BlogTuesday, June 18, 2013In the past few years, there has been a lot of attention on income inequality and the shrinking middle class, particularly as job growth nationally has remained sluggish. Meanwhile, many companies are struggling with the skills gap, when hiring workers with the right training proves very difficult. Some claim there are millions of unfilled positions nationally — although the New York Times has editorialized that companies who claim to have a hard time finding qualified workers should try...
In the past few years, there has been a lot of attention on income inequality and the shrinking middle class, particularly as job growth nationally has remained sluggish. Meanwhile, many companies are struggling with the skills gap, when hiring workers with the right training proves very difficult. Some claim there are millions of unfilled positions nationally — although the New York Times has editorialized that companies who claim to have a hard time finding qualified workers should try offering more pay.
Whether or not the skills gap is inflated, we know that many individual workers do not have the right skills for opportunities that exist in our economy. We also know that the opportunities for people to move up into higher paying jobs are diminishing as the share of middle-income jobs declines.
In the Bay Area, despite an economic boom and declining unemployment rates, many workers are still struggling. Those returning to the workforce are often in jobs that pay less than what they earned before the recession.
How can we connect low- and moderate-income workers to existing quality jobs and expand the number of middle-income and middle-skill jobs? SPUR is part of a new initiative to identify ways we can increase economic opportunity in the Bay Area. Some of the questions we seek to answer include:
- Do we still have an economy with mobility? That is, can people still start at minimum wage and move up to jobs with middle income wages or higher? If so, how do people move up?
- What is not working in the current systems of workforce development and training? What hinders workers from getting into jobs of opportunity?
- What are the occupations with opportunity? Which industries are they in?
- And most importantly, what can we do at the local and regional level to increase opportunities?
The Bay Area’s Regional Prosperity Plan
The project begins with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Sustainable Communities and Housing, which has recently funded regional planning initiatives in dozens of metropolitan areas throughout the country. The goal is to create stronger, more sustainable communities by integrating housing and jobs planning, fostering local innovation, and building a clean energy economy. The Bay Area’s regional planning agencies — the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) — were awarded one of these grants in late 2012. It will provide $5 million over three years for planning and implementation work.
Somewhat unique nationally, the Bay Area is devoting its entire grant — called the Regional Prosperity Plan — to strategies focused on equity, particularly improving housing and economic conditions for low- and moderate-income residents and workers. The plan has three main initiatives: the Housing the Workforce Initiative, the Economic Prosperity Strategy and the Equity Collaborative, intended to support equity goals in the overall project.
Over the next year, SPUR will lead the Economic Prosperity Strategy, which aims to rebuild an economy with opportunity. Our partners — in addition to sponsors MTC and ABAG — are the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, Working Partnerships USA, Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy, Eisen|Letunic and the San Mateo Union Community Alliance. The initiative will focus on how to move low- and moderate-income workers in the Bay Area (the 35 percent of workers making less than $18 per hour) into more middle-income jobs (those paying $18 to $30 per hour). To implement the ideas in the Economic Prosperity Strategy, MTC will devote $1.1 million in funds from the overall HUD grant to support a series of pilot projects between 2014 and 2015.
Why Does the Bay Area Need This Plan?
Recent studies have shown that despite a growing economy and rising incomes, the Bay Area continues to provide fewer middle-skill and middle-wage job opportunities. Inequality has risen sharply in the last decade and is now greater in the Bay Area than in the United States or California. The chart below from the Bay Area Council Economic Institute’s recent economic assessment shows the dramatic rise over the past decade in the “Gini Coeffecient,” a measure of income inequality where 0 means everyone has the same income and 1 means that one person has all the income. This rise in inequality is largely due to the decline in middle-income jobs and the rapid increase in wealth from growing companies.
Wage and Salary Inequality, 1977-2011
Having an economy with mobility is good for everyone. When workers move from low-income to moderate-income jobs, not only are they increasing their household’s wealth, they are also creating a job opening for someone else coming into the labor market. If the upward mobility is a reflection of increased skills, the overall economy benefits through rising productivity and increased competitiveness.
Which Workers Are the Focus of the Economic Prosperity Strategy?
There are 3.2 million total workers in the Bay Area out of a population of 7.2 million. More than one in three workers (1.2 million) make less than $18 per hour in wages. Workers in this wage range include retail sales people, childcare providers, teachers, janitors, security guards, nursing aides, waiters, receptionists, truck drivers, housekeepers and many others. While workers who earn less than $18 per hour tend to be a little younger than the average worker, many people remain at or near minimum wage for their entire working lives. (The minimum wage is currently $8 per hour in California, $10 in San Jose and $10.55 in San Francisco.)
Despite what some may assume, low- and moderate-income (LMI) workers are not concentrated in any particular part of the region or in specific neighborhoods. While people of color are overrepresented among the ranks of low- and moderate-income workers, one third of people earning these wages in the Bay Area are white. And although workers closest to minimum wage are more likely to take transit to work, the differences are slight: 12.3 percent of those who earn $11.25 and less take transit, compared with 10.2 percent of all workers. Once workers’ pay gets to $12 per hour or more, they are just as likely to drive as everyone else (i.e., about 79 percent will drive to work alone).
The map below shows where workers who earn less than $18 per hour live in the San Jose region. As is clear, they live everywhere — though with slightly greater concentration in east and south San Jose.
Low- to Moderate-Income (LMI) Residents in the South Bay
Enlarge map >>
The next map shows a similar story in San Francisco. (Keep in mind that the higher concentration of low- and moderate-income residents in the Tenderloin and Chinatown is partly a reflection of the higher density in those neighborhoods.)
Low- to Moderate-Income (LMI) Residents in San Francisco
Enlarge map >>
Between 2010 and 2020, there will be 309,490 job openings that pay between $18 and $30/hour, compared with more than half a million jobs that pay less than $18 and half a million that pay more than $30. Some of these openings come from new jobs, while nearly 6 in 10 come from replacement jobs due to retiring workers.
Bay Area Job Openings by Median Wage, 2010-2020
$30 or more
$18 to $30
Working with our partners, we recently launched the Economic Prosperity Strategy with a series of workshops and outreach meetings with community, labor, business and local government leaders to determine the barriers to achieving a more inclusive regional economy. In the following months, we will begin examining solutions and strategies to address these barriers.
So far, several themes have emerged with respect to barriers facing low- and moderate-income workers. One barrier to accessing better jobs is the lack of on-the-job training. Another is the transportation challenge of traveling between multiple job sites and school settings throughout the course of a day, given that many low and moderate income workers hold multiple jobs in order to make ends meet. The solution to the first challenge might be new partnerships with employers, while the latter might be helped by better coordinated transit systems or land use planning that results in more concentrated job centers (putting more opportunity in one place).
The approach of the project will be to break down traditional silos and barriers between organizations and policy areas — such as workforce development and transportation planning — and to encourage better collaboration and coordination. We want to highlight existing local solutions and create new solutions that help move Bay Area workers into middle-income jobs.
As this work progresses, we will use the SPUR blog to report back on what we learn about the jobs and industries that provide opportunities for low and moderate-income workers to move up. To get involved in this important project, contact Egon Terplan firstname.lastname@example.org.
BlogMonday, June 17, 2013Bus rapid transit (BRT) projects can be transformative, as we have learned from cities like Cleveland in the U.S. and global examples like Mexico City. But making space on streets for travel modes other than the car is a challenge for cities and transit operators around the world. The Bay Area has five BRT projects in development today, and each has met with difficulty and delays.Last month one of these projects, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority’s Santa Clara/Alum Rock line...
Bus rapid transit (BRT) projects can be transformative, as we have learned from cities like Cleveland in the U.S. and global examples like Mexico City. But making space on streets for travel modes other than the car is a challenge for cities and transit operators around the world. The Bay Area has five BRT projects in development today, and each has met with difficulty and delays.
Last month one of these projects, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority’s Santa Clara/Alum Rock line, made the move from planning stages to design and construction. This 7.2-mile route through downtown San Jose will provide high-frequency bus service (every 10 minutes) and connect two major transit hubs — Diridon Station and Eastridge Mall. This line will converge with the Stevens Creek and El Camino BRT lines in Downtown San Jose. When these three BRT lines are combined with local service, an estimated 84,000 daily bus riders are expected to travel this corridor in 2030 (compared with 31,000 in 2008).
Planned Bus Rapid Transit Projects in the South Bay
Enlarge image >>
BRT expands a transit network in places where there’s a demand for fast and frequent transit service — but where rail might not be justified. It can represent a big enough infrastructure improvement to support new development and more livable communities. In Cleveland, development of the Euclid Avenue Healthline BRT has led to $4.3 billion dollars in spin-off investments and more than 13.5 million square feet of new development.
What makes BRT tricky is in the details of integrating it on existing streets. Where will stations be located? How will giving a lane to BRT impact auto traffic and parking? How will changes to the streetscape affect local businesses? Particularly in commercial districts and downtowns, there can be many stakeholders — and many negotiations about how to allocate streets and sidewalks. For the Santa Clara/Alum Rock project, SPUR worked with all the parties involved to try to maintain BRT best practices while also mitigating community concerns. The issues we grappled with illustrate what makes BRT a challenge to implement:
1. WIN: There will be a BRT station in front of San Jose City Hall — not a block away. SPUR supported locating the City Hall BRT station directly in front of City Hall (between 5th and 6th streets), rather than one block east, as the city initially preferred due to security concerns. We argued that locating in front of City Hall would save a large amount of money (the original location would have required property acquisition costing hundreds of thousands of dollars), activate City Hall’s plaza and better serve major destinations – City Hall and San Jose State University. Additionally, the City Hall station represents an important opportunity for local government to lead by example and embrace BRT at its front door.
2. WIN: The downtown San Jose station has the right design for its location.Initially, the downtown station (on Santa Clara Street, between 1st and 2nd streets) borrowed its design from other BRT stations in suburban locations. A BRT stop on the median of a busy suburban boulevard needs heavy design elements to make patrons feel safe. But a downtown station needs the opposite — light elements that don’t clutter the sidewalk or block pedestrian access. Based on SPUR’s suggested refinements, city and VTA staff and their consultants made considerable modifications, creating a station we believe will integrate much better with the downtown streetscape. Changes such as the size and placement of awnings and benches go a long way toward improving aesthetics, pedestrian flow on the sidewalk and patron comfort while waiting for transit.
3. OUTCOME UNCLEAR: The current service design does not prevent BRT buses from getting delayed behind autos. Numerous changes in the design of the downtown BRT service have been considered over the past year. VTA’s original plan would have keep BRT buses in mixed-flow traffic lanes with other vehicles. This design provided sidewalk bulb outs for safe and efficient bus loading and avoided conflicts between autos turning right or left across bus traffic. But it also would have required cars to wait or move around loading buses, so City of San Jose staff and the San Jose Downtown Association asked VTA to modify the design. The revised design attempts to accommodate four lanes of autos and requires buses to move in and out of mixed-flow traffic to load and unload in the curbside lane.
Since this design would delay buses, potentially taking the “rapid” out of bus rapid transit, SPUR advocated for VTA to study dedicated bus-only lanes throughout the downtown. VTA found that dedicated lanes would significantly improve bus travel times, but the city — facing concerns from downtown business interests about slowing travel for cars — opposed the idea. When a coalition of organizations including SPUR, TransForm, Silicon Valley Leadership Group, Greenbelt Alliance and Working Partnerships voiced concern, VTA developed “transition lanes,” which would put a dedicated space before and after each stop to help buses move in and out of mixed-flow traffic faster.
Downtown interests have now advocated against transition lanes in order to retain the 10 spaces of on-street parking that would be lost — a position SPUR firmly disagrees with. The current design does include transition lanes, but because they are simply painted on the ground, they have remained up for debate by the VTA’s board. The timing of transition lane implementation, along with whether to allow left or right turns across bus traffic, has now been left to a VTA advisory board. We have not yet solved the problem of car traffic delaying rapid buses in Downtown San Jose.
Santa Clara BRT Proposed Station Layout
Enlarge image >>
What Did We Learn?
VTA and the City of San Jose deserve much recognition for moving the Santa Clara/Alum RockBRT project forward, but their success came at a cost to the BRT service. Just 1.9 of the Santa Clara/Alum Rock project’s 7.2 miles will be separated from autos on dedicated lanes. According to the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy’s BRT Scorecard, the Santa Clara/Alum Rockproject would be called “basic” BRT. As we move other Bay Area BRT projects forward, we can aspire to bronze, silver or gold rankings by including dedicated lanes and adding rider amenities rather than removing them.
BRT decisions will continue to be made across the region in the months ahead. VTA is now looking at seven possible alignments for the 17.3-mile El Camino BRT route, which will serve the cities of San Jose, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos and Palo Alto. The alignments being studied include a dedicated lane for BRT throughout, which VTA is studying despite opposition from leaders in many of those cities. In San Francisco, after many years of negotiations with stakeholders, the San Francisco County Transportation Authority is seeking to certify an environmental impact report for BRT on Van Ness Boulevard in July. This project is being proposed as “fully featured BRT,” which includes dedicated lanes for BRT and pedestrian improvements along Van Ness. As they move ahead, these projects will need support from many sources to retain their defining features.
Thanks to special buses and branding, transit signal priority and rapid boarding, the Santa Clara/Alum Rockproject will likely provide many of the benefits of BRT. And there will be many opportunities to create higher standard BRT service by adding quality pedestrian and bike facilities, clear wayfinding, real-time travel information and supportive parking policies. But when we choose not to give BRT riders priority on the street, we set BRT up to fail in its potential as “rapid” transit.
BRT has proven to be a test of our best policy intentions. The City of San Jose’s General Plan boldly defined a policy of reducing driving alone from 80 to 40 percent of all commutes by 2040. This is a worthy and ambitious goal, but to get there we must give BRT projects the support they need to succeed.
Wednesday, May 22, 2013SPUR is seeking an executive assistant to provide administrative and clerical support for the San Jose director and the SPUR San Jose office. This is an opportunity to be part of a small, dynamic team, working closely with SPUR policy staff and board members. Learn more about the position at: http://www.spur.org/about/work_or_volunteer/san-jose-executive-assistant
SPUR is seeking an executive assistant to provide administrative and clerical support for the San Jose director and the SPUR San Jose office. This is an opportunity to be part of a small, dynamic team, working closely with SPUR policy staff and board members. Learn more about the position at: http://www.spur.org/about/work_or_volunteer/san-jose-executive-assistant
Policy LetterThursday, May 16, 2013We believe Plan Bay Area is an important step forward in comprehensive regional planning in the Bay Area. While there still remains a gap between our vision of a more concentrated region and the actual tools to achieve it, Plan Bay Area contributes to the best practice of integrating land use planning with transportation funding and decisions.In particular, we support two innovative policy tools studied in the plan's environmental impact report: an impact fee on development in areas with...
We believe Plan Bay Area is an important step forward in comprehensive regional planning in the Bay Area. While there still remains a gap between our vision of a more concentrated region and the actual tools to achieve it, Plan Bay Area contributes to the best practice of integrating land use planning with transportation funding and decisions.
In particular, we support two innovative policy tools studied in the plan's environmental impact report: an impact fee on development in areas with high amounts of driving, and a “vehicle miles traveled” fee — a replacement for the gas tax that would charge drivers based on how many miles they drive each year. We recommend that these and other ideas be incorporated into the final plan in July and/or in the next iteration of this plan, which will be updated every four years.
SPUR ReportMonday, May 13, 2013Each day, millions of Bay Area residents shop at grocery stores and farmers’ markets, cook meals at home, dine at restaurants and compost their food waste. Individually, our food choices impact our taste buds, pocketbooks and health. Collectively, though, our choices have an enormous impact throughout the region — on the future of agricultural land, the viability of thousands of food businesses and the size of our environmental footprint.Taking steps to strengthen the Bay Area's...
Each day, millions of Bay Area residents shop at grocery stores and farmers’ markets, cook meals at home, dine at restaurants and compost their food waste. Individually, our food choices impact our taste buds, pocketbooks and health. Collectively, though, our choices have an enormous impact throughout the region — on the future of agricultural land, the viability of thousands of food businesses and the size of our environmental footprint.
Taking steps to strengthen the Bay Area's regional food system can help us preserve agricultural land that is at risk of being developed, promote economic development within the food industry and reduce greenhouse gases by diverting our food waste. Local cities and counties have begun taking action on these steps, but to truly meet the challenge and take advantage of the opportunity facing the Bay Area, policymakers must build upon and accelerate their efforts. This SPUR report recommends a series of policies that would help us capture even more benefits from our food system.
ArticleMonday, May 13, 2013Fifteen years ago, an abandoned former gas station sat on a key corner of San Jose's Naglee Park. It was in disrepair and, as Bill Souders explains, “challenged the fabric and safety of the neighborhood.” But Souders, a consultant for nonprofits, joined forces with a group of his fellow Naglee Park families and decided to do something about it. Together they purchased the property, surveyed their neighbors to find out what type of uses they wanted, and...Fifteen years ago, an abandoned former gas station sat on a key corner of San Jose's Naglee Park. It was in disrepair and, as Bill Souders explains, “challenged the fabric and safety of the neighborhood.” But Souders, a consultant for nonprofits, joined forces with a group of his fellow Naglee Park families and decided to do something about it. Together they purchased the property, surveyed their neighbors to find out what type of uses they wanted, and set about creating a new gathering spot for their neighborhood. Today, just as the neighbors had hoped for, there’s a restaurant, a bagel shop and a convenience store that Souders refers to as the “neighborhood pantry.” We got to know Bill Souders during one of SPUR San Jose’s bike tours earlier this year, and we wanted to find out what other urban projects he had up his sleeve.
How did you first become interested in cities? And how did you get involved with SPUR?My role over the last many years has involved supporting global programs that focus on economic development. The global trend toward urbanization, even in the U.S., represents both challenges and opportunities. I am excited to be a member of SPUR because, even in a thriving area such as Silicon Valley, there are still tremendous opportunities to create a true sense of place, focus on the environment and create a community that supports opportunity for all.
What was the most important first step in transforming that Naglee Park corner?My neighborhood, the historic Naglee Park, just to the east of San Jose State University, is a diverse, eclectic but tight-knit community. Beginning in the mid-1980s, there was a resurgence of demand for single-family homes and the neighborhood began a transition back to a predominantly family-oriented community. Unfortunately, there were still remnants of urban blight dominating many parts of the area. That’s when a handful of neighbors came together to invest in purchasing the property on the corner of 11th Street and San Carlos with the goal of creating a neighborhood gathering place. We formed the Naglee Park Development Partnership (NPDP), and 15 years later, the NPDP vision has been realized.
Has the NPDP influenced other projects in San Jose?All of our members have been very active in the local community, supporting initiatives in downtown San Jose: everything from beautification projects and supporting local schools to grant writing to support things like antique lampposts and banner projects in Naglee Park.
Tell me about the Naglee Park Garage Bistro (and its rumored connection to the Doobie Brothers).The property on the corner included an old brick automobile repair shop and a service station. We loved the aesthetic of the old buildings so we did the necessary seismic retrofits and made many other improvements. Both of those businesses are booming. The Doobie Brothers did live (and practice) in what is known as the Simpson House, located directly next door to the Garage. Allegedly Stevie Nicks, of Fleetwood Mac fame (and a former SJSU student), lived next door.
You’re clearly invested in your neighborhood. Tell us though, what is your favorite city?I moved to the Bay Area in 1979. San Jose has been our home for over 30 years, and we love it here. But having travelled the world, some of my favorite cities include San Francisco, Prague, Edinburgh, Berlin and Cape Town.
Favorite film about cities?A bit dystopian, I know, but two films where the city was a prominent character for me were Metropolis and Blade Runner.
Favorite building?The Dancing House (aka Fred and Ginger), the nickname given to the Nationale-Nederlanden building in Prague, designed by Vlado Milunić and Frank Gehry.
Any new urban projects in the works?I am looking to support, however I can, some of the great new downtown work being led by my city council member Sam Liccardo and other city officials designed to drive creativity and innovation in San Jose’s urban core.
Policy LetterMonday, May 6, 2013By removing existing barriers to small-scale fresh food retail operations, proposed amendments to San Jose's Title 20 ordinance would help the city move one step closer to its 2040 General Plan goal of increasing access to healthful food for all residents. SPUR supports these amendments as a modest, balanced approach to improving fresh food options throughout the city.
By removing existing barriers to small-scale fresh food retail operations, proposed amendments to San Jose's Title 20 ordinance would help the city move one step closer to its 2040 General Plan goal of increasing access to healthful food for all residents. SPUR supports these amendments as a modest, balanced approach to improving fresh food options throughout the city.
BlogMonday, April 29, 2013SPUR has written several times about the development of Plan Bay Area since the planning process was kicked off a few years ago. Last month, the draft of the plan was finally released. What are the highlights in this 158-page plan and the accompanying 1,300-page environmental impact report? This post provides a summary of the Plan Bay Area draft and some of its key points. Keep an eye on the news feed at spur.org in the coming weeks for our official comment letter on the plan and what we think...
SPUR has written several times about the development of Plan Bay Area since the planning process was kicked off a few years ago. Last month, the draft of the plan was finally released. What are the highlights in this 158-page plan and the accompanying 1,300-page environmental impact report? This post provides a summary of the Plan Bay Area draft and some of its key points. Keep an eye on the news feed at spur.org in the coming weeks for our official comment letter on the plan and what we think could be done to make it even stronger.
Recap: What Is Plan Bay Area, and Why Is It Important?
Plan Bay Area is a regional statement and projection about what the Bay Area could look like in 2040. Over the next 30 years, the Bay Area is projected to add 2.148 million new residents and 1.12 million new jobs. The planning questions inherent in Plan Bay Area are: Where will these new residents live? Where will they work? How will they get around? What percentage will live in apartments? What percentage will work in dense transit-oriented job centers? Accommodating this growth in a more sustainable way is at the heart of Plan Bay Area.
The emphasis on sustainability is a requirement under Senate Bill 375, California’s 2008 Climate Protection Act, which required that regions in California produce a Sustainable Communities Strategy (ours is Plan Bay Area). These strategies are intended to do the following:
1. Identify where all of the region’s future population — at all income levels — will work and live over the next 25 years.
2. Set forth a forecasted development pattern, know as the “preferred scenario.”
3. Accommodate the future growth in a way that reduces per capita greenhouse gas emissions. The Bay Area is tasked with reducing per capita emissions by 7 percent in 2020 and 15 percent in 2035.
4. Describe a transportation investment strategy and transportation network that supports the regional land use pattern and reduces per capita greenhouse gas emissions.
Plan Bay Area formally combines two existing regional planning processes, the Regional Transportation Plan and the Regional Housing Needs Allocation. The goal is to better link regional transportation planning and funding with a projection for future land use. The Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) is a multi-decade statement of the region’s likely transportation spending projects and needs, produced every four years. This year’s RTP identifies $289 billion of likely funding over the life of the plan. The Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) identifies the number of market rate and affordable housing units that each jurisdiction in the region is required to plan for over the upcoming seven years. The RHNA will be updated several times during the life of Plan Bay Area.
Plan Bay Area is the product of two regional agencies:
· The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the regional transportation funding agency for the Bay Area and the agency that historically produced the RTP.
· The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), the council of governments responsible for growth projections and housing allocations and the agency responsible for RHNA.
Plan Bay Area is important because it seeks to describe a future Bay Area where the average person produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions from driving and where we plan for enough housing for the region’s expected growth. Importantly, it must accomplish those two goals in a way that reduces per capita emissions. Managing these important goals is intended to change the way existing regional agencies go about their planning work and lead to a more holistic approach to transportation planning. Once the plan is adopted, future housing and mixed-use projects that are consistent with the adopted plan will have a more streamlined approval process under the California Environmental Quality Act.
What Plan Bay Area Isn’t
An important caveat about the plan’s powers: Though it is regional in scope, Plan Bay Area does nothing to change local land use decisions or powers. ABAG and MTC have no direct power to decide where future development will actually occur or what natural lands will be preserved.
Plan Bay Area is perhaps misnamed since it is not a “plan” in the traditional sense of describing specific zoning changes at a neighborhood scale. Instead, the plan is more of a statement about growth that local governments can look to when making land use and development decisions. The plan has slightly more direct power to affect travel patterns because it prioritizes transportation investments such as transit projects and policy suggestions, including increased bridge tolls and a potential driving fee based on miles traveled.
What Are Highlights of the Draft Plan?
The Plan Bay Area draft includes performance targets, long-range demographic and economic forecasts, and investment strategies for everything from road maintenance to climate projection programs, such as a regional electric vehicle charger network.
What are the most significant elements of the plan? Let’s take a closer look at how the draft seeks to shape and reshape the region’s land use patterns and transportation network.
Land Use: Almost no greenfield development
A major highlight of the Plan Bay Area draft is that it accommodates virtually all new development within the existing urbanized footprint of the Bay Area. In other words, it projects a region that does not sprawl further. It assumes continued protection of agricultural lands and enforcement of existing urban growth boundaries.
Where will all of the new growth happen? The Plan Bay Area draft directs growth first and foremost to the jurisdictions that have expressed a willingness to accommodate new housing and employment centers. In recent years, some local governments have worked with MTC and ABAG to identify and establish priority development areas, or PDAs, in their jurisdictions that will accommodate infill housing development and employment centers. The plan projects that PDAs will accommodate 80 percent of housing growth and 66 percent of job growth.
The central cities also become a major recipient of growth under the plan. Nearly 40 percent of new jobs will be accommodated in San Francisco (190,740 new jobs), San Jose (146,680 new jobs) and Oakland (85,240 new jobs) between 2010 and 2040. Two-thirds of housing would locate in just 15 of the more than 100 cities in the region.
Transportation: Almost all funds for maintenance, not expansion
Plan Bay Area identifies $289 billion in available funds for transportation projects over the next three decades and prioritizes how they should be spent. More than half of the total funding (53 percent) comes from local sources, like sales taxes, that are often already dedicated to specific investments. An additional 32 percent come from state and federal sources. MTC directly controls the remaining 15 percent of the funding. However, the agency also has significant influence on how the federal and state funds are directed because it serves as a gatekeeper of sorts for directing funds to regional transportation projects.
How would the draft of Plan Bay Area spend this $289 billion? By adopting a “fix it first” policy, MTC is dedicating the vast majority of funding (86 percent) to the maintenance and improvement of the region’s existing transportation system. While the Bay Area already devotes more of its funding to maintenance than other regions in California, this is an increase from about 80 percent in prior plans.
Of the $289 billion in funding, $232 billion is already committed to existing projects. This leaves $57 billion in so-called discretionary funds that can go to one of many projects based on future policy decisions and criteria. For example, the draft plan also includes $14 billion in the new One Bay Area Grant program, which will provide flexible funding for transportation infrastructure largely to support growth in the PDAs. The grants are intended to assist jurisdictions to plan for new transit-oriented housing projects, and also to invest in improvements to infrastructure necessary to support infill development, such as new bicycle lanes and more pedestrian-friendly sidewalks.
Overall, 62 percent of the plan’s funding is devoted to transit, with most of that going to maintenance and a small share for expansion. The plan identifies $114 billion for transit operations and argues that this level of investment will fully fund transit operating needs. It also identifies $30 billion for transit capital projects out of a total need of $47 billion (leaving a shortfall of $17 billion). And it includes a new $500 million “Transit Performance Initiative” whose goal is to support improvements on major transit corridors that will likely see future growth.
Some of the big transit projects in the plan include $8.3 billion for BART to San Jose, $4.2 billion for extending Caltrain to the Transbay Transit Center and $1.6 billion for Muni’s Central Subway. The plan also includes nearly $6.7 billion for expanding MTC’s express lanes (i.e., freeway carpool lanes) in more parts of the region and $1.5 billion for Valley Transit Authority express lanes in Santa Clara County. Other road projects include nearly $2.3 billion in freeway performance funds (such as metering lights) and $2 billion for the Presidio Parkway.
Policy: The plan acknowledges that some policy changes will be necessary for it to suceed
Without changes to the region’s policy structure, the plan will not likely be achieved. For example, Plan Bay Area assumes a continuation of the same level of investment that took place under California’s redevelopment program. But with redevelopment agencies shuttered last year, there is no such funding mechanism in place today.
Plan Bay Area identifies some of the initial policy projections worth considering. Many of these are ideas SPUR has advocated:
- Reduce the fiscalization of land use (by exploring tools like tax-base sharing).
- Establish a replacement for redevelopment.
- Support lowering the threshold for local transportation sales tax measures from two-thirds to 55 percent.
- Implement some form of road pricing, both through charging for single occupant vehicles to drive in carpool lanes and establishing a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) fee, where drivers would pay an annual fee based on how many miles they drove that year.
What Are the Alternatives to the Plan, and How Do They Differ?
If you’ve been following Plan Bay Area, you may have heard about the alternatives to the plan — variations on the draft version that put forward policies designed to achieve somewhat different objectives and outcomes. As part of the environmental review process for Plan Bay Area, ABAG and MTC review the environmental impact of their draft against the three alternative plans as well as a business-as-usual approach.
The Plan Bay Area draft provides a summary of the differences between the alternative plans (pg. 114):
In addition to the “preferred scenario” described in the Plan Bay Area document and a control scenario of adopting no plan at all, there are three other scenarios tested:
- The Transit Priority Focus alternative, which focuses more growth in areas with higher densities and existing transit.
- The Enhanced Network of Communities alternative, which projects a more dispersed land use pattern and higher population, housing and employment totals.
- The Environment, Equity and Jobs alternative, which focuses more development and low-income housing growth in jobs-rich communities near transit that are often located farther away from the urban core.
Some of the key policy variables tested in the different alternatives are:
- Instituting a development fee in areas with high VMT rates and using proceeds to invest in growth in lower VMT areas
- Establishing higher tolls for peak traffic times on the Bay Bridge
- Changing funding for transit
- Deciding whether or not to build new carpool lanes
- Increasing the projection for total housing production (which would result in higher overall job growth
On most measures examined in the EIR, the differences between the draft plan and the various alternatives are fairly slight. All four plans are projected to reduce per capita carbon dioxide emissions from cars and trucks, house the region’s projected population growth and increase the gross regional product. These often-minor differences in performance make sense, as all four plans overlap a great deal in their proposed policies for land use and transportation investments. The great challenge in weighing the merits of the draft plan against the alternatives comes in making sense of the impact of multiple, sometimes overlapping, policies aimed at achieving the same general goals.
What Happens Next?
Now that the draft is out, the public has an opportunity to provide comments in response to both the Plan Bay Area draft and the EIR. Public hearings on the draft plan are underway, with one scheduled in each of the Bay Area’s nine counties. Public comments can also be submitted by email. The comment period ends May 16, and final adoption of the plan is schedule for this summer.
SPUR will respond in detail to the Plan Bay Area draft in a comment letter to MTC and ABAG. Keep an eye on the newsfeed at spur.org for our full analysis.
ArticleThursday, April 4, 2013In the early 1950s, downtown San Jose was the cultural, civic, shopping and economic hub for then-agricultural Santa Clara County. As the heart of this rich valley, downtown San Jose remained prominent from its dusty beginnings as the first civilian town in California in 1777 to its selection as California’s first state capital in 1850 to the place where IBM first developed the technology for computer disks in the early 1950s.But as technology firms began to grow around the epicenter of...
