density for for tomorrow’s citizens while causing minimal impact to those who live in the area today. Here are some ideas along those lines:
    1. Taper developments so that new buildings are lowest near the single family homes, while maximum height is towards Winchester.
    2. As possible, place the open space and dedicated pedestrian and/or dedicated bike paths between the existing single family dwellings and the newer, taller multi-dwelling units.
    3. In the open space, integrate technology, such as the aforementioned pneumatic garbage tubes for automatically emptying garbage cans in open space. This should reduce operational costs of maintaining open space.
  9. Traffic Mitigation – Traffic is horrendous in the commute hours, particularly around the Winchester/Moorpark/280 intersection. As the density increases, it is imperative that transportation becomes more efficient, reducing the number of people in cars and reducing the number of trips required outside the Winchester Urban Village. Here are some ideas.
    1. Embrace the concepts put forth by the Win6 Village group and create decks/buildings over public sidewalks, elevated plazas and wide bridges as often as possible along Winchester. This will reduce pedestrian crossings of a busy boulevard, which should help San Jose meets its goal of zero pedestrian traffic deaths. Implicit in this is that Winchester would be given a road diet to reflect greater efficiency in road use through the various autonomous, connected and ride-sharing services that will be popular by 2040.
    2. Jackson-covered sidewalk.jpg
      Partially covered  sidewalks keep off the rain

      The aforementioned decks over public sidewalks are great for all weather walking, as they provide shade in the summer and shelter from the rains. Again, further widening sidewalks (such that part of the sidewalk is in the open air) and creating dedicated bike lanes (e.g. Amsterdam) create a safer environment, further encouraging the use of these auto alternatives. As there are more services within comfortable walking and riding distance, people will look at alternatives to the automobile, reducing the number of vehicles on traditional roads.

    3. A stretch goal would be to create a bike path to the Los Gatos trail from the Winchester Urban Village area.
    4. Be on the forefront of integrating Vehicle to Vehicle and Vehicle to Infrastructure technologies in the Winchester Urban Village. These technologies promise to improve safety and help traffic efficiency/flow. Rules are currently being refined at the Federal level and cars will be available as soon as the 2016 model year that begin to take advantage of this technology.
    5. Work with private industry and/or VTA to create, on-demand and door-to-door, ride-sharing service (think dial-a-ride from the 1970s, but updated to the “app” world of today) that would serve only the Winchester Urban Village. It would feed bus routes and parking lots that sit at the center of the Village. These would be low-speed (<25 MPH or less) pods that would be summoned via an App Modeling suggests that this sort of ride-sharing could be less expensive than today’s public transit options (Stefan Heck suggested 8 cents per mile at the 2016 Joint Venture Silicon Valley Conference), while providing better quality of service.
    6. Work with VTA to investigate adding San Tomas Expressway (North-South) and/or Moorpark (East-West) as bus rapid transit corridors to off-load traffic from Winchester, as well as Stevens Creek. The aforementioned door-to-door, on-demand ride-sharing service is assumed as it would drop people at fewer central locations2 (fewer stops than today’s bus system and more accessible). By aggregating people at a stop, it would also be possible to create commerce opportunities, as there would be a critical mass of people to support coffee shops, bakeries, etc. A plaza/parking/transit hub would be built at the intersection/overpass of Moorpark/Winchester (see this article for more detail).
  10. Make Housing More Affordable Lack of housing that is affordable is a curse of Silicon Valley’s success. The city needs to set policies, as it can, to increase supply of high quality units.
    1. Modular MDUs – Encourage the construction of modular Multi-Dwelling Units to reduce costs (here is an example of modular construction that is better quality, environmentally friendlier and more than 25% cheaper than traditional construction), whereby high-quality housing is “factory built”, lowering costs and providing consistent quality with less environmental waste.
    2. Greater Density – Allow smaller units, including micro-units, to reduce the cost per dwelling. As the living spaces become smaller, the importance of ensuring that are adequate outdoor and indoor common spaces becomes critical to maintaining a quality of life.
    3. Fewer Parking Spaces – Reduce the number of parking spaces per unit and, at the same time, put in some mechanism that requires some sort of parking spot tax. This would begin to attribute the true cost of car ownership to the car owner.
    4. above ground plaza
      Outdoor Plazas Above Roadways – Image Courtesy of Win6

      Create Land – Reclaim streets and public parking for additional housing. One way to do this is to literally provide developers rights to the air above these spaces. This wouldn’t have been possible in a world of internal combustion engines, but as electric and fuel cell cars become the norm, tail pipe emissions won’t foul closed air. Another way to free up land is to eliminate streets for supporting cars in mini-villages. This would free up land for open space/agrihoods. In exchange for these giveaways of public lands, a like number of houses would need to be set-aside for lower-income households.3

