[Note: This author appreciates the efforts and insight of airport staff, committee members, and airport commissioners in studying various One Engine Inoperative (OEI) scenarios. These were the comments intended to be said at the January 28, 2019, CED meeting, but not well articulated once in front of the microphone. To some extent, the following represents some of the highlights of the 4/24/19 memo approved by the Airport Commission. Please refer to that memo for more detail]
The City of San Jose Councilmembers are about to address what might be the most important land-use/airport-use decision they will ever make; a decision that will have ramifications for generations to come. To be clear, if the recommended option, Scenario 4, is selected, SJC will be relegated to an airport that primarily serves destinations in North America.
So, why the rush to change building downtown and Diridon Station Area (DSA) heights, given there are no developments requesting the added height and that the community vision process for DSA has not yet begun?
As we look at how we can achieve greater building heights and continued airport growth, we should be looking holistically at how to maximize the public value from seemingly disparate activities of Diridon Station Area placemaking, the EIR for the Airport Master Plan and the ongoing Airline Lease negotiations. The outcome of the process will have an impact that lasts for generations; well beyond the 2038 projections given in the November 2018 presentation.
But before we look at how the process should work, let’s take a closer look at Scenario 4 and a few of the concerns expressed by the Airport Commission in its January 24th, 2018 vote.
First and foremost, the information provided to the Airport Commission in preparation for the January 14th meeting represents an incohesive and, incomplete report (e.g. data was spread over multiple presentations from different points in time) and there were many data points that don’t tie together; especially as it relates to potential economic value. Simply, the information has not been well communicated.¹
The process seems rushed in the sense that there are several factors (Airport Master Plan, Airline Lease Negotiations and Diridon Station Area Community Meetings) that could affect the modeled scenarios. As an example of an assumption that could easily change, after the upcoming community meetings (aka the Google Village meetings), is the number of residences per home.
The model assumes 1.43 residents per dwelling, which is fewer than the 2.4 and 2.9 people per home that currently reside in the 95126 and 95110 ZIP codes, respectively. The implication is what has been modeled would not be a place for families and could be an indicator of displacement of existing families.
Similarly, it seems like we are missing an opportunity to integrate the airport into the larger urban fabric, as is being done by leading international airports that have a strategic vision that maximizes the value of the real estate for the airport and community. Max Hirsh (PhD, Harvard), a professor at the University of Hong Kong, suggests airports can be part of the larger community and can diversify their income at the same time.
“If you superimposed the average airport over a map of the city that it serves, you’d find that it’s about the same size as the entire downtown core….The world’s leading airports view these real estate holdings as a critical source of non-aeronautical revenue. They’ve transformed that land into a variety of profitable commercial developments, including hotels, office parks, and shopping centers. Still, others have built concert arenas, university campuses, and tourist attractions.”
To incorporate this sort of thinking suggested by Professor Hirsh means we need to integrate what are now disparate planning exercises. A rough view of how a change to a process where the OEI study would be influenced by factors that have yet to be determined is depicted below.
The results of the draft report would inform the Airport Master Plan (e.g. impact on passenger growth, land-use decisions, etc.) the current lease negotiations and the upcoming Diridon Station Area community meetings.
Front loading the planning process like this would add time in the beginning because it would involve more stakeholders and provide the opportunity to test assumptions prior to committing to a long-term change. In the long-term, this would probably save time, as all the stakeholders would have an opportunity to participate in the process.
I voted for Scenario 10b because it was the best option, given the data we were provided. But, if we keep refining our assumptions, as described above, an even better scenario, that creates a greater net public good, could appear. Stay tuned to this blog for another idea that this author doesn’t believe has been fully studied, as it didn’t appear as a scenario in the materials provided by the Airport.
¹The presentation of the information, primarily in multiple slide decks combined with memorandums, makes it difficult to understand the data and its sources. Reading it reminded the author of the root cause of the Challenger accident of poor communication between the engineers and management. To quote from an author who analyzed the communications breakdown that led to that tragic event, “The main problem here is that those engineers did not clearly explain the effects so management thought it was no big deal and they passed it.”
[Note: Although he is an SJC Airport Commissioner representing District 1, the views expressed here are the author’s own.]