In the early 1950s, downtown San Jose was the cultural, civic, shopping and economic hub for then-agricultural Santa Clara County. As the heart of this rich valley, downtown San Jose remained prominent from its dusty beginnings as the first civilian town in California in 1777 to its selection as California’s first state capital in 1850 to the place where IBM first developed the technology for computer disks in the early 1950s.But as technology firms began to grow around the epicenter of Stanford University, the role of downtown, and the rest of San Jose, would soon be radically transformed. As the new businesses to the north coalesced into what would later be known as Silicon Valley, San Jose grew through aggressive annexation and development, doubling in population in 10 years, then more than doubling again in the next 10. During this period, there was little regard for preserving San Jose’s downtown, as large swaths of the area met the fate of the wrecking ball and employers, shops, residents and investment went elsewhere. Freeways, some of which had destroyed downtown neighborhoods, now made it easy to bypass the once-vital retail center for new modern shopping centers, malls and office parks.San Jose became the quintessential suburb, providing its single-family homes with 300 annual days of sunshine in an environment of relative cultural tolerance and economic prosperity. But by the early 1970s, the problems of unchecked growth and suburbia were already becoming visible, and a counter movement began to try to limit the outward spread of development. Some far-sighted city leaders tried to refocus growth into downtown, and it became official policy to establish downtown San Jose as a major center for Silicon Valley.By this point, however, downtown had lost its central position in the South Bay. To refocus city growth and investment in downtown, San Jose had to fight against the trend toward decentralization that afflicted nearly every major city in the United States. It faced competition from shopping malls, office parks and downtowns up the Peninsula and in suburban areas within its own city. It eventually had to contend with a height limit on buildings due to the airport flight path. It was trying to do something exceedingly difficult in the history of American cities: create a major downtown center, with high volumes of pedestrian activity, within a region that was overwhelmingly low-density and car-dependent.Starting in the the 1980s, the San Jose Redevelopment Agency — by then the largest Redevelopment Agency in the state — used virtually all of its power and money (nearly $2 billion in public investment alone) to try to make San Jose’s downtown match the scale and the amenities of one of the nation’s larger cities.Cities often focus on their downtowns because downtown is one of the few areas over which they believe they have control. As a result, downtowns have long been a place of experimentation. For 35 years, many of the big ideas in U.S. city planning were tried out in San Jose. The downtown San Jose of today bears little resemblance to the one in 1970, just as portions of downtown of 1970 bore little resemblance to the historic core that existed into the mid-1950s.As SPUR enters its second year of working in San Jose, we decided to take a look back at the forces that have shaped the city’s downtown to help inform a larger report we are developing later this year that will sketch out our agenda for downtown San Jose. This article summarizes what we have learned thus far.Our overarching argument is that downtown San Jose confronted a series of large forces of decentralization and disinvestment that undermined its historic importance within the city, county and region. Without the interventions of a strong redevelopment agency, which was established in 1956, San Jose would have a very different downtown, and potentially one with fewer amenities, jobs, visitors and residents than there are today.Mistakes were certainly made: Buildings were demolished. Businesses closed. Blocks were left unfinished with vacant lots. And some of the existing downtown culture was pushed aside.But the intention was always to reestablish downtown as a major center for the South Bay. While downtown San Jose cannot claim to be a traditional central business district (CBD) or job center, it is certainly emerging as a more likely candidate for the South Bay’s central social district (CSD), particularly with its array of arts and cultural venues and emerging residential areas in the downtown core.There are implications that come with that role, which we will explore in our subsequent reports. This article explores the ways San Jose became the downtown it is today through the following themes:
- The suburbs swallow downtown
- The highway undermines transit
- City hall leaves and comes back
- Retail leaves and doesn’t return
- Redevelopment leaves a mixed legacy
- A new downtown cultural district emerges
The suburbs swallow downtownThe starting point for understanding the history of downtown San Jose is examining its role during the first half of the 20th century. Downtown was the business, civic and social center of the agriculturally rich Santa Clara Valley. It was the crossroads — the place where Santa Clara Street passed through from east to west and bisected First Street to form a symbolic town center.A century ago, downtown was bustling. The city had the first electric streetcar system west of the Rockies. St. James Park, created in 1868, was full of lush foliage, including American elms, and elegant fencing surrounded the park. The Bank of Italy (now Bank of America) tower, which was built in 1925 and remains the defining feature of the skyline, rose above the fields of fruit tree blossoms in springtime. The building housed the bank’s first branch (outside of San Francisco), a decision made by bank founder A.P. Giannini, who was born in San Jose. The Bank of Italy continued to grow for decades based on its business relationships with agriculture in the Santa Clara Valley, the “Valley of Heart’s Delight.”Downtown San Jose was the center of economic and social life in the Santa Clara Valley through World War II, but all of this began to change with the emergence of Silicon Valley to the north. The City of San Jose soon became the bedroom community for Silicon Valley, rather than its business center. As farmland was converted to subdivisions and office parks, San Jose found itself enveloped by Silicon Valley, its downtown becoming just one node in a series of historic walkable town centers between San Jose and Palo Alto, 16 miles away. Ambitiously modeling the city on Los Angeles, San Jose’s progrowth machine was focused on annexation and outward suburban growth, not on downtown.The city’s population ballooned from 95,000 in 1950 to 450,000 in 1970, and what was once a 17-square-mile city mushroomed to 136 square miles. As the city grew, the notion of what comprised downtown San Jose expanded to the point where the “city center” was so large that growth within that space undermined the actual historic center. The 1965 master plan defined an area of “Central San Jose” that was 16.7 square miles, including Naglee Park, Willow Glen, the Rose Garden District and the area around the city and county buildings at First and Hedding streets.Through the 1960s, city leaders continued to pursue an outward growth agenda, but there was a growing awareness of the negative impacts of horizontal growth. Pro-growth City Manager Dutch Hamann retired in 1969, and in 1970 the city council adopted an urban development policy that promoted infill rather than outward growth. The City of San Jose established an urban growth boundary in the 1970s and then began a long process of focusing city growth in areas with existing infrastructure, including downtown. The conditions were then set in place for significant development and revitalization of the downtown.But making that revitalization a reality has been more difficult. In addition to the competition between city and suburb that every city in the United States faces, San Jose has suburbs within its own borders that compete for attention and investment. Due to an overall desire to grow the job base, the city has continued to plan and support growth throughout the city, an approach that undermines the centrality of downtown San Jose. Even the current “Envision San Jose 2040” general plan, a far-reaching and strong statement for achieving density, reductions in driving and a more urban form, only assumes that 10 percent of future job and 8 percent of population growth will occur within the downtown. Most job and housing growth is projected to take place in outlying areas, including nearly 70 “urban villages.” The suburbs that swallowed downtown remain its competition.
The highway undermines transitSan Jose debuted its electric streetcar system in 1888, replacing the horse-drawn carts that had been the dominant mode since 1868. When this system was complete (the first such system west of the Rockies), electric trolleys ran up and down First Street, San Carlos (then Stevens Boulevard) and Santa Clara Street. Riders from downtown could reach Palo Alto to the north and Los Gatos to the south.In 1934, the city moved its rail tracks from Fourth Street to the west end of downtown, where it built Cahill Station. The goal was to get the tracks — and the passenger and freight trains — out of downtown, where they ran directly along city streets. But the result was to put the city’s train station beyond the western edge of the downtown core. When Highway 87 was later built between Cahill (later renamed Diridon) Station and the downtown core, this left the city’s train station a half mile to a mile away from most downtown destinations.In 1938, the city ceased operating the streetcars. Instead, 14 “modern buses would purr up to the curb to take on passengers” as the papers of the day noted. Reflecting the sentiment at that time, newspapers argued that the streetcars were the victim of the automobiles “that finally choked them out of existence.” Accommodating the car was seen as simply inevitable and meant that modern cities would cast aside old traditions to make space for the car. For a city about which the San Jose Mercury News had written in a 1938 headline, “Transit History Made Here,” the shift to automobile travel was a major transformation.In the 1960s, San Jose converted two-way neighborhood streets in and around downtown into pairs of high-capacity one-way streets to deal with the heavy traffic as people drove from south San Jose to North San Jose through downtown and adjacent neighborhoods. These conversions were intended to protect the downtown from being overrun with traffic, but in practice this allowed car travelers to pass through — and around — the downtown more quickly, thus degrading the quality of the street for non-drivers.But it was really the freeway and expressway projects that transformed the South Bay and changed downtown mobility. The Santa Clara County Expressway System was first financed by a $70 million bond election in 1961. Interstate 280 (originally approved in 1955) began construction during the 1960s and was completed in the 1970s. Where it passed downtown to the south, it had a series of extensive off-ramps whose construction led to the destruction of hundreds of homes and businesses in the downtown area. This cleared area eventually became the right of way for Highway 87, connecting south San Jose with the north.Throughout this time, the county was attempting to grow a transit system. In 1973, Santa Clara County Transit District consolidated its various bus systems (including San Jose City Lines and Palo Alto/Peninsula Transit) under one umbrella and began planning for major investment in light rail. A “Rapid Transit Development Project, Phase I (RTDP)” study began in 1971 and was approved by the voters in 1976 as part of the first Measure A half-cent cent sales tax for transit in the state. Every four years between 1976 and 1992, voters continued to approve updates to this master plan, demonstrating their interest in a multi-modal transportation system that combined different types of rail with bus, bicycle and pedestrian planning.But the emphasis on freeways undermined this emerging transit vision. By approving sales tax Measure A in 1984, Santa Clara County became the first “self-help” county in the state. The initial impetus for the sales tax measure was to upgrade Route 237 (the east-west route at the northern edge of San Jose) from a four-lane highway with traffic signals to a grade-separated freeway. When the full sales tax funding measure was put together, it also included upgrades to other state highways, including adding lanes to Highway 101 and extending Highway 85 from Cupertino south east to Highway 101, a road that had been drawn on Caltrans’ highway fantasy maps since the 1960s.While the combination of projects secured support from voters in the entire county, the highway investments made it even easier to bypass downtown and thus undermined attempts to remake downtown as a central district, as well as a parallel set of goals for successful light rail ridership.When light rail opened in 1987, it connected Santa Clara and San Jose, much as the streetcar system had 100 years before (it connected to downtown in June of 1988). Further, the Transit Mall on First and Second streets turned out to be highly successful from an urban design perspective (a position that is not shared by all). But from a transit perspective, the trains moved too slowly, limiting potential ridership. Since San Jose’s job center is North San Jose, not downtown, would-be commuters from south San Jose have to crawl through downtown en route to jobs in the north. As a result of both the slow speed and the limited number of downtown jobs, the rail system only serves a tiny fraction of work trips and remains among the least productive rail systems nationwide. The initial projections of 40,000 daily riders by 1990 were cut in half prior to the opening of the first line, mostly due to the investment in freeways. Actual ridership reached 20,000 in 1993 and in recent years has ranged from 32,000 to 34,000 daily. At about 750 passengers per mile, the 42-mile light rail system in Santa Clara County carries far fewer people than comparable rail systems. Denver’s 35-mile system carries nearly 1,900 per mile. San Diego’s 53-mile system carries over 1,700. Sacramento’s 37-mile system carries over 1,300 per mile.Additional local decisions further harmed potential light rail ridership. For example, the redevelopment agency helped fund the extension of Highway 87 north of downtown as part of a goal to get more cars out of downtown. But like the one-way streets, the expanded highway made it easier to drive around, not through, downtown.Local voters have continued to be generous in their support for transportation, with transit (light rail expansion and eventually BART) as the primary beneficiaries. The political leadership has also shown significant support for expanding transit, particularly with the investments to build a light rail system with downtown San Jose at its center. Yet the numerous freeways paid for and built by the county prior to completing the transit system have made automobile travel the intractably preeminent mode of transportation.Downtowns in U.S. cities work because they can aggregate large numbers of people in one place and they can provide a high-amenity pedestrian environment for people once they are there. Almost by definition, then, that means that downtowns need to be able to get lots of people in without a car. If everyone drives, then the cars take up so much space on the streets that the pedestrian environment is no longer pleasant, and parking those cars takes up so much space in the buildings that the potential density of people goes down. This points to the challenge that downtown San Jose has to overcome in trying to create a central place for people within a region that is very reliant on cars.
City hall leaves and comes backIn 1958, San Jose moved its city hall out of downtown to a newly built office park and civic center on North First Street, nearly 2 miles to the north. The form of the new city hall area was emblematic of the era: The new public buildings were on a superblock surrounded by low-rise buildings and new landscaping (a midrise modern building was added in 1976). The city then demolished the former city hall, a historic structure that had stood in the center of Cesar Chavez Park since 1887. It would be nearly half a century before city hall returned downtown, in 2005.The county offices followed city hall out of downtown, as did the daily paper, the Mercury News. This exodus removed hundreds of public sector and newspaper workers from downtown. Such jobs are typically a core part of the critical mass of employees in a downtown and provide a solid base of shoppers at downtown stores. Some speculated that the city’s decision to move to an area where it could co-locate with county staff reflected the ambitions of the growth machine — and the desire of some for San Jose to merge with the county.The challenge of keeping jobs downtown was not unique to San Jose. After the 1950s, nearly all downtowns throughout the United States struggled to maintain their share of jobs. What makes San Jose distinct is that its own city hall left. That, in combination with the fact that San Jose never maintained a significant share of jobs in either the public sector or in business services, traditionally the hallmarks of downtown employment, meant that downtown San Jose could not establish itself as a traditional central business district (CBD).In contrast to the popular narrative that technology firms have always preferred corporate campus settings, some of the earliest technology employers were, in fact, once in downtown San Jose. IBM established its first San Jose manufacturing facility at 16th and St. John (east downtown) in 1943 and its first West Coast research and development facility at 99 Notre Dame (just north of the recent residential development The Axis) in 1952. It was here that IBM developed the initial technology for computer disks. But in 1957 IBM moved out to a 190-acre site on Cottle Road in south San Jose.Recent decades have seen major attempts to make downtown an attractive site for corporate headquarters. In the early 1980s, the redevelopment agency (RDA) negotiated with Steve Jobs to bring Apple to downtown. The RDA was willing to give land and build parking for Apple, but Jobs allegedly wanted the RDA to build the whole office building, a subsidy that was too much of an investment for the RDA.Office development began to grow again in the mid-1980s, with space for traditional business services jobs such as accounting, legal and consulting. Many of these businesses went to new class-A buildings along Santa Clara Street or Almaden Boulevard, a wide street that is part urban downtown, part corporate office park. San Jose’s downtown captured several million square feet of new class-A office space, but this remained a tiny fraction of the hundreds of millions of square feet built in office parks and corporate campuses throughout Silicon Valley.An ongoing challenge throughout these years was direct competition from the corporate campuses which were surrounded by seas of free parking and which many employers preferred. Downtown sought to compete on suburban terms by building significant parking, but it was not successful.A second overarching challenge for downtown has been its limited leasable area within the allowable building envelope. The airport flight path limits a building’s height, the high water table limits underground parking, and the high parking expectation (three per thousand square feet) requires significant space for car storage. A typical office building might have three levels of parking below ground, a lobby and retail on the ground floor, five floors of parking above and then eleven floors of office. This sample 17-story building has eight total floors of parking.This is not to say that San Jose has not been highly attractive to technology companies, including Cisco, Brocade and eBay. However, these companies have been locating in North San Jose rather than downtown. Adobe, which arrived in downtown in 1996, is a notable exception — one that required $35 million in subsidies from the redevelopment agency. Despite criticism of such subsidies — and the insular design of the headquarters — Adobe did repay the RDA $11.3 million (per their agreement).In recent years, thanks to inexpensive space and historic buildings, downtown has begun to attract startups like Pinger and co-working facilities like NextSpace, which cater to entrepreneurs and small firms. Downtown now boasts more than 80 technology companies. Since the return of city hall in 2005, the story of downtown as a job center is far from over.
Retail leaves and doesn’t come backLike many historic downtowns in the United States, downtown San Jose was the city’s primary shopping district through World War II. Saturdays were the busiest, when farmers and visitors from outside the area came to do their shopping. First Street was the principal commercial street, starting with J.C. Penney at Santa Clara and heading south to include Blum’s, Woolworth’s, Hale Brothers, Goldeen’s and Sears, Roebuck and Co. south of San Carlos. Another major retail destination was Hart’s, a large, locally owned department store at Santa Clara and Market, which was founded in 1866.Downtown retail began to decline in the 1950s. Most significantly, the city council reversed its policy of opposing large-scale retail development outside of downtown, which allowed for the development of Valley Fair a few miles west of downtown in 1956.1 The anchor tenant for Valley Fair was Macy’s, which had first opened in the Bay Area in 1947 and almost opened in downtown San Jose shortly thereafter.2 In the 1950s and 1960s, shopping centers began opening everywhere but downtown. Places like Town and Country, Eastridge and Vallco Fashion Park were established as major regional centers, while every new neighborhood had cheap orchard land that was converted into a small shopping center with a supermarket and a dozen or more stores.Over the course of about 15 years starting in 1956, retailers led an exodus from which downtown has never recovered. All of the major department stores closed (Hart’s in 1968 after 102 years in business, J.C. Penney in 1972) or moved to one of the new malls. The retailers that remained were primarily furniture and jewelry stores. Many of those who continued to shop in downtown had far less discretionary income than those who frequented the surrounding suburban areas.For years, the city actively tried to bring major retail players back. Yet the owners of the very same shopping malls that had helped undermine downtown shopping were the ones who fought the perceived new competition when the redevelopment agency sought to bring downtown retail back.Two examples illustrate the different challenges of bringing back retail. First is the construction of the Pavilion shopping and entertainment center in 1989, the most notable attempt to inject life into downtown shopping. The RDA put up $10 million of the $30 million cost to construct the building. Although the Pavilion aimed to be a high-end shopping center (the lease with the developers called for a mix of tenants that “shall equal or exceed” the quality of stores at Stanford Shopping Center and other upscale malls), it attracted few shoppers, had the wrong mix of tenants and lacked the planned-for anchors at its north and south ends. The developer subsequently abandoned the project. In addition to the mall’s design flaws, downtown simply had too few workers, tourists or high-income shoppers to make the Pavilion a success. By the late 1990s, the interior of the 27,500-squarefoot center had found new life as a server farm, with city officials eager to capitalize on the fiber-optic line running directly under the building.Second, in the late 1990s, the city and the RDA began working with Palladium Company, a New York developer, to master plan four key downtown sites (including around St. James Park) with 2.7 million square feet of office, retail and housing. This billion-dollar deal fell through in early 2002 when the developer pulled out. While the failure was blamed on the still-sluggish economy, the developer’s decision was also affected by the development of Santana Row, a high-end shopping center that recreates an urban shopping experience with sidewalk cafés and a “park once” strategy. Located across the street from the Valley Fair Mall (4 miles east of downtown), Santana Row was successful in attracting the high-end national and international retailers that city officials had long targeted for downtown. While Santana Row directly hurt downtown retail efforts, its success also proves that there is a strong desire for a retail experience that replicates a mixed-use street environment in Santa Clara County.Today, downtown retail is showing signs of rebirth. Merchants like Philz Coffee on Paseo de San Antonio demonstrate how one popular business can reshape an entire block. Trendy Japanese retailer Muji plans to open its first U.S. store outside of New York City and San Francisco in the Fairmont Hotel. San Pedro Square Market is a wonderful — and thriving — food-oriented redevelopment of a historic building. But while it is unlikely that downtown San Jose will become a major retail destination, it is possible that as residents and jobs grow incrementally, the retail (including restaurants) to support those people will follow.
Redevelopment tries everything but leaves a mixed legacyIn 1981, San Jose’s redevelopment agency became the first in the state to successfully receive an exemption in state law to merge all the tax revenues from its three redevelopment areas: downtown, North San Jose (Rincon de los Esteros) and Edenvale (an industrial area to the south). This move provided the financial backing for the nearly $2 billion total investment in downtown revitalization efforts from the 1980s until the redevelopment agency’s closure in 2012.The strategy seemed brilliant. Under redevelopment law, the RDA was allowed to take the “increment” in property tax growth and use that revenue stream as a backing to sell bonds to build infrastructure or make other key investments to support revitalization. Since North San Jose and Edenvale were primarily industrial business parks, the infrastructure needs were minimal. And because they were largely undeveloped before becoming redevelopment areas, the property tax take of the RDA was very high. This allowed the RDA to take the property tax revenues from these other areas and invest them in downtown.The irony here is that investment downtown was enabled by opening up growth in places away from downtown, which inadvertently harmed downtown’s ability to capture a big share of the city’s overall jobs and other activities like retail or housing.Thus far we have described San Jose’s efforts to lure jobs and retail to downtown. Housing has been a different challenge, and one that was not pursued as early on. Unlike other U.S. cities, San Jose’s downtown had no adjacent high-density neighborhoods with thousands of nearby residents to come spend money downtown. Until 1957, only 10 percent of annual construction in the city was multifamily housing. Then, in the 1950s and 1960s, the construction of freeways and urban renewal destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses throughout downtown. By 1990, there were few residents in the immediate downtown and a limited number in surrounding neighborhoods.There was an opportunity — and a need — to build residences in and around downtown as a way to support RDA goals of revitalizing retail. But there was limited market support for downtown residential development. In 1980, the new head of the redevelopment agency, Frank Taylor, sent out a brochure to try to interest developers in building housing around St. James Park. In his previous job in Cincinnati, such an offer would have garnered response from 10 to 15 developers competing for the opportunity to build; in San Jose there was not a single response to the request.Given that initial failure, there were concerns about the strength of the downtown residential market. The first major downtown residential project in the 1980s was the construction of town homes along Third and Fourth streets next to San Jose State. This was an historic area that had been torn down in the 1960s to make way for new development. Although the RDA claimed it initially wanted to do high-rise housing, the market would only support town homes, given that this was the first major market-rate housing in many years. The area was thus built out at moderate densities, taking up a major portion of the available land area in downtown.In the 2000s, developers turned their attention to making downtown San Jose a place for highrise residential development. The timing was bad, however, with the first major projects (Axis, The 88, 360 Residences) opening just before the market collapse in 2009–2010. While not yet providing enough of a critical mass of residents to transform downtown into an urban neighborhood, they do create a sense of possibility for future high-quality urban apartment living.
A new downtown cultural district emergesOf all the efforts at revitalization, San Jose’s focus on downtown as a destination for visitors is among its great successes. This involved two key ingredients: establishing a critical mass of international brandname and historic hotels to support conventions and building or rehabilitating anchor cultural venues such as museums.In the early 1980s, when the Holiday Inn was the only brand-name hotel downtown, the RDA made an effort to attract the Fairmont Hotel to the center of downtown adjacent to Cesar Chavez Park. In 1989, the not fully complete Fairmont hosted the state American Planning Association conference, and from the unfinished penthouse of the hotel, local and visiting planners felt as if they were on the cusp of the long-awaited revitalization.To a certain extent they were: The office tower at 50 West San Fernando was then under construction, and within a few years, the RDA would invest in the historic St. Claire and help save the Hotel De Anza (a former convent built in the 1920s) on Santa Clara Street. They supported the Marriott and the Hyatt adjacent to the convention center. When the Fairmont wanted to expand, the RDA even moved the historic Montgomery Hotel 187 feet south (at a cost of $8.6 million) to make way for the new tower. The price tag for achieving the concentration of hotels was high: The Fairmont alone received $38 million in subsidies in its first 10 years.But while San Jose was able to attract a concentration of hotels in the core of downtown, the city upheld a moratorium on new hotels outside of downtown throughout the 1980s. This attempt to control supply during the fast-growing 1980s meant that hotels opened in adjacent cities throughout the county rather than San Jose.The concentration of hotels was necessary to support the convention center, which the RDA believed should be downtown and the RDA used its powers to acquire land and help finance the upgrading of the aging facility. In 1989, the agency completed the McEnery Convention Center.In addition to hotels, downtown successfully attracted key cultural destinations. The Children’s Discovery Museum, which opened in 1990, was Mexican architect Ricardo Legoretta’s first project in the United States. The San Jose Museum of Art added a new wing in 1991, and the Tech Museum of Innovation opened in 1998. The California Theatre reopened after a major rehab in 2004 (it had been purchased by the RDA in 1985). These, in combination with the Repertory Theatre and the 1934 Civic Auditorium, give downtown a strong presence in music, theater and art. In the 1980s, the City began providing grants through its hotel tax to help build the capacity of local cultural organizations.In sports, the HP Pavilion (the Arena) brings thousands to downtown who would not necessarily visit one of the other institutions. The Arena is significant on several levels: Spatially, it is west of Highway 87 and so is the first modern expression of downtown’s extension toward the Diridon Station area. It also fills the existing downtown streets and restaurants on game nights, being designed intentionally to rely on parking east of 87 to encourage patronage of downtown restaurants and bars. For those not accustomed to downtown on a daily basis, coming on a game night makes downtown look and feel like a lively and exciting destination. The many visitors also help fill the excess parking in the many downtown garages.In the past, nightlife had been a competitive strength for downtown, though some of its successes did not appeal to everyone. Downtown San Jose was a major center for live music in the 1970s and 1980s and for nightclubs in the 1990s. In recent years, there has been greater emphasis on encouraging smaller live music venues and diversifying the after-hours options provided for residents and visitors. Except on sports nights, there is much less downtown nightlife than there once was. Some of these larger-scale nightclubs were pushed out by market conditions; others were pushed out when the RDA tore out buildings expecting higher and better uses, and some nightclubs were closed down by the police.In recent years there has been renewed growth in downtown nightlife and live music. There is opportunity to build on this, particularly due to the presence of San Jose State University and the role of students in helping anchor live music districts like Sixth Street in Austin, Texas. But while SJSU is downtown’s single largest anchor and activity center, it has never become enough of a source of identity for the downtown. This is due in part to it being largely a commuter school without a student neighborhood. Were some of the campus parking garages replaced with student housing, the campus would be livelier and downtown would benefit from the spillover.Today, there are signs of a more organic resurgence of urban life in downtown. 1stACT Silicon Valley and the San Jose Downtown Association have long promoted the SoFA (South of First Area) district as a center for arts. San Jose Jazz and local music promoters are reprogramming multiple downtown venues for live music. The most recent pieces of civic infrastructure are the 2003 Martin Luther King Library and Richard Meier’s city hall, which opened in 2005. While city hall was a long overdue statement from the city, the library project is arguably more significant in the attempt to reshape downtown as a social district. By being a literal connection between the downtown and the university (one can enter from the street or from the center of SJSU), the library is also an important resource for the growing yet small downtown residential community.Cultural attractions, from museums to clubs, have been a real success. They draw both residents and tourists, and they draw people to downtown for reasons other than work. This is an area of strength for the city to build on.Downtown San Jose continues to struggle with a classic dilemma: There are not enough dining and retail amenities to support a high demand for residential development, and there are not enough residents to support restaurants and shops. There is no easy solution to this catch-22, but over time cities like Los Angeles and San Diego have been able to move past it by adding people and amenities wherever possible, until a critical mass is achieved in their downtowns.The biggest physical legacy of the RDA may be its investments in streets, plazas, and open spaces. The RDA built Cesar Chavez Park with its tree-lined pathways, established the pedestrian-oriented Paseo de San Antonio and partially restored the diagonal paths in St. James Park. And when the Army Corps of Engineers wanted to turn the Guadalupe River into a wholly concrete flood channel, the RDA got them to abandon the plan and instead developed the Guadalupe River Park.Today, San Jose residents are divided about the RDA’s legacy. The agency is criticized for pushing out existing businesses in order to deliver a blank slate to new investors. It is also criticized for oversubsidizing private development, which some say drove up land prices to the point that development was not financially viable without RDA subsidies. Still others argue that the RDA’s approach was too formulaic — pursuing the same stale ideas of convention center plus international brand hotel, downtown shopping pavilion, sports arena and movie theater complex that are popular in other cities — and was not creative or inventive enough in imagining a unique role for San Jose’s downtown. Finally, others point out that just as downtown was struggling during the dot-com bust in 2002, the RDA began shifting investments out of downtown as part of the “Strong Neighborhoods Initiative.” While the approach may have spread redevelopment funds to more of San Jose, it did not generate much new tax increment for the agency and further sucked energy and attention away from the downtown. Despite these criticisms, which could apply to much of the culture of redevelopment in the United States, it is undeniable that the San Jose Redevelopment Agency used its unprecedented power and money to try to build downtown San Jose into an important place, and future efforts will build on the legacy of those prior investments.
Looking aheadOver three decades, planners and decision makers in San Jose worked against the broader tide of suburbanization and decentralization, trying every downtown-revitalization strategy in the planning profession’s toolbox.Planners sometimes speak about the contrast between central business districts and central social districts.3 Traditional central business districts are primarily places of work while central social districts bring people together for living, recreating, shopping and cultural attractions. The reality is that downtowns are rarely only one or the other. Most downtowns have combinations of uses and serve a variety of purposes. Downtown San Jose has the potential to attract more jobs, more retail, more students, more visitors and more housing. Planners may not be able to control the ultimate mix. It will not likely become a traditional central business district, but downtown San Jose can be a place with many more jobs and should be an important urban node — potentially the central social district and primary urban center — of the South Bay.As SPUR looks ahead to its work in downtown San Jose, we offer the following lessons from recent history:Respect what you have and build on it. Too much of downtown’s indigenous culture did not receive the support or respect it should have and was therefore lost.Focus investment in a narrower area so there is a sense of completion. Too much of downtown still suffers from a lack of connectivity, as attractions and subareas feel diffuse and limited in scale.Limit growth elsewhere. Downtown’s potential will always be constrained if other areas of the city remain the focus for most new development — particularly jobs.Downtown today has the basic infrastructure of an urban center, but it lacks sufficient population in the form of jobs, residents or visitors. Bringing the downtown to life remains the major impetus behind the next phase of revitalization.SPUR is excited to join with so many others who are taking on the daunting but essential challenge of creating a central urban place within a region eager to embrace its urban future.-- “Catalyst for Change – A History of Civic Plazas in San Jose,” Dolores Mellon, 2006, Redevelopment Agency of the City of San Jose Macy’s attempted to buy locally-owned Hart’s Department Store. But at the time, the family owners of Hart’s determined that their store was too profitable and the land too valuable to sell. Hart’s lasted 102 years and closed for good in 1968. See: www.spur.org/publications/library/article/framingthefutureofdowntownsf03012007
BlogMonday, March 25, 2013After a number of delays, the wheels are finally turning on a bike-sharing program for the Bay Area. Earlier this month, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) signed a contract with Alta Bike Share, which runs successful programs in Washington, D.C., and Boston. A Bay Area pilot program will launch this summer for two years of testing with 700 bikes at 70 locations from San Jose to San Francisco.Bike sharing allows anyone to rent a bicycle from a self-serve kiosk and drop it off...
After a number of delays, the wheels are finally turning on a bike-sharing program for the Bay Area. Earlier this month, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) signed a contract with Alta Bike Share, which runs successful programs in Washington, D.C., and Boston. A Bay Area pilot program will launch this summer for two years of testing with 700 bikes at 70 locations from San Jose to San Francisco.
Bike sharing allows anyone to rent a bicycle from a self-serve kiosk and drop it off at another location, providing guaranteed bike access without worries about damage, theft or maintenance. Programs have been geared toward tourists in cities like Paris, but they also have great potential to help locals solve the “last mile” problem — the difficulty of getting commuters from a transit hub to their final destination.
The Bay Area’s pilot will be the first regional program in the country — a detail that created complications and delayed the program, originally expected to begin in 2012. Structured around Caltrain, it will put an estimated 50 locations in downtown San Francisco and about two dozen more near Caltrain stations in Redwood City, Palo Alto, Mountain View and San Jose. BAAQMD is seeking sponsorships to expand the system. Meanwhile, SF Supervisor Scott Wiener is lobbying to extend the dowtown San Francisco part of the pilot across the city. A successful bikesharing program requires a strong business model and considers: close proximity to increased population and job densities; an optimal distribution of bikes (ideally around 50 percent bikes to 50 percent open docks); locations no more than one-half mile apart; and affordable and strategic pricing that promotes ridership.
Locating the bike sharing stations around Caltrain has the potential to change the state of commuting in the Bay Area. As we noted in our report The Urban Future of Work, 80 percent of office buildings in the Bay Area are within three miles of regional transit, but only 11 percent of commuters take transit to work. The option to add a short bike ride to the end of a trip could turn rail commuting into a viable option for a much greater number of people. Though it’s focused on Caltrain stations, the program’s concentration of downtown SF locations could also make it useful to BART riders, who are not yet allowed to bring bicycles on trains during rush hour. We look forward to testing the possibilities this summer.
SPUR ReportMonday, March 18, 2013More than two-thirds of the Bay Area’s water is imported from outside the region. Today these supplies are regularly threatened by drought, earthquakes, water quality impairments and new regulations on availability and usage — risks that will intensify with future climate change. Meanwhile, our region of 7 million people will add 2 million more by 2040 — growth that will require more water.Do we have the water we need to support our projected population growth? And what are...
More than two-thirds of the Bay Area’s water is imported from outside the region. Today these supplies are regularly threatened by drought, earthquakes, water quality impairments and new regulations on availability and usage — risks that will intensify with future climate change. Meanwhile, our region of 7 million people will add 2 million more by 2040 — growth that will require more water.
Do we have the water we need to support our projected population growth? And what are the most sustainable and reliable ways to supply our future water needs?
To answer these questions, Future-Proof Water analyzes the Bay Area’s current water supplies and future growth projections, then recommends the best tools for meeting our water needs — both in the near term and through the end of the century.
BlogMonday, March 11, 2013How do we create the kinds of compact, walkable environments that can have a real impact on car use and carbon emissions? SPUR San Jose’s Urban Design Task Force is working to foster well-designed new development that will support the city’s 2040 General Plan goals of a more walkable, livable and transit-friendly built environment. To understand the current state of development practice, we spent a recent Saturday visiting projects up and down the peninsula, focusing on large, multi...
How do we create the kinds of compact, walkable environments that can have a real impact on car use and carbon emissions? SPUR San Jose’s Urban Design Task Force is working to foster well-designed new development that will support the city’s 2040 General Plan goals of a more walkable, livable and transit-friendly built environment. To understand the current state of development practice, we spent a recent Saturday visiting projects up and down the peninsula, focusing on large, multi-building developments that aim to introduce a more urban land use pattern. Each project we saw has its strengths and weaknesses, and each holds lessons for San Jose — and all growing cities — about the challenges of retrofitting suburbia into more sustainable communities.
Stop 1: Mission Bay, San Francisco
Developer: Catellus, Alexandria
6,000 residential units, 1,800+ affordable
43-acre, 2.3 million sf UCSF campus
280,000 sf retail
4.4 million sf office/biotech
49 acres of public parks and open space
The use of redevelopment tools (which California eliminated last year) and the location of UCSF's biomedical research campus were key elements driving development at Mission Bay, a new San Francisco neighborhood on the former Southern Pacific railyards. The campus has successfully attracted a cluster of private biotech firms, a boon to the city’s economy and to the economics of Mission Bay land.
The development plan for the site stipulated not only uses and densities, but also the location, design, and phasing of public realm improvements like parks, plazas and promenades. These standards mean that developers’ obligations are clear to everyone and the design framework is non-negotiable. Parks and open space must be built out before private buildings, and parking must be placed away from street fronts. One of the great successes of Mission Bay is the integration of new construction with the public realm, which is not San Francisco's strong suit in general. The promenade along Mission Creek Channel is an under-appreciated gem, offering a model of truly integrated public space and private development.
Stop 2: Bay Meadows, San Mateo
Developer: Stockbridge Capital
87-acre former stable area and practice track
735 residential units
272,000 sf office and retail, including a Whole Foods Grocery
Kaiser Medical Center
Phase 2 (under construction)
Developer: Wilson Meany
1,250,000 sf office
1,250 residential units
150,000 sf retail
15 acres of public parks
Bay Meadows, the site of a former racetrack adjacent to the Hillsdale Caltrain station in San Mateo, has recently begun construction on the second phase of its conversion to a mixed-use, transit-oriented neighborhood. Our visit to the first phase, completed by Stockbridge in 2011, revealed some of the key ingredients of good urban design. Office, retail, health care and housing are in close proximity, organized around a clear framework of streets, pedestrian pathways, parks and plazas. This phase is some distance from Caltrain, making it more internally oriented than transit oriented, but it represents a significant improvement over typical suburban development projects.
At phase 2, Wilson Meany has recently initiated construction on two parcels of an ambitious and considerably more urban project, which clusters office space, housing, retail, and public parks around the Caltrain Station. Office uses are nearest the station, flanked by a retail street that connects to several types of housing, at densities that increase as they get closer the station. An independent school holds one major site and the developer has opted to pay for the largest park up front, rather than await the city process.
Although no redevelopment powers were used at Bay Meadows, the project benefited from the large single parcel of land and from a tightly worded specific plan and development agreement with the city of San Mateo, including schematic-level architectural designs. This creates an unusual degree of clarity and certainty, drawing recession-weary builders to participate. As the master developer, Wilson Meany is the steward of this more urban vision, and the firm is the first line of review for any changes.
Stop 3: Sunnyvale Town Center, Sunnyvale
In Downtown Sunnyvale, land around the Caltrain station is in the process of redevelopment from a midcentury auto-oriented retail center into a dense mix of office, housing, and urban retail. The Sunnyvale Town Center project has been stalled for about two years in litigation resulting from the bankruptcy of the original developers after the 2008 economic collapse. With elements of the project half built, it awaits resolution by the courts before a new developer can step in and complete it.
In spite of its challenges, the City of Sunnyvale has stuck to its vision and implemented those portions that could move forward. A public plaza with an underground garage connects Caltrain to office buildings that meet the street. Both Apple and Nokia have occupied buildings recently, proving that tech has a life beyond the sealed suburban campus. Significant multifamily housing projects are under construction. A Target store that predates the lawsuit sits above ground-floor parking that is lined with small retail bays, awaiting future tenants and suggesting a compelling approach to the challenges of urban big-box retail. And Murphy Avenue — a historic block of small-scale retail — thrives, hosting a farmer’s market among the half-built hulks of a future held hostage by legal wrangling.
Stop 4: Brocade /@First, San Jose
73,000 sf shopping center
880,000 sf tech office (Brocade HQ)
The @First project combines the headquarters of Brocade Networks with a hotel, Target store and additional retail. The 36-acre site lies on North First Street in a relatively suburban context. Market forces in North San Jose have picked up sufficiently to support high quality multistory commercial buildings, structured parking, and hotel towers, on the same site as significant retail – many of the ingredients of good urban places.
Horizontal mixed-use projects (in which complementary land uses are placed in different buildings) like Brocade are a key opportunity to provide walkable amenities in less dense settings where vertical mixture (where uses are mixed within a single building) remains challenging. But doing so requires a strong site-planning framework that integrates the different elements into one cohesive and accessible place. At Brocade, the constraints of securing the deal’s components — the sight lines and surface parking required by retailers, the security needs of a tech headquarters — predominate. While pedestrian walkways exist, the site plan is organized around auto access. Buildings line the streets, but they open to an interior parking lot, not to the sidewalk. Having proven that North San Jose’s market can support the ingredients of good urban places, the next step is to ensure that strong site planning can organize them into walkable and transit-supportive environments.
Stop 5: Crescent Village, San Jose
1,750 rental apartments
10,000 sf retail
5-acre public park
Crescent Village is a multi-building rental project that will eventually include 1,750 units in wood buildings above parking podiums. Its developer, the Irvine Company, owns and manages it housing, which gives them a greater incentive to invest in placemaking and amenities. The buildings frame a five-acre park; concentrated around it are ground-floor retail and “placeholder” uses (like game rooms and a leasing office) that could eventually become leasable. Parking is in ground-level podiums, which are carefully placed to limit their impact.
The project’s architecture has the uniformity one might expect of this kind of instant neighborhood, but the construction quality is high and building details support the pedestrian experience. The biggest urban design challenge here is the inward orientation. Although the park is public, it feels like it belongs to the project, and the buildings connect more successfully to the village’s interior streets than to the surrounding streets of the neighborhood. In future projects, a portion of the open space fees might be well spent on better pedestrian connections to transit and other nearby amenities.
Stop 6: Cahill Park, San Jose
Developer: Avalon, Brooks St
Our final stop was Cahill Park, a residential neighborhood just behind San Jose’s Diridon Station combining streetfront retail, adaptive reuse of a former cannery, and housing of several types around a park that connects to the train station.
Of interest here is the way the development projects respond to the adjacent neighborhood while increasing overall densities. An excellent retail frontage meets the Alameda — a historic commercial street — separated by a narrow band of parking from four stories of housing above a parking podium. One edge of this project includes bungalows that back onto the podium, providing a familiar face to the neighborhood, while the other edge faces six stories of housing in a repurposed cannery. These buildings, plus two townhouse projects, are organized around a small park. Although the park is oddly shaped and a bit featureless, it is redeemed by being tightly enclosed by the surrounding buildings, creating an “urban room” that connects directly to the adjacent Caltrain station. One might wish for higher densities at this location (especially given that it will eventually be a high-speed rail stop), but overall, Cahill Park is a supremely livable setting with a lot to teach us.
Many thanks to our generous hosts:
Kelley Kahn, former project director, Office of Mayor Edwin Lee, City of San Francisco
Janice Thacher, partner, Wilson Meany
Hanson Hom, community development director, City of Sunnyvale
Joe Horwedel, director of Planning, Building,and Code Enforcement, City of San Jose
Kim Walesh, chief strategist, City of San Jose
BlogTuesday, March 5, 2013An enthusiastic group of 45 urbanists on bikes kicked off a crisp Sunday morning to tour a few of San Jose’s historic neighborhoods with SPUR. Using the new bike lanes on 10th and 11th streets, along with a number of established bike routes and separated bike paths, we wove our way through three amazing gems — Naglee Park, Palm Haven and Willow Glen. Setting off from the San Jose State University campus downtown, we made our way to our first stop. Naglee ParkThe first...
An enthusiastic group of 45 urbanists on bikes kicked off a crisp Sunday morning to tour a few of San Jose’s historic neighborhoods with SPUR. Using the new bike lanes on 10th and 11th streets, along with a number of established bike routes and separated bike paths, we wove our way through three amazing gems — Naglee Park, Palm Haven and Willow Glen. Setting off from the San Jose State University campus downtown, we made our way to our first stop.
The first subdivision in Santa Clara County, Naglee Park was developed and marketed in 1902 as a complete neighborhood with paved streets, gas, water and sewer. Following the new bike lanes on 11th Street brought us to the oldest house in the area and the neighborhood’s namesake, the Naglee Mansion, built by Brigadier General Henry Morris Naglee in 1864. The original lot lines of the estate reached from Santa Clara Street on the north, Coyote Creek on the east, William Street on the south, 11th Street on the west — the neighborhood boundaries today.
Bill Souders, co-owner of the popular Naglee Park Garage, gave a brief history of his restaurant, a once-blighted corner turned neighborhood gem. Fifteen years ago the site, a former gas station, was in disrepair, challenging the fabric and safety of the neighborhood. A group of Naglee Park families decided to do something about it and purchased the property. They surveyed their neighbors to find out what type of uses they wanted, aiming to create a gathering spot that didn’t exist before. The businesses there now are a result of what the neighbors responded with: a restaurant (the Garage), a bagel shop, a convenience store and other offerings.
Fun fact: In the early 1970s, the Doobie Brothers lived, partied and rehearsed at 285 S. 12th Street, right behind the Garage.
A right turn onto 16th Street (an established bike route), brought us to William Street and the William Street Park. Established in 1944, the park honors Willianoski Reed (1850-1860), the son of James and Margaret Keyes Reed, who were survivors of the Donner Party.
A jaunt through the South University Neighborhood led us to Gore Park/Parque de los Pobladores at William and South 1st Street — the gateway to the SoFA (South of First Street Area) District. Known as San Jose’s art district, this area comes alive the first Friday of every month with South First Fridays, where all galleries open their doors to the public for a community “art crawl.”
We met up with the separated bike path at the Children’s Discovery Museum and rode through the Guadalupe River Park Conservancy, the flood protection channel that doubles as an amazing park, which delivered us to the North Willow Glen neighborhood.
Palm Haven and Willow Glen
Established in 1913 as a “residence park” (with conditions, covenants and restrictions that controlled what was built, what the property setbacks were, etc.), Palm Haven originated from the Palm Haven station stop on the Peninsular Railway. The developers of this historic neighborhood planted more than 350 palms at equal intervals. The palms are designated as official heritage trees by the City of San Jose and represent the largest coordinated tree planting within city limits.
In 1927 the neighborhood of Willow Glen voted to become its own city because the San Jose City Council had ordered Southern Pacific Railroad to run through the neighborhood. Nine years later, after that threat had passed, residents voted in favor of annexing to San Jose because of their inadequate sewage system (they only had septic tanks). These nine years of independence are celebrated every year at Founders’ Day in September.
Using the Los Gatos Creek Trail separated bike path, the group rode by the historic Del Monte cannery site and connected back up with Park Avenue. We returned downtown to the site of San Jose’s first City Hall building, what is now Cesar Chavez Park, with a deeper understanding of San Jose neighborhoods past and present.
Policy LetterWednesday, February 27, 2013SPUR supports the extension of the high-rise incentive program in San Jose. This program encourages transit- and job-oriented housing development and would improve the livability of San Jose's downtown.
SPUR supports the extension of the high-rise incentive program in San Jose. This program encourages transit- and job-oriented housing development and would improve the livability of San Jose's downtown.
SPUR ReportWednesday, February 20, 2013The Bay Area economy has rebounded from the recession, but major regional challenges threaten our continued prosperity. These topics were a focus at the 2013 State of Silicon Valley conference, an annual gathering of Silicon Valley and Bay Area leaders to discuss the state of our region’s economy.For the 2013 conference, organizers Joint Venture Silicon Valley and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation invited SPUR to write a special analysis on regional governance for inclusion in the...
The Bay Area economy has rebounded from the recession, but major regional challenges threaten our continued prosperity. These topics were a focus at the 2013 State of Silicon Valley conference, an annual gathering of Silicon Valley and Bay Area leaders to discuss the state of our region’s economy.
For the 2013 conference, organizers Joint Venture Silicon Valley and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation invited SPUR to write a special analysis on regional governance for inclusion in the event’s flagship publication, the Silicon Valley Index. In this analysis, we make the case that some of the biggest threats to the Bay Area’s long-term economic competitiveness are best addressed through better regional governance.
BlogMonday, February 18, 2013The Bay Area economy has rebounded from the recession. Yet major regional challenges threaten our continued prosperity. These topics were a major focus at the 2013 State of Silicon Valley, the annual event where Silicon Valley and Bay Area leaders gather to discuss the state of our region’s economy. This year the conference organizers, Joint Venture Silicon Valley and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, invited SPUR to write a special analysis about regional governance for...
The Bay Area economy has rebounded from the recession. Yet major regional challenges threaten our continued prosperity. These topics were a major focus at the 2013 State of Silicon Valley, the annual event where Silicon Valley and Bay Area leaders gather to discuss the state of our region’s economy. This year the conference organizers, Joint Venture Silicon Valley and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, invited SPUR to write a special analysis about regional governance for presentation at the conference and inclusion in the event’s flagship publication, the Silicon Valley Index.
In the resulting piece, Strengthening the Bay Area’s Regional Governance, SPUR Regional Planning Director Egon Terplan made the case that some of the biggest threats to the Bay Area’s long-term economic competitiveness are challenges best addressed through better regional governance.
Regional decisions are responsible for much of what makes the Bay Area such a great place to live and work, including our large areas of open space and the transit infrastructure that links our cities and suburbs. Regional agencies like BART, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, which SPUR played a major role in establishing, were set up to manage these assets in perpetuity. Yet our regional agencies have changed little since the 1970s, and they are increasingly inadequate to address the issues shaping the Bay Area’s future.
Currently, our regional agencies are single-purpose entities — they lack the power to integrate land use planning, transportation, natural resource protection and climate change adaptation. Cities working to address these issues on their own often inadvertently exacerbate them in another part of the region, thwarting overall regional competitiveness.
SPUR’s report for the Silicon Valley Index focuses on five major regional issues in need of better planning and coordination:
1. Job sprawl. As the regional grows, jobs are being added in a decentralized pattern with few connections to reliable transit. This growth pattern is resulting in unsustainable commutes and increased levels of greenhouse gas emissions. In our thinking about The Future of Work, SPUR has made the case that locating jobs closer to transit — and closer to one another — will be key to the Bay Area’s long-term economic growth.
2. The need for more overall housing production. Local jurisdictions have a greater incentive to add jobs than housing. This dynamic has resulted in a jobs-housing imbalance as well as high housing prices in much of the region. SPUR has encouraged regional agencies to increase regional housing growth totals in their planning scenarios.
3. Competition between cities for tax revenues. The winner-take-all approach to local tax revenues results in fiscal and service disparity among cities. It also undermines regional cooperation and can lead to inefficient land use outcomes. SPUR has explored the promise of regional tax sharing. We've also looked at shifting to a system of more green taxes and fees as possible solutions to this regional problem.
4. The need for better coordination of regional transit services. The Bay Area has a huge transit system, but it is managed by 27 separate and poorly coordinated agencies. This fragmentation results in challenges for users and operators alike. SPUR has many recommendations for saving regional transit — including contemplating a possible merging of BART and Caltrain — and strategies for better funding and governing regional rail.
5. The need to prepare for sea level rise. Climate change is a problem that threatens every jurisdiction in the Bay Area. It demands a coordinated response, yet no regional agency exists with the mandate or the tools to direct an adaptation strategy. SPUR has done some of the leading thinking around how the Bay Area’s response to sea level rise could be better.
Where to begin? At the conference, we highlighted a few of these items for immediate action, including regional transit coordination and pilot tests for tax sharing.
Over the long term, the special analysis argues, we have three broad options for reforming regional governance:
1. Strengthen existing agencies by giving them more power.
2. Establish one or more new regional entities with new powers to respond to specific problems.
To achieve any of these options will require convincing Bay Area residents and politicians to recognize our linked fates.
The truth is that in today’s economy, the region is the scale where we compete globally. We face increasing competition from places that act and work regionally, such as Singapore, Shanghai and Vancouver. Failing to strengthen our own ability to act in concert as a region means risking the Bay Area’s economic standing globally.
Our needs are more interconnected now than ever. Our governance should reflect that.
SPUR ReportWednesday, February 6, 2013When a major earthquake strikes the Bay Area, it could take months to reestablish essential services and years to rebuild. Successful recovery will depend on whether or not we make good land use planning decisions now. Local jurisdictions that lay the groundwork for rebuilding — by continuously updating their general plans and zoning codes before a major disaster — will be in a much better place to begin a conversation with residents about a recovery vision. By understanding...
When a major earthquake strikes the Bay Area, it could take months to reestablish essential services and years to rebuild. Successful recovery will depend on whether or not we make good land use planning decisions now. Local jurisdictions that lay the groundwork for rebuilding — by continuously updating their general plans and zoning codes before a major disaster — will be in a much better place to begin a conversation with residents about a recovery vision. By understanding local earthquake hazards and addressing them before the next disaster, we can reduce the amount of damage our cities will face and the amount of rebuilding that will be needed. And by making needed regulatory changes now, governments will have the tools they need to facilitate recovery. On Solid Ground provides recommendations for work to be done before the next earthquake occurs, as well as important steps to take afterwards, as we begin to rebuild.
ArticleWednesday, January 9, 2013What happened: The year 2012 saw a record 18.2 million voters registered in California, the debut of online voter registration, new district lines thanks to the Citizens Redistricting Commission and top-two primaries where the two candidates with the most votes in any election for state office ran against each other in the general election, regardless of party affiliation. What it means: This was an exciting year for governance in California, as many hard-won reforms were finally...
What happened: The year 2012 saw a record 18.2 million voters registered in California, the debut of online voter registration, new district lines thanks to the Citizens Redistricting Commission and top-two primaries where the two candidates with the most votes in any election for state office ran against each other in the general election, regardless of party affiliation.What it means: This was an exciting year for governance in California, as many hard-won reforms were finally implemented. In general, these developments represent a successful (and underreported) sea change in California politics. Over the past 5 years, California Forward, in partnership with others including Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, has fostered political reforms such as a citizen-based legislative redistricting system and a new primary election system that reduces partisanship, both of which are changing the culture of our electoral system. A change in legislative term limits has the potential to strengthen the legislature as an institution. But at the same time a new attempt at budgeting reform, Prop. 31, lost at the ballot in November, showing that there is still work to be done to move California forward.
Online Voter Registration
While social media and other technological innovations have taken much of campaigning into the digital realm, it took a while for voting to follow suit. Thankfully, California implemented Online Voter Registration (OVR) ahead of the November 6th election with robust security measures that ensured its resounding success.
We heard many stories from many other states throughout the country about attempts to marginalize minority voters in the name of addressing purported voter fraud, but the narrative was quite the opposite in the Golden State, where Latino, Asian-American and young voters came out en masse. Online voter registration made it much easier for swaths of newly eligible voters to make their voices heard. Polls were extremely busy throughout the day, but county registrars we spoke with observed that voting went smoothly and that online voter registration was a huge boon to turnout across the state.
Citizens Redistricting Commission
The manner in which congressional districts have been drawn has been as aspect of our political process that was sorely lacking in transparency. Often done in backrooms with incumbents having a large say in how to gerrymander districts to include supporters and exclude potential opposition, change was imperative. California Forward was a proponent of the non-partisan Citizens' Redistricting Commission (CRC) since its inception. Equal parts Republican and Democrat, the process was dramatically open compared to previous iterations with multiple public hearings held across the state during which citizens could offer their feedback on the local maps drawn by the CRC. These meetings were also available as webcasts and the feedback loop was as important a component to shaping the new districts as the members of the commission. Though the result was challenged in court and via the ballot, the results were firmly upheld in both instances, thus preserving a crucial shift toward open government for the citizens of California.
Top Two Primaries
In December, we saw an incoming freshman class of state lawmakers who have been given more leeway under the new, longer term limits enacted via the June primaries. With the option of serving 12 years in their new roles, the idea is that they will be freed from the specter of campaigning for a reelection bid just around the corner and instead able to focus on the work before them and will be able to better serve the communities of interest lawmakers represent.
It's a different ballgame when districts are no longer composed of the strictly party-faithful and instead better represent the diverse make of the state overall. This is why California Forward fought hard to push these reforms through and will be championing them once enacted. Lawmakers can now focus on determining cost-effective solutions to the myriad of problems the state faces with the certainty that they will be held accountable for the results of their actions.
Many questions remain about the state's fiscal health, its business climate and its overburdened educational system. But we adamantly believe that the future is bright for the Golden State. With record voter registration bucking the predicted steep drop-off from 2008’s participation levels, trigger cuts to education and other areas avoided, the Citizens Redistricting Commission district lines upheld and two new structural reforms to the election process in place, Californians should indeed be proud that November 6 went as smoothly as it did.
ArticleThursday, December 20, 2012What happened: San Jose approved Envision 2040, a forward-thinking new general plan that is a model for historically suburban cities looking to transform to an urban future. What it means: Envision 2040 represents a major step in San Jose’s ambitious goal of retrofitting its auto-oriented infrastructure and suburban development patterns. At the core of Envision 2040 is its coordination of land use, transportation and greenhouse gas emissions, aligned with the Bay Area...
What happened: San Jose approved Envision 2040, a forward-thinking new general plan that is a model for historically suburban cities looking to transform to an urban future.What it means: Envision 2040 represents a major step in San Jose’s ambitious goal of retrofitting its auto-oriented infrastructure and suburban development patterns. At the core of Envision 2040 is its coordination of land use, transportation and greenhouse gas emissions, aligned with the Bay Area’s Sustainable Communities Strategy under California's climate change bill, SB 375.The plan is comprehensive — and vast. Here, a few major areas of focus:
Urban Village PlanningThe “big idea” in the plan is to concentrate nearly all new development in 70 designated “Urban Villages,” specific areas that will provide active, walkable, bicycle-friendly, transit-oriented, mixed-use urban settings for new housing and job growth. The urban villages identified fall into four main types: regional transit, local transit, commercial and residential areas. They are located along existing regional and local transit lines or in locations identified by their potential for redevelopment or enhancement. In a sense, Envision 2040 follows the current convention of American planning, by protecting most of the city from change while designating a smaller number of places as sites for intensive change.
Embracing Automobile AlternativesThe adoption of Envision 2040 represents San Jose’s shift in focus from an auto-centric community to one that puts people first. San Jose has a fair number of older commercial streets and shopping centers that it hopes to recycle intro vibrant mixed-use neighborhoods. The current priority is to focus growth downtown and in north San Jose, locations that are currently well-served by transit.In much of San Jose, there really is no choice but to drive, so the city is working to improve the viability of biking, walking and transit. The city has set an aggressive — and impressive — goal of dropping the share of trips in single-occupant cars from 80 percent to 40 percent by 2040 and has demonstrated its seriousness about developing non-auto modes of transportation. Over the last several decades, San Jose has worked with the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) to establish a light rail system. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lines are nearing construction. BART is now under construction to San Jose, first to Berryessa and eventually to Downtown San Jose, where it will connect with Caltrain and California High Speed Rail. A bicycle and pedestrian master plan is guiding improvements to city streets. The city will be measuring actual shifts in mode share: Envision 2040 is intended to be a measurable general plan, which will allow the city to track its progress and demonstrate outcomes as it goes.
Jobs Before HousingThis is a “jobs first” general plan in contrast to previous plans that allowed the stronger housing market to predominate. The resulting housing-rich, jobs-poor land use mix poses significant fiscal challenges to the city, in contrast to its neighbors.The ratio of jobs to employed residents in San Jose is 0.83. (By way of comparison, Palo Alto has over two and a half jobs for each employed resident, and Mountain View has over one and a half jobs for each employed resident.) The General Plan defines a goal of 1.3 jobs per resident.San Jose is one of the few large cities that loses population in the daytime, as opposed to attracting workers. This has fiscal implications as well as economic ones. There is a strong linkage between land use and fiscal health. Being able to attract more jobs and increase tax revenue will allow the city to better pay for services, which have taken a severe hit in recent years. It is imperative for the city’s fiscal health to have the revenue to support a population that is nearing and will soon exceed 1 million.By proactively identifying the right locations for jobs and housing, located next to transit corridors, San Jose will direct the development community to those places rather than to the more distant, fringe areas of the region. Development will happen in denser, transit-accessible, central locations. The general plan facilitates this by allowing employment uses to be developed immediately in any designated urban village, but housing development in the same location must be approved through an Urban Village Plan or by meeting a target mixed-use, jobs-housing ratio.Envision 2040, San Jose’s new general plan for urban villages focuses on job growth and new housing, embraces transit alternatives (like light rail and bicycles, above). It also makes improving food access through things like farmers’ markets (above, right) and community gardens a high priority.Envision San Jose2040 General PlanPlanned Growth Areas Diagram
Updating Codes, Streamlining ProcessSimplifying the planning process is key to facilitating the rollout of the urban villages. In the past, community plans took as long as five years to complete. Today, San Jose has been trying to streamline that process and get the urban villages ready and able to attract development as soon as possible. There have been several changes made to align zoning code with the new general plan as well. That includes nomenclature but also clarity around building heights, more flexibility for mixed-use, etc. As the plan rolls out, there will be more form based coding within the municipal code, and as a result the urban form will be more clearly articulated. This will allow the city and the development community to work together more cohesively. Code changes also include efforts to improve access to healthy food by streamlining and deregulating farmers’ markets in San Jose, as well as supporting the creation and maintenance of more community gardens. Access to fresh food is an integral part of the urban villages concept.
From Plan to ImplementationFive urban village planning efforts are currently underway in San Jose, and the city expects to have more launched in 2013. The notion that a city could build 70 distinct villages is ambitious, especially considering that it is a new type of planning process for the city. To meet this vision, the city needs to be focused on the details of how the general plan’s ambitious land use vision is translated into livable and cohesive places. SPUR will be helping to guide and support the implementation process by helping the city focus on job creation, focused growth and excellent urban design.
ArticleTuesday, December 18, 2012What happened: Google’s proposed new vision for retrofitting its Mountain View campus as a dense and walkable urban place was embraced by the City of Mountain View in its updated general plan (though the city balked at Google’s request to include housing). What it means: Increasingly, we are seeing expressions of the urban future of work through specific proposals by companies interested in retrofitting the suburban corporate campus rather than moving into cities. This proposal...
What happened: Google’s proposed new vision for retrofitting its Mountain View campus as a dense and walkable urban place was embraced by the City of Mountain View in its updated general plan (though the city balked at Google’s request to include housing).What it means: Increasingly, we are seeing expressions of the urban future of work through specific proposals by companies interested in retrofitting the suburban corporate campus rather than moving into cities. This proposal by Google, one of the region’s largest employers, is a prime example. The success of some campuses at achieving downtown-like commute patterns through things like corporate shuttles weakens the conventional critique that the suburban workplace is hopelessly auto-oriented. But these cases are the exception, and a broader transformation will require addressing design and land use, which several new proposals begin to do. Ultimately, the successful implementation of more urban corporate campuses hinges on support from and collaboration with the many local governments that have the ultimate land use decision power.The City of Mountain View adopted a new citywide general plan that tripled the amount of allowable office development in the North Bayshore area where Google is located. Despite the increase in density, the new general plan expressly rejects housing as an allowable use in the area. Google proposed a dramatic urbanization of its Mountain View campus, with small, walkable blocks, greatly increased densities and multistory mixed-use buildings that also included some housing. At press time, we learned that the Google campus redesign is now on hold for the next year until the company and the city work through the transportation impacts of adding so many additional commuters to the North Bayshore area. Hopefully, this will be just a temporary setback in a long-term reshaping of a suburban landscape. We believe that the city’s approval of Google’s plan still bodes well for the urban future of work and points to larger trends in the region:
Companies want to feel urban but not necessarily be urban.In spite of the tech boom in San Francisco and New York City, many Silicon Valley employers will continue to locate outside of traditional urban centers. Many tech firms rely on a campus setting to create “a world apart” to enhance the corporate culture and provide security. But some of these companies — like Google — are now leading efforts to urbanize Silicon Valley and to shift away from the traditional auto-oriented suburban model.The new Mountain View general plan permits greater density, allowing Google and adjacent employers to triple the number of workers in the North Bayshore area from 17,000 to 48,000 (more than double the number of jobs in downtown San Jose). This can happen due to “floor area ratios” increasing from 0.3 to 1.0 (which allows a tripling of the total building size), coupled with the ongoing decline in square feet per worker.More jobs alone are not sufficient for creating urbanism in suburbia. Google also proposed new retail, community facilities, pedestrian paths, public open spaces and thousands of housing units adjacent to its office buildings. But the City of Mountain View declined to approve housing as an allowable use in the North Bayshore area, dealing a blow to the idea of a more mixeduse urban campus environment.This campus retrofit proposal helps Google further differentiate its corporate culture and attract the kind of younger workers who would otherwise be unwilling to work in what they perceive to be an isolated suburban area. Competition for talent is high, and the workforce is increasingly looking for urban amenities. Given Google’s worldwide reputation and influence, this urbanizing shift may be a harbinger of things to come among other major employers.
Good design can create a more urban tech campus.The conventional suburban campus typology — low-slung tilt-up buildings set behind a sea of surface parking — is already in decline. High land values are yielding multistory buildings and structured parking. Google (as well as Facebook and others) is creating mixed urban settings purposefully, to promote creative inspiration, spontaneous interaction and efficient communication.Google’s proposal like a handful of spec proposals such as Lowe Enterprises’ n1 campus adjacent to a light rail stop on North First Street in San Jose, breaks down large campuses into smaller blocks, with higher buildings placed closer together and oriented toward streets and open spaces. Active uses — from company cafeterias to restaurants, from co-working facilities to gyms, are meant to bring outdoor spaces to life and foster interaction. Connections to transit (not the parking lot) and circulation by bike and foot are organizing principles, not afterthoughts, and while parking is generally abundant compared to downtown settings, it is in well-placed structured garages. Proposals like these are still the exception to the rule, but as the current tech boom plays out, competition for creative young talent may mean retrofitting the suburbs to compete with the urban amenities that talent desires.
The corporate campus can arrive at commute patterns that rival transit-oriented central business districts.Though half of Google’s employees in Mountain View drive alone to campus each day, this constitutes a lower share of solo drivers than nearly all other job centers in the Bay Area (even downtown Oakland). This relatively low rate of driving for a suburban area is achieved in part because about 90 percent of Google employees who live in San Francisco ride the shuttle. But with proposed new growth comes more demand for trips to and from this area. Significantly reducing new auto traffic will require further increasing the use of corporate shuttles and other transportation demand-management measures, resisting efforts to increase roadway capacity and allowing local housing. Based on one scenario, the area around Google could drop dramatically to 27 percent solo driver commuters in 2030.Ultimately, reducing solo drivers to the campus is a prerequisite for a more urban campus form. You cannot build more densely and redevelop parking lots if you still need all that land to store cars. Shifting drivers to shuttles and away from cars frees up land for other uses.
Reshaping the corporate campus requires the cooperation and support of local jurisdictions.After decades of planners’ attempts to encourage better land use patterns, it is striking to observe that urbanization is coming from within the tech sector, driven by changes in both land (more expensive) and labor (more demanding). However, this trend can only take hold comprehensively with the cooperation of local jurisdictions and regulators. Bay Area land use decisions still emerge from a multiplicity of agencies, with a range of capacities, imperatives and priorities. Reshaping streets, mixing uses, increasing densities, changing parking requirements — these are planning decisions, and they face daunting obstacles.In Google’s case, the City of Mountain View approved the proposal in general but balked at the most innovative element: housing. Sunnyvale recently killed dedicated transit lanes on El Camino Real, dealing a major blow to the county’s bus rapid-transit system. Elsewhere, cities in fiscal distress continue to approve mediocre, auto-dependent projects to shore up their balance sheets. Parking remains central to most development. A sea change may be developing, but choppy waters lie ahead.Will Google’s plan influence others? Can issues of corporate security and privacy coexist with the openness of urban life, or will we see instead a constellation of private pseudocities? The corporate campus trend toward urbanization provides a ray of hope for areas that have been largely written off by urbanists, but these unknowns remain.
ArticleTuesday, December 18, 2012What happened: In July, Congress passed a rare piece of bipartisan legislation to fund surface transportation for two years. “Moving Ahead for Progress for the 21st Century” (MAP-21) provided $105 billion for the next two years to fund road repairs, mass transit and other critical repair and expansion projects. What it means: Members of both parties were quick to congratulate themselves on MAP-21, while the Department of Transportation announcement hailed it as “a...
What happened: In July, Congress passed a rare piece of bipartisan legislation to fund surface transportation for two years. “Moving Ahead for Progress for the 21st Century” (MAP-21) provided $105 billion for the next two years to fund road repairs, mass transit and other critical repair and expansion projects.What it means: Members of both parties were quick to congratulate themselves on MAP-21, while the Department of Transportation announcement hailed it as “a milestone for the U.S. economy and the nation’s surface transportation program.” But while they did manage to forestall the immediate crisis, they shouldn’t have been so quick to pop the champagne corks.Perhaps any legislation might have been seen as a minor miracle in the 112th Congress, which is mercifully coming to an end on January 3. And MAP-21 did address some of the underlying issues that seem to keep our infrastructure projects tied up in knots by streamlining decision-making and introducing the concept of performance-based investments. But a fiscal crisis is looming just over the horizon.The problem is that revenues have never matched the need and are increasingly falling short. MAP-21 failed to address the basic insolvency of our nation’s Transportation Trust Fund. Indeed, it just kicked the can farther down the road. The Congressional Budget Office’s most recent projections show that the highway account will begin fiscal 2014 with a zero balance and require a $10.4 billion general fund transfer (and $6.2 billion in the current fiscal year) to make good on all of its obligations. The transit account will only have $1.8 billion at the beginning of fiscal 2014, and MAP-21 assumes a $2.2 billion general fund transfer to get through. Unless we pass another reauthorization, one that has some true financing reforms in it, both accounts will begin fiscal 2015 with a zero balance and poor prospects.Transportation investments require a long lead time and stable funding. That’s why the Highway Trust Fund was established in 1956 as part of the deal to build an interstate highway system, and gas revenues were dedicated to funding it (the first gas tax of one penny per gallon was established in 1932). The current picture, however, is of a transportation program that will be served up on an annual basis by Congress, just like other appropriations, which means that it becomes another political football. Beyond the gridlock in Washington, the root of this trouble lies with the reliance on the gas tax, our inability to increase it and with improvements in fuel efficiency. (Yes, you read that last one correctly.)The federal government relies on taxes on gasoline and petroleum to fund the bulk of transportation investments. Yet there is a general consensus among the political class that raising taxes on gasoline is a third rail — to go there is political suicide. As a result, the federal levy of 18.4 cents per gallon has not been raised since 1993, when it was increased from 14.1 cents.In 1993, President Bill Clinton had just taken office; our most popular movies were Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List, Intel introduced the first Pentium microprocessor and scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research invented the World Wide Web.If gas were taxed as a sales tax — that is, a percent of the cost of the fuel, as opposed to a fixed amount per gallon — then the receipts generated would have increased over time in accordance with inflation and the cost of gasoline. Put another way, a 14.1-cent tax on gas in 1993, when a gallon cost about $1.10, would translate into an equivalent tax today of 45.76 cents per gallon. But somewhere we’re losing 27.36 cents per gallon, or almost $50 billion a year.The other great transportation achievement of 2012 further undermines the Transportation Trust Fund. In August, President Obama and Congress agreed to double the fuel efficiency of new vehicles currently on the road. Under the new Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, standards, auto makers’ fleets of cars and light trucks are required to achieve 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. These new standards are excellent public policy. They will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, save consumers money and reduce U.S. oil consumption by 12 billion barrels.But these new standards will also bankrupt the Highway Trust Fund even faster, as cars will require less gasoline to travel the same distances.It is disgraceful how little MAP-21 did to pull our federal transportation program out of the financial crisis it is in. So how to get out of it?Fortunately, the answer is fairly obvious — at least from an empirical sense. Gasoline taxes need to be raised and indexed to inflation. Every penny added to the federal gas tax adds about $1.75 billion in annual revenue. While policy groups can debate the efficacy of a 10-cent, 15-cent, 25-cent or larger increase, the amount is really dictated by how much time we need to buy before we transition to a new source of revenue that doesn’t rely on a finite commodity.One alternative is to look at generating revenues based on miles traveled as opposed to gasoline consumption. Mileage-based user fees promise to bring in a new generation of transportation funding. Several states are conducting assessments (Oregon, not surprisingly, is ahead of the pack), and the results look promising. The technology has come a long way; simple transponders can calculate the mileage driven. The bigger question is a political one — to some this may feel like a move toward Big Brother. Yet drivers up and down the East Coast already use E-ZPass to pay for their tolls. And the benefits would be enormous. In New York State, our colleagues Jeff Zupan and Rich Barone have calculated that if we charged a mileage-based user fee at 4 cents a mile, we would be able to pay for the state’s current capital plans, which currently total $8 billion a year for mass transit and highways, without any borrowing.There are other potential ways to replenish the trust fund’s depleted coffers. Tolls could be added to more interstate highways, taxes could be levied on oil instead of gasoline or the gasoline tax could be indexed to inflation, sparing Congress politically difficult battles. In all likelihood, a combination of measures will be needed.With the landmark change to CAFE standards this summer, we have seen that far-reaching steps are possible. We hope that same visionary spirit can help shape a new approach to sustaining our nation’s transportation infrastructure.
BlogMonday, November 19, 2012Southern Santa Clara County used to have a widespread and thriving agricultural sector, helping the area earn the name “Valley of the Heart’s Delight.” Today, much of that famed farmland has been replaced with homes and offices. One exception is the Coyote Valley, a narrow, 5-mile-long area between southern San Jose and Morgan Hill. Before the recent economic downturn, much of Coyote Valley was slated for development, and intense land speculation had driven up...
Southern Santa Clara County used to have a widespread and thriving agricultural sector, helping the area earn the name “Valley of the Heart’s Delight.” Today, much of that famed farmland has been replaced with homes and offices. One exception is the Coyote Valley, a narrow, 5-mile-long area between southern San Jose and Morgan Hill. Before the recent economic downturn, much of Coyote Valley was slated for development, and intense land speculation had driven up property prices. After 2008, however, local open-space and agriculture advocates saw a sharp drop in the development pressure and wondered whether it would be economically feasible for Coyote Valley to retain its agricultural character.
That question led Sustainable Agriculture Education (SAGE) to conduct an in-depth feasibility study over the past eighteen months. In its report, Coyote Valley: Sustaining Agriculture and Conservation, SAGE concludes that an agricultural economy is feasible for the area if significant investments in land, infrastructure and policy are made in the next 25 years. The report outlines a three-phase strategy that would split a $50 million investment between: 1) agricultural land preservation, mainly through purchasing conservation easements on existing farms; 2) infrastructure, including updating and expanding irrigation in the valley; and 3) program coordination and marketing. The report envisions that a new entity, the Coyote Valley Agricultural Enterprise and Conservation Program, would work to implement the strategy using funds from both public and private sources.
In addition to presenting an ambitious vision, the study is notable for recommending an agricultural preservation strategy that anticipates integrating farming into a “mosaic” of other land uses. Rather than propose the creation of one large contiguous block of farmland, the study recommends the preservation of at least 50 percent of the existing farmland throughout the north, middle and southern sections of Coyote Valley, interspersed with clusters of residential and commercial development. The study also presents an incredibly detailed assessment of current opportunities and challenges such as: vast acreage in the valley currently owned by developers who currently have little interest in leasing long-term to farmers; the potential to increase the value of production by 300 percent by changing what crops are planted; and initial indications that policy and overall trends in the real estate market are easing development pressure in the area.
SAGE’s report on the Coyote Valley is a fantastic case study of urban-edge agriculture. It shows that the opportunity to retain and expand a self-sustaining agricultural economy that provides food and livelihoods in Southern Santa Clara still exists. But the report also makes clear that, as in many parts of the Bay Area, the opportunity will slip away unless policymakers, farmers and food-system advocates focus their energy on shifting the Coyote Valley in a new direction.
ArticleFriday, November 9, 2012“Planning indulges in the same world of image making that artists and advertisers do. Some of these images are at once analytical diagrams and artful, even mesmerizing, images. If planners have opted most often for dry imagery, it is still imagery, with all of the complicated and rich implications of that term. Every plan is an act of persuasion, an argument for an alternative way of life that attempts to posit or convince an audience of that alternative.” —Andrew Shanken...“Planning indulges in the same world of image making that artists and advertisers do. Some of these images are at once analytical diagrams and artful, even mesmerizing, images. If planners have opted most often for dry imagery, it is still imagery, with all of the complicated and rich implications of that term. Every plan is an act of persuasion, an argument for an alternative way of life that attempts to posit or convince an audience of that alternative.” —Andrew ShankenFigure 1: The “Bay or River?” diagram helped galvanize support for Save the Bay in the 1960s. Courtesy of The Oakland Tribune
Many of the ideas that have most influenced the shape of cities have been expressed through diagrams — simple visual statements that distill particular values, ideologies and policy agendas. A few have become iconic images, inspiring imitation, elaboration and critique. They are touchstones in the visual lexicon of urban planning and design.This issue of The Urbanist and the accompanying exhibition at the SPUR Urban Center gallery investigate the iconography of city planning and the impact — for better or worse — of these images on the shape of urban communities in the United States. As new technologies enable new kinds of visualization, we pause for a look back at the field’s visual culture through 10 of its most influential diagrams, asking not only what planners were thinking about cities but also how they used the power of imagery to persuade and to communicate.To planners, many of the images in this illustrated tour are instantly recognizable. Others may find them brand new or perhaps strangely familiar, either because they’ve been widely reproduced or because of the familiar places they’ve shaped and inspired.Consider New York City’s 1916 Zoning Resolution. Some planning geeks may know its original illustrations. A few more will recognize Hugh Ferriss’ vivid renderings of its impact on a theoretical site or Fritz Lang’s imaginary city from the 1927 film Metropolis. But nearly everyone will recognize the Chrysler and Empire State buildings and the unmistakable form of midcentury Gotham that the policy generated.Similarly, the township and section grid created by the 1785 Land Ordinance (see p. 9) may seem like a bit of arcane Federal Land Office history — until one connects it to the view of the Midwest from an airplane window, with its endless one-mile-by-onemile grid subdivided into square farm plots with pivot-irrigation circles. Fly at night into Chicago, Las Vegas or Phoenix, and the implications of this simple diagram on urban form become vividly apparent.
What Is a Diagram?The word “diagram” (literally “marked out by lines” in Greek) refers to any schematic visual explanation of an idea. Diagrams take advantage of the differences between how our minds process language and how they process images. They are often set alongside a written or verbal argument to highlight a particularly important idea.Charts, graphs and maps are all diagrams, and their particular syntax — of lines, arrows and shapes, often mixed with language — differs from the illustrative representation in drawings and photographs.Diagrams seem to have a special power when it comes to the representation of place since they are able to combine spatial and nonspatial ideas. Pictures and data. Real and imagined worlds. Abstract ideas and concrete proposals. In this way, the diagram becomes a remarkably fertile space in which to explore the shaping of cities.
What Does a Diagram Do?The power of a diagram is reductive: It distills a complex idea into a simple and powerful visual statement. Its clarity results from omission as much as inclusion, so it is often achieved at the expense of nuance and specificity. Unencumbered by pragmatic concerns, diagrams allow for experimentation and imaginative leaps.At their worst, diagrams can become bases for exclusion or marginalization. The clean, compelling illustrations of the modernist city, with its abundant green space and efficient organization, helped cement the idea of “slum clearance” under the federal urban renewal programs of the 1950s and ’60s, for example.But at their best, diagrams crystallize emerging points of view, framing challenges and choices in a new light, as when the Oakland Tribune’s arresting 1961 “Bay or River?” graphic helped to spur major new protections for San Francisco Bay. Similarly, the use of figure-ground maps by urban designers in the 1970s (see p. 16) vividly expressed the nebulous idea of urban pattern, making the case for its value in planning decisions. Once an insurgent view takes hold, its imagery often comes to represent a new orthodoxy, becoming the target of new critiques and new assertions.
Maps, Plans and Plan ViewEvery map is a diagram, in the sense that a map is an abstracted representation of some but not all facets of a place. This is essential: A road map that showed the details of the electrical power grid and mineral resources would be unnecessarily confusing.Most maps compress both the curvature of the earth and its topography onto a two-dimensional plane with varying degrees of rigor, a leap of abstraction so commonplace that we scarcely notice it. Artists at least since Robert Rauschenberg have been working to confound that plane, and more recently, new tools from computer-aided design (CAD) to geographic information systems (GIS) have allowed designers to approach it ever more dynamically. It is worth remembering, however, that even the onceunimaginable trick of casually flying through a threedimensional landscape on one’s desktop still happens on a flat surface. Our newfound technical prowess has only deepened our reliance on pictorial space.The word “plan” implies forethought and aspiration, not simply a representation of what is. But at times, maps and plans converge. The contextualist revolt in city planning in the 1960s and ’70s insisted that a major part of the discipline consists of analytical mapping of existing conditions, in contrast with the grandiose erasures of modernist urbanism. The cognitive mapping of planners like Kevin Lynch and Donald Appleyard prefigured the explosion of alternative cartography and data visualization now made possible by digital media. The tools of cartography — and its tacit filtering of reality — have been radically democratized, and map-making has become a discourse in which artists, activists, tech nerds and planners can assert their own visions of what is and what ought to be.Plans and maps share a visual system called “ichnography” or simply “plan view,” a shorthand that represents every point as if the viewer is directly above it, looking down. Of course, in any real aerial view, only one point is seen this way, with all others seen at an oblique angle that increases with distance. Plan view is all-seeing, god-like, but also deceptive and illusory. Keeping the viewer at a comfortable distance, it hides not only the third dimension but the dynamic, temporal and sensual qualities of place.Figure 2: Renaissance ideal cities inspired by Vitruvius (15th-16th c.) 1. Filarete, 2. Fra Giocondo, 3. Girolamo Maggi, 4. Giorgio Vasari, 5. Antonio Lupicini, 6. Daniele Barbaro, 7. Pietro Cattaneo, 8/9 di Giorgio Martini.Courtesy of Marten Kuilman
Utopian TemplatesPeriods of great social and cultural upheaval have often produced upsurges of utopian thinking. To a surprising degree, ideal societies come with a recipe for good urban form, embodying the values of their proponents and colored by the anxieties of their circumstance.In Renaissance Italy, artists and designers joined in the broader humanistic assertion that society could and should be shaped by human ideals. Hemmed in by the tangled, narrow medieval streets around them, they became fascinated with ideal cities, imagining serene and unpopulated spaces, out of time and out of any real place. The tools of perspective and the development of abstract rules of proportion and symmetry made space itself an object of study.Renaissance ideal cities reveal a few of the fundamental powers — and also some of the shortcomings — of planning diagrams. First, they are every place and no place, clearly representing urban space in plan view but with no geographical references, and therefore none of the context or constraint that comes with building actual cities. Second, they contribute to a broader discourse about societal ideals and how they might be manifested in the good city. Finally, they provide a kind of formal DNA, a template repeatedly expressed, modified and reproduced both on paper and on the ground.Sometimes a diagram is meant to be taken quite literally. Such is the case with the Radiant City (p. 8), Le Corbusier’s seminal 1935 statement of modernist, “towers in the park” urbanism. Like Ebenezer Howard’s Garden Cities three decades before it, the Radiant City sought to address the congestion, pollution and disease of the 19th-century industrial city, “inspired by the prospect,” as planning historian Robert Fishman put it, “that a radical reconstruction of the cities would solve not only the urban crisis, but the social crisis as well.”Figure 3: A contemporary aerial view of the city of Palmanova (1593), an Italian military settlement based on a Vitruvian plan.Courtesy of Google EarthFor Le Corbusier, this meant eradicating the dark, tubercular alleys of the old city and replacing them with widely spaced ranks of cruciform towers, ringed with expressways and sorted into separate sectors for commercial, industrial and residential uses. Although one can read the Radiant City as a diagrammatic manifesto of planning principles, it was also a literal architectural proposal, one that was taken up and applied wholesale in a staggering number of locations from the suburbs of Paris to the center of Chicago. Built expressions of this vision are virtually indistinguishable from the utopian scheme, except for the disastrous outcomes of some. The simplicity of the design (the basis of its appeal and aesthetic elegance) is a lot like a diagram, and quite unlike a city.
Other Ways of LookingSome types of graphics suggest particular ways of looking at a city, and thus lend themselves to particular sorts of insights. For example, in 1909 Patrick Geddes used a “transect,” borrowing the visual language of a cross section from architecture (an imaginary slice through space, viewed from the side) and deploying it as an analytical tool at a much larger scale borrowed from ecological science. The diagram perfectly suited Geddes’s purpose, revealing the way conditions and contexts change across the landscape. Thus, as a way of representing and looking at space, it makes the case for context sensitivity, for a broad consideration of a site’s urban, regional and ecological situation.Similarly, the figure-ground or Nolli plan (p.16), named for Giambattista Nolli’s masterful 1748 map of Rome, excels at revealing the way in which buildings define streets and open spaces, creating a legible pattern. In the 1960s, critics of the modernist approach to city form used the graphical conventions of the Nolli plan to demonstrate the value of spatial definition and traditional urban patterns.
Quantitative DiagramsAlthough city planners and urban policy makers use data and language to assert their arguments, often it is a single image that sticks in the public imagination. Diagrams can be encapsulations of numerical data, like Michael Mann’s “hockey stick graph” of average temperatures over time, whose shocking crystallization of the effects of global climate change helped put climate impacts at the core of planning discourse.
Practical DiagramsSeveral of the diagrams presented here are simply planning tools, designed for clarity, not inspiration. They nevertheless have a complex relationship to a specific set of values and assumptions. The urban grid, in use since ancient Greece, has proved the default geometry wherever quick and efficient urban development has been needed, most famously in notoriously impatient Manhattan.The 1785 federal township and section grid was also basically mechanical but revealing of underlying concerns. The rural grid served to normalize the settlement (or conquest) of the American West but embodied Jeffersonian ideals about small landowning farmers as the backbone of the democratic ideal. After the West had been parceled out, Frank Lloyd Wright would take up the rural grid as the basis of his Broadacre City, a utopian anti-metropolis first presented in 1932, which spread the population across the American interior on one-acre house lots.In the case of the setback diagram of New York’s 1916 Zoning Resolution, the purpose was to illustrate a new regulatory code. This diagram sketched an ambitious new governmental power — the regulation of not only land use but built form as well. But its most profound innovation was accidental: the deeply evocative profile of skyscraper New York at its midcentury apex.
Anti-PlansSome diagrams are about resistance. In the early 1960s, the Oakland Tribune published a diagram that traced and greatly simplified an Army Corps of Engineers map projecting the future extent of fill in San Francisco Bay if historic rates of infill continued. The image (shown on page 3), which showed only a pitiful channel remaining in the center of the bay, was captioned “Bay or River?” A perfect expression of the power of diagrams, it became the rallying cry of a movement led by Save the Bay that ushered in powerful new environmental protections.In the 1950s, a group of radical scholars, artists and architects in Europe that called themselves the Situationist International grew increasingly alarmed at the rationalist urban renewal schemes of modernist architects. The city, they argued, was constituted from the bottom up by the experiences of individuals. They cultivated resistance to the soullessness of the modern city through play, serendipity and aimless but open wandering. They coined the term “psychogeography” to describe this personal encounter with urban space, illustrated by evocative maps of the process. This critique of top-down planning would be taken up by resistance movements around the world — led by Jane Jacobs and others — who turned back freeways and bulldozers and dared to question the authority of the experts. It would also lay the foundation for a new culture, now in full flower, of omnivorous delight at the experience of city life.
Planning AheadA critical examination of the assumptions and narratives of planning as a discipline is an essential aspect of responsible practice and informed citizenship. It reveals something of the fascinating historic relationship between values, ideologies and planning practice, mediated in this case by visualization. But, more important, it calls us to examine our own assumptions and ideals about cities and the ways in which we shape, imagine and represent them.
 Garden CitiesIn 1902, Ebenezer Howard, an unassuming stenographer and amateur inventor, published one of the most influential visions in the history of city planning, called Garden Cities of To-morrow. In it, Howard created a series of diagrams that helped to establish the orthodoxy of 20th-century city planning. The crisis behind what Howard called the “Garden City idea” — the pollution and overcrowding of the industrial city — is encapsulated in one diagram’s title: “A Group of Smokeless, Slumless Cities.”Figure 4: One of a series of diagrams by Ebenezer Howard, “A Group of Smokeless, Slumless Cities” encapsulated the pollution and overcrowding of the early 20th century industrial city.Courtesy of the Town and Country Planning AssociationHoward proposed decentralizing industrial cities by constructing a regionally coordinated series of smaller Garden Cities in the countryside. Linked by railroads and canals and separated by a permanent greenbelt, the Garden Cities would offer the best of both town and country life to their 32,000 residents, including employment in factories and workshops, affordable rents and abundant open space. The Garden City was predicated on a quietly radical program of economic reform, in which cooperative associations would own the land and lease it to tenants, reinvesting the proceeds in public improvements.It is hard not to read Howard’s compelling circular diagrams as plans, though they pointedly claim not to be. The Garden Cities seemed to emerge as fully formed (and quaintly named) satellites, their utopian English landscape awash in progressive social institutions (like “homes for waifs”) and productive rural enterprises. Nearly a century later, the graphic treatment of circular pearls on a string of transit infrastructure would be picked up by planners advocating transit-oriented development.Although Howard and his followers initiated two Garden Cities, Letchworth and Wellwyn, the industrial and collectivist aspects of the effort languished. But the spatial concept of comprehensively planned decentralization through the establishment of new towns of a more humanizing scale and character was profoundly influential, and Howard’s diagrams are widely admired to this day. In the 1920s, Howard’s idea found an enthusiastic reception in the Regional Planning Association of America, which was looking for ways to address congestion in the New York area. RPA leaders including Lewis Mumford, Clarence Stein and Clarence Perry, adopted the idea of decentralization through planned communities in permanent greenbelts.Figure 5: The American Garden City: Clarence Perry’s “neighborhood unit” (1929) reshaped Howard’s vision for the private car.
 The Towers in the ParkModernist architects, most famously in the person of Charles-Édouard Jeanneret (known as Le Corbusier), offered quite a different approach to the congestion, disease and pollution of the industrial city. As revered for his masterfully poetic buildings as he is reviled for his grandiose urban planning schemes, Le Corbusier remains a polarizing titan of the 20th century.Beginning in the 1920s, Le Corbusier developed a series of rationalist ideal cities, which he claimed would solve urban problems through the application of scientific methods by powerful cadres of experts. Working with CIAM (In French, “International Congress of Modern Architecture”), he created the Athens Charter, a manifesto for the modern city.Le Corbusier’s vision of the “Radiant City” (also referred to as “Towers in the Park”) set large slab towers far apart to provide residents with equal access to light, air and open space. The green space in between would be available to all, even passing below buildings that were raised on stilt-like pilotis.Where the traditional city ran on messy mixture, the Radiant City sought order through separation. Large, pedestrian-only superblocks would be surrounded by expressways with interchanges that eliminated crossings and intersections. Land uses would also be radically compartmentalized, with separate sectors devoted to housing, offices, industry and government.The Radiant City and the modernist vision it encapsulated had a powerful impact on the planning and building of cities in the 20th century. Its promise of light, air and open space directly addressed the prevailing concerns about crowded urban slums, and its separation and rationalization of both land use and traffic promised to protect people from the threats of pollution and automobiles.It became the predominant template for public housing and for urban reconstruction schemes in general, including American “slum clearance” efforts under federal urban renewal programs. Public housing projects across the country opened with great fanfare, only to succumb to a grim cocktail of economic isolation, underinvestment and the intrinsic shortcomings of their physical design. Parks became parking lots or grim no-man’s-lands. Basic services were unavailable, and the stigma of being isolated in a separate world compounded structural shifts away from manufacturing that marooned thousands of working-class families in concentrated enclaves. In 1972, just 18 years after their completion, for example, the Pruitt-Igoe projects in St. Louis were dynamited, becoming a symbol of the failures of modernist urbanism.Figure 6: Le Corbusier’s “Radiant Cities” (1935) were built around large towers set far apart to provide residents with equal access to light, air and open space.From Le Corbusier’s “The Radiant City” (1933).Figure 7: In 1947, the Radiant City comes to San Francisco’s Western Addition. Throughout the U.S., Le Corbusier’s ideas provided the design template for “slum clearance,” urban renewal and much of public housing.Figure 8: The Public Land Survey System (1785) divided U.S. land west of the Ohio River into “townships” and “sections” on a repeating grid, later shaping settlement patterns.Courtesy United States Bureau of Land Management; Figure 9: Courtesy The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York). Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Scottsdale, AZ.
 The Rural GridWith the 1785 Land Ordinance, Congress created the Public Land Survey System, in which three-quarters of U.S. land area would ultimately be surveyed, sold and settled. Beginning west of the Ohio River, the system laid a grid of 6-mile-square townships across the country’s midsection, ignoring the natural geography. Each township was composed of 36 one-mile-square sections. It was one of the most influential acts of spatial planning in human history.The Land Ordinance solved several pressing issues for the young republic. First, it provided a fundraising mechanism for the federal government, which had limited powers of taxation and deep Revolutionary War debt. Second, its simplicity facilitated rapid and orderly settlement of newly conquered territory minimizing conflict over land claims. And third, it helped realize the aspiration of its sponsor, Thomas Jefferson, that the United States should be a nation of small landowning farmers.Figure 9: Above, a model section of Frank Lloyd Wright’s anti-urban utopia, Broadacre City (1932–59).Courtesy the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York). Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Scottsdale, AZThe township diagram, repeated thousands of times, established a pattern (what geographers call the “cadaster”) that would shape everything that followed. Farmhouses stood in their square fields, so villages rarely formed. State and county borders were ruler-straight. Roads were placed along parcel boundaries, and urban development occurred in sectional increments, producing the characteristic one-mile grid of arterial streets seen today in cities like Phoenix, Chicago and Las Vegas.In the early 1930s, Frank Lloyd Wright began work on a utopian scheme called Broadacre City, which was unique in that it was inspired by and built on the dimensions of the township and section grid. By granting each family one-acre and dispersing them across the American interior, the idea was that cities would disappear, to be replaced by a hybrid of Jeffersonian yeomanry and Corbusian social engineering.
 The Street Grid“The heritage of the gridiron plans goes back at least to the Roman camps. The basis for the grid as an enduring and appealing urban form rests on five main characteristics: order and regulatory, orientation in space and to elements, simplicity and ease of navigation, speed of layout, and adaptability to circumstance.” —Patrick GeddesFigure 10: The 1811 Commissioner’s Plan for Manhattan sought to regulate what some felt to be a relentless application of the grid in the city.Courtesy of the Geography and Map Division, Library of CongressThe gridiron plan has been used to lay out cities since architect, urban planner and mathematician Hippodamus planned the Greek colony of Miletus around 450 BC. It would reappear throughout urban history whenever cities needed to be built quickly and could be planned in advance. It would recur in China’s ancient imperial capitals, in the military encampments of Roman legions and in the medieval bastides from which Europeans launched their crusades. But its heyday was the Age of Reason, from the late 16th to the early 19th centuries, when rational philosophy, imperial conquest and explosive economic expansion made the grid the default urban pattern in many settings. The grid embodies a rational, Cartesian conception of space, but its chief virtues are its simplicity, scalability and pragmatism. It is easily surveyed and subdivided into regular parcels that are easily built out. It is also modular, so new districts can be added incrementally as a city grows.The form reached its apotheosis in the 1811 Commissioner’s Plan for New York City, which sought to regularize the development of Manhattan (and its hodgepodge of colliding grids) north of Houston Street. The relentless application of the grid is especially notable for what is omitted: the diagonal of Broadway, which predated the plan and would resist its erasure; the island’s natural topography of hills and rocky outcrops, which would be partially blasted away but survive in places; and of course Central Park, which would be created later, providing a curvaceous Romantic counterpoint to the grid and a real estate bonanza for adjacent properties.But the grid had its drawbacks, and 19th-century skeptics of its relentless rationality began idealizing the winding streets of the past and injecting curves wherever they could. By the 1950s, huge tracts of suburban cul-de-sacs were being laid out, and the virtues of the grid were forgotten.Figure 11: San Francisco’s street grids ignored the city’s hills, wetlands, and coastline, all of which are all visible in this 1852 map.Courtesy of the David Rumsey Map CollectionFigures 12 and 13: The ancient Roman castrum, (at left) a gridded military encampment, became the basis for the plans of later settlements including Florence, Italy (below).Figure 13 courtesy Google Earth
 The MegaregionThinking about urban regions has mostly focused on the idea of a center city and its periphery, whether an agricultural hinterland or a ring of bedroom communities. Indeed, the idea that important challenges could — and should — be addressed at the regional scale (the nine-county Bay Area, for example) had by the early 20th century become a major stream of planning thought.In the 1960s, however, sociologist Jean Gottmann described “a new order in the organization of inhabited space,” emerging at a scale well beyond conventional definitions of the region. His 1961 book, Megalopolis, described an urban agglomeration comprising Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. that exhibited considerable economic, geographical and cultural integration. The idea proved prescient, as the megalopolis (also known as the “megaregion” or “megapolitan region”) has become an increasingly distinct and pervasive phenomenon of the global age.Megaregions are loosely integrated urban clusters of 10 million people or more, with an indistinct physical form, containing a wide range of land use and demographic conditions and a complex set of internal economic relationships. No single metric can define a megaregion, but its logic might be revealed in a series of commonalities: overlapping job and housing markets, key industries in common, integrated transportation systems, ecological context and cultural outlook. This new unit brings with it a new imperative: institutional and policy frameworks with a megaregional perspective.SPUR’s 2007 report, The Northern California Megaregion, describes an area with a core extending out from San Francisco, taking in Sacramento, Modesto, Monterey and Lake Tahoe, and whose sphere of influence includes both Fresno and Reno. It uses a variety of metrics and proposes several policy initiatives to tackle challenges at a megaregional scale.Figure 14: Jean Gottman’s seminal book Megalopolis (1961) argued that the northeastern U.S. could best be understood as a single, complexly integrated urban megaregion.From Jean Gottman’s “Megalopolis” (1957)Figure 15: In 2009, the Regional Plan Association (RPA) mapped 10 “megaregions” in the United States, where most of the growth in the coming decades is expected to occur.From the Regional Plan Association (RPA)
 The TransectA transect diagram combines the visual language of the architectural cross section with a scale and analytical approach borrowed from the science of ecology. It reveals how conditions change across a landscape, suggesting the importance of context to both natural and built communities.The technique was deployed more than 200 years ago by Prussian geographer Alexander von Humboldt, who used a transect to diagram the biogeography (the study of the distribution of species, organisms and ecosystems in geographic space and through geological time) of Patagonia from ocean to ocean. In 1909, the Scottish planner and sociologist Patrick Geddes drew his influential “Valley Section” — a transect that showed how ways of life, or “natural occupations,” emerged from their geographical context. His emphasis on extractive industries like hunting and mining notwithstanding, his way of thinking had a profound influence on the regionalism and environmental consciousness that became a powerful force in 20th-century planning. Landscape architect Ian McHarg would also deploy the transect as an analytical tool in his influential 1969 book Design with Nature, which established the framework for today’s ubiquitous use of geographical information systems (GIS).Figure 16: Patrick Geddes’ 1909 Valley Section demonstrated how ways of life or “natural occupations” such as miner or hunter, emerged from their geographical context.Courtesy of the Center for Applied Transect StudiesFigure 17: In 1999, Andres Duany created the “urban to rural transect,” which identified a series of conditions from the urban core to wild nature, and proposed that planning policies change as densities varied.Courtesy of Andres Duany, DPZ
 Sculpting FormMany of the tools of city planning were created in order to regulate the excesses of the 19th-century industrial city, including unregulated development, overcrowded tenements and noxious industrial uses. Like many early planning codes, New York City’s 1916 Zoning Resolution established Euclidean zoning that regulated land use, defining residential, commercial and industrial zones. But unlike many such laws, it also regulated the “building envelope,” or the allowable volume that a structure could occupy. This was in response to previously unregulated steel skyscrapers like the 1914 Equitable Building, which angered its neighbors by blocking light, air and views. The zoning was part of a broader Progressive Era planning agenda that included tenement reform and building fire and safety codes.Figure 18: Hugh Ferris’s renderings from The Metropolis of Tomorrow (1922) tested the implications of the 1916 zoning law, but also defined a new urban aesthetic.From Hugh Ferris’s “The Metropolis of Tomorrow” (1929)The new law allowed a “street wall” proportional to the width of the adjoining street, above which a building would need to step back and fit within a “sky exposure plane” that would allow at least some light to reach street level. This subtractive approach to urban design was well suited to the intense growth pressures of early-20th-century Manhattan. In 1922, an architectural draftsman named Hugh Ferriss set out to illustrate the implications of the new law. His moody charcoal renderings were eerily predictive of the Manhattan that would emerge in the subsequent decades, a machine-age metropolis that would populate countless comic books and films.The approach to regulating built form would become part of the toolkit of city planning. San Francisco’s 1985 Downtown Plan included both tower setback and height limits (later superseded by Proposition K shadow regulations) to ensure that the sun reached open spaces.Figure 19: In this aerial view of New York City, the impact of the resolution on built form is clearly visible by the 1930s.Figure 20: The 1916 Zoning Resolution setback principle regulated land use and defined commercial, residential and industrial zones with New York City.
 The Nolli MapGiambattista Nolli’s 1748 map of Rome was a major milestone in cartography. It presented the entire city to scale in plan (or “ichnographic”) view — with every point seen as if from directly above. At the time, most urban views were imagined bird’s-eye aerial perspectives that were not technically rigorous.The Nolli map’s impact on urban design and planning stems from its graphical convention: In figure ground diagrams, buildings are shown as dark masses, with streets and open space left white. The effect — now a common analytical technique — is to reveal the characteristic pattern of streets and buildings that underlies urban form.The figure-ground or form-void relationships that these diagrams illustrate proved to be hotly contested in the 20th century. In traditional urban patterns like Nolli’s Rome, streets and open spaces generally read as the foreground, defined and shaped like urban rooms by background buildings. Modern architects inverted this relationship, with buildings as foreground objects, set in background space, which tended to be poorly defined. Beginning in the 1970s, urban designers like Colin Rowe turned to figure-ground maps to illustrate the qualities that were being lost, and to make the case for traditional patterns.Figure 21: Giambattisti Nolli’s 1748 map of Rome (Nuova Pianta Di Roma) presented the entire city to scale, with every point seen as if from directly above.Courtesy of the University of California Berkeley LibraryFigures 22: Allan Jacobs’ seminal treatise Great Streets (1993) takes figure-ground analysis to a new level, showing 50 one-mile-square maps of cities around the world, all drawn to the same scale. Four examples are seen at right.From Allan Jacob’s “Great Streets” (1993)
 The Bottom-Up CityIn the 1950s, the Situationist International, a group of radical scholars, artists and architects in Europe, had grown increasingly alarmed at the rationalist urban renewal schemes of modernist architects. Ancient quartiers were being demolished and replaced with clean, ordered institutional buildings. Though the Situationists sympathized with the radical social agenda espoused by modernism, they felt that the soulful particularities of the cities they loved and the bohemian demimondes they occupied were threatened by the cold absolutism of modernism. They set out to confound and resist not only the excesses of bourgeois capitalism but also the tyranny of modernism’s urban form agenda, however progressive its motives.Figure 23: Theorist Guy Debord’s 1957 Guide Psychogeographique de Paris records one observer’s “drift” though the atmospheres and emotions of Paris.Guy Debord’s Guide Psychogeographique Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie (RKD)The Situationists urged a different sort of resistance, one that happened through play, serendipity and of being deeply attuned to the experiential qualities of the city. They coined the term “psychogeography” to get at the way in which the city was created not by architects and planners but rather by the sum of individual experience and meaning. For them, to encounter the city was to create the city. Guy Debord’s “Guide psychogéographique de Paris” diagrammed one particular set of wanderings through the city, its route snipped from a favorite illustrative map.The idea that the city was constituted through the experiences of its residents also emerged in planning practice as an analytical strain of urban design, one that sought new ways to understand the nuances of city life. Kevin Lynch from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed a system of “cognitive mapping” in which subjects mapped the city from memory. The results from a sizable sample could be aggregated, revealing a city’s most memorable or “imageable” features. This newfound emphasis on the experience and memory of urban residents was part of a major reorientation of city planning away from topdown transformation and toward a more contextual, citizen-based approach.The Situationist emphasis on experiment, play and happenstance has found a new voice in the 21stcentury public realm. Often described as “tactical urbanism,” urban interventions like PARK(ing) Day, Critical Mass, Sunday Streets and Burning Man have blurred the lines between art, play and activism, each taking the city and its possibilities as its subject and each asserting the value of the ephemeral and the experimental in today’s civic discourse.Figure 24: The “city image” of Boston was compiled and created by Kevin Lynch from the input of many individuals in “The Image of the City” (1961).From Kevin Lynch, “The Image of the City” (1960); Figure 25: From Rebecca Solnit’s “Infinite City,” University of California PressFigure 25: In “Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas,” (2010) writer Rebecca Solnit created unique portraits of San Francisco from scores of thematic (and imaginary) maps like this one, “Monarchs and Queens.”
 The Hockey StickWhile most of the diagrams featured here were created by planners and architects, few have had as much impact on the practice and rationale of planning as Michael Mann’s “hockey stick,” which combines several sources of proxy data (like ice cores and tree rings) with recent records to show a dramatic spike in Northern Hemisphere temperatures in the industrial era. Nicknamed for its shape, this graph was famously featured in Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, and although it has come under scrutiny by climate skeptics, its scientific validity has been repeatedly confirmed.The specter of global climate change and the role human settlements play in it has become a central organizing idea in planning and architecture. Simply put, people who live in cities consume less energy and emit less carbon per capita than their suburban counterparts. The fundamental efficiencies of cities — walkability, transit access, smaller homes, fewer cars and more efficient infrastructure — make them a critical tool for lessening our climate impact. The shape and location of growth thus become critical factors in our climate future. Denser growth, well integrated with transit and other amenities, helps reduce our climate footprint, and dispersed, uncoordinated growth worsens it. Many other factors — like public health, civic life, open space preservation and more equitable access to basic amenities (like parks and transit) — also benefit from this kind of “smart growth,” and planners often link the climate argument to other priorities.This argument is reflected in policies like California’s Senate Bill 375, passed in 2009, which attempts to improve the integration of transportation and land use decisions by tying transportation dollars to more sustainable growth patterns. It is in the process of being implemented and its impact remains to be seen.Figure 26: Michael Mann’s seminal (and controversial) “hockey stick” graph was one of the first to show how Earth’s temperatures have been increasing rapidly in recent times.Courtesy of Michael Mann
Figure 27: The shape and location of growth are critical factors in our climate future. As this Metropolitan Transportation Commission map reveals, most Bay Area growth is occurring in car-dependent suburban areas at the region’s edges.Courtesy Metropolitan Transportation Commission
BlogMonday, November 5, 2012The Fall 2012 issue of Content magazine highlights SPUR’s recent expansion to San Jose in a terrific profile of our San Jose director, Leah Toeniskoetter. A passionate cyclist and former Peace Corps volunteer with a background in real estate development, Toeniskoetter is pleased with the work that's been accomplished over the past year and is excited for what's ahead. “There are 500,000 people coming to San Jose in the next several decades,” she explains. “SPUR...
The Fall 2012 issue of Content magazine highlights SPUR’s recent expansion to San Jose in a terrific profile of our San Jose director, Leah Toeniskoetter. A passionate cyclist and former Peace Corps volunteer with a background in real estate development, Toeniskoetter is pleased with the work that's been accomplished over the past year and is excited for what's ahead. “There are 500,000 people coming to San Jose in the next several decades,” she explains. “SPUR is excited to think deeply about where they will live, work, shop and play.” The city's future, she says, is urban: “We want to live in a walkable, active place with viable alternatives to driving and the ability to live close to work, parks and our basic needs.”
Policy LetterFriday, November 2, 2012The City of San Jose is considering new planning requirements for new development that would encourage mode-share shifts to biking, walking and using transit. SPUR has studied this topic extensively and is very supportive of these goals. In this letter we offer comments and recommendations for strengthening the revised requirements.
The City of San Jose is considering new planning requirements for new development that would encourage mode-share shifts to biking, walking and using transit. SPUR has studied this topic extensively and is very supportive of these goals. In this letter we offer comments and recommendations for strengthening the revised requirements.
BlogThursday, October 18, 2012Recent years have been filled with experts decrying the sorry state of public finance in California. And with good reason. Three California cities have filed for bankruptcy protection since June. Since 2008, local governments in California have shrunk by nearly 190,000 employees (11.2 percent) and property values over the same period declined statewide by 21.3 percent. Meanwhile, the state budget experienced consecutive annual budget deficits of $60 billion (2009-10), $19.3 billion (2010-11), $...
Recent years have been filled with experts decrying the sorry state of public finance in California. And with good reason. Three California cities have filed for bankruptcy protection since June. Since 2008, local governments in California have shrunk by nearly 190,000 employees (11.2 percent) and property values over the same period declined statewide by 21.3 percent. Meanwhile, the state budget experienced consecutive annual budget deficits of $60 billion (2009-10), $19.3 billion (2010-11), $26.6 billion (2011-12) and $16.6 billion (2012-13).
What comes next?
The Institute for Government Studies at the University of California at Berkeley convened an impressive panel of experts last month to move that debate forward. Discussions covered more than the magnitude of the problem — although there was plenty to say about that. There was also talk about the factors contributing to the crisis and what we might be able to do about it.
While few disagreed about the overall state of finances in California, panelists spoke of a combination of factors that may have led the state deeper into recession:
· Existing structural challenges have been exposed by the recession. The recession has revealedfundamental imbalances between receipts and expenditures, such as weaknesses in the financing of state and local pension plans and retiree healthcare obligations. These systems were designed to be sustained through continual growth but they had never before been tested by a downturn like the one we’ve recently experienced.
· State actions to balance budgets may have intensified the impact on local governments. Steps taken by the governor and state legislature to stabilize state finances and limit the impacts of the economic downturn — such as the elimination of redevelopment agencies — may have compounded the impacts of the recession on local governments. The elimination of redevelopment agencies was projected to save the state up to $1.7 billion, but it has also left cities without financing for affordable housing or other redevelopment initiatives.
· One-time solutions have been exhausted.With a sustained downturn, the collection of strategies used to weather a short-term recession have long since been used. What is left are much more painful discussions about service reductions, e.g. closure of state parks.
· Competing traditions have left the state paralyzed.State and local governments in California have been constrained by competing traditions: an appetite for generous public services and a citizenry actively engaged in ballot-box planning. Proposition 13, the 1978 measure that capped property assessments, and Proposition 218, which requires voter-approval for new revenues, are significant barriers and have constrained the ability to generate revenues to sustain funding levels.
· Irrational optimism is preventing necessary decisions. Worse than a “perfect storm” of economic factors is the weight of history in how California moves forward. Despite the depth of the recession and the impacts of state and local reductions, there is still an overwhelming belief that the state can grow out of this problem as it has in the past. Nowhere is that belief stronger than with the growing challenge of funding public employee pensions and retiree healthcare, with a projected shortfall of between $200 billion and $500 billion just for state pension funds, depending on the estimate. Unfunded retiree healthcare obligations add an additional $60 billion. There is little agreement about how to mitigate those challenges.
The pension issue is emblematic of the broader paralysis of the state. There is consensus on the existence of the problem, but no agreement whatsoever on just how bad it is or how it should be solved. In spite of critical funding constraints, there is no agreement over whether to raise additional revenue or to reduce benefits. Financial experts appear to agree that state and local pension systems need to revisit how pensions are calculated, but enacting changes for anyone but current employees — the bulk of the current unfunded liability — is an extremely difficult proposition. A few cities have attempted to tackle the task: San Francisco negotiated changes to its system, and both San Diego and San Jose passed reforms at the ballot; Los Angeles is still on the horizon. The pension reform proposal for the State of California, signed into law last month by Governor Brown, leaves the benefits of current employees untouched but requires them to share in the expense of increased benefit costs.
And these are exactly the types of challenges that have driven several California cities into bankruptcy — Mammoth Lakes, Stockton and San Bernardino in 2012 alone. The structural costs of labor, healthcare and pension benefits have in these cases eclipsed the ability of cities to provide core services. In some instances cities are closing recreation centers simply to retain public safety services. We have clearly arrived at a time when we must prioritize services and invest limited resources wisely.
California, both the state and to some extent its cities, is at a crossroads: Either we operate within the constraints of this “new normal” or we come to agreement on solutions that can be jointly sold to legislators and taxpayers. In the past, consistent growth and fleeting downturns have allowed California to in many ways paper over the major challenges and rely on one-time fixes to weather the occasional storm.
It’s clear that time is over.
ArticleWednesday, October 10, 2012A new emphasis is being placed on the availability of open data from governments, but what use does this data have for citizens’ daily experience? I work with Code for America to advocate for city governments to open up public data sets. We make a clear economic argument to these cities: If you provide data as a free commodity to web developers, they will ultimately start businesses, grow jobs and create consumer-facing products — with relatively little government...A new emphasis is being placed on the availability of open data from governments, but what use does this data have for citizens’ daily experience? I work with Code for America to advocate for city governments to open up public data sets. We make a clear economic argument to these cities: If you provide data as a free commodity to web developers, they will ultimately start businesses, grow jobs and create consumer-facing products — with relatively little government funding or other support. Although there are many deep arguments made for opening up civic data in the public domain, from a pragmatic and economic perspective civic data has great value for cities.
NewsCivic data is literally enhancing news and information on public sector matters. A lot of attention has been given to enhanced news experiences: Journalists are able to tell better stories because more information is available, for example. Though most citizens have little use for a list of, say, the longitude and latitude of fire hydrant locations, we are all taking in more (and better) articles, charts, graphs and other interesting graphical manifestations of publicly provided statistics about weather, transit, crime, budget allocation and politics.
Weather (and Crime)In perhaps open data evangelists’ favorite example of how data can generate an entire industry, the National Weather Service released basic weather data to publicly accessible sites like Weather.com and AccuWeather and to developers of widgets for mobile devices, contributing to what is now a $1.5 billion industry of weather forecasts. San Francisco design firm Stamen was one of the first to change the way we consume weather data by building an innovative hurricane tracker for MSNBC back in 2008. Stamen is also responsible for CrimeSpotting, one of the earliest interactive crime maps that maps public police data onto a user-friendly interface.
TransitAnother industry has grown around open transit data. General Transit Feed Specification (or GTFS data) is a standardized format born out of a public-private partnership created when a few city employees of Portland, Oregon’s municipal transit system (TriMet) wanted to provide transit schedules to Google in a standardized way. GTFS is now publicly provided for 383 transit agencies and counting and is currently the standard for releasing static (scheduled) transit data.Real-time transit data is also one of the more straightforward contributions to our daily lives. In major cities where people commute and rely on public transit, quality of life can be infinitely improved when commuters are given access to real-time arrival and departure information in the palm of their hands. Excellent examples of this have been created by third parties — and not the transit companies themselves. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) openly encourages third-party developers to produce mobile apps like NextBus and iBart that help riders access real-time data.
What It All Means for CitiesCivic data is just another free commodity provided by government agencies, similar to the radio frequencies that were once divvied out to third parties as a government-provided good. Third-party developers consume information and can ultimately provide a better product for less money than if a government were to produce it. When government or transit agencies make raw data available at little or no cost, the private market can process the data to deliver a superior consumer product.This trend is being promoted through a slew of city-hosted competitions like New York’s BigApps, which each year gives cash awards totaling $50,000 to app developers who create a useful tool with civic data for citizens. Web developers are drawn to the notion of doing good for society with data — and the process speaks to the highly competitive hacker/hackathon culture. By leveraging the talent of individual web developers, the city gets a whole suite of software for a mere $50,000 investment. Other cities can follow New York’s lead on this.Open data success stories have historically been pushed forward by for-profit companies. Whether it’s governments recycling innovative applications of data (as with websites like federalregister.gov) or consumers benefiting from indirect application of data sets provided (as with mobile transit apps like Routesy), public-private partnerships are crucial to understanding the unique value of civic data in the real world. Just as new and small businesses are made strong with governmental subsidies and tax incentives, civic data has the power to stimulate economic activity in cities.
ArticleTuesday, October 9, 2012Sharing is an old idea. But its potential to generate new economic opportunities is only just beginning. Under the name “collaborative consumption,” or sometimes simply “the sharing economy,” a new type of enterprise is emerging that strives to make it easy for people who don’t know each other to share resources. Habits of sharing that have existed within small, informal networks for most of human existence (say, borrowing your neighbor’s lawnmower or...
Sharing is an old idea. But its potential to generate new economic opportunities is only just beginning. Under the name “collaborative consumption,” or sometimes simply “the sharing economy,” a new type of enterprise is emerging that strives to make it easy for people who don’t know each other to share resources. Habits of sharing that have existed within small, informal networks for most of human existence (say, borrowing your neighbor’s lawnmower or letting a friend crash on your couch) have now blossomed into a market for micro-entrepreneurship that spans the globe. This new enterprise is fundamentally capitalist yet simultaneously more socially and environmentally conscious. And it has been made possible by the emergence of new, networked social tools and a cultural shift toward peer-to-peer commerce that makes trust and efficient exchange between strangers possible.Collaborative consumption represents a major economic, social and cultural shift. But as it moves out of infancy and toward greater adoption and acceptance, it’s time to look at the ways policy might help facilitate its growth — and how government might help, or hinder, its progress.
The emergence of the sharing economyOne of the longest-standing examples of the sharing economy is car sharing, which got its start more than a decade ago. SPUR was an early supporter and in 2001 made it a strategic priority to bring car sharing to the Bay Area, helping to incubate a new nonprofit organization, City CarShare, to provide the service. Car sharing proceeded from two basic insights: first, that cars are expensive to own and second, that most cars sit idle most of the time. The early car-sharing movement identified a previously unvalued resource — the unused hours of a car. By making it possible to pay based on how much one drives, car sharing converts the fixed costs of ownership to variable costs based on use.Car sharing offered a glimpse of the incentives that would come to motivate the broader sharing economy, such as cost-consciousness, concern for the environment and a renewed interest in community. Today, City CarShare members save an average of more than $8,000 per year compared with the costs of private car ownership. From an environmental perspective, the benefits of car sharing are enormous: reduced resource consumption because fewer cars are manufactured and better use of urban land previously devoted to storing vehicles. By making the true marginal costs of car use visible to drivers, car-sharing members are incentivized to drive less. Since City CarShare launched in 2001 with 50 participants, it has grown to more than 15,000 members and 400 cars while attracting competition and imitators of all kinds. City CarShare has overcome numerous practical hurdles — lining up parking spaces, creating reservations technology, acquiring the vehicles themselves — but more importantly, it has gotten people to rethink the role of the automobile in their lives.Newer entrants to the collaborative consumption field have offered many of the same benefits and seen similar levels of remarkable growth. Services and spaces like Loosecubes and Hub Bay Area make it possible to share office space. Airbnb, VRBO and CouchSurfing provide a way for people to rent out their apartments, homes or extra rooms when they aren’t in use. Peer-to-peer car-sharing companies like Getaround and RelayRides enable private owners to rent out their cars, potentially turning every car into a shareable asset, while Park Circa is doing the same thing for parking spaces. SideCar and Zimride help drivers share the unoccupied seats in their vehicles by using technology to facilitate spontaneous, on-demand ride sharing. Everything from apparel to babysitting services, backyard produce to cargo bikes, can be exchanged under the new sharingeconomy model. Nearly all of these ventures challenge existing industries and practices, such as traditional rental car companies and cab companies, traditional rental agreements or conventional usage patterns.The people who developed the necessary technologies and the projects that got us accustomed to the idea of sharing on a larger scale deserve considerable credit for this shift in the status quo. The open-source software movement and Wikipedia pioneered a method for harnessing the contributions of a crowd to produce a shared resource, even when the participants are far-flung and don’t know each other. This remains a core element of collaborative consumption, one that defines the practices of companies like Kickstarter and other forms of crowdsourced funding, social lending (Lending Club, Prosper) and social currencies (Ven, Bay Area Community Exchange). The 1999 advent of Napster, the notorious music downloading site, made many people comfortable with notions of use rather than ownership. And eBay brought technology-based market exchanges to the masses, facilitating a huge wave of micro-entrepreneurship that paved the way for companies like TaskRabbit, Vayable and Skillshare.It’s important to note that this is not solely an outgrowth of new technologies; some facets of collaborative consumption are thriving via comparatively low-tech tools, such as parents’ groups that facilitate kids’ clothing exchange, announce garage sales and the like on Yahoo discussion threads, and via brick-and-mortar community efforts like tool sharing and skill sharing. A huge component of this movement is a culture and behavior shift: People are collaborating informally in their neighborhoods out of necessity and as a lifestyle choice.That said, the increasing adoption of online commerce and the rise of smartphone ownership are core to the rapid growth of collaborative consumption. Forty-six percent of American adults now own a smartphone, up 11 percent from a year ago. In the United States, e-commerce sales grew 16.1 percent from 2010 to 2011 and are expected to continue growing by 10 to 15 percent for the next several years. Whereas traditional sharing arrangements tended to be informal and limited to folks one knew, the new technologies allow people who don’t know each other to share resources more safely, formally and efficiently.
Why the sharing economy is importantFor urbanists, the rise of the sharing economy is gratifying. These sharing services are extensions of our community. They require a belief in the commons (i.e., public space, public education, health and the infrastructure that allows our society to function), which cities foster, and they are amplified by the kind of physical proximity that only exists in cities. Metrics increasingly reveal that sharing economy businesses tend to generate greater economic benefits and reinvestment in the community. Studies have shown, for example, that for every reduction of 15,000 owned cars, a city keeps $127 million in the local economy as people are able to get what they need within a smaller geographic area. For the Bay Area, the sharing economy has the potential to be especially significant in several ways. One, it offers a very direct and powerful way to make it more affordable to live here. Instead of owning a car, you can reliably access one only when you need it. If you own a car, you can rent it out during the estimated 92 percent of the time it is not being driven. If you go out of town, you can rent out your vacant home. The impact of these services on household budgets can be huge. Getaround members earn an average of $4,200 per year renting out their cars while Airbnb hosts in San Francisco earn an average of $5,000 a year renting out their housing units. Those hurt by the recession can supplement — or even cobble together — their income through 21st-century versions of the temp agency, such as TaskRabbit.Second, this industry model is exportable. One of the ways that cities grow their economies is by developing businesses that serve specialized local tastes — think music in Nashville or jogging in Portland. Local firms that grow up serving these demanding customers can then export to customers elsewhere.  The urbanized Bay Area provides the perfect incubator for collaborative consumption. Some of our cities have compact land use patterns that facilitate interaction and exchange. We have an educated population with high numbers of early adopters of new technologies. We have high environmental awareness, along with a high cost of living, which motivate us to experiment in new ways to save money by sharing resources. Today San Francisco is the center of the collaborativeconsumption movement in the United States, with strong support from Silicon Valley. If some of the firms that exist today can find traction and grow nationally and internationally, we will have witnessed the emergence of an important new part of our economic base.
A policy agenda for the sharing economyDespite the excitement surrounding these ventures, the emerging industry faces several significant challenges — most pressingly, outdated regulatory frameworks and the hostility of established enterprises.When a new industry or technology emerges, government frequently has to rely on past models as it figures out how to regulate the new enterprise. For example, when the automobile debuted on American roads, it came into conflict with the horse, and early regulations tended to prioritize the horse. As Kenneth Jackson detailed in his book Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States, “On the theory that lumbering automobiles frightened horses and raised dust, many states followed British precedent and passed laws limiting self-propelled vehicles to four miles per hour and requiring that each be preceded by a man on foot carrying a red flag.”  At the same time, the extremely powerful railroad industry kept the automobile from emerging as a competitive threat, delaying by decades the construction of networks of paved roads.We can see here that these twin threats — inappropriate regulations and fearful established companies — are interrelated. Peer-to-peer car sharing, for example, was held back for years because California insurance regulations didn’t allow it. Car companies are threatened by car sharing, just as taxi companies are threatened by dynamic ride sharing. Likewise, hotels are threatened by the increasing numbers of peer-to-peer room and house rentals. In all of these situations, there may be valid reasons to monitor, regulate and tax the collaborative activities, but there is great danger that in doing so, government could make it impossible for the sharing economy to work.What companies within the sharing economy need from government is fairly straightforward: They need to be allowed to operate. This means that they need protection from established companies that might try to use the power of government to kill competition, and it means that they need a tax structure that does not penalize collaborative consumption.As of this writing, the rules of the San Francisco assessor-recorder state that every person who rents his or her apartment on a sharing site must pay the transient occupancy tax (commonly known as the “hotel tax”), just like a hotel does. But other businesses in San Francisco don’t start paying taxes until they generate revenue over a certain threshold. (If the business tax reform on this November’s ballot passes, businesses in San Francisco that earn less than $1 million in revenue will not be subject to a gross-receipts tax.) Shouldn’t people who earn a couple thousand dollars a year from sharing resources have a similar small-business tax exemption?Advocates of the sharing economy argue that we should give the benefit of the doubt to people who are trying to earn a little extra money renting their housing units, cars, parking spaces or other assets — that we should be permissive about letting people share resources.If governments decide to require permits for certain forms of sharing, let’s make sure that we invent a modern form of permit — one that is accessible online and easy to understand, as simple as registering to vote. If we can’t make it that easy, let’s strongly consider not requiring a permit. These new platforms provide an easy and low-impact way to track transactions that otherwise were “underground” and to capture revenue.Government’s first and primary role in fostering the sharing economy should be to protect this economy’s existence by not overtaxing it or regulating it out of existence. Beyond that, there are several key things governments can do to promote collaborative consumption:1. Governments can be early adopters of shared services, as the City of Berkeley did with City CarShare.  By promoting the services and providing the early users that new services rely on to grow, they give their stamp of approval to something that will, in many cases, save taxpayers money.2. They can help create better and more standardized methods for measuring the impacts and benefits of the sharing economy. Hotels have ways of quantifying their economic benefits to the community through hiring; purchasing of furniture, food and cleaning products; procurement contracts; and tourist dollars spent locally. As yet, Airbnb has no consistent method to measure its economic impact, though it has substantial survey evidence indicating that the income of Airbnb guests most often flows to the immediate neighborhood, which is generally outside the traditional tourism districts where visitor dollars concentrate. Survey data also shows that hosts use their Airbnb income to reinvest in their home thus increasing property values in their neighborhood.3. Local decision makers can communicate with other cities about model policies for supporting the sharing sector. Creation of overarching best practices would save municipalities across the country time and would help them create incentives for growth. San Francisco can be an undisputed leader in this effort.4. Cities can play a more active role in making both publicly owned and private assets available for maximum utilization by residents. The simple genius of the sharing economy is in identifying existing but underutilized assets and extracting a benefit that previously didn’t exist. SPUR’s Public Harvest report  inspired San Francisco to do this with public lands by calling for an audit of city-owned land and rooftops to see which are suitable for urban agriculture.5. Local governments can build on the backbone of the great sharing service they already provide – libraries – by expanding them to related uses such as tool libraries.
Potential for a symbiotic relationshipSince City CarShare launched more than 10 years ago, the sharing economy has grown and developed in ways we never could have imagined. It’s generating ways to save resources and money. It’s actively helping build community and creating new jobs and new modes of commerce. It’s an expression of the natural virtues of city life, in which high densities of people facilitate exchange, collaboration and innovation.Collaborative consumption shares a core trait with government in that both exist to help local residents meet their goals. Their aspirations for communitybased benefits are largely aligned and can amplify each other. Consider city goals of zero-waste and job growth, for example. Collaborative consumption can help make cities better. But its continued viability and growth will be contingent on learning to play well with government. It is incumbent on all of us to figure out the best ways to ensure that will happen.Some of the sharing economy is taking shape within for-profit businesses, which will want to expand around the country and around the world. Others are nonprofit, mission-driven organizations or local, informal efforts. A range of different projects are taking shape and gathering momentum. We may have only begun to realize their potential.-- See Robert Cervero, Aaron Golub and Brendan Nee, “San Francisco City CarShare: Longer-Term Travel- Demand and Car Ownership Impacts,” University of California at Berkeley Institute of Urban and Regional Development, May 2006. (www.iurd.berkeley.edu/publications/wp/2006-07.pdf) Pew Research Center. http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2012/Smartphone-Update-2012/Findings.aspx U.S. Department of Commerce. http://www.internetretailer.com/2012/02/16/e-commerce-salesjump-16-2011 Susan Piedmont-Palladino, “The Space-Time-Money Continuum,” National Building Museum. http://www.nbm.org/intelligentcities/topics/city/city-essay.html#full Provided by Getaround. Ashley Levine, Getaround Press Office. See Joe Cortwright’s discussion of the “Distinctive City” in City Success: Theories of Urban Prosperity, CEOs for Cities, 2008. www.ceosforcities.org//research/city-success-theories-of-urban-prosperity/ Kenneth Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 158. See www.shareable.net/blog/policies-for-a-shareable-city-14-the-shareable-city-employee
BlogTuesday, October 2, 2012SPUR’s San Jose office is convening a task force of city officials and planning and development thought leaders to tackle a vexing question: How can the nation’s tenth largest city transform its historically suburban built environment into one that supports an active street life, greater use of transit and a stronger urban fabric? San Jose has charted an ambitious course through its new 2040 General Plan; one of the major goals is to concentrate development in key areas called urban...
SPUR’s San Jose office is convening a task force of city officials and planning and development thought leaders to tackle a vexing question: How can the nation’s tenth largest city transform its historically suburban built environment into one that supports an active street life, greater use of transit and a stronger urban fabric? San Jose has charted an ambitious course through its new 2040 General Plan; one of the major goals is to concentrate development in key areas called urban villages. These villages, mostly located along major transit lines, aim to support reductions in solo driving and associated carbon emissions while creating a more engaging, livable city that can compete for the creative workforce that is driving today’s tech economy.
As the city initiates a local planning process for these areas, a critical opportunity emerges to get the placemaking details right. SPUR’s initiative will focus on physical planning and urban design. We will address site planning; building placement, orientation and access; the design of streets and blocks; the design and use of open space; and the organization of land uses. In short, we will look at all the ways a land use program is translated into a place that either does or does not support walking, cycling and transit.
Efforts to achieve better urban design outcomes are nothing new in San Jose. In fact, sound urban design principles have been articulated repeatedly in city guidelines since the 1980s. But despite great strides in the downtown and some gradual improvement elsewhere, development in San Jose is still overwhelmingly auto-dependent and has not produced the kinds of pedestrian- and transit-friendly neighborhoods that can truly support a shift away from the private car. Financial pressures and fierce competition for employment uses have hampered the city’s ability to uphold the principles espoused in its plans.
SPUR’s task force will reach well beyond planning and urban design, drawing from all the disciplines that shape the built environment, from development and traffic planning to lending and marketing. We will drill into the policies, processes, decisions and compromises that shape real-world projects and identify impediments to urban design excellence. We will also develop a collection of precedent projects from places similar to San Jose to show what success can look like — and how it can happen under complex real-world constraints. Finally, the task force will produce a report recommending changes to the development process that can yield improvements on the ground. Once these recommendations are in place, SPUR will support their implementation through the urban village planning process and help city officials make this ambitious vision everything it can be.
Read the San Jose 2040 General Plan >>
Keep up with this project — join SPUR’s San Jose mailing list >>
Policy LetterTuesday, September 25, 2012Deciding to locate a bus rapid transit (BRT) station directly in front of City Hall, instead of one block further east, provides an opportunity to integrate BRT with major destinations, improve City Hall plaza security through increased activation and use, and connect to the planned bike sharing program at City Hall. A City Hall station is a less costly option and would be a public demonstration of San Jose’s commitment to prioritizing transit.
Deciding to locate a bus rapid transit (BRT) station directly in front of City Hall, instead of one block further east, provides an opportunity to integrate BRT with major destinations, improve City Hall plaza security through increased activation and use, and connect to the planned bike sharing program at City Hall. A City Hall station is a less costly option and would be a public demonstration of San Jose’s commitment to prioritizing transit.
BlogTuesday, September 4, 2012A cadre of 45 urbanists gathered downtown on a recent Sunday morning to join SPUR San Jose Director Leah Toeniskoetter for a bike tour. Beginning in the urban plaza fronting Philz Coffee, our mighty bike train easily navigated its way along the brand new buffered bike lanes of Third Street, en route to Japantown. A project of the City of San Jose, the extra-wide bike lanes are a product of recent “road diets” on certain streets, where three lanes of auto traffic were reduced to two...
A cadre of 45 urbanists gathered downtown on a recent Sunday morning to join SPUR San Jose Director Leah Toeniskoetter for a bike tour. Beginning in the urban plaza fronting Philz Coffee, our mighty bike train easily navigated its way along the brand new buffered bike lanes of Third Street, en route to Japantown. A project of the City of San Jose, the extra-wide bike lanes are a product of recent “road diets” on certain streets, where three lanes of auto traffic were reduced to two in order to add the buffered bike lane.
The new lanes easily accommodated the group as it cruised past St. James Park and through the Historic Hensley District, known for having the highest concentration of Victorian homes in the city’s central core. San Jose Director of Transportation Hans Larsen noted that the district really came to life in 2005 when road diets were applied to the section of Third and Fourth streets in the Hensley District, calming the fast three-lane, one-way streets to a slower two-lane, two way street with bike lanes. The transition has prompted continued investment in the historical character of the neighborhood.
In no time at all, the two-wheelers turned onto Jackson Street, the main road through the Japantown neighborhood — one of only three historical Japantowns in the United States. The heart of this district was embodied by the tables full of people outside of Roy’s Station, a gas-station-turned-coffeehouse on the corner of Jackson and Fifth streets. After passing the Sunday farmers’ market at the site of the old City of San Jose Corporation Yard, the group continued into the heart of the Northside Neighborhood District’s Luna Park Business District surrounding Backesto Park. Winding its way back through the neighborhood’s charming homes to the newly installed Tenth Street buffered bike lanes, the group made a straight shot back to the center of downtown and onto the San Jose State University campus.
As the oldest public institution of higher education on the West Coast, the SJSU campus is full of serene quads with surprises such as the Black Power Statue, the historic and architecturally significant Tower Hall, built in 1910, and the first library (Dr. MLK, Jr. Library) in the nation to be jointly owned by a city and university.
After snaking through the campus the bicycle caravan entered the city’s first protected bike lane, which runs along Fourth Street on the campus’ western edge. The group then circled back to San Fernando Street, the main bike route between campus and historic Diridon Station, the second busiest train station in California.
The tour then led to the Alameda, built in 1799 as the connection between Mission Santa Clara and the Pueblo of San Jose. In 1868, the Alameda became the state’s first interurban horsecar line and, in 1888, it became California’s second electric trolley line, after San Diego. Previously State Route 82 but now under the purview of the City of San Jose, the Alameda is expected to undergo an extensive upgrade in the Fall of 2012.
With a turn into the Rose Garden neighborhood the caravan passed the Rosicrucian Park and Museum, home to the largest collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts on display in Western North America, and wound its way around another beautiful neighborhood, with homes dating to the 1920s and 1930s. A tour of the Rose Garden neighborhood wouldn’t be complete without passing its namesake, the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden, a 5.5 acre city park filled with more than 3,500 bushes and 250 varieties of roses cared for by local volunteers.
A quick venture into the Shasta-Hanchett neighborhood, lined with Craftsman houses built between 1900 and 1920, led the group back to the Alameda, through the Cahill Park neighborhood and then to Park Avenue, another bike route into the downtown. A turn onto the Guadalupe River Trail, a separated bike path that runs along the Guadalupe River Park, guided the caravan straight through the 32nd annual Italian Family Festa of San Jose. After riding past stands offering fresh cannoli and other treats, the group traveled just a few blocks further to finish the tour at the San Pedro Market, having experienced a new way to see at least a small portion of what San Jose’s biking landscape has to offer.
BlogThursday, August 9, 2012In January 2010, San Jose passed an inclusionary housing law to help do three things: address the city’s affordable housing needs, meet the state’s requirement for regional fair share housing and promote economic integration. But now a successful legal suit has thrown the future of this law into question. To understand what’s at stake, this post takes a look at how the 2010 ordinance was designed to work and what the lawsuit could mean for San Jose and other California cities....
In January 2010, San Jose passed an inclusionary housing law to help do three things: address the city’s affordable housing needs, meet the state’s requirement for regional fair share housing and promote economic integration. But now a successful legal suit has thrown the future of this law into question. To understand what’s at stake, this post takes a look at how the 2010 ordinance was designed to work and what the lawsuit could mean for San Jose and other California cities.
Before 2010, San Jose’s inclusionary housing policy applied only to redevelopment areas, but the 2010 ordinance expanded the requirements citywide. The ordinance applies to residential developments of 20 units or more and requires that 15 percent of units in for-sale housing developments be made available for purchase by income-restricted households at below market rates. Additionally, 9 percent of the dwelling units in rental developments must be priced for moderate-income households and 6 percent for very low income households. (“Moderate income” is defined as $53,000 for a 1-person household and $75,700 for a 4-person household, and “very low income” is $36,750 for a 1-person household and $52,500 for a 4-person household.)
The ordinance creates an incentive for developers to build the inclusionary units on-site, but it also provides them with other options to fulfill their affordable housing obligations. For example, developers can pay an in-lieu fee that helps to fund future affordable housing initiatives in the city, build affordable units at a separate location or dedicate land for future affordable housing developments. Additionally, the ordinance places deed restrictions to ensure that the inclusionary units remain affordable well into the future. In the event that an owner of an inclusionary unit were to sell the home to a buyer who does not meet the income requirements, the city would capture a portion of the appreciated value of the home. Those proceeds, similar to the developer in-lieu fee, would pay for future affordable housing.
The ordinance is meant to help San Jose reach its housing goal of providing more than 19,000 affordable housing units between 2007 and 2014, as determined by the Association of Bay Area Governments and in accordance with the state-required regional housing needs allocation (RHNA) process. The city had already implemented precedents for this concept in large-scale development plans, including the redevelopment of the former Hitachi industrial campus and North San Jose’s Specific Plan, where a portion of the new homes built would be affordable as a way of ensuring a diverse community.
San Jose’s inclusionary housing ordinance was slated to go into effect in January 2013, but following its adoption the California Building Industry Association (CBIA), with assistance from the BIA Bay Area, filed a lawsuit to overturn it. The plaintiffs argued that the city did not show proof that market rate housing adversely affected the community or created the need for affordable housing. Proving evidence of a relationship between the impacts of a development and the requirements put on the developer, called a “nexus,” has been established as a constitutional standard in previous land use lawsuits. In certain cases cities will undertake a nexus study to prove the relationship before proposing fees or requirements. However, it is very unusual for jurisdictions to do nexus studies to justify their inclusionary housing ordinances. Normally, cities can rely on the “police powers” afforded them under state and federal law in order to enact inclusionary housing laws for the purposes of regulating land use or protecting the health and well-being of their citizens. This is nothing new in California cities: The California Coalition for Rural Housing compiled a database that indexes 145 inclusionary policies in different jurisdictions statewide, nearly half of which are enacted in other Bay Area cities.
In May 2012, the lawsuit against San Jose’s inclusionary housing ordinance prevailed and Santa Clara County Superior Court overturned it. San Jose is in the process of appealing this decision, and the outcome could have implications for any California city that passed similar measures without a nexus study.
Until the appeal is heard, no part of the law can be enforced, and San Jose cannot rely on its inclusionary ordinance to provide affordable housing. Meanwhile, it and other California cities can no longer rely on redevelopment funding that came from tax increment financing, 20 percent of which (and in San Jose’s case, up to 40 percent) was used to fund affordable housing. Since 1988, these funds have helped finance 175 developments in San Jose, providing 13,920 affordable units. The economic meltdown, coupled with these cuts to funding, has left the city significantly behind in meeting its RHNA goals for the 2007-2014 period. (These goals are mandated by state housing law as a way to quantify the need for housing within each city during specific planning periods,) And there is no new source of funds on the horizon.
Meanwhile, the need for housing that is affordable to the local workforce, across the spectrum of incomes in San Jose, remains as high as ever. Affordable housing developers are still trying to pursue projects in San Jose, and the city’s housing department plans on continuing to support affordable housing. Their goal is to provide funding for affordable housing units currently in the pipeline, despite limited funding.
SPUR believes it is important to increase thesupply of housing at all income levels; when designed and located well, housing can become a tool for strengthening neighborhoods and local economies. We also believe that one type of housing need not be built at the expense of another. Instead, we must work collaboratively to obtain the necessary financial resources and regulatory tools to build it all.We hope the city’s inclusionary housing ordinance will be reinstated, and that San Jose will be able to find new resources to help construct badly needed affordable housing.
ArticleTuesday, July 10, 2012OverviewAs California prepares to build North America’s first 200-plus-miles-per-hour high-speed rail track, the voices of doubt and hesitation become louder and more strident. Skeptics attempt to drown out confidence in the project. But if the current uneven economic recovery can offer any lesson at all, it's that confidence is a vital factor in correcting an economy — and it is also the most important asset of a public works project. Skeptics have framed the question of...
OverviewAs California prepares to build North America’s first 200-plus-miles-per-hour high-speed rail track, the voices of doubt and hesitation become louder and more strident. Skeptics attempt to drown out confidence in the project. But if the current uneven economic recovery can offer any lesson at all, it's that confidence is a vital factor in correcting an economy — and it is also the most important asset of a public works project.Skeptics have framed the question of high-speed rail as a major debate about whether or not we can afford it. This debate is happening both in Washington, D.C. and throughout California.SPUR believes that high-speed rail is not just a worthwhile investment but a necessary one. We also believe that we can afford it.California began building its current state freeway system in 1947, a decade before the federal government introduced (and began funding) the Interstate Highway System. Much of the debate and planning around building California’s high-speed rail assumes that the majority of the capital construction funds will come from the federal government — at least $38 billion in grants, loans and other financial support. That assumption is understandable: For the past century, major transportation projects — from bridges to rail — have always been funded with federal dollars. Federal government–supported bonds enabled the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge to be built, for example. And worldwide, major high-speed rail systems are generally built with funding from national governments.However, given our national political dynamics, where a significant majority of elected leaders do not support government investment in domestic infrastructure, let alone in non-auto modes of travel, it is quite possible that significant federal investment will not materialize. This is not to be taken lightly: A future for the United States without major federal support for transportation projects is frightening and would lead to the further degradation of infrastructure and the loss of the nation’s economic competitiveness.Unpleasant as it is to contemplate, this is a very tangible scenario we must prepare for. The good news is that even without federal support, California can pay for a high-speed rail system with resources generated within the state.Figure 1Construction phases for high-speed rail Just like the building of the Interstate Highway System, the construction of high-speed rail will occur in phases.The full system that connects north to Sacramento and south to San Diego has been proposed, but the costs for these investments are not yet detailed.California is the world’s ninth largest economy and the largest single economic entity worldwide without a high-speed rail system at least under construction. Far smaller economies and regions have built or are building high-speed rail. California’s gross state product is $1.959 billion — 188 percent larger than South Korea's gross domestic product (GDP), 143 percent larger than the Netherlands’ and 30 percent larger than Russia’s. In China, the high-speed rail connecting Beijing and Shanghai was built in less than three years. The total GDP of Beijing and Shanghai is about $550 billion, which is only half that of the ned San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles Metropolitan Statistical Area.California is projected to add 20 million people between 2010 and 2050. The current proposed $68.7 billion high-speed rail system is far less costly and has significantly fewer environmental impacts than the more than $170 billion that would otherwise have to be spent by the state to expand airport runways and highways.This article demonstrates how and why California can — and must — proceed with building highspeed rail.
What is the status of California’s highspeed rail system?In the 1970s, leaders in California proposed a highspeed rail connection between Northern and Southern California. Although Amtrak has long provided train service along the Pacific Coast and south through the Central Valley to Bakersfield, there is no passenger rail service over the Tehachapi Mountains into the Los Angeles Basin. High-speed rail service would reduce the current San Francisco–to–Los Angeles transit trip from nearly nine hours (including a long bus trip over the mountains) to less than three hours, a speed that is highly competitive with air and much faster than auto travel.In November 2008, 53 percent of California voters approved a $9.95 billion General Obligation bond (Proposition 1A) as a down payment on building such a system from San Francisco to Los Angeles and continuing to Anaheim. At the time, it was projected that the full statewide system would cost $33 billion. In 2009, the Obama administration identified $10.1 billion in federal funds for U.S. high-speed rail projects, $3.6 billion of which is dedicated for California. In 2011, the California High-Speed Rail Authority decided to invest the first major portion of its state bond funds to begin construction in the Central Valley portion of the segment. The federal government supported that decision and made the delivery of its $3.6 billion investment contingent on construction commencing in the Central Valley in 2012.In recent years, the California High-Speed Rail Authority has further refined its extensive engineering drawings and produced several updated business plans closely detailing how and where the rail system will be built, and at what cost. This is a project that has been studied and scrutinized at an extremely high level of detail.As of this writing, the State legislature has not yet authorized the sale of the state bonds to begin construction in the Central Valley.
How the train will be builtThe latest business plan adopts the European approach to delivering high-speed rail: dedicated fast track in rural areas and use of existing, but often upgraded, railways in urban areas. This approach allows for a faster system delivery, which saves money and not only delivers benefits sooner but also generates revenue faster. Each section of the rail network will provide independent utility prior to the completion of a comprehensive statewide system of dedicated high-speed tracks. This so-called “blended” approach would run high-speed trains on existing rail as well as on new, dedicated tracks. This incremental method was successfully employed by the TGV, France’s high-speed rail system. (This sort of phased construction of infrastructure is not uncommon: Interstate 5 in California was begun in 1947 and not completed until 1979.Since most current regional rail service in the state is diesel, the blended approach involves converting diesel train service (including Caltrain in the Bay Area) to electric service where trains will share tracks. This approach reduces costs significantly but still achieves a single-seat ride (that is, one train goes the entire distance from A to B, no transfers required) from downtown San Francisco to downtown Los Angeles and beyond.There are three major phases proposed for the construction and implementation of high-speed rail:1. Initial Operating Section (Merced to San Fernando Valley)The first phase will include building dedicated high-speed rail tracks from Merced in the Central Valley south through Fresno and Bakersfield and then east to Palmdale and south into the San Fernando Valley, at the northern edge of the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Construction will be completed by 2022, at which time the train could open for service for passengers traveling from the Central Valley into the Los Angeles region. The current business plan forecasts operating profits on this line, which means we can construct a high-speed train line from Merced to the Los Angeles area that requires no ongoing operating subsidies.2. Bay to Basin System (San Francisco to San Fernando Valley)In the second phase, to begin in 2021 and be completed in 2026, the dedicated high-speed rail infrastructure will be extended into San Jose from Merced. This segment will enable a one-seat ride from the Transbay Transit Center in downtown SanFrancisco all the way to the San Fernando Valley in the Los Angeles area.3. Completed Phase 1 Blended System (San Francisco to Anaheim)The third phase brings the dedicated high-speed rail system into Los Angeles’ Union Station and beyond to Anaheim. It also involves upgrading the passenger rail corridor between Los Angeles and Anaheim. A complete California high-speed rail system would extend service north from Merced to Sacramento and east from Los Angeles to Riverside and then south to San Diego. While this article does not assess the costs of these extensions, SPUR is committed to completing a statewide system that includes Sacramento and San Diego.Figure 2 shows the construction process for the train system.Figure 2Construction schedule for high-speed rail The Initial Operating Segment (IOS) would connect the Central Valley with the Los Angeles area and begin service around 2022. With Bay to Basin service the train would then connect to the Bay Area and allow for a one-seat ride (meaning no transfers required) from San Francisco to the San Fernando Valley by around 2026. Under Phase I Blended, dedicated high-speed train service would connect into Los Angeles’ Union Station and beyond to Anaheim. Throughout the entire construction, there would be investments in the “bookends,” meaning investments in Caltrain and Metrolink as well as other regional rail systems in the Bay Area and Greater Los Angeles.
The benefits of high-speed railThere are many reasons to pursue a high-speed rail system:1. High-speed rail makes any two places on or near the line that were once far apart appear to be closer together by making travel between them easier and faster. Building a high-speed rail system across California would have a transformative potential on the economies of Northern and Southern California as well as the Central Valley. By decreasing the effective distance between parts of the state, highspeed rail shifts the market competitive structure within which people and firms make decisions about where to live, work and invest. In particular, high-speed rail can deliver economic growth opportunities to underperforming places (such as the Central Valley). Not only will the construction stage generate approximately 100,000 jobs for people in the Central Valley, but, once the train is operating, businesses may locate near rail stations to access other business opportunities throughout the state. Considering that the unemployment rates in most Central Valley counties are between 15 and 20 percent, getting people back to work and creating economic infrastructure to support a growing population is imperative.2. High-speed trains will improve mobility by saving travel time and reducing congestion as travelers shift from air and auto to rail. California is falling behind its major competitors in the world economy due in part to its continued reliance on inefficient and expensive automobile and air travel. Congestion on our state’s roads results in $18.7 billion annually in lost time and wasted fuel. Flights between the Los Angeles and San Francisco metropolitan areas are the most delayed in the country, with approximately one out of every four flights late by an hour or more. The alternative to providing the same capacity as high-speed rail is to add 2,300 highway lane miles, four new airport runways and 115 airport gates. The costs of these expansions would exceed $170 billion over the next 20 years, more than twice the cost of the high-speed rail system. The projected number of riders diverted from the air system to the high-speed rail system would be more than 5 million in 2040 and would rise above 6 million by 2060. Based on the experience of Japan and Europe, high-speed trains can secure up to 90 percent of total air traffic for travel up to about 310 miles (slightly less than San Jose to Los Angeles) or half of all air travel for distances up to 500 miles (the distance from San Francisco to San Diego). Overall, from 2040 to 2080, Californians will save an average of 79 million hours per year by using high-speed rail.3. High-speed rail will reduce pollution and help meet statewide climate change goals. With California’s growing population and consequent travel demand, there is no way to meet our greenhousegas reduction goals other than by shifting more trips onto cleaner trains. The rail system will mean 3 million fewer tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually. It will also result in 4 billion fewer vehicle miles traveled on California highways in 2040.4. High-speed rail provides armature for the state’s growth. California continues to grow by nearly 500,000 people per year and is projected to surpass 50 million in population before the middle of the century. Most of this new growth must go into existing urbanized areas and will occur in communities adjacent to the high-speed rail system.5. High-speed rail would help strengthen and improve commuter rail and regional intercity rail, increasing the viability of transit for intraregional commuting. The proposed alignment connects cities currently on or near the Los Angeles rail system with cities along Caltrain, for example. While there will only be one or two stations between San Francisco and San Jose, the sharing of tracks along the Peninsula corridor between statewide (high-speed rail) and regional (Caltrain) service will provide significant benefits to the Caltrain system by delivering statewide travelers who can easily transfer to go several additional stations north or south.6. High-speed rail reinforces the knowledge economy sector by supporting face-to-face interaction and improved productivity. For the increasingly integrated economies of Silicon Valley and Hollywood, high-speed rail will facilitate greater innovation, exchange and collaboration, particularly because meetings can be continuous from one region to the other, without the hassle and inconvenience of air travel. The additional value of rail simply from the ability to do continuous work is estimated at $10 billion. (See “Hollywood vs. Silicon Valley," p. 14)These are just some of the benefits of high-speed rail. But simply building a system does not guarantee that all the potential gains will be realized. Maximizing both ridership and gains to employment and income depends upon the ability of the market to invest in commercial development, housing and other productive facilities near the rail system. As noted above, such investments can have major impacts on both large economic agglomerations such as Silicon Valley as well as more isolated and economically strapped places like Fresno and other Central Valley communities.But to realize the full economic benefits of high-speed rail requires an appropriate land use response. This means good planning for station area development as well as accessibility planning to connect travelers from high-speed rail stations to nearby employment and other destinations. If such investment does not occur, or if local opposition critically impedes it, the impact of high-speed rail will be significantly reduced.To achieve the appropriate land use response to high-speed rail requires first the articulation of a statewide interest in high-speed rail as an important tool to shape development. But given that planning is a local function in California, there is a need to reconcile this conflict, particularly for an infrastructure investment with much broader economic benefits. SPUR’s 2011 Beyond the Tracks report proposed such a framework that combines local planning with statewide planning guidelines and oversight.Yet this station area planning is only relevant if high-speed rail is actually built. Given this reality, the more immediate question is how to pay for the system.Figure 3Construction cost by category (in constant 2011 dollars)The construction of the tracks and purchase of the right of way accounts for 2/3 of the entire cost of the high-speed rail system. The vehicles and stations themselves are a relatively small portion of the costs, as is the overall project managementFigure 4Construction cost by geographic segment (in constant 2011 dollars) Connecting the high desert town of Palmdale into Los Angeles and from Merced in the Central Valley over the Pacheco Pass into San Jose account for over half the cost of the rail system. The long stretch from Merced to Bakersfield in the Central Valley accounts for less than 1/5 of the total cost.
How much will it cost to build California’s high-speed rail system?The capital cost for a high-speed rail system from San Francisco through the Central Valley to Anaheim is estimated at $68.7 billion in year-of-expenditure dollars, using the baseline 2011 dollars and varying assumptions about inflation. Two-thirds of the construction cost is for building the tracks and acquiring the rights of way. Constructing stations, purchasing train cars and building the electrification systems comprise another 20 percent of costs, with the remainder being the administrative costs of program implementation. Each category includes contingencies of between 15 and 25 percent for unanticipated costs. In addition, the project includes a six-year schedule extension, which accounts for unforeseen delays in project funding. Speeding up construction or other changes could result in significantly lower costs.Figure 3 (at top left), breaks out the categories included in the cost estimate.Each segment has different costs, with the most expensive being San Jose to Merced, at $13.5 billion. Palmdale to Los Angeles will cost $12.3 billion, while Merced to Bakersfield will be $10.1 billion and San Francisco to San Jose’s Diridon Station will cost $5.6 billion, including the tunnel into S.F.’s Transbay Transit Center. The costs for different segments will vary with length and with features of the terrain and degree of urbanization. In urban areas, more expensive aerial structures or tunnels may be required.Figure 4 (at bottom left), summarizes the capital cost for Phase 1 by segment, in base-year 2011 dollars. These are the individual alignment costs only and do not include systemwide costs like vehicle purchases and heavy maintenance facilities (nor does it include future rail extensions).In 2008, when California voters approved a $9.95 billion bond to support high-speed rail, the entire project cost was $33 billion. In the 2009 business plan, the cost increased to $43 billion, and then increased again in the draft 2012 business plan to $98.5 billion. The final 2012 business plan reduces the cost to $68.7 billion. It focuses on beginning construction in the Central Valley while simultaneously making investments in the “bookends” — the urban areas in the Los Angeles Basin and the Bay Area — to improve regional rail service and take a blended system approach to the construction and operations by putting initial high-speed service on existing (and upgraded) commuter rail facilities. This approach saves both time and resources, as it has fewer environmental impacts.
How are we going to pay for it?Funding sources include the federal, state and local governments as well as private sources, particularly a potential operator of the train system. Of these, only the state and secured federal grants are in hand. Proposition 1A authorized the state to issue $9.95 billion of general obligation bonds, $8.2 billion of which is estimated to be available for high-speed rail infrastructure construction after environmental, planning and support costs. The program has also received an allocation of $3.6 billion from the federal government.In addition, the business plan assumes just under $5 billion from a combination of local, state and private sources.The plan also assumes a $13 billion investment from a private operator who will invest once the trains begin operation around 2022. If the assumptions in the business plan are correct, the private operator will not require any additional operating subsidy and could provide more than $230 million from net cash flow for further investment in finishing the construction of the system. The remaining $38 billion is assumed to come from the federal government in the form of grants, loans and other financing support.We hope the federal government does indeed invest in California’s high-speed rail system at this level, butwe also believe that California can pay for this on our own in the event the federal investment is lower.California is wealthy enough and economically large enough to pay for high-speed rail. There are many different ways to pay for the system in theory. The official business plan presents one way, and this paper presents other alternatives in order to make our point. In short: We need to do this, and we can afford to do this.If the federal government totally backs away from further investment in high-speed rail, there is one silver lining: We in California can still build high-speed rail by relying on a combination of road tolls, vehicle license fees, gas taxes, regional general obligation bonds, value capture mechanisms and revenues from the state’s cap-and-trade auctions. These local sources yield more than $2.7 billion annually. Over the 20-year construction of the high-speed rail system, these sources could replace the entirety of the expected $38.3 billion federal investment. In addition, they could also replace the current unspecified $5 billion from additional local, state and private sources.While we are noting that most of the revenue from these identified sources can flow to the high-speed rail project, this is not an argument that these revenue sources should only apply to high-speed rail. For example, we think gas taxes should be much higher or replaced entirely with a vehicle-miles-traveled fee, but are only assuming an increase of 6 cents per gallon to help support the rail project. In addition, the vehicle license fee (VLF) should return to its historic levels of 2 percent of value. This article, however, assumes far lower and more conservative levels. Some may disagree with the specific fees we assume or the share dedicated toward high-speed rail. For each stream of revenue, reasonable minds can disagree. This article is meant to be a thought piece to demonstrate that with the proper mix of revenues, California can pay for high-speed rail.Our assumptions are as follows:
Figure 5 compares the funding sources in the latest business plan with those in the SPUR plan (in year-ofexpenditure dollars). Below we explain each funding source in greater detail.Figure 5How to pay for California's high-speed rail system California can afford high-speed rail without future federal support. The sources of funding for high-speed rail identified here can generate over $43 billion towards the state's $68 billion high-speed rail project. The most significant sources of revenue are a dedicated six cent per gallon gas tax, a 15 percent share of the state's cap and trade auctions and the creation of $4 tolls on a few of California's highways.
- An increase in the gas tax of 6 cents per gallon for 20 years
- Road tolls of $4 per vehicle on six highways that parallel high-speed rail as it enters the Bay Area and Southern California
- An $8.50 increase in the annual vehicle license fee (VLF) for 20 years
- A regional general obligation bond for green power for Caltrain and BART that also includes $1 billion for electrification and grade separation
- $13 billion from the annual state cap-and-trade auction revenues until 2020
- Various value capture tools (impact fee, tax increment, Mello Roos district) at five high-speed rail stations
Value captureValue capture refers to policy tools that “capture” for the public some of the increases in land value generated by a public investment such as a new transit project. The idea is to ensure that the public receives some of the return on its investment as opposed to having all the increased land value accrue to private property owners. It also enables those funds to be reinvested back into the area to help pay for infrastructure improvements and other benefits (which in turn increase land values).While planners often tout value capture as a way to generate additional funds for public benefits, the reality is that value capture in California is a far more modest source of funding relative to the other sources described here. In addition to the limited tools for value capture, the recent history of rail investment in California and elsewhere in the United States shows only minor increases in value for land adjacent to transit. SPUR believes it is critically important to further explore value capture mechanisms around high-speed rail, including what is proposed for San Francisco’s Transbay Transit Center. But we recognize that it has far less potential as a major funding source than other tools like tolling, gas taxes and cap-andtrade auction revenues.Value capture encompasses a range of tools that extract some of the value created by the investment in the high-speed rail system. Some of the main tools include:
In the case of high-speed rail, there are many needs that could be paid for with value that is recaptured by the public, including upgrades to local infrastructure, investments in bringing transit directly to the high-speed rail station, operating costs for maintaining transit or shuttle programs, gap financing for particular new development projects, economic development strategies focused on expanding and attracting businesses or for the actual station itself.For the purposes of this paper, we only looked at value capture mechanisms focused on projected new development around five stations: San Francisco, Millbrae, San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim. Based on the combination of a $5-per-square-foot development impact fee, the capturing of 25 percent of the property increment and a property tax increase of between 6 and 10 percent (through establishing a Mello-Roos special property tax district), these tools would yield $400 million toward the high-speed rail system.We recognize that San Francisco is already proposing its own system of value capture for the area around the Transbay Transit Center. The purpose of the analysis here is to demonstrate that it will be difficult for value capture to yield much in the way of funding for the overall system.To generate more from value capture, we would have to apply value capture tools to existing development, as well as cover a larger geography around station areas. Even with such an approach, value capture would yield a small share of the total cost of high-speed rail. The lesson here is that value capture is not a significant source of funding for major statewide infrastructure. Instead we have to look to additional sources.
- Special assessment districts assess a fee on parcels in a particular zone that receives direct benefit from the investment in the high-speed train.
- Tax increment financing (TIF) is a mechanism whereby the growth in property taxes above a baseline is diverted and used to pay for specific local upgrades. Given that there are no longer redevelopment agencies in California with the power to use TIF within redevelopment areas, the closest tool is an Infrastructure Finance District (IFD). This operates like a TIF except that a smaller portion of the tax increment can be used to fund local infrastructure. IFDs capture the nonschool growth in the property tax only and are an appropriate tool for value capture around highspeed rail stations.
- Developer impact fees are one-time charges to developers in districts or cities, typically to pay for a portion of the surrounding infrastructure or other public benefits. These impact fees are used to finance costs associated with new development (such as feeder transit, schools, sewers).
- Joint development means that the private sector jointly develops property that is owned by the public sector (typically the transit agency).
Cap-and-tradeCap-and-trade is an enforceable program put forward by the California Air Resources Board (ARB) to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It is a central element of California’s Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32). Under cap-and-trade, major sources of GHG emissions in California will be imposed with a GHG cap. The California Air Resources Board will distribute allowances, which are tradable permits of GHG emissions, to these capped sectors and will hold allowance auctions each year to allow market participants to acquire them. The first cap-and-trade auction will be held on August 15, 2012, and further auctions will be held through 2020.The funds generated from the auctioned allowances can be used to further the purpose of AB 32, including for development and construction of the high-speed rail system. Additionally, high-speed rail is included within the scoping plan for AB 32.The 2012–13 governor’s budget estimates that the cap-and-trade auctions will generate $1 billion in 2012–2013, the first year of the auction. According to recent estimates by the Legislative Analyst’s Office, the cap-and-trade program will generate annual revenue ranging from $2 billion to $14 billion (2012 dollars) between 2013 and 2020, depending on the amount of allowance issued and the price. Under Governor Brown’s plan, these revenues would be invested in clean and efficient energy, low-carbon transportation, natural resources protection and sustainable infrastructure development. The highspeed rail project is highly related to the low-carbon transportation category: By diverting people from automobiles and flights, high-speed rail will reduce 3 million tons of GHG emissions annually.For this paper, we use the estimates from the Legislative Analyst’s Office for our assumptions about the revenue generated by the cap-and-trade auctions. If we assume that 15 percent of the revenue will be allocated to the high-speed rail project between 2012 and 2020, we project that the total amount of capand- trade revenues that can be used for high-speed rail is $13.05 billion (2012 dollars).
TollingA second major potential revenue source is road pricing. Specifically, we propose establishing tolls on all lanes on six key highways that run parallel to the high-speed rail alignment — 101, 280, 152, 5, 99, and 14. While tolling is likely a necessary mechanism to pay for general highway upgrades and to subsidize transit operations along the same corridors, we think there is sufficient potential revenue to support some of the initial capital costs for high-speed rail construction. This would be based on selling revenue bonds backed by the annual tolling revenue.Our approach is different from regional highoccupancy toll (HOT) lane networks, which leave some unpriced lanes and thus can undermine the efficacy of pricing to affect commute patterns and location choices. By contrast, full lane tolling can vary based on time of day and on demand for road usage, encouraging commuters to switch to other modes of transportation, travel at less congested times or change routes. Tolling freeways at entrances and exits with FasTrak and license plate cameras would be more cost-effective.Road pricing causes motorists to internalize the cost and impacts of driving, such as pollution and congestion. Pricing can affect commute choice, time of travel or route of travel. It also has the potential to reduce the number of vehicle trips. The higher cost of driving and use of revenue to fund transit can encourage mode shift.There are some downsides and challenges to full road pricing. For example, pricing all lanes of the freeway will raise equity concerns. Drivers who cannot afford the toll are priced off the road or forced to choose alternative routes or modes that may be more time-consuming. Low-income motorists who have no alternative will pay the toll but may not value their time savings more than the toll.Although freeway pricing raises numerous issues and concerns, it has great potential both to increase revenue and to affect individual travel choice. As a result, road pricing through tolls is an ideal candidate for a regional funding mechanism to help pay for highspeed rail construction.We argue that tolling should occur in three regions of the state: the Bay Area, the Central Valley and the Los Angeles area. In our scheme, the Los Angeles and Bay Area tolls will pay for a share of the construction costs of bringing high-speed rail from the Central Valley over the mountains (Coastal Range or Tehachapi) and for upgrades to regional rail networks. In addition, tolls within the Central Valley will help pay for finishing the construction in the Central Valley. Actual tolls would range from $2 to $6 and would vary by time of day and distance traveled. The average toll would be $4, which is the amount used in our analysis.
Gas taxThe state of California taxes automobile gasoline at 36 cents per gallon, two-thirds of which pays for state highways, with the remainder going to cities and counties, primarily for streets and roads. In addition, California also assesses a uniform state and local sales tax percent on each gallon (reduced in 2010 from 8.25 percent to 2.25 percent as part of a gas tax swap with an increase in the cents-per-gallon tax and a decrease in the sales tax percent). California’s gas tax did not increase from 1960 until the 1990s, whereby it gradually rose from 9 cents per gallon to 18 cents. In 2010 the tax increased to 35 cents per gallon at the same time that the sales tax decreased from 8.25 percent to 2.25 percent. This latest increase, however, did not bring the total tax to its 1960 level. For example, in 2000 dollars, in 1960 California collected more than $33,000 per million vehicle miles traveled. By 1990, that take had declined to $6,500. The gas tax increases in 1990 brought it up to $9,300, still far below 1960 figures. Today the tax remains at roughly the same level, which would still put it well below 1960.SPUR’s plan proposes an additional gas tax of 6 cents per gallon, which would generate $792 million annually. Assuming the tax would remain in effect for 20 years, it would generate a total of $15.84 billion for the project.
Vehicle license feeCalifornia’s vehicle license fee (VLF) is an annual fee on the ownership of a registered vehicle. The state sets the level of the fee and distributes revenues to cities and counties. From 1948 until the late 1990s, the VLF was two percent of assessed value. Since then, it has been reduced several times and is currently 0.65 percent of a car’s assessed value.There are currently 32 million registered vehicles in California, 22 million of which are automobiles. The average vehicle license fee per automobile is $66. Increasing the fee by $8.50 would make the effective rate of the VLF only 0.73 percent but would generate $187 million annually, or $3.75 billion over 20 years. This amount could be divided evenly among the three regions — the Bay Area, the Central Valley and Southern California — to pay for individual portions of the train infrastructure.
General Obligation bondA final revenue source is a comprehensive regional General Obligation (GO) bond. Unlike the statewide high-speed rail bond from 2008, a GO bond at the county or regional level would need a two-thirds majority vote by the public to pass. This could change in a future election to 55 percent but as of this writing remains at a two-thirds threshold for passage. GO bonds have broad application as they are backed by the local property tax stream.For the purposes of this analysis, we estimate a $2.5 billion regional GO bond from the five counties with BART and Caltrain: Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, San Francisco and San Mateo counties. Together, these counties have assessed values of over $800 billion.This bond would pay for the following:
The $1 billion included here would offset some of the investment in the current business plan for highspeed rail.
- $1 billion for electrifying Caltrain. This is the only portion of the GO bond that we are assuming as a replacement for the federal funds in the current business plan.
- $500 million for rehabilitation of BART’s electrical system
- $300 million for improvements to Muni’s trolley coach (electric bus) and light rail power system
- $700 million for creating 100 megawatts of solar energy, equivalent to the total load for BART and Caltrain
Summary of revenue proposalsThe revenue options listed above — value capture, cap-and-trade auction revenues, tolling, gas taxes, vehicle license fees and a GO bond — would yield more than $43 billion in purely state and locally generated funding.We accept that the project currently has about $12 billion in state bonds and federal grants that can all be directly applied to the high-speed rail project. We also accept assumptions for a $13 billion investment from a private operator.All told, the combination of SPUR’s plan and the existing sources yields more than $68 billion, the cost of the Phase I San Francisco–to–Anaheim system described in the 2012 business plan. If construction happens more quickly (based on having the funds earlier than assumed in the 2012 business plan), the entire Phase I project would cost considerably less than $68 billion. These savings could then be applied to expansion of high-speed rail to San Diego and Sacramento.
Getting on the right trackWhile based on conservative fiscal assumptions, the revenues described here are no doubt aggressive political assumptions. The current mood is that gas taxes are high and road tolls should only be used to pay for existing highways. However, part of the economic planning approach that SPUR supports is to consider the megaregion as its own semiautonomous economic unit. For the purposes of California, this is one of the reasons to suggest that we are perhaps one megaregion, not two. More importantly, the leading economic clusters of California — Hollywood and Silicon Valley — are increasingly integrated (for more on this, see “Hollywood vs. Silicon Valley,” p. 14). A physical rail linkage provides a much more substantial link than the current roadway and airplane connections.Given the future economic importance of supporting this ongoing integration, we think it is worth pursuing these funding schemes as a way to fast-track the building of high-speed rail. Ultimately, this approach may mean the difference between a partial high-speed rail system with little utility and a full-fledged statewide system that offers a one-seat ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles in less than three hours. It is only on a train that travelers can watch their Hollywood-produced movie on an iPad designed in the Silicon Valley without ever turning it off for takeoff and landing.--Source: California High-Speed Rail Authority, Revised 2012 Business Plan, p. 2-30. (PDF available at 1.usa.gov/N7KZ5k)Source: Tolling: SPUR analysis, 2010 AADT available at: http://traffic-counts.dot.ca.gov/; Vehicle license fee: SPUR analysis, http://dmv.ca.gov/fee_calc/feecalcfaq.htm
ArticleTuesday, July 10, 2012SPUR considers high-speed rail vital not just for the ecological imperative of providing a viable alternative to car and air travel but as a crucial step toward realizing the economic potential of enhanced access and exchange across the state. The dynamic interaction between two of California’s most important economic clusters — Silicon Valley and Hollywood — is among the most exciting examples of the potential of such cross-pollination. The conflict and convergence...SPUR considers high-speed rail vital not just for the ecological imperative of providing a viable alternative to car and air travel but as a crucial step toward realizing the economic potential of enhanced access and exchange across the state. The dynamic interaction between two of California’s most important economic clusters — Silicon Valley and Hollywood — is among the most exciting examples of the potential of such cross-pollination. The conflict and convergence between these areas forms a backdrop to the ongoing debate about whether or not we can afford high-speed rail.
A clash of clusters (and cultures)On August 10, 2011, Apple surpassed Exxon Mobil to become the most valuable company in the world, with a market capitalization of nearly $555 billion as of this writing. This achievement stems not just from the success of Apple’s approach to product design but from Apple’s pioneering use of design to bridge the distinct expertise of the entertainment and technology industries.California has the great fortune of serving as the home for two major innovative economic clusters described in the shorthand of Silicon Valley and Hollywood. “Silicon Valley” denotes the broad set of technology-related industries located in the Bay Area from San Jose to Santa Rosa, spanning fields as diverse as Internet search, semiconductors, software, gaming and social media. This economic region has the highest proportion of tech jobs in the country — more than four times the national average, according to Forbes — and is home to 49 percent of California’s patents and 12 percent of the nation’s (a marked increase since 1990 from 25 percent and 4 percent, respectively). “Hollywood” refers of course to the Los Angeles basin’s cluster of entertainment-related industries in film, television, music and publishing and is the nation’s single largest export sector and the most globally competitive. With more than 35 out of every 1,000 workers employed in arts, design, entertainment and media occupations, the Los Angeles metropolitan area has the highest concentration of entertainment workers in the country.For most of their existence, Silicon Valley and Hollywood have been essentially distinct from one another. Silicon Valley produced technologies that were sold to other businesses while Hollywood developed content that was sold to consumers through the industry’s proprietary distribution channels. But over the past 15 years, since the emergence of the modern Internet, there has been a growing clash between these two clusters over the way people access movies, books and music — what some would call “culture” and others would call “content.” The result has been a struggle over revenue, distribution channels and control.Out of the clash, we are now witnessing the emergence of new business models that bridge the divide between creation and distribution, integrating both sides of the product delivery equation and connecting people to entertainment and information in new ways. The new system is built upon a deepening integration of Silicon Valley and Hollywood.Exploring the dynamics of competition and convergence between Hollywood and Silicon Valley presents a case study in creative destruction and economic development, a harbinger of important questions concerning the future of the export engines that make California an international economic powerhouse. It also provides vital context for understanding the economic importance behind one of the major planning decisions of our day: the effort to build a high-speed rail system across California. The economic clusters of Northern and Southern California would benefit from being functionally closer because of high-speed train service. As the two economic regions further integrate, the train that will connect them calls into question whether California is two megaregions or actually one.During its brief run from February of 2000 to July of 2001, Napster was visited by more than 25 million users, who flocked to the website to share and download free music. Proprietary content, traditionally disseminated by a central owner, was being replaced by the many-to-many exchange structure of the Internet. The implications were quickly felt beyond the music world. The replacement of licensed distribution channels with open platforms and the switch from the shipping of physical inventory to the distribution of electrons — for which the marginal costs of extra sales is essentially nothing — opened up a world in which independent, amateur and user-generated content proliferated. At the same time, the limited bandwidth and programming slots of television and radio were challenged by the infinite set of content channels made available through the Internet.New cultural forms, from the mashup to the blog, proliferated. Artists, writers, academics and amateurs — anyone with anything to say — had a new platform for expressing themselves (albeit with varying capabilities of reaching an audience). The resulting explosion — and subsequent devaluation — of content significantly undermined the business models of the content providers centered in Hollywood and New York. The entertainment industry had made its money by withholding content with the purpose of increasing its value. The Internet, by contrast, was an ecosystem of abundance, and Silicon Valley firms benefitted by creating programs and products that allowed consumers to access this abundance, often for free. As content increased, so did the value of Silicon Valley’s tools. Before 2005, “media and entertainment” as industry categories of venture capital investment barely registered in the Bay Area, but in 2006, media and entertainment grew to about 8 percent of all venture capital investment in Silicon Valley. (In 2011, they were about 5 percent, the same as IT services.)But the cultural and market changes brought on by free access to so much online content meant that the music industry had entered a permanent cat-and-mouse game of chasing illegal music downloads. Newspapers and print media soon began to suffer similar disruptions. And with the advent of YouTube in 2005, coupled with the increasing bandwidth of household Internet connections, the same dynamic would emerge for television content.The innovations unleashed by Silicon Valley firms challenged the business models of the entertainment industry and other content providers in at least four major ways:1. By lowering the costs of production through cheap desktop software, Silicon Valley enabled many more people to become producers. This has led to more user-generated content, whether in the structured form of Wikipedia or the less organized amateur offerings on the Internet, which continues to challenge the value proposition of the corporate content creators.2. At the same time, as distribution moved from physical to virtual channels, many more people could become distributors. Compared with traditional book publishing, the costs of publishing a blog are negligible. To greater or lesser degrees, the same is true for every new digital form of content distribution.3. Stemming from these changes, the traditional gatekeeper role that content publishing industries had played began to erode. The music and film industries had been able to concentrate vast resources into a select group of artists, cranking up the “star maker machinery” to generate hits. But the open architecture of the Internet made it possible for artists and writers to find audiences for more niche content. Whereas the old business models emphasized selling a relatively small number of hits to a mass audience, new technologies made it profitable to sell many more kinds of cultural content to a larger number of small audiences — the so-called long-tail of the bell curve distribution of demand. Obscure books, music, movies, websites and blogs on every topic; Myspace pages for musicians; and YouTube channels for video content opened up an endless array of publishing channels. Social media, which enables friends to recommend articles, websites, songs and shows directly to one other, is increasingly becoming the way people decide what content to consume. All of this is radically changing the editorial functions of the professional gatekeepers, who once served as the primary filters between content producers and potential audiences.4. The new platforms created by tech companies also began to provide direct competition for the advertising revenues that had traditionally supported the television, radio and newspaper industries. Craigslist eviscerated the classified-ad market, spelling the undoing of daily newspapers. Search-based advertising (beginning with Google’s AdWords) became dominant. And social media websites, Facebook chief among them, came to provide serious competition for consumers’ discretionary cultural and entertainment consumption time, as well as for advertising dollars. Finally, the fragmentation of audiences into millions of websites made it more difficult to effectively bundle audiences together to sell ads.Different sectors of content and entertainment providers have responded to these changes in different ways. As entertainment attorney Jonathan Handel put it, “Traditional media companies are slow to adopt new technologies for fear of cannibalizing revenue from existing channels and offending powerful distribution partners.” But the dynamics of creative destruction have begun sweeping away those companies that have not effectively reacted to disruption.The newspaper industry will probably never recover from the combined blows of Craigslist, Google and the Internet itself. Even in 2010, a relatively good year for most sectors of news media, print newspapers continued to decline, losing 6.4 percent in revenue according to a Pew Study. Publishing continues to struggle against the Amazon/Apple/Google juggernaut. Magazines are increasingly shifting budgets and staff from print to online. In the case of music, it should be noted that the erosion of the music industry’s power has not necessarily been bad for musicians. While mega acts might make less money, it appears that many more musicians have been able to find an audience because of the proliferation of ways to connect with potential fans. But for the music publishing companies, the urgent problem became how to get consumers to pay for music rather than downloading it for free. The industry was slow to adapt to the changing dynamics, and ultimately the solution to the problem was found not by the music industry but by Apple, which is now also tackling film and television distribution. Apple’s iTunes represents the first, and thus far most successful, integration of new technology with content. With the launch of the iPod in 2001 and the iTunes music store in 2003, it finally became easy for consumers to pay for music — and ultimately TV, movies and other applications. Today, fully 70 percent of digital music sales take place through the iTunes store, amounting to 28 percent of all music sales.The film and television industries appear to be doing better than the music industry. As media reporter Brooks Barnes noted in the New York Times, “instead of Hollywood suffering its own Napster moment…several differences have allowed video content to weather the storm.” Having witnessed the music industry lose control of its inventory, film and TV industry giants have fought vertical disintegration by pioneering new means of distribution. Same-day release and increasing on-demand options have helped stem piracy. Cable services are being expanded to allow viewers to watch shows on any device — provided they are subscribers. And video industries benefit from the simple fact that video requires much more bandwidth than audio, so the culture of file sharing never overwhelmed movies and TV to the same degree as it did music.Nevertheless, as household bandwidth increases and the costs of production decrease, we may see the very same dynamics unfold for movies and TV that have already transformed the music industry. In 2007, Viacom sued YouTube over content piracy, but by 2010 TV industry giants, including Warner Bros., Sony and NBC Universal, were agreeing to license their content through YouTube. Many different firms are competing to become important distribution channels for online video content. And just as cable TV channels like HBO moved up the value chain from distributing content to creating their own content, online distribution channels like YouTube, Hulu, Yahoo and Netflix are increasingly developing their own original content in partnership with professional writers, producers and entertainers hired from Hollywood, further merging the worlds of Silicon Valley and Hollywood.
Bridging the “Great Divide”One of the major lessons from the career of Steve Jobs, the former CEO of Apple, is the value to be had from bringing together the cultures of Silicon Valley and Hollywood:When I went to Pixar, I became aware of a great divide. Tech companies don’t understand creativity. They don’t appreciate intuitive thinking, like the ability for an A&R [artist and repertoire] guy at a music label to listen to a hundred artists and have a feeling for which five might be successful. They think that creative people just sit around on couches all day and are undisciplined, because they’ve not seen how driven and disciplined the creative folks at places like Pixar are. On the other hand, music companies are completely clueless about technology. They think they can just go out and hire a few tech folks, but that would be like Apple trying to hire people to produce music.I’m one of the few people who understands how producing technology requires intuition and creativity, and how producing something artistic takes real discipline.Apple and Pixar were the first, and perhaps the most successful, companies to successfully integrate Silicon Valley and Hollywood. Today, many others are following in their wake.In this new ecosystem, the core competencies of Hollywood have had to adapt. Zack Zalon, founder of Los Angeles startup incubator Elevator Labs, is one of the emerging generation of L.A. entrepreneurs pioneering an evolved role for entertainment within this converging economic landscape. Others, like former Myspace chief executive Mike Jones, are working to provide the infrastructure for a uniquely Los Angeles innovation culture to thrive in “Silicon Beach,” as some have taken to calling L.A.’s emergent tech corridor. Jones’s Science Inc. provides access to investment capital and strategic mentorship, which used to be difficult to find outside Silicon Valley.Hollywood has the competitive advantage of being full of the creative types whose artistry Jobs correctly identified as essential to creating successful products. In the new cultural landscape of infinite content, it’s up to the audience, not the executive, to decide what’s worth watching. And Los Angeles, the beating heart of American popular culture, has always had a unique ability to give shape to American dreams with a special poetry that eludes techies and cellphone video uploaders.There will continue to be high-profile conflict between Hollywood and Silicon Valley as the entertainment industry tries to enact legislation to keep control over the means of distribution of content and as new technologies emerge. But the dominant dynamic is one of convergence, as the new tools for content distribution, centered in Silicon Valley, find enormous economic value by being joined with the creators, talent, producers and directors who populate the entertainment industry centered in Los Angeles. Among its numerous benefits, high-speed rail could further facilitate this fruitful collaboration.--
 Steve Jobs," by Walter Isaacson (Simon & Schuster, 2011)
BlogMonday, July 9, 2012Word of a big win for Silicon Valley came July 2 from the U.S. Commerce Department. For the first time in its history, the United States Patent and Trademark Office will open four offices outside of Virginia, and the western region office will be located in Silicon Valley. California produces one quarter of the approximately 500,000 patents filed annually in the United States. The volume of filings has created a year-long backlog, which encouraged President Obama to direct that four new offices...
Word of a big win for Silicon Valley came July 2 from the U.S. Commerce Department. For the first time in its history, the United States Patent and Trademark Office will open four offices outside of Virginia, and the western region office will be located in Silicon Valley. California produces one quarter of the approximately 500,000 patents filed annually in the United States. The volume of filings has created a year-long backlog, which encouraged President Obama to direct that four new offices be opened by 2014. The selected locations were chosen from 600 applicants and were required to demonstrate the ability to conduct outreach to the patent applicant community, the ability to recruit top talent at the Patent and Trade Office, the ability to retain top talent, the potential economic impact of the office on the selected communities and geographic diversity of selected offices.
The Silicon Valley Leadership Group, the City of San Jose and San Jose State University led a major effort to locate this office in Silicon Valley, and we applaud their success. Though early reports mentioned San Jose, as of this date a specific city in Silicon Valley has not been finalized. SPUR strongly supports downtown San Jose as the right location. The city’s access to intellectual capital and major universities with strong engineering programs, its multiple public transportation systems and its airport make San Jose a worthy selection. The three other U.S. cities that will receive patent offices are Detroit, Dallas and Denver.
We believe there could be some significant clustering benefits around this patent office, similar to the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Mission Bay in San Francisco but on a much larger scale. We hope the commerce department will get the details right as this moves forward — in particular locating the patent office in downtown San Jose, where it could function as an anchor for legal and professional services in a central, transit-rich location.
SPUR ReportMonday, July 2, 2012It is our great pleasure to share with you SPUR’s major accomplishments of the past year. The most significant step we took this year was to extend the reach of our 100-year-old organization beyond San Francisco with the opening of a SPUR office in San Jose. We believe that many of the challenges cities face today — from transportation access to job creation to adapting to sea level rise — will benefit from a regional approach. We invite you to learn more about our...
It is our great pleasure to share with you SPUR’s major accomplishments of the past year. The most significant step we took this year was to extend the reach of our 100-year-old organization beyond San Francisco with the opening of a SPUR office in San Jose. We believe that many of the challenges cities face today — from transportation access to job creation to adapting to sea level rise — will benefit from a regional approach. We invite you to learn more about our accomplishments in 2011-12 and our vision for working in the region in the coming years.
BlogTuesday, June 26, 2012Many downtown areas have policies in place that restrict ground-floor storefronts for walk-in businesses such as retail, restaurants and entertainment. The idea is to encourage people to continue exploring (and hopefully shopping) on foot. But in an economic downturn, when retail stores may remain vacant for years, dark storefronts can create dead spaces of their own, further challenging the success of surviving retail tenants. With ground-floor retail vacancy rates hovering between 15 and 20...
Many downtown areas have policies in place that restrict ground-floor storefronts for walk-in businesses such as retail, restaurants and entertainment. The idea is to encourage people to continue exploring (and hopefully shopping) on foot. But in an economic downturn, when retail stores may remain vacant for years, dark storefronts can create dead spaces of their own, further challenging the success of surviving retail tenants. With ground-floor retail vacancy rates hovering between 15 and 20 percent for several years in a row, San Jose has adopted a temporary policy change allowing non-retail uses such as banks and business support services to occupy certain ground floor spaces without a special use permit — an investment of time and money that the city says has deterred several companies from locating downtown. The city also argues that ground-floor space occupied during part of the day is better than ground-floor space vacant all day. In addition, co-working spaces like NextSpace, which are not considered retail uses but do generate a lot of foot traffic throughout the day, are showing us that new forms of business uses can activate the street and should be encouraged to locate where they can enhance the vibrancy of pedestrian areas.
The temporary policy change allows for the elimination of the special use permit requirement for businesses of less than 20,000 square feet on non-corner street frontages that have one of the following uses: business support, financial institutions, financial services, office, business and administrative, day care centers and radio and television studios.
The upside to this action is the opportunity to fill vacant storefronts in the short term. The potential downside is that, once the economy turns around, “non-active” business uses may remain in locations meant for retail. Additionally, there is the potential to drive up rental rates on the ground floor, as business users can currently pay higher rent than a local retailer. For these reasons, the city, together with the San Jose Downtown Association, will track both vacancy and rental rates going forward and review the impact of this change in two years.
Going for height in the rental market
While the city is still feeling the impact of the economic downturn on the commercial side, San Jose, like many cities around the bay, has seen its residential rental market take off. According to a recent Marcus & Millichap Research Services report, San Jose’s rental vacancy is expected to be the lowest of the three major bay cities at 2.7 percent by year’s end (compared to 3 percent in San Francisco and 3.2 percent in Oakland). That said, obtaining financing to build high-rise residential continues to be a challenge in San Jose, especially on the tail end of very slow sales in the newest residential towers downtown. In order to take advantage of this demand for rental units, and also encourage higher residential density in the downtown, the San Jose City Council recently passed a number of temporary incentives to encourage high-rise developments. The following incentives apply to the first 1,000 units of new residential high-rise development of 12 stories or higher that break ground in the Downtown Growth Area by the end of 2013:
1) An expedited, 120-day review process of entitlements for any proposed high-rise development (this applies to high-rise development anywhere in the city)
2) The elimination of a city requirement to install an expensive breathing air replenishment system in high-rise buildings
3) The continuation of a 50 percent reduction in park fees for high-rise residential constructed in the downtown
4) A 50 percent reduction in construction taxes (this is also applicable to any commercial building constructed in the downtown, regardless of height)
5) Deferral of fees owed until the Certificate of Occupancy is issued
6) Waiver of minimum parking requirements with a long-term commitment from the developer to offer free participation in the VTA’s EcoPass program, as well as car-sharing services and enhanced bike parking facilities
Taken together, these two recent actions demonstrate the city’s desire to chip away at a slow commercial market while taking advantage of a strong rental residential market in the downtown. While it is true that the fee reductions will impact the funding parks and transportation improvements, if there’s no development in the near term, these departments won’t receive any funds at all.
BlogTuesday, April 24, 2012Earlier this spring, high-speed rail in California took two very significant steps. First Bay Area leaders announced a plan to electrify Caltrain, which would make it possible for Caltrain and high-speed rail to share the same tracks between San Jose and San Francisco. Second the California High-Speed Rail Authority released an updated business plan that cuts the cost of the train system by a third.The new business plan (download the official summary here) still assumes an electrified train...
Earlier this spring, high-speed rail in California took two very significant steps. First Bay Area leaders announced a plan to electrify Caltrain, which would make it possible for Caltrain and high-speed rail to share the same tracks between San Jose and San Francisco. Second the California High-Speed Rail Authority released an updated business plan that cuts the cost of the train system by a third.
The new business plan (download the official summary here) still assumes an electrified train system that will travel between San Francisco and Los Angeles in 2 hours and 40 minutes (at 220 m.p.h.) and will operate without any ongoing subsidy.
There are four key changes in this updated business plan:
1. It lowers the cost of the high-speed rail system by $30 billion to $68.4 billion by adopting a “blended” approach. This focuses investment on upgrading existing regional and commuter rail systems, not building an entirely new statewide system. The blended approach is realistic and allows for the system to be built incrementally. In the 2011 business plan, the blended approach was estimated to cost $78 billion. It is now estimated to be $68.4 billion. The savings are primarily due to updated assumptions about inflation and faster construction time. This approach has greater political support in adjacent communities (namely on the Peninsula) and has successful precedents around the world, including France’s popular TGV.
2. While starting construction in the Central Valley, it includes early investments in the Bay Area and Los Angeles (the “bookends” of the system). This includes the decision to help fund the electrification of Caltrain with a $700 million statewide investment in addition to $800 million in local and regional funds to help electrify Caltrain by 2020. Electrifying Caltrain will speed service (since electric trains can stop and start faster than diesel ones) and will reduce emissions by 90 percent. The new business plan also includes investment in upgrading the rail systems in the Los Angeles area. Overall, $3.5 billion will go into the urban systems over the next eight years.
3. It proposes that the initial operating segment will connect from the Central Valley to Southern California.The 2011 business plan proposed that the initial construction section would run from Madera (south of Merced) to Bakersfield. This business plan assumes that the system will begin with passenger service from Merced to a station in the San Fernando Valley. To connect from the Central Valley to Southern California requires investment in building passenger rail tracks over the Tehachapi Mountains to connect Bakersfield and Palmdale. This business plan assumes that this segment will have sufficient ridership and revenue to exceed its cost and will be self-sustaining without need for operating subsidy.
4. It makes high-speed trains part of an integrated statewide transportation system in California, where each investment has immediate benefits to its respective region. While the initial construction and operating segments will be to the south, the California High-Speed Rail Authority is proposing improvements to the existing regional rail system between the Central Valley and the Bay Area, namely the Altamont Commuter Express from Stockton to San Jose and Amtrak’s San Joaquin line from the East Bay to Stockton or Sacramento via Contra Costa County.
While we commend Bay Area leaders and the California High-Speed Rail Authority for taking these important steps to move the project forward, SPUR remains concerned that high-speed rail’s initial operating segment runs from the Central Valley to Southern California and will not connect to the Bay Area. We are also concerned that there is not yet funding to extend Caltrain’s service from the current San Francisco station at 4th and King to the new Transbay Transit Center in downtown. This raises a few questions:
· When will be there be a one-seat ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles?
· If there is funding to upgrade the Altamont Commuter Express over the Altamont Pass, does this mean a rider from San Francisco would take Caltrain to San Jose and then ACE to Stockton before connecting to the trunk line to Los Angeles?
· Does this mean that we should rethink Dumbarton Rail as an electrified service that could bring upgrades and electrified ACE trains to meet up with Caltrain on the Peninsula?
· What will it take to fully fund high-speed service over the Pacheco Pass south of San Jose?
The new plan puts the onus on the Bay Area as a region — and SPUR as a civic voice — to find the money to both bring Caltrain and high-speed service to San Francisco’s key transit hub and connect that service to the initial high-speed operating segment in the Central Valley.
Despite our concerns about the initial focus on the connection to Southern California, we at SPUR (like the mayors of California’s major cities) remain strong supporters of high-speed rail. The blended approach takes a pragmatic tack — without sacrificing true high-speed service.
BlogThursday, March 15, 2012On Thursday, March 8, the San Pedro Square Market filled with supporters of the new SPUR San Jose office, which opened in January. The 500 urbanists who joined us received a thundering welcome from San Jose Taiko, an award-winning traditional drumming group based in San Jose’s Japantown.The energy in the room continued to build as Leah Toeniskoetter, director of SPUR San Jose, asked the crowd what they love about their city. “Cities are the incubators of creativity in art,...
On Thursday, March 8, the San Pedro Square Market filled with supporters of the new SPUR San Jose office, which opened in January. The 500 urbanists who joined us received a thundering welcome from San Jose Taiko, an award-winning traditional drumming group based in San Jose’s Japantown.
The energy in the room continued to build as Leah Toeniskoetter, director of SPUR San Jose, asked the crowd what they love about their city. “Cities are the incubators of creativity in art, technology and thought leadership,” she said. “Cities encourage us to experience the unexpected by simply walking down the street. SPUR’s mission is to foster this type of dynamic city, advocate for this type of city and research what makes this type of city tick.”
City Councilmember Sam Liccardo followed, reminding us of the great inventions that launched in San Jose, including the first commercial wine business in California (Paul Masson), the world’s first commercial radio station, and the Dorsa brother’s creation of the illustrious Eggo waffle. In a city of great dreamers, Liccardo said, “We’re taking this downtown and this city to the next level, and SPUR will help lead us there.”
Our strategic partner Connie Martinez, president and CEO of 1stACT, talked about the catalytic potential of great cities and San Jose’s forward-thinking leadership in fostering a strong urban culture. And SPUR Executive Director Gabriel Metcalf toasted San Jose’s embrace of change and thanked the city for inviting SPUR to be a part of its vision for the future. “I love the spirit of optimism and practicality here,” he said, “because what it means is that any problem we can come up with is going to be solved.”
The event drew a who’s who of city lovers, planners, architects, elected officials, and city and county staff — and they stayed with us for hours after the official program had ended. It was this dynamic energy that SPUR San Jose looks forward to continuing and building upon as we grow.
Thank you for being a part of our beginning — we look forward to seeing you in our future.
For more pictures, see our Flickr set San Jose Launch Party >>
SPUR ReportThursday, March 8, 2012By 2035, the Bay Area's 27 transit operators will face a combined $17 billion capital deficit and an $8 billion operating deficit. The costs of running these systems have increased far faster than inflation, even as ridership on some bus systems has declined. Unless there are changes to costs and revenues, and corresponding improvements in service, the viability of transit in the Bay Area is at risk. Our region cannot remain economically competitive, nor meet its goals of reducing...
By 2035, the Bay Area's 27 transit operators will face a combined $17 billion capital deficit and an $8 billion operating deficit. The costs of running these systems have increased far faster than inflation, even as ridership on some bus systems has declined. Unless there are changes to costs and revenues, and corresponding improvements in service, the viability of transit in the Bay Area is at risk. Our region cannot remain economically competitive, nor meet its goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, without a more efficient and cost-effective transit system.
Recognizing this looming crisis, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission — the regional agency that funds transportation — launched the Transit Sustainability Project (TSP) to identify policies that control costs, improve service and increase ridership. This discusson paper reviews the TSP's key findings and recommends nine strategies to reach these goals.
SPUR ReportTuesday, February 28, 2012Ever since regional government was first proposed for the Bay Area after World War II, leaders have debated the best governance model for managing a growing region. Today, the basic governance structure in place for regional transportation planning and funding has not changed since the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) was formed in 1970. Currently, all counties in the Bay Area have at least one seat on the MTC and larger counties have two. But the existing seats are not evenly...
Ever since regional government was first proposed for the Bay Area after World War II, leaders have debated the best governance model for managing a growing region. Today, the basic governance structure in place for regional transportation planning and funding has not changed since the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) was formed in 1970. Currently, all counties in the Bay Area have at least one seat on the MTC and larger counties have two. But the existing seats are not evenly distributed according to county size.
SPUR believes that reforming MTC governance is appropriate and that larger counties are justified in feeling under-represented. We endorse a legislative proposal that would give additional seats on MTC to San Jose and Oakland — but this is far from a complete solution. We think a more equitable reform would be to shift the way votes are taken within MTC, and we call for the commission to implement weighted voting. We think weighted votes should incorporate both the population and employment of each county and potentially include trip ends or other metrics of travel in the region. Weighted voting would make voting on MTC more objectively representative and also make MTC governance consistent with other regions throughout California.
BlogThursday, February 23, 2012Redevelopment agencies across the state closed their doors on February 1, marking the end of an era for planning in California. SPUR has written previously about what the end of redevelopment means for the state. But how are the Bay Area’s central cities — San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose — dismantling their agencies? What’s going to happen to the on-going projects and existing assets held by redevelopment agencies? Is this the last word — or will we witness the...
Redevelopment agencies across the state closed their doors on February 1, marking the end of an era for planning in California. SPUR has written previously about what the end of redevelopment means for the state. But how are the Bay Area’s central cities — San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose — dismantling their agencies? What’s going to happen to the on-going projects and existing assets held by redevelopment agencies? Is this the last word — or will we witness the creation of other planning tools to do some of the work that was previously done by redevelopment agencies?
San Francisco is, in many ways, the city least likely to be impacted by the end of redevelopment — and the one in the best position to develop tools and strategies to replace it. As both a city and a county, San Francisco will not need to send its redevelopment funding to a separate county government, where it would become one of many jurisdictions fighting for remaining funds. In contrast, Oakland is one of 14 cities in Alameda County (not including unincorporated Alameda County) and San Jose is one of 15 cities in Santa Clara County (not including unincorporated Santa Clara County). Despite this, San Francisco will not emerge unscathed.
San Francisco has developed three main priorities to guide its actions in the face of redevelopment’s dissolution: first, that the three large redevelopment projects (Mission Bay, Hunter’s Point and Transbay) that qualify as enforceable obligations under Assembly Bill 26 (the state law that dissolved redevelopment) continue uninterrupted; second, that the community development functions of redevelopment — including affordable housing production, workforce development programs, and neighborhood strengthening and investment initiatives — be protected; and third, that that programs that receive state or federal matching funds continue to move forward so that matching funding is not lost.
In late January, the city adopted a resolution that laid out the plan for meeting these priorities. The resolution took four steps:
- It identified the city as the “successor agency” to the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, meaning that the city itself will control the former assets of the redevelopment agency.
- It transferred the redevelopment agency’s affordable housing funds to the Mayor’s Office of Housing and transferred all other assets to the City Administrator’s Office.
- It required payment and performance on “enforceable obligations,” or approved redevelopment projects that will be allowed to go forward. These include Mission Bay, Hunters Point Shipyard, portions of Bayview Hunters Point and Transbay.
- It created a new oversight board to oversee the management of these enforceable obligations.
In addition, the city also rescinded the Treasure Island Development Authority as a redevelopment agency. The city has opted to convert the Treasure Island project into an Infrastructure Financing District (IFD) as opposed to a Redevelopment Area. The IFD will create a source of tax increment financing to support bonds necessary to pay for some of the infrastructure costs. By doing this, the city clarified that Treasure Island is not subject to any of the post-redevelopment constraints imposed by A.B. 26.
The upshot for San Francisco is that some of its affordable housing funding and existing major redevelopment projects are well positioned to be protected. However, some of the other work of redevelopment not considered enforceable obligations — such as economic development and project development in areas such as Visitation Valley — will require more creative approaches to move forward.
Additionally, the future of the redevelopment agency’s roughly 100 employees remains unclear.
In Oakland, the loss of redevelopment will be devastating to the capacity of the city to develop underutilized properties. Projects like the Broadway Auto Row project and the funds to build a new stadium for the A’s could be substantially reduced or eliminated. In addition, Oakland will not be able to rely on tax increment financing to fund affordable housing; roughly 25 percent of redevelopment funding in Oakland were used to fund affordable housing.
The loss of redevelopment has also taken its toll on other aspects of Oakland’s government: Redevelopment funds are deeply intertwined into more than 160 city positions in 11 departments. Rather than deliver pink slips to those employees whose jobs were funded by redevelopment, city leaders instead proposed overhauling all city operations to more efficiently provide services while retaining some redevelopment staff to help wind down current projects. On January 31, the Oakland City Council approved an amended budget accounting for the $28 million gap from redevelopment funding. The city will eliminate 105 positions, resulting in 80 layoffs. Consolidations include combining the Office of Parks and Recreation and the Department of Human Services. Oakland will also move key administrative functions for several departments into a single Administrative Services Department, according to the city administrator. The Community and Economic Development Agency, which housed most of the city’s redevelopment activities, will be dissolved into four new offices: Planning and Neighborhood Preservation, Housing and Community Development, Economic and Workforce Development, and Neighborhood Investment. The City of Oakland has also identified itself as the successor agency and will prioritize projects like the Oakland Army Base that have enforceable obligations to move forward. The City administrator's office will manage the remaining assets from the elimination of redevelopment.
Established in 1956, the San Jose Redevelopment Agency (SJRA) invested billions of dollars in four program goals:
- Creating jobs and expanding business through investments in projects such as Cisco’s campus in North San Jose and Adobe’s headquarters in the downtown,
- Building public facilities such as the Repertory Theater and the 4th Street Parking Garage,
- Developing and preserving affordable and market rate housing and
- Strengthening neighborhoods through the Strong Neighborhoods Initiative and Neighborhood Business Districts.
The agency used the tax increment from its roughly 19,000 acres of designated redevelopment areas to borrow against and reinvest in other areas. In doing so in an arguably overly robust way, they became the state’s second largest redevelopment agency as measured by tax revenue, and the City of San Jose’s “go to” for funding and approval of almost all major projects in the last several decades.
The SJRA began planning for its own shuttering a few years ago when the state began withdrawing funds from all redevelopment agencies. With the realization that it was overleveraged and would be unable to continue even if the option to “pay to play” was made available, the agency began reducing its workforce from 119 employees in 2009 to 10 employees today — just enough to manage its obligations on $3.8 billion of remaining debt. The San Jose City Council took its final action to end the agency in late January by:
- Creating an official successor agency to manage the majority of the remaining debt,
- Naming the city manager as the executive officer of the successor agency and
- Creating the Successor Agency Fund, which allows the city to take over the debts of the affordable housing assets and activities that had been funded by the SJRA.
Because of the SJRA’s debt obligations, it will be decades before any tax increment is available to Santa Clara County or the state.
The end of redevelopment in San Jose will have far-reaching and likely yet unknown impacts, and there are many questions still to be answered. What happens to the Strong Neighborhood designations and areas of investment? How will the San Jose Department of Housing replace the 20 percent of its budget that came from SJRA affordable housing funds? How will the City of San Jose continue to provide the necessary infrastructure in downtown and offer incentives for future development?
It remains unclear how cities in California will fare in the wake of redevelopment’s disappearance. Some of the tools that might replace redevelopment, such as Infrastructure Financing Districts, are complicated to use and don’t fund all of the things redevelopment used to do. SPUR is committed to figuring out what should be next now that redevelopment is gone. We are going to need new tools if our cities are to thrive.
Join us February 29 for a SPUR forum: The Death of Redevelopment >>
SPUR ReportMonday, January 9, 2012High unemployment rates and slow employment growth continue to threaten our economy. Once-successful sectors are in decline. Even the workplace is in transition. New technologies and ways of working have disrupted everything from the speed of a typical product cycle to the amount of real estate a company needs.But as our economy changes, the emerging story is also a positive one. While many formerly robust industries are struggling, the Bay Area’s knowledge services sector is growing...
High unemployment rates and slow employment growth continue to threaten our economy. Once-successful sectors are in decline. Even the workplace is in transition. New technologies and ways of working have disrupted everything from the speed of a typical product cycle to the amount of real estate a company needs.
But as our economy changes, the emerging story is also a positive one. While many formerly robust industries are struggling, the Bay Area’s knowledge services sector is growing quickly, led by companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter. These firms are finding that they need the vibrancy and density of an urban-style environment in order to collaborate, innovate and stay competitive. Despite technology that allows us to work remotely, the role of the office is becoming even more important.
In this SPUR report, we make the case that there is a strong link between density and job growth. In fact, we believe that locating jobs closer to transit — and closer to one another — will be key to the Bay Area’s long-term economic growth. We recommend 20 strategies for increasing density, strengthening the regional economy and promoting job growth.
BlogFriday, November 18, 2011The General Plan, while simple in name, is one of a city’s most important documents. It determines how, where, when and if a city will grow. It shapes what our neighborhoods look like, where our places of work are located, and where our parks, schools and homes intersect — or don’t. It directs development to be pedestrian, bike or transit-oriented — or not. And it can make or break a city’s long-term success, since the policies and direction it lays out...
The General Plan, while simple in name, is one of a city’s most important documents. It determines how, where, when and if a city will grow. It shapes what our neighborhoods look like, where our places of work are located, and where our parks, schools and homes intersect — or don’t. It directs development to be pedestrian, bike or transit-oriented — or not. And it can make or break a city’s long-term success, since the policies and direction it lays out remain in place until a new General Plan is created, which can be years or decades away depending on the jurisdiction.
For San Jose, the 10th largest city in the United States, it’s been almost two decades. The city was overdue for an update and needed a strategy to direct growth to accommodate a forecasted 470,000 new jobs and 120,000 new housing units through 2040. After a four-year planning process, the San Jose City Council adopted the Envision San Jose 2040 General Plan on November 1. The document notes five community priorities: promoting economic development, ensuring fiscal sustainability, providing environmental leadership, building in targeted areas called “urban villages,” and promoting transit use. These five were emphasized in addition to the other key concepts of community-based planning, prioritizing downtown as a destination, maintaining the urban growth boundary and designing for a healthy community.
The big idea in the plan is to create urban villages, specific areas that will provide active, walkable, bicycle-friendly, transit-oriented, mixed-use urban settings for new housing and job growth. The urban villages identified fall into four categories: regional transit, local transit, commercial and residential areas. All are are located along existing regional and local transit lines or in locations identified by their potential for redevelopment or enhancement. In a sense, the new San Jose General Plan follows the current convention of American planning, protecting most of the city from change, while designating a smaller number of sites for intensive development. But you get a sense of the enormous scale of San Jose’s ambition from the number — 70! — of designated urban villages.
The plan also promotes the physical health of the community by way of designating land uses to promote walking, access to healthy food and backyard agriculture. And unlike previous plans, Envision San Jose 2040 will come before the city council every four years to review the phasing priorities of the plan, track progress and provide consistency through changing future councils. These straight-forward concepts and priorities mark a defining departure from the car-centric, sprawling, bedroom community that San Jose started with as a result of poor land use planning prior to the 1970s.
The success of San Jose’s 2040 General Plan will depend on its implementation, its ability to provide clarity and assurance to the development community through the urban village policy framework, an appropriate update of the zoning code to correspond with the new land designations and, ultimately, the fortitude of the planning staff and city council to adhere to the plan as staff and city counsels evolve and change.
BlogMonday, August 22, 2011More than ten years ago, we did our first major report on high-speed rail in California, advocating for an alignment that went through existing town centers rather than bypassing them for cheaper land. The point was to use rail as a tool for organizing the state’s growth, reinforcing center-oriented development instead of sprawl.For the most part, the California High-Speed Rail Authority has done the right thing on this basic question of the train alignment. But as we move from idea to...
More than ten years ago, we did our first major report on high-speed rail in California, advocating for an alignment that went through existing town centers rather than bypassing them for cheaper land. The point was to use rail as a tool for organizing the state’s growth, reinforcing center-oriented development instead of sprawl.
For the most part, the California High-Speed Rail Authority has done the right thing on this basic question of the train alignment. But as we move from idea to implementation, things get messier. It’s difficult and expensive to thread a major infrastructure project like this through existing, long-established communities.
So it is no surprise that here in the Bay Area we’ve run into a lot of trouble with how to get high-speed rail from San Jose to San Francisco. Residents along the Peninsula were understandably concerned about noise impacts and eminent domain being used to take property for the right of way. Last spring the High-Speed Rail Authority actually voted to stop work on this segment until the Bay Area could sort out what it wanted to do.
In April of this year, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, State Senator Joe Simitian and State Assemblyman Rich Gordon put out a letter stating their terms for how to do high speed rail the “right way.” Essentially, their argument boils down to two points:
1. Keep the project within the existing right of way, fitting in as many tracks as possible.
2. Don’t put the tracks on an elevated structure unless that’s what the community prefers.
Recently, I met with Senator Simitian to talk about the project, and my sense was that these constraints were, for the most part, fine. In fact, given that they could help bring down the cost of the project, accepting these constraints potentially makes the project more likely to happen.
Caltrain has now confirmed my intuition with the preliminary results of its capacity analysis, which studied a "blended system" for Caltrain and high-speed rail along the Peninsula. The initial results show that we can accommodate six Caltrain trains and four high-speed rail trains each hour by using a combination of two tracks in some places and four tracks in others. (And if we can manage to design the system to have level boarding, the throughput capacity will be even greater.)
Plan A for Caltrain and high-speed rail was to have a fully grade separated four-track system. This is the ideal from a transit design point of view. But we are now in the realm of Plan B: a system that is less costly and more politically acceptable. When we leave the realm of dreaming on paper and actually have to fund and build transportation projects, we almost always have to make these kinds of compromises. SPUR’s view is that this solution is going to provide enormous benefits to the region and is the direction we should all focus on.
There may be communities that are willing to embrace more radical design changes. (See, for example, an alternative vision developed by architects and students in Palo Alto for undergrounding train tracks as a way to knit the community back together.) Other communities will want to keep the disruption to a minimum. Fortunately for all of us, high-speed rail is going to work just fine with a combination of many approaches.
BlogThursday, June 23, 2011The implementation of Senate Bill 375, California's anti-sprawl legislation, continued with a joint meeting of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) on June 22. The question at hand: Should the MTC commissioners and ABAG directors approve a set of five alternative growth scenarios for their staffs to further analyze? Each scenario includes a set of land-use assumptions (i.e. where growth will go), transportation assumptions (i.e....
Many in the audience called on MTC and ABAG to add an additional scenario focused on equity, jobs and the environment. There were several dozen supporters of this scenario, and they heavily outnumbered the small contingent who spoke about the evils of central planning, socialism, income distribution and the perceived illegality of the entire planning process. SPUR weighed in on the debate with a policy letter to the MTC commissioners. At the meeting, we boiled down our recommendations to two main points:1. The biggest levers to shape regional growth are transportation money and policy. Put those limited dollars into the urban core, include road pricing as a policy option and eliminate Scenario 5, which focuses on exurban development.2. Make sure we plan for the full regional growth need in our scenarios. All scenarios must meet the region's housing target.While our ideas were heard, we didn't win out in the end. Several commissioners agreed that all the scenarios should meet the region's complete projected housing need, rather than assume we cannot build enough housing in the region. More agreed that a scenario that shifted more growth to the edges of the region (i.e., Scenario 5) did not make much sense. This point was raised by Commissioner and San Francisco Supervisor Scott Weiner and turned into a motion by Commissioner and San Jose City Councilmember Sam Liccardo. Six voted for the motion to eliminate Scenario 5. Seven opposed, so the motion ultimately failed.The conclusion: Staff should continue analyzing the five scenarios and consider a sixth focused on equity (while acknowledging that not everyone has the same definition of equity or agrees on how best to increase it).Regional planning is no easy task, and there's more to come.
Policy LetterTuesday, June 21, 2011In a letter to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission on June 21, 2011, SPUR recommended that the scenarios for the Bay Area's Sustainable Communities Strategy/Regional Transportation Plan support more concentrated growth patterns.
In a letter to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission on June 21, 2011, SPUR recommended that the scenarios for the Bay Area's Sustainable Communities Strategy/Regional Transportation Plan support more concentrated growth patterns.
BlogWednesday, April 6, 2011After threats to reduce service by nearly half, Caltrain officials last night agreed to scale back their drastic proposed cuts. The rail system’s governing agencies have brokered a deal to avoid the worst-case scenario, which would have run only 48 trains on weekdays, a dramatic drop from the current 86. Through a patchwork of solutions — including a 25-cent fare hike and eliminating some trains and stations — Caltrain will preserve most of its current level of service. In...
After threats to reduce service by nearly half, Caltrain officials last night agreed to scale back their drastic proposed cuts. The rail system’s governing agencies have brokered a deal to avoid the worst-case scenario, which would have run only 48 trains on weekdays, a dramatic drop from the current 86. Through a patchwork of solutions — including a 25-cent fare hike and eliminating some trains and stations — Caltrain will preserve most of its current level of service. In July, Caltrain will reduce the number of trains to 76 on weekdays and close the Hayward Park station in San Mateo, the Capitol station in San Jose and the Bayshore station in Brisbane.
But this short-term solution, which if approved would extend only through fiscal year 2012, doesn’t solve Caltrain’s deeper problem: it’s managed by a coalition of three different counties and lacks a dedicated funding source. Meanwhile, Bay Area commuters have come to depend on it — and they’ve made it one of the most effective transit systems in the region. Ridership has increased 44 percent since 2004, thanks in part to 79 mph Baby Bullet service that delivers passengers from San Francisco to San Jose in under an hour. And Caltrain’s farebox recovery ratio is 47.4 percent — among the highest of Bay Area transit agencies.
A lot is riding (no pun intended) on the outcome of Caltrain’s fate. The Association of Bay Area Governments projects that in 25 years, there will be nearly 700,000 additional jobs and 350,000 additional households in the three counties Caltrain serves. Total employment and population in the areas nearest to Caltrain stations will be in the millions. Additionally, Caltrain is essential to the region’s strategy in complying with SB 375, California’s landmark carbon-reduction mandate. Each five-car train takes approximately 650 automobiles off the road — vehicles that would otherwise be contributing to the congestion and carbon emissions on the already clogged I-280 and U.S. 101 highways.
While Caltrain has avoided the worst in the last week, this solution is only short term. Saving this critical system will require dedicated funding — and probably a new, less-convoluted governance structure. Today SPUR published a discussion paper recommending potential fixes for Caltrain’s long-term future.
• Read SPUR's discussion paper: Saving Caltrain — for the long term
SPUR ReportMonday, January 3, 2011California cities anticipating the rewards of new high-speed rail stations may fail to reap the full economic and environmental benefits without key land-use planning, according to SPUR's new report.For the 26 cities designated as future high-speed rail stops, the new statewide rail system presents a once-in-a-century opportunity to reshape their local economies and set the course for more compact, less automobile-dependent growth. SPUR's report, Beyond the Tracks, identifies specific...
California cities anticipating the rewards of new high-speed rail stations may fail to reap the full economic and environmental benefits without key land-use planning, according to SPUR's new report.
For the 26 cities designated as future high-speed rail stops, the new statewide rail system presents a once-in-a-century opportunity to reshape their local economies and set the course for more compact, less automobile-dependent growth. SPUR's report, Beyond the Tracks, identifies specific land-use planning strategies that will contribute to the success of high-speed rail and help cities, and ultimately California, realize the full potential of the multi-billion-dollar system.
ArticleSunday, August 1, 2010Each spring, SPUR takes an annual city trip to learn about urbanist strategies that are working — or not working — in other cities around the world. This year we turned our lense to our own region and hopped on a Caltrain baby bullet to San Jose. With a population of about one million, San Jose is now the largest city in Northern California. In a generation it could have twice the population of San Francisco.Here's a look at the differences and similiarities today between the...
Each spring, SPUR takes an annual city trip to learn about urbanist strategies that are working — or not working — in other cities around the world. This year we turned our lense to our own region and hopped on a Caltrain baby bullet to San Jose. With a population of about one million, San Jose is now the largest city in Northern California. In a generation it could have twice the population of San Francisco.
Here's a look at the differences and similiarities today between the populations of San Jose and San Franicsco.
Click any image to enlarge.
Sources: All data from 2006-2008 American Community Survey, Census Quick Facts, except the following: Population: San Jose Planning Data, ABAG Building Momentum; Share of Region: Bay Area Census, Bay Area Census: San Francisco County, San Jose PLanning Data, ABAG Building Momentum; Work Location: 2010 San Jose Economic Develpment Strategy.
ArticleSunday, August 1, 2010San Jose's economy and approach to economic development have evolved in the context of Silicon Valley. As the world's leading innovation district, Silicon Valley has constantly reinvented itself in order to maintain its competitive advantage in an increasingly globalized world. Mirroring these ebbs and flows, San Jose has improved and adapted its goals and approaches to economic development over the decades. But despite the economic success of Silicon Valley, San Jose still struggles to...
San Jose's economy and approach to economic development have evolved in the context of Silicon Valley. As the world's leading innovation district, Silicon Valley has constantly reinvented itself in order to maintain its competitive advantage in an increasingly globalized world. Mirroring these ebbs and flows, San Jose has improved and adapted its goals and approaches to economic development over the decades. But despite the economic success of Silicon Valley, San Jose still struggles to capture all its benefits. The city describes itself as "jobs poor" and, despite its size, is home to few of the leading Silicon Valley firms (though having Cisco, eBay and Adobe call San Jose home isn't bad). Today, it has a well-organized and strategic economic development program built around a continuously updated economic development plan.
This article traces the history of San Jose's approach to economic development and identifies four lessons based on that approach:
- Lesson 1: Secure high-level commitment and broad-based support.
- Lesson 2: Use analysis of economic forces to identify strategic priorities and shift city resources toward these priorities.
- Lesson 3: Establish an organizational structure and framework to support implementation, where results are measured and reported.
- Lesson 4: Maintain continuity in implementation across political leaders and mayors.
The article concludes by applying some of these lessons to San Francisco and arguing that as the two biggest cities in the Bay Area region, San Jose and San Francisco can and must learn to work together on shared economic challenges.
Bedroom communities: The economic strategy of yesteryear
In the 1950s and 1960s, city leaders focused their efforts on growing the resident population by becoming a bedroom community for the growing workforce of Silicon Valley. A key strategy during this period was to annex outlying areas, providing ample space for suburban-style residential development over the next several decades. This strategy emphasized residential growth rather than employment generation.
In the 1970s and '80s, the strategy shifted to capturing jobs for the city's growing population. City leaders realized that being the bedroom community for Silicon Valley was not an economically sustainable path, in part because in California commercial uses generate more tax revenues than residential uses. To accomplish this goal of growing the jobs base, the San Jose Redevelopment Authority developed industrial districts to attract growth from the electronics industry. During this time, the Redevelopment Agency developed industrial parks in North San Jose, and Edenvale (which houses Hitachi and Northrop Grumman, as well as nearly 300 other companies) to the south. Also during this time, like many other cities, San Jose struggled to capture both major employment and retail uses downtown, as companies of both types sought larger footprint opportunities in the abundant greenfield areas around the city.
In the 1990s, the economic development approach focused first on responding to the recession and then to keeping up with the booming Silicon Valley region. In more recent decades, to grow the city's job base, the strategy revolved around capturing and growing major Silicon Valley headquarter firms such as eBay, Cisco and Adobe. The city also focused on capturing new businesses through establishing the largest locally managed business incubator program in the country.
After 2000, in the wake of the dot-com crash, the city drafted and adopted its first-ever economic strategy in 2003. Overall, the focus continued to be about capturing more jobs but also included concern about increasing the quality of the business districts themselves. The city strengthened downtown as Silicon Valley's city center, reshaped North San Jose as a transit-oriented and urban employment district, and preserved employment lands for economic uses. There was also a new push toward growing companies in clean technologies.
San Jose's economic challenges today
Today, there remains a concern about San Jose increasing its share of the South Bay's employment. Among all the large cities in the U.S., San Jose is in company only with Detroit, where half the city's residents leave for jobs outside the city each day. The next closest city is Dallas, where 35 percent of people commute out.1 And because of the small numbers of overall jobs in the city, San Jose is the only city among the nation's 20 largest where the daytime population is smaller than its nighttime one.
In response to the economic crisis that began in 2008, San Jose embarked on the first major update and rewrite of its 2003 economic strategy. The new plan was approved by the City Council in December of 2009, and a 2010-2015 plan is now being implemented.
The current economic strategy makes several important observations about the San Jose economy. First, by the end of 2009, all the 56,100 jobs created since 2004 were lost, and San Jose's unemployment rate is now among the nation's highest. Second, half of city residents still commute out for jobs elsewhere in Santa Clara County. Third, only 25 percent of San Jose's jobs are in "driving industries," compared with 35 percent for other communities in Silicon Valley. Driving industries, including software, semiconductors and computer equipment manufacturing, are important because they sell goods and services beyond the city's boundaries and bring in net new wealth to a community. Fourth, San Jose is now a city of small businesses. Half of all jobs are in firms with between 30 and 100 employees, and only one industry averages more than 100 employees per firm. Even though major companies such as Adobe Systems are headquartered in San Jose, the average software company in San Jose has only 18 employees. Fifth, mirroring a broader trend in Silicon Valley, employment is shifting away from hardware sectors such as semiconductors, electronic components and computer manufacturing and towards software. In 1993, software was the first largest industry in San Jose. Today it is the second largest.2
Based on these observations, the current San Jose economic development strategy identifies the following 12 strategic goals:
- Encourage companies and sectors that can drive the San Jose/Silicon Valley economy and generate revenue for city services and infrastructure.
- Develop retail to full potential, maximizing revenue impact and neighborhood vitality.
- Preserve and strengthen manufacturing-related activity and jobs.
- Nurture the success of local small businesses.
- Increase San Jose's influence in regional, state and national forums in order to advance city goals and secure resources.
- Improve the speed, consistency and predictability of the development review process, and reduce costs of operating a business in San Jose.
- Prepare residents to participate in the economy through training, education and career support.
- Advance the Diridon Station area as a key transportation center for Northern California.
- Keep developing a competitive, world-class airport, and attract new air service.
- Continue to position downtown as Silicon Valley's city center.
- Create more walkable, vibrant, mixed-use environments to spur interaction and attract talent.
- Develop a distinctive set of sports, arts and entertainment offerings aligned with San Jose's diverse, growing population.
These strategic goals reflect the desire for San Jose to secure its place as the "capital" of Silicon Valley. Whether any place in Silicon Valley can actually become its capital is clearly debatable. But it demonstrates San Jose's twin desires to be both an economic powerhouse and a social and cultural center.
While the economic strategy highlights San Jose's vision, equally important is how they implement it. San Jose's approach to economic development reveals four key lessons.
Lesson #1: Secure high-level commitment and broad-based support.
In San Jose, not only does the mayor take ownership of the economic strategy, but so too do the City Council and most department heads. Economic development is clearly understood as a citywide goal with broad-based benefits.
There is no debate over whether economic development should occur. It is simply understood that more economic development means more and better jobs, and a rising standard of living, both of which contribute to retaining or increasing the level of city services.
While the strategy process involves significant input from across all city departments, there is also an emphasis that economic development is a shared agenda. The strategy document argues that "economic development is a citywide business," that "each city staff member is an ambassador for the entire city" and that "employers are customers." In practical terms, the buy-in across the city government results in all important city reports and documents being consistent with the economic development strategy. In San Jose, city departments in fact have to demonstrate in their presentations to the City Council how their various reports are consistent with the goals of the economic development strategy. This not only reminds the City Council of the importance of economic development to all city departments, but also reinforces the City Council's role in overseeing its implementation.
Lesson #2: Use analysis of economic forces to identify strategic priorities and shift city resources toward these priorities.
San Jose's approach to economic development also is based on a careful understanding of the major economic and demographic trends reshaping the city's economy:
- More moderate job growth and new economic engines
- Steady pressure on manufacturing and other middle-income jobs
- Transition to a low-carbon economy
- Locally educated children of immigrants will drive workforce growth
While identifying these trends is important from an analytic standpoint, San Jose has been particularly successful in aligning resources in response to strategic goals. The following are a few examples based on several key goals of the 2003 economic strategy:
Evolve and position Downtown as a unique creative and cultural center of Silicon Valley
Most importantly, in 2005 the city moved its City Hall from a more car-oriented area near the airport into a new 18-story Richard Meier-designed building at the east end of downtown. The city made a major push to support the downtown expansion of Adobe. They also developed a partnership with 1stACT, an organization focused on promoting arts, place and a cultural identity for Silicon Valley. Finally, they approved a master Environmental Impact Report for downtown to allow for streamlined development of 10 million square feet of office, 1.2 million square feet of retail, 10,000 housing units and 2,500 hotel rooms. From 2004-2009, there were 2,421 housing units completed downtown, 860 in the city's first high rise residential developments.
Revise Key Land Use and Transportation Policies to Reflect the New Realities of the San Jose Economy
This strategic goal led to a rethinking of the auto-oriented industrial park planning for North San Jose with a new specific plan, adopted in 2005, to accommodate 83,000 jobs and 32,000 housing units. The city also put special emphasis on securing approval of the Pacheco Pass corridor for California High Speed Rail and for local sales tax financing to help fund BART's extension to San Jose.
Diversify San Jose's economic base and preserve/create middle-income jobs
The city established a "Framework for Conversion of Industrial Lands" to preserve production-related jobs, opened a biosciences business incubator, and pursued cleantech firms and achieved 4,000 core cleantech jobs.
Build a world-class airport facility and air services
The city responded to this by embarking on a major redesign and public art program at the airport as well as the financing and building of an entire new $1.3 billion concourse, which opened in 2010.
Develop strategic partnerships with San Jose State
Some examples include continuing to support the joint city/university downtown library (which opened in 2003) and establishing an SJSU-City Executive Team that meets regularly to collaborate. Also important was launching the ZER01 initiative that resulted in several international-caliber art festivals.
Lesson #3: Establish an organizational structure and framework to support implementation where results are measured and reported.
San Jose has also been particularly good at setting up institutional mechanisms to implement economic development. When the City Council adopted the current strategy, it adopted an implementation plan that listed the top 10 actions for 2010. The mayor and the City Council were personally involved in selecting the key strategy components to elevate as top actions. The actions include the team who is responsible, which often involves several city departments.
San Jose has also made a commitment to be transparent about the goals and implementation. Every year to 18 months the City Council holds a study session to discuss the progress toward each of the identified goals. Not only does the City Council become actively involved in reviewing and responding to aspects of the strategy, but members also want to see it implemented and hold the staff accountable when core aspects of the strategy are not implemented.
Key areas of economic policy where the city established new and appropriate implementation systems include the core components of economic development: business formation, retention and attraction.
In business formation, San Jose established the country's largest locally funded system of business incubators. These include the Environmental Business Cluster and the San Jose BioCenter. The City of San Jose and the San Jose State University Research Foundation founded the Environmental Business Cluster in 1994. Since then, it has assisted more than 150 companies and is now the largest environmental and cleantech incubator in the country. The San Jose BioCenter provides wet laboratory and office space for companies in life science, nanotech and cleantech. Companies affiliated with the BioCenter have raised more than $1 billion in capital and created more than 800 direct jobs.
Under business retention, the city established a joint team between the Office of Economic Development and the Redevelopment Agency. This group of 10 people meets monthly as a team. They have a target of meeting with 300 companies per year and track progress toward that goal.
Under business attraction, the city spends little time on targeted outreach. Instead, the attraction component includes a specific focus on international attraction. While the City of San Jose has a relationship with foreign direct investment firms, its primary business attraction arm for international firms is the U.S. Market Access Center. The U.S. Market Access Center focuses on assisting small to mid-sized technology and life sciences companies from other countries looking to expand within the United States. In addition to marketing and business consulting services, the center also provides office space for those firms as an initial foothold into the domestic market.
The City of San Jose, through its Redevelopment Agency, does have the ability to provide significant financial incentives. For example, it has a revenue sharing program in which over the course of five years the city will refund 50 percent of the taxes collected by a new firm. It also has a parking incentive program for companies that sign new leases or extend additional leases. This program pays for 50 percent of the company's parking out of redevelopment funds.
Lesson #4: Maintain continuity in implementation across political leaders.
San Jose maintains a continuous approach to economic development across political administrations. Although former Mayor Ron Gonzales championed the original 2003 strategy, Mayor Chuck Reed continued his focus on economic development after being elected in 2006. This continuity is essential to track progress across time. It also reinforces the shared sets of values about economic development and how growing the economy is a strategic priority even if individual politicians change.
The parallel structure of City Council committees and department working groups also reinforces continuity. For example, the City Council is organized into five standing committees. The nonpartisan city manager also organizes the city departments into five "city service areas" that parallel the City Council committees. In particular, there is a community and economic development service area managed by the head of economic development and a City Council committee with the same name and staff leadership.3 The focus areas within this service area include the main city functions directly connected with economic development: housing, redevelopment, transportation, planning and public works. These agencies not only coordinate their actions through the city service area, but also produce a single budget. Another advantage of the CSA process is that the City Council receives progress reports from each committee that are aligned with their committee's responsibilities.
Conclusion: What can we learn?
Similar to San Jose, San Francisco also responded to the dot com crash with the drafting of the city's first economic development plan. In 2004, voters approved a ballot measure calling for an economic development plan to be updated every three years and the creation of a new office to analyze the economic impact of pending legislation. In 2007, the city finalized the first draft of this economic development plan.
Although both cities now have long-term economic development strategies, there are some ideas San Francisco can learn from San Jose. Topping that list of lessons to apply from San Jose would be to have a broadly supported and adopted economic development plan that guides San Francisco as it navigates the most difficult economic climate in decades. Second perhaps would be for San Francisco to better communicate and share its successes in economic development. While San Francisco has not historically devoted as many public resources to citywide economic development as San Jose, it has been quite successful at leveraging private investment.
But San Francisco also needs to reach well beyond the government and engage outside businesses, institutions, organizations and other parties whose support is necessary to implement economic development. SPUR has elsewhere argued that the update of San Francisco's economic development plan should be a time to build consensus around both strategic priorities but also how to fund and implement economic development. Perhaps such a public/private entity that would allow San Francisco more of the economic development continuity across mayors that San Jose has experienced.
Over time, assets change and places have to adapt. There is no equitable redistribution of good jobs at any level, or to any city or community. The places with good jobs have assets useful to the industries of the day and can adjust to competitive changes over time.
Sixty years ago, Silicon Valley was mostly highly productive farmland. Today it is the leading technology district in the world. For decades, most of the economic growth of Silicon Valley was centered in Santa Clara County. Today, some of the leading technology firms (such as Twitter) are located in San Francisco, not the South Bay.
A lot can change over the coming decades. The next waves of innovation might favor engineering talent solving complex energy and climate change challenges and reinforce traditional Silicon Valley advantages. San Jose might boom and become a dense and dynamic urban center built around transit. Or employment levels in Silicon Valley might never return to what they once were as the next waves of innovation could occur elsewhere.
San Jose cannot rest on its laurels as the "capital" of Silicon Valley and a high-tech manufacturing center with significant available land for fast-growing companies. And San Francisco cannot rest on its laurels as a beautiful city that talented people and start-ups seemingly flock to. Both cities understand this reality and have drafted economic plans to help navigate their future direction.
Ultimately, the economic futures of both San Francisco and San Jose are intertwined. Economies are regional and do not stop at city boundaries. The competitiveness of the Bay Area region is improved by having two dense, dynamic and creative big cities: a smaller, older one in the north and a younger, larger (and warmer) one in the south.
- This is in contrast to cities such as New York, where only 9 percent commute outside the city for work—or even San Diego, where in spite of a large job base elsewhere in the county, only 20 percent commute out each day. Source: 2006-2008 American Community Survey, B08008: Sex of Workers by Place of Work-Place Level.
- Source: San Jose Economic Strategy, 2010
- Other city service areas include Environmental & Utility Services, Public Safety, Neighborhood Services, and Transportation & Aviation Services.
ArticleSunday, August 1, 2010Today, San Jose is the third largest city in California and the 10th largest city in the United States, with a population of just more than a million people, well in excess of San Francisco's population of nearly 800,000. In contrast to the political culture of San Francisco, in which every building is fought over and where population growth is modest, San Jose's willingness to grow is extraordinary.From its origins as California's first urban settlement (founded in 1777 as the...
Today, San Jose is the third largest city in California and the 10th largest city in the United States, with a population of just more than a million people, well in excess of San Francisco's population of nearly 800,000. In contrast to the political culture of San Francisco, in which every building is fought over and where population growth is modest, San Jose's willingness to grow is extraordinary.
From its origins as California's first urban settlement (founded in 1777 as the first Spanish pueblo), to its role as the first state capital in 1850, to a period as an agricultural market center for Santa Clara Valley (similar, perhaps, to Modesto or Merced), San Jose grew slowly for its first two centuries. Then after WWII, as Silicon Valley turned the South Bay into one of the great economic centers of the world, San Jose grew from 95,280 residents in 1950 to nearly 460,000 residents in 1970. Apricot orchards to the north gave way to research parks, and the Santa Clara Valley needed a city to house its growing middle class workforce.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, San Jose expanded aggressively by annexing large tracts of land. Dutch Hamann, the city manager from 1950 to 1969, led the annexation movement, vowing to make San Jose "the Los Angeles of the North."
The core of San Jose and its surrounding neighborhoods were laid out before the age of the automobile. It had a downtown, an urban street grid and other attributes of traditional town planning. In fact, San Francisco and San Jose had somewhat similar transit patterns until the 1910s, even though San Francisco was significantly more populous at that time. San Jose's downtown electric streetcar network was extensive, as was the Peninsula electric interurban trolley network that connected most of Santa Clara County.
But in the 1910s, the cities moved in opposite directions: At the same time San Franciscans were voting to tax themselves to purchase their city's privately operated transit lines and operate them as a municipal service, the Southern Pacific Railroad was acquiring San Jose's streetcar lines. As Southern Pacific's streetcars declined starting in the 1920s, three private bus operators worked to put Southern Pacific out of the passenger business. They too declined as cities increasingly oriented their land uses toward automobiles after World War II, leaving San Jose with no strong transit framework along which to orient development. San Francisco, meanwhile, continued to make major transit investments throughout the postwar era, allowing the older pedestrian fabric to persist. In other cities, including San Jose, much of it was destroyed.
Most of San Jose's growth occurred after the beginning of the age of the automobile. Residential areas in this age were developed without neighborhood shopping streets. The city grew as a series of disconnected "projects." Uses were segregated from one another. Today, the dilemma for San Jose is how to retrofit this suburban fabric—to make the city more walkable, to reduce emissions from driving and to accommodate the enormous growth that is still coming to the region.
San Jose is projected to add more growth within its limits than any other city in the Bay Area. If the environmental and social values of today were not enough to force a change to the planning context of the city, the need to accommodate this growth will certainly compel the city to take a new look at densities, land use mixes, parking requirements and all the other rules that govern new development.
San Jose's smart growth challenges
During the postwar years, San Jose grew outward rather than upward. It is now 174 square miles compared to San Francisco's 46. San Jose is not bound by water, and, in theory, could grow endlessly outward. However, an anti-growth reaction to the effects of rapid development emerged in the 1970s, ultimately leading to the adoption of an urban growth boundary at the base of the surrounding foothills. Then, in the 1990s, voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure designed to lock in the urban growth boundary and restrict development in the foothills.
As the culture of planning in America changed to embrace "smart growth" in the mid- to late 1980s, San Jose civic leaders began the long process of figuring out how to create a more "center-oriented," walkable place. San Jose built light-rail lines. It rezoned areas next to light-rail lines. Densities gradually increased. By 2007, nearly 80 percent of new housing in San Jose was built to be occupied by more than one family. And compared with more anti-growth communities, such as San Francisco, the housing in San Jose remained relatively affordable. San Jose also worked diligently to channel growth into its downtown, making the entire downtown a redevelopment area to facilitate the reinvestment of future tax growth in downtown infrastructure. The commitment to downtown was so great, in fact, that San Jose merged all its redevelopment areas into one area, allowing it to funnel most of the tax increment from North San Jose into downtown.
According to the Association of Bay Area Governments, San Jose is projected to add roughly 400,000 people and 340,000 jobs between