Category Archives: Ideas

These are some ideas as to how we can take advantage of trends, instead of them taking advantage of us.

Opining on the Digital Divides in Silicon Valley

[Note, this author has no dog in this hunt other than wanting to maximize the return on limited public monies.]
The efforts of the City of San Jose to ensure students have access to online schooling cannot happen fast enough. As importantly, San Jose will not solve the broader issue of accessibility throughout the County.  Below are a couple of ideas on how to accelerate the availability of low-cost broadband, specifically for educational uses.
The other side of Silicon Valley and its rural roads.
The other side of Silicon Valley and its rural roads.

Before getting to those ideas, I continue to question whether accessibility to broadband is an issue for residents of the cities of Santa Clara County (see this link (PDF) for my analysis on the city of San Jose’s efforts to build Community Wi-Fi, which is referenced in the above video) and contend that the focus needs to be around affordability, access to devices, education on how to use the devices, etc.

An underlying premise in this article is that, from a policy perspective, the County and SCCOE should be taking the lead in ensuring all students have access to broadband since school districts cross city limits.

The Virtual School is Where the Student Is

Post-COVID-19, the school of the future will continue to have a virtual element that delivers educational materials where the student is and when they are ready to learn. At the same time, content should be curated and limited, just as it is in today’s brick and mortar schools. .Specifically, instead of delivering the entire Internet to a student, the paradigm for an online school should be that of a walled garden.
This is similar in concept to the pre-Internet days of Cable in the Classroom.

Donate your old computer and help close the digital device divide.  Device Donation Day is Saturday, May 23rd, and Wednesday, May 27th – details are at

Utilize Existing Assets to Work with Private Providers

A wireless link installed by Moreland Little League creating a public WiFi hotspot.
A wireless link installed by Moreland Little League creating a public WiFi hotspot.

Utilize existing school district fiber and facilities to allow private providers to install base stations for new wireless networks. By doing so, it should be possible to use private investment, instead of public dollars such as what is being done with the City of San Jose’s Community Wi-Fi network.

About a decade ago, the Moreland School District and Moreland Little League proved this at a conceptual level when we created a public Wi-Fi hotspot and connected surveillance cameras to the school district’s fiber network. The installation and equipment were done in a matter of weeks at the league’s cost. The load on the network is minimal as the use is mostly off-peak.
Similarly, a press release from Sail Internet explains how they worked with Gardner Health in Alviso to provide more broadband choices in that North San Jose neighborhood.
Common Networks is another local provider offering high-speed wireless service in the South Bay that could also use school district facilities to expand the number of broadband offerings.

[Note, Sail Internet and Common Networks are only intended as examples of potential providers and do not mean endorsement. There are probably no technical reasons why the school districts couldn’t allow more than one provider on their properties.]
In exchange for providing facilities, the districts could obligate those carriers to provide a “no-cost” educational tier. In other words, any student, would be able to receive service at no cost but would be limited to the school’s walled garden offering (no random viewing of YouTube or Facebook videos). Similarly, this might be done for other governmental services as well (free access, but only to government services).
The ISPs would also be allowed to provide and charge for commercial services, including Internet access over their networks.
The devil is in the details of contracts and ensuring that the districts/SCCOE do not violate e-rate rules, ameliorate concerns about wireless, etc. This approach is possible and there are at least two broadband ISPs in other parts of the country that have partnerships with school districts and/or counties to pool assets and extend broadband.
[Also, see this example of how broadband could be bundled with affordable teacher housing and more

Be Targeted and Judicious with Investment of Public Monies in Closing Digital Divides

The rural portions of the county are where access to broadband infrastructure is often lacking.  Some portions of the county are receiving government funding to extend broadband to the unserved homes, but it doesn’t cover all areas and isn’t always directed at those who cannot afford broadband service.
The government should be cautious as to how it spends public dollars to extend broadband as new options are literally on the horizon (pun intended). Starlink, which is set for launch later this year could solve many of the rural access challenges and may prove formidable someday in urban areas.
Here is a recent overview of Tesla’s cousin company and its potential impact on broadband,
That said, fiber will probably remain the ultimate goal for connecting people, but there is at least one local example where government monies are subsidizing owners of multi-million-dollar homes.
In 2017, the CPUC approved a subsidy of approximately $7,200 per home for a 150 home development in Paradise Valley, just west of Morgan Hill.
$7,174 per home subsidy was provided to serve Paradise Valley.
$7,174 per home subsidy was provided to serve Paradise Valley.
These are multi-thousand square foot homes in a neighborhood of tennis courts, swimming pools, and vineyards.
Paradise Valley a 150 rural Silicon Valley development with subsidized broadband.
Paradise Valley a 150 rural Silicon Valley development with subsidized broadband. Image courtesy of Google Maps
It is said that fiber to the home increases a home’s worth by approximately $5,000, but given the proximity to Silicon Valley and the adoption of telework, it wouldn’t be surprising if the domiciles in this development increase by much more than the subsidy provided.

Fiber Owned by the Home – a PACE approach to a Broadband Build-Out

So, building on the idea that the property owner ultimately receives the benefit from broadband, here is a concept that treats the broadband asset more like a condominium association.
This type of approach was first proposed by Columbia Law Professor Tim Wu and Google’s Derek Slater in a 2008 whitepaper.
The property owners would own the last-mile connection in a cooperative-type arrangement and would finance it via long-term, PACE-type funding, such as is done with solar installations.
A few years ago, this author spoke to the Santa Clara County Assessor’s office and was told that the concept looked feasible, but it would require action by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors to allow this sort of asset to be included as part of the real property.
There would be no financial risk to the County with this type of approach, but by including the fiber as part of the real property, it would allow a private, long-term financing mechanism.

Electric Drivetrains Will Change Planes & More

The rapid electrification we starting to see on land appears to be reaching for the sky with the dozens of companies developing air taxis. Additionally, there are multiple companies developing electric drive-trains for existing airplanes.  These solutions initially might not offer the Jetsons’ future of personal air travel, but it could revolutionize the short and mid-term distant trips (e.g. 50 to 300 miles), making point-to-point travel much more cost-effective and offers the potential to revitalize small-towns in rural America.

The electric nature of this new type of flying machine will reduce both noise and particulate pollution, reducing the impact on the surrounding community compared to traditional liquid fuel-powered airplanes.

One company, which is using a fuel-cell electric approach, is Avia, as outlined in this excellent analysis in the Long Tail Pipe.

And speaking at this year’s CAFE Foundation’s 13th Annual Electric Aircraft Symposium in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Kevin Noertker, Co-Founder & CEO, Ampaire Inc, reinforces the positive changes of electrifying aircraft when he stated that,

“Electrification of aviation will:
– 70 to 90 percent fuel cost savings
– 25 to 50 percent maintenance cost savings
– noise reduced by two-thirds or even more
– help earn the good will of communities around airports
– significantly reduce direct emissions”

Stay tuned, as more is added to this post.

What About Extending Runway 12R/30L North? Scenario 11

Could an extra 36 feet in building height in both the downtown and the Diridon Station Areas be gained without changing current One Engine Inoperative procedures Norman Y. Mineta, San Jose International Airport?

By extending runway 12R/30L over De La Cruz Boulevard into the current FAA VOR antenna field, it looks like the runway could begin 1,360 feet to the north of its current start point. At a 37.5:1 (1-foot elevation for every 37.5 feet in the horizontal direction), this would yield the 36 feet gain, across the board with current OEI.

In the documentation provided by the Airport, the only reference to extending the runway was provided in this slide in a May 2018 presentation. There was no explanation of what had been examined in this so-called Scenario.

Scenario 11 from the May 2018 Report
Scenario 11 from the May 2018 Report

Perhaps, the slide that should have been created is below, which depicts a runway and taxiway extending over De La Cruz Avenue to the field where the FAA’s antenna field is. At some point in the not-too-distant future, the FAA plans on decommissioning that obsolete radio facility, freeing up the land for other uses (within bounds of airspace restrictions), such as a runway extension.

Extension Idea

Would extending the runway necessitate an extension beyond the freeway, etc.?

Hopefully not, as the extended part of the runway (on the north side of De La Cruz) would only be used for take-offs. Page 3-13 of the Comprehensive Land Use Plan for Santa Clara County indicates that there must be a runway protection zone.[1]

“At this airport the RPZ [Runway Protection Zone] as adopted by the airport and the FAA, begins 200 feet out from the runway’s displaced landing thresholds (not the pavement ends). It is a trapezoidal area centered on the extended runway centerline. The size is related to the expected aircraft use and the visibility minimums for that particular runway.”

There is no reason that a longer runway would need to change the displaced landing thresholds.

Would the Investment Be Worth It?

The question is how much would it cost to extend the runway and taxiway over De La Cruz? The documentation provided by the airport doesn’t show any analysis of estimated costs to extend the runway, so we don’t know if this idea was dismissed from a cost-benefit or a technical standpoint.

Although it didn’t make the cost-benefit analysis cut in the study, a net gain of 35 feet would provide greater benefit from a downtown height perspective than any of the scenarios, including the Airport’s recommended Scenario 4. Taken by itself, there would be some gain in the Diridon Station Area as well. If combined with a Scenario 10b, it would allow building heights of 69 to 93 feet taller than today in the Diridon Station Area, which starts to approach height increases suggested by Scenario 4.

If combined with Scenarios 10b it’s reasonable to assume gains for a runway extension to be somewhere between the $438M to $747M of Scenario 10b and Scenario 4, respectively. As pointed out here, the net gains for Scenario 4 would be $26 to $203 lower due to negative economic impact to the airport, which wouldn’t occur with a combined runway extension/Scenario 10b.

But there would be a big upfront construction investment. How much would that cost? That’s a good question and something that should have been addressed by the OEI study.

In the absence of data from the 2018 OEI study, Maui’s airport can be a proxy as it faces a similar dilemma in terms of departures and is planning a runway extension:[2]

“The runway extension, projected to cost $96 million and built by 2021, would allow planes such as the Boeing 737-800 and 777-200 to take off at maximum weight for cities such as Chicago, Dallas and Denver, the plan said. Currently, those flights have to take off with reduced fuel that requires a stop in Honolulu to refuel before heading to the Mainland.”

This 1,500-foot runway extension runs into a road and they are looking at building a tunnel for the road, but they don’t provide an estimate for that cost. Using Caltrans estimates of $500/square foot, the cost of a 150’x1,500’ underpass would be approximately $112.5M.[3] Assuming costs similar to the Maui example of $96M for extending the runway 1,500’, the total cost would be $208M ($112M+96M).

Rounding up to 250M for engineering costs, etc. and applying a cost of financing of 6% over 30 years, would result in a payment of $1.8M per month.[4] Assuming the Airport bore all this cost (no FAA Grants, no value capture from increased heights downtown) and assuming a continued growth to 21.8M passengers (approximate passenger projection by 2038), then the cost per passenger would be approximately $1, which, when added to existing costs, would still be less than SFO and continue to be competitive with OAK’s rates.

Although the above back-of-the-envelope financial analysis assumes that SJC shoulders all the costs, it doesn’t include the gains from being able to continue to market SJC as the international airport in the heart of Silicon Valley.

[1] See and Appendix A for a map showing the runway protection zones.

[2] See

[3] Costs of Caltrans bridge Here is the cost of a couple of different underpasses in southern California

[4] This website used for calculations

Appendix A – SJC Runway Protection Zones

Runway Protection Zone

Appendix B – Examples of Airports With Runways Over Roads



Why are the Temperature Assumptions Lower in 2018 than 2007?

A recent article from San Jose Inside suggests that San Jose should prepare for warmer temperatures. This advice is consistent with the City of San Jose’s Climate Smart San Jose “plan to reduce air pollution, save water, and create a stronger and healthier community.”

Why then did the consultant that was hired by the Airport to perform the 2018 One Engine Inoperative study use temperatures (81.3° F) that were almost 7 degrees cooler as compared to what was assumed in the 2007 study (88°)?

2018 Temperature Assumptions are 81.3 degrees F.

2007 Study Temperature Assumptions were 88 degrees F.

This is important, as the higher the temperatures, the more weight (in the form of passengers or cargo) that has to be removed from an airplane to ensure safe operation in the event of a loss of an engine. The change in temperature was the major assumption difference between the 2007 study and the 2018 study.

By using lower temperatures, the economic impact to the airport is much lower than it would be with the assumption of higher temperatures.  And the impact could mean the difference between serving transcontinental/transoceanic flights versus regional destinations, as indicated on SJC’s website:

“Airlines will not fly routes that are not economically practical due to OEI-required weight penalties, and SJC would therefore risk losing existing or potential future air service, particularly to long-haul destinations. This could eventually result in SJC becoming a ‘regional’ airport primarily providing direct flights only to cities along the West Coast and in the western half of the United States. SJC would no longer be able to serve nonstop flights to the East Coast, Hawaii, or overseas to Asia or Europe.” [PDF]

Speaking at the January 28th, 2019 Community Economic Development meeting (YouTube), the Airport’s consultant to the study suggested that he had been conservative in 2007.

“I was typically using 95% reliability for some of the studies back in that 2007 timeframe and invariably I got responses that, that was too conservative and too high. The reason I was using 95% reliability when most of the airlines were using 85% reliability is that if it was a day time operation, the percentages for a 24-hour period, so if the airline is operating mainly passenger flights, not cargo during daylight hours, it would tend to be a little more conservative to use 95%. But, I have really switched to using what the airlines use which is 85% surface temperatures and in-route winds for these type of route analyses.”

This raises several questions:

  1. Who was telling him he was being conservative?
  2. Does each airline use the 85% temperature and reliability numbers? Do some airlines use 90% or 95%?
  3. What about the impact of climate change regarding future temperature assumptions?

Temperatures are expected to rise, so why weren't more conservative temperatures used?




Who Will Benefit the Most from Raising OEI Limits?

At the 02/11/19 Airport Commission meeting, this author raised the question of whether the economic gains touted by the Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport/City of San Jose (Airport) One Engine Inoperative (OEI) study will be as great as expected, as heard in the above video?¹

The proposed heights increase with the change of OEI in downtown San Jose under the Airport's Scenario 4.As a brief background, the Airport is recommending a 5′ to 35′  increase in downtown building heights (less than a 15% increase of today’s limits) and 70′ to 150′ in the Diridon Station Area, while the Airport Commission voted for an alternative Scenario (10B), which would allow taller buildings in the Diridon Station Area (30′-55′), while keeping the same OEI safety limits in the straight out (downtown) path.

Figure 2, the model seems to assume 100% build out.The Airport’s model assumes all the buildings are built to maximum height and would result in a Total Economic Impact of between $747M for Scenario 4 and $438M for Scenario 10B. The economic impact does not seem to include the economic losses to the airport, which depending upon load factor, is estimated to be between $26 to $203M. These loss estimates do not include dropped routes or routes that are no longer viable for airlines.

Figure 3 - Realistic and aesthetically pleasing build out of various heights and designs.A 100% buildout is not realistic from an economic or aesthetic viewpoint. The economic value drops by a greater amount with Scenario 4, as compared to Scenario 10B, as the economic losses to the airport begin once the first building penetrates the existing OEI limits (see Appendix A, below). In Southflow situations, airlines will have to shed passengers or cargo.

This won’t be so critical for an air carrier with many flights from SJC that has multiple options, but for those carriers flying long-haul flights that have fewer alternatives (e.g. being able to put passengers on alternative flights), their solution might be to drop the flight. In 2006, American Airlines raised this concern with their once-profitable flight to Tokyo-Narita, when they discovered that the Adobe building was in its OEI path.

American Airlines informed the City on 4/12/06, soon after it received staff’s downtown building data, that the existence of the Adobe Phase I Tower does not provide sufficient emergency clearance for southerly departures of the B-777 flight to Narita. American must immediately institute weight restrictions on such departures (i.e., not operate with a full load of cargo, passengers, or fuel) unless and until it can redesign its emergency “one-engine out” procedures to avoid the building. This process is underway. American has informally indicated that if modified emergency procedures cannot be implemented, the potential economic loss from weight restrictions on !hat one flight is estimated to be approximately $1 million annually.”

American Airlines dropped that flight in 2006. ANA picked up that flight using the more fuel-efficient 787 series jet.  This is consistent with the trend identified in an article last week in the Wall Street Journal about the trend of airlines flying smaller, lower operating cost airplanes on international routes to non-hub airports.

FFigure 4One thing that is clear is that property owners/developers who have the ability to build above current OEI will capture additional value from the air rights above their property.

The next question, for another article, is who owns those air rights?

¹ $940,000 was spent on this study, which is still a series of presentations and memos and not integrated into a single report.

Appendix A – Different Economic Impacts Based on % Buildout

Financial Models with Different Buildouts

[1] This is provided on page 23 of the December 2018 presentation and is cumulative over the period ending in 2038.

[2] Page 30 of the November 2018 presentation. Impact to the airport is directly related to Load Factor. The baseline Load Factor results in a $26M negative impact, while it increases to $203M as the Load Factor goes to 95%

[3] ibid

[4] Page 23 of December 2018 presentation.

[5] ibid

[6] Page 23 of December 2018 presentation.

[7] Page 23 of December 2018 presentation.

Why the Rush to Adopt Scenario 4?

[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.

The OEI study and other related activities that are about to occur.
The OEI study and other related activities that are about to occur.

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.

An improved OEI process that incorporates related activities
An improved OEI process that incorporates related activities

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.]

DRAFT Comments on SJC EIR 2037 Master Plan


This post represents Ken Pyle’s comments regarding the proposed amendment to the Mineta San Jose International Airport Master Plan (File PP18-103). The ideas and views in this post do not represent any of his professional or volunteer roles (including his role as SJC Airport Commissioner) and are strictly his own.

[Updated 1/31/19Note: the comments to the city were submitted on 1/31/19 and are available at this link.]


The proposed changes to the SJC Airport Master Plan extend the plan to the year 2037.  Before we look forward, let’s look back 18 years ago. In 2001, there was no smartphone, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg was still in high school, AOL was the World Wide Web for many people, and GE was the world’s most valuable company as measured by market capitalization.

Fast-forward two decades from now and we are sure to see similar changes in mobility and the built-environment based on the technological developments occurring today.

ces2019 summary mobility
Examples of some of the developments seen at CES2019

Some of these developments include:

  • Autonomous Electric Air Taxies are likely to be mainstream at some level, given the interest from major companies, such as Airbus, Bell Helicopter, Uber (PDF) and start-ups like  Airspace Experience Technologies, Joby Aviation, and Lilium. Bye Aerospace is projecting operating costs for its electric trainer plane, slated for 2020 delivery, of approximately $3 per hour or 2 cents per mile. This promises cleaner transportation at a tenth of the current operating cost. The Air Taxi services will most like be intercity transit (e.g. San Jose to San Francisco) as alternatives to traditional transit and/or vehicles, as envisioned, may be as likely to be from building to building, as it is airport to airport.
  • Autonomous Vehicles – The industry may currently be in the so-called “deflated expectations”, just as the broadband ecosystem was with the demise of Webvan,, and others at the turn of the century. In the meantime, start-ups and established companies are working on solutions for the operational issues that will be required for autonomous driving to scale. Policy at the local, state and national will be critical to determining whether the future is shared autonomous or zombie cars; the so-called heaven or hell scenarios. In either scenario, there is likely going to be less demand for parking on a per passenger basis in 2037 as compared in 2019.
  • Boring Elon Musk’s December 2018 unveiling of his 1+ mile tunnel in Hawthorne, CA was widely derided by transportation experts as being unfeasible as a potential subway alternative. The real break-through was an order of magnitude reduction in cost for boring, compared to traditional methods. The techniques he employed for boring, along with low-cost, autonomous electric shuttles, which will become common by 2037, could make point-to-point transit projects financially viable, such as a connector between the Santa Clara train station and SJC. For a high-level analysis of one such scenario, please click here.
  • Solar, Energy Storage & Microgrids –  The cost of electricity from alternative energy sources and associated storage continues to drop and is already close to parity with electricity from fossil fuel powered generators (see this article as a recent example).  By combining power generation and storage, it is possible to create a microgrid, independent from the larger grid, providing resilience in the event of an outage from a manmade or natural disaster.

    Example of solar panels on/next to a fence.
    Example of solar panels on/next to a fence.
  • Land will Become More Valuable – Unless there is an economic Armageddon, Silicon Valley land will continue to become more precious and will be reflected in the cost of housing. If we want to have a middle class, we will need to more efficiently utilize the land already devoted to housing, mix-use to reduce vehicle miles traveled and look at ways to better use land now dedicated to automobiles. Patrick Kennedy of Panoramic Interests puts it well with his statement that we need high-quality designs that are micro, modular and car-free if we are going to begin to tackle the high cost of housing.

Comments on the EIR

The following comments are made in the context of the above premises for how things will be different in 2037.

  1. [Updated 1/31/19] Do the air traffic growth projections account for a possible reduction in international and transcontinental service that will likely result, if the City of San Jose adopts the Airport’s recommendation in its January 10th, 2019 memo?
  2. What is the plan to accommodate electric vertical take-off & landing (VTOL) and other air taxis that may become both an airport connector (e.g. SJC-SFO, like the helicopter shuttles that flew between those airports in the 1960s), as well as an alternative shuttle to get to the airport (air taxi, such as what Uber proposes)? Specifically,
    1. What will be the impact on the airside operations (e.g. new pads to accommodate electric VTOL shuttle take-off and landings for inter-airport flights)?
    2. What will be the impact on the landside operations? For instance, will the airport need to build new pads, say, on top of a parking lot, to accommodate electric VTOL air taxi take-off and landings for air taxi service (e.g. building to-airport flights, where the passengers check-in and pass through screening after being dropped off by an Air Taxi)?
  3. Could T-8 be more generalized to include other types of buildings, such as hotel, workforce housing, offices, etc.? This might require zoning that isn’t possible in today’s code (e.g. housing on airport property).
  4. Could the scope of T16 (hotel) include the flexibility to include things such as building above a parking lot? Could it also include a bridge over the road that separates it from the terminal? This bridge might also be part of the building, effectively using the space above the road for offices (e.g. SJC admin offices), hotel rooms and, potentially, workforce housing.
  5. Is a connector between the SJC and the Santa Clara train station included in the General Plan changes? A transit connector is part of VTA’s 2040 plan (T-18, referenced on page 38 in the VTA plan), but it doesn’t seem to be in this plan? Does the terminal need to be included in the General Plan change? See this post for a fresh look at this challenge and how to potentially create a connector that pays for itself.
  6. What about the property that is just north of DeLaCruz/Trimble that had the Radar field. That should be looked at for some activity, such a solar power field.
  7. Regarding solar power and energy storage, what opportunities are there to integrate solar power (e.g. ring the fences with solar collectors, as an example) and does this need to be mentioned in the General Plan?

A Practical Application for a Boring Company

[Disclaimer: The ideas and views in this post do not represent any of Ken Pyle’s professional or volunteer roles (including his role as SJC Airport Commissioner) and are strictly his own.]


High-Occupancy Autonomous Electric Vehicle (AEV) running between Exhibit Halls
High-Occupancy Autonomous Electric Vehicle (AEV) running between Exhibit Halls. Courtesy The Boring Company. [note, this photo was added on 6/5/19]

An order of magnitude less expensive than traditional tunneling methods is the promise of The Boring Company. Assuming The Boring Company’s numbers are close to accurate, this could be a game-changer, if not for entire networks of transportation, like Elon Musk envisions, but for point-to-point solutions.

This brief analysis looks at one such challenge, which is ferrying people from SJC, Silicon Valley’s Airport, to the Santa Clara train station, which is expected to be a major hub with service from Caltrans, BART, and High-Speed Rail.

[Added 2/8/19 – On February 5th, 2019, the San Jose Mercury News reported that San Jose Mayor Liccardo is pushing for an RFI to explore a direct connection via the Diridon train station and SJC. This author recommends that both that linkage, as well as linkage mentioned herein, is explored in such an RFI. Also in that RFI, consideration for adding bike/pedestrian connectivity, perhaps as a second tunnel, should be considered. As referenced in this submission to the City of San Jose regarding the Airport Master Plan, such connectivity should be part of a larger vision that connects North San Jose, Santa Clara, Santana Row, Bart/Berryessa, and Downtown.]

What Makes The Boring Company’s Approach Different

The Boring Company is doing some innovative, but not exactly exotic, things to reduce costs, including boring smaller tunnels than would be needed for traditional transit, turning the dirt into bricks (instead of hauling it away) and running the boring machines 24-hours per day using electricity and via robotics.

cube from continental
Example of one of the many electric pod vehicles shown at CES2019

This technology could provide for an interesting connector between SJC and the Santa Clara train station.  At $10M per mile, this might be a fairly inexpensive way to create a connector to the airport (T-18 on page 38 of the VTA VTP-2040 Plan). To be clear, this would be unlike The Boring Company’s proposal where private vehicles would be lifted up and down. The electric, pod-like vehicles would stay in the tunnel.

Assumptions and Business Case:

The following spreadsheet provides a rough estimate of capital and operating costs based on a set of assumptions. To directly access the spreadsheet, go to this link:

The total cost per passenger would be less than $1.50. A $3 charge would provide a 50% margin while paying back capital costs (unlike, Oakland AirBart connector, which charges $6 just to cover operating costs, has a top speed of approx. 25 MPH and isn’t covering any capital costs).

Of course, there are a lot of assumptions in the above model (e.g. could there really be a demand of 1M passengers (that would represent only about 7.5% of current SJC passenger demand, so maybe not too far off).  It might eat into parking revenue and TNC revenue, but it could be priced accordingly. Also, the vehicles would probably have to be sized to carry about 16 people max (to get the average of 8 people), but they could probably use the same skateboard, as an existing Tesla and wouldn’t need all the interior bells and whistles of a Tesla).

Some assumptions, like the cost of electricity and even the cost of the pod vehicles, could be lower (e.g. inductive charging through the concrete could greatly reduce the battery size on the pod vehicles, life could be more like 500k miles), lowering upfront costs and ongoing electricity needs.  There is slack built in the above model, so, for example, say the number of passengers is less than half assumed, then the operating and amortization of capital costs would increase to $2.87 per passenger; not good, but lower than a price of $3 per passenger.

Clearly, the above model needs refinement, but it appears to be compelling enough that it deserves further study by VTA & SJC.

Added 4/26/21 – Smart Driving Cars Episode 210

The Smart Driving Cars episode 210 is well worth the watch as it dives into some of the ideas referenced above. The conversation is specifically about the Boring Company’s progress in Las Vegas. Some of the highlights include:

  • It is regulated locally by the same County regulatory agency that has oversight of rollercoasters. The regulatory agency has kept up with the fast pace of The Boring Company, which may be as amazing as the pace of the Boring Company’s tunneling.
  • The system has been set up for safety.
  • As a transport system, it is modeled after a modern broadband system where the services (e.g. the cars, experience) can be improved without having to modify the tunnels. They are looking at both half-duplex and full-duplex modes as they expand their operation.
  • Experience is a big part of what they are providing. Tunnels that are well-lighted and that can even be changed. The initial vehicles are pretty much standard vehicles as seen in the promotional videos. The rendering of a future car, as shown above, could mean different configurations. Perhaps, someday Professor Kornhauser’s vision of mobile casinos will be part of tomorrow’s vehicle pods.
  • Obtaining rights-of-way probably means that, at least in the short term, tunnels will have to follow roads and other public rights-of-way.
  • The Boring Company’s solution doesn’t “boil the ocean” by trying to solve huge region-wide transit systems. They are solving point-to-point problems that are much less costly and lower risk as compared to more complex systems. As in Las Vegas, this provides a basis for an expanded system based on a proven starting point.
Smart Driving Cars Episode 210

An Eco-Friendly, Tiny Home Community

Tiny-homes are often thought of as a solution for the homeless; as a low-cost way of quickly providing shelter to people who would otherwise be on the street, next to a creek or sleeping in a car. That’s a great idea and something that should be done, but why not consider tiny homes for people in all living conditions, regardless of income or age or ability?

Fits with the Neighborhood

PassivDom Tiny Home CommunityBuilding smaller means more money can be invested in high-quality fixtures and materials, making for a more comfortable environment and for a home that saves money over the long run. This is the type of approach championed by a variety of innovative developers such as Panoramic Interests with their microunit high-rises and PassivDom with its 3D-printed, tiny home/accessory dwelling unit.

Whether 3D-printed or traditional wood construction, tiny homes have the advantage over mid-rise apartments in that they do not obstruct existing views. Further, if there are enough units, then it is possible to add high-quality, common features (e.g. community gardens, play areas, meeting rooms, etc.) that benefit the larger community. When mixed with adjacent commercial development, it is possible to share common parking lots (e.g. load balancing the parking lot demand), increasing utilization of a large public space, while minimizing the land area dedicated to parking.

A Better Environment

A tiny home results in a lower environmental impact, compared to traditional single-family homes. For instance, PassivDom’s CEO claims that it only requires 860 Watts to heat their 400 square foot domicile, even with an outside temperature of -20 degrees C. Because of the efficiency, the combination of integrated batteries and solar panels means this highly efficient dwelling is self-powered, eliminating a grid connection.

CatalinaThe inherent density of a tiny home community makes it easier to share fixed costs associated with public transit stops, micro transit or car-sharing options than lower density single family units, giving alternatives to car-ownership (which, averages $8,849 per year, according to AAA).  The community itself would be car-free and focus on providing a good walking and personal mobility experience. In turn, this benefits the surrounding single-family neighborhood, by making services feasible that wouldn’t otherwise be.

Compelling Economics

As an example, the spreadsheet below demonstrates the financial viability of a tiny-home community of between 360 to 480 households placed on 6-acres of Campbell Union High School District District Office land, which is now slated for 40 to 42 traditional single-family homes with between 20 to 24 ADUs.

The above spreadsheet assumes a Tiny Home community instead of traditional single-family homes, which would result in a recurring revenue stream of approximately $1.7+ million to CUHSD, and would be incremental to CUHSD’s estimate of $1 to $1.5M from commercial developments on the rest of the site (the remaining 6-acres on this 12-acre parcel). Granted, CUHSD would still need space for their offices, but their offices could be potentially integrated above the commercial developments or could be spread out among its other properties.

ADU Pricing from prefabADUThe unsubsidized rent/house payment in the above scenario is $1,153 and that assumes that approximately only 1/4 of the land is occupied by housing (this is with a 150 square foot microhouse, which is priced at about $65k installed, although $90k was used in the spreadsheet).  Using the PassivDom figure of $127,000, reducing the number of units to 60 per acre, the unsubsidized monthly rent would be $1,463.08 (which would also yield a gross revenue of $1.7+M for CUHSD).

Bottom Line – High-Quality Housing in Small Spaces Worth a Closer Look

The bottom-line is that a tiny-home community offers the potential for low-cost, high-quality housing; particularly, if the housing is placed on underutilized public lands.  The exploration of Tiny Home communities shouldn’t be limited to large land masses, such as the above example, and should include lots that would traditionally be zoned for single family. Examples of how micro tiny house communities might help seniors stay in their neighborhoods and create alternatives to monster housing are provided in this response to one of the questions sparked by the WNAC-produced, Teachers Village & More Forum.

The idea of tiny home communities may seem radical in a built-environment centered around the automobile. But, maybe it is time to go back to the future and look at how we can integrate tiny homes into the fabric of our suburban-oriented, city.


A Little More Transparency Please – CUHSD, Please Provide Details of the D.O. Deal

[Update Added 12/20/18: This author sent in multiple letters of qualified support to the city of San Jose for this project. Here is the preamble from the October 27th letter:

“As follow-up to my September 22nd, 2018 email regarding GP18-004, the proposed General Plan Amendment to change Land Use Designation for CUHSD District office maintenance yard, I am changing my recommendation and believe that the city should approve a zoning change to allow for the redevelopment of CUHSD’s property for the reasons and with the caveats listed below.

After a conversation with and a presentation from Board Trustee Stacy Brown at the Del Mar PTSA meeting, I am going to place my trust in the board that they made the right decision, based on what has been discussed in open and closed session and the information and assumptions they were given by their consultant. With that said, I am still not satisfied by the lack and/or the accessibility of said information and the process for how we got to this point. I also trust that CUHSD will find a way to distribute its buses from its existing bus yard, so as not to unduly burden any one school.

As stated by CUHSD on its website, it is early in the process, so if the city has suggestions that change the underlying assumptions, I trust that the CUHSD will make changes to provide maximum benefit to all parties. This also represents just 12-acres of CUHSD’s approximately 244-acres of property and I trust that, given what is learned from this process, CUHSD and the City of San Jose will find ways work together to look at opportunities for those other parcels.”

Read the rest of the 10/27/18 letter here

and the follow-up 12/4/18 letter here

and the suggestion for a tiny home village here]

District property that CUHSD proposes rezoning.Original Post – 9/21/18

$1.5 M in unrestricted annual revenue is the promise of the CUHSD proposal to convert its existing approximate 12-acre district office site to a mix of approximately 6-acres of senior-care, daycare and self-storage facility and 6-acres of single-family homes. The 6-acres devoted to single-family homes would effectively be sold to a developer (Robson Homes) through an exchange of property, while the rest of the property would be retained by the district with recurring rental income from long-term ground leases from the aforementioned businesses. The

The apparent, proposed location of the new CUHSD District Office.
The apparent, proposed location of the new CUHSD District Office.

District’s new office would be relocated to a refurbished building located at Campbell and Winchester on land to be purchased by Robson Homes and included in the previously referenced exchange.

In principle, this idea of monetizing CUHSD’s assets is a good one and something that should be done to help provide a stable source of income, particularly as CUHSD deals with challenges associated with pension funding, teacher retention and the potential for declining enrollment.

The question, and the reason for this article, is whether the plan that CUHSD is proposing is optimal. That is, could a different plan provide a greater revenue stream, community benefits and/or reduced environmental impact?

And that is a question that is difficult to answer, as much of CUHSD’s deliberation and action has occurred in closed session. The official webpage for the plan doesn’t provide detail, other than some guiding principles and that CUHSD is requesting a zoning change from the City of San Jose.

As much as I support the idea of what they are trying to do and I don’t want to delay potential revenue, I cannot support the proposed project at this time, as what has been presented to public is lacking in data and does not address the questions asked of the board in my June 29th, 2018 letter to the CUHSD Board and Administration.  

Some Questions

Some of the pertinent questions asked in that letter, as well as additional questions include [comments in brackets are there to add context]:

  1. Is zoning for single-family dwellings the optimum zoning for this property, from a revenue, environmental and greater good perspective?
  2. Did CUHSD study all their properties for revenue potential, particularly as they relate to the Envision San José 2040 General Plan, and, if so, how did they compare and what were the positives and negatives for each property? What outreach was made to the cities to determine how potential CUHSD actions could impact their land-use decisions [e.g. Urban Village plans]?
    1. Final DRAFT Campbell Union HSD Draft 02-28-17 BS-slide 3_Page_03
      Presentation dated  3/2/17

      Note, the presentation at this link  (provided by the project consultant, Terra Realty Advisors in a July 27th, 2018 email) provides a summary of the expected value of four of CUHSD’s six properties (values aren’t provided for Branham and Leigh).  It appears that the value of a portion of the land at those four sites was considered in the context of single family homes and, from the presentation, does not appear to take into account future Urban Village plans.

    2. Presentation prepared the 5/29/18 Teachers Village & More Forum at Del Mar High School.
      Presentation prepared the 5/29/18 Teachers Village & More Forum at Del Mar High School.

      My independent analysis, which was done in April, 2018 in preparation for the Teachers Village & More Forum is a bit different as it shows the total acreage for each property, along with its location relative to planned Urban Villages.

  3. How was affordable housing factored into the above study, particularly with regards to potential other programs, such as Santa Clara County’s Measure A Bond funding, that could potentially leverage the impact of CUHSD’s efforts?
  4. Where will the buses, currently housed at the maintenance yard, be stored? Is there credence to the rumor that Del Mar High School is being considered for bus storage? [In a 7/27/18 meeting, the Project Consultant indicated that the buses would be distributed to all the school sites.]
  5. Why didn’t the district choose an RFP process for the selection of lessees and buyers, such as what VTA is currently doing with several Transit Oriented Development projects?
  6. When looking at swapping land, did the District consider relocating its offices to one of its other properties?


ADDED 10/18/18 Note: On October 16th, 2018 CUHSD Board Trustee Stacey Brown emailed the following PDF, which provides an excellent timeline of events:

CUHSD Timeline of Events Real Property 5-19-18
Click on the above image to get a printable PDF version of the above timeline.

As mentioned above, the information on the project web page is minimal. The bullets below indicate sources of additional information:

  • Email is blurred as it is from a personal address
    Email is blurred as it is from a personal address

    $1.5M revenue referenced in this 06/20/18 email, as well as verbal comments made at the 9/20/18 CUHSD board meeting by a Boardmember.

  • Detail of the revenue as well as proposed uses for the property and proposed partners were given in a presentation at the 7/19/18 open board meeting. My notes from watching that meeting, along with subsequent notes from a conversation and email exchanges with the Project Consultant, are here.
  • CUHSD’s only public meeting devoted to this topic was held on May 29th, 2018, the same night of the WNAC’s Teacher Village & More Forum at Del Mar High School. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find minutes to that meeting.
  • There was a community meeting organized by the city on August 2nd for this project (GP18-004). Unfortunately, I couldn’t make that meeting [added 9/22/18 and could not find the minutes]. Here is the agenda.