    5. Allow high-rises, particularly in those areas (Winchester and Moorpark) that are away from single family dwellings.
    6. Flexible Parking Lots – As shared ride services become more popular and as more shops and restaurants are within walking and bike riding distance, the need for high-rise parking lots will decrease. If possible, builders should try to design parking lots so that they could be adapted to other uses (e.g. residential, commercial, agricultural). Additionally, look at building parking lots over freeways, such that the ingress and egress points would impact local traffic less than today’s vehicles, which have to return all the way to each house.
  11. Schools – Decades ago when the Winchester Urban Village developed as a suburbs, the majority of students attended the same community schools. That no longer is the case, as many students travel to private schools or public schools that are not their home schools. Additionally, because of various safety concerns (including road safety), children do not walk or ride their bikes to schools the way they once did. These factors contribute to local traffic, that is particularly burdensome to residences near schools. A few ideas for mitigating such traffic include:
    1. Integrate the appropriate school districts into the planning process for the Urban Village as a whole. They will have useful input as to how to mitigate traffic.
    2. As new schools are needed, look at developing joint open spaces that can be used for school activities, as well as general public use during non-school times.
    3. Look at integrating schools into the Urban Village in mid-rises adjacent to open space, accessible from bike and pedestrian friendly paths.
    4. Look at putting high-density affordable housing, with teachers and staff having first priority, on existing school campuses. This would reduced vehicle miles traveled, while providing a benefit for teachers.
  12. Financing – A challenge for the Winchester Village is that there aren’t many large blocks of land to develop. Much of the redevelopment is normally shoehorned into existing development and isn’t big enough to justify investment in future infrastructure. It is assumed that the city would not directly invest in projects, but, as possible, it should facilitate private investment and help guide the creation of mini-villages that might exist on multiple pieces of land. Although this section could be study unto itself, here are some high-level ideas for how infrastructure might be funded and how larger projects might be formed.
    1. Development Fee Set-Aside Fund
      1. A portion of all permit and fees associated with building in the Winchester Urban Village should either be set aside in a fund dedicated to projected public infrastructure needs within the Winchester Urban Village area.
      2. Similarly, there should be a mechanism for “trade-outs”, whereby, if a developer were to build out part of a future public infrastructure, then this amount would be credited against development fees. For instance, it might be more cost-effective for a developer to build a plaza over Winchester, than to pay development fees that would only cover part of the cost of future plaza construction.
    2. Form Mini-REITs to Form Mini-Villages – Encourage private apartment owners to band together to form cooperatives (really mini Real Estate Investment Trusts) that would aggregate and redevelop large sections of apartments into higher density, mini-villages. The idea is that by aggregating enough land, they would collectively be able to bring in the capital necessary to complete a project that could run into the billions and take decades to complete.
      1. Implicit in such a proposal is that their would need to be more new units on a given piece of land for it to make financial sense for the owners.
      2. As mentioned earlier, other incentives to get these owners to band together could include trading public rights-of-way and reducing parking space requirements, so they could get the higher density that would make it worthwhile.
      3. Implicit in such an idea is that would be a managing partner that would be capable of managing a huge construction project and then marketing it and operating it on an ongoing basis. This means the managing partner would need to have the credibility to garner the owners’ trust.
      4. These sorts of projects would be phased in, to minimize disruption to existing tenants as possible. Ideally, the developer would start in a greenfield lot, build the first phase (giving existing tenants the first option to move in to this new facility) and then tear down existing buildings.
      5. This would probably require a managing partner that would be experienced in managing large projects, as the owners of existing apartments would essentially become shareholders.
      6. Ideally, the new places would include a mix of rental and owner-occupied housing, similar to Santana Row, but with enough square footage options that a range of income levels could be accommodated.
      7. Still, there might be owners who don’t want to “sell”. The mini-village concept would have to accommodate those situations.
  13. A few Example Mini-Villages – are what this author refers to as Magiliocco Square and Eden Gardens. A third segment, between Payne and Williams is another possibility, but no details are provided for that area at this time. As necessary and appropriate, some existing buildings might remain in a given area.

    1. Magliocco SquareMagliocco Square would connect to the Parking and Transit Plaza that would cover 280 and Moorpark. It would consist of approximately 46 acres and also bridge the western side of Winchester occupying the Toys R Us site as well as the old Century Theater site. It would include a mix of high-density residential, retail and commercial.
    1. Eden GardensEden Gardens would encompass an even larger area of up to 75 acres. The bigger challenge in this corner is that it isn’t directly connected to the freeway. Planning for this would require close work with the City of Campbell to understand how Hamilton could be configured as part of an ingress/egress solution. There might be the need to create additional Parking and Transit plazas either near Hamilton/17 and/or Hamilton/San Tomas.

Conclusion

There really is no conclusion to this story, as any plan that is created for this area will need to evolve to match market realities. The 13 ideas presented herein may seem impossible, but they are all rooted in developments that are currently taking place around the world.

The transition to an urban village will take decades to complete. The community will need to make relatively short-term sacrifices for the improvements that are necessary for this to be a competitive and vibrant community in 2040 and beyond. The majority of the citizens who will reap the benefits from these successes aren’t alive, can’t vote or don’t live here today.

This won’t be the same place in 25 or 50 years, just as it isn’t the same place as it was 50 or 100 years ago. Success will be measured by whether our kids and our kids’ kids want to live here and whether they can afford to live here.

The best conclusion is a story this author just found. The year is 2071 and the celebration for the 50th year of the SVS platform is taking place. It is the type of bold thinking imbued in this story that we need as we look forward to the year 2040. Click here to read more.

1 Rent Control, from the Library of Economics and Liberty, Walter Block http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/RentControl.html

2This create an interconnected hub-to-hub system that would create a shared transit system that would have fewer stops than today, but would be more accessible, as it would be door-to-door delivery.

3Simple mechanisms will have to be put in place to ensure that people or corporations don’t game the affordable housing.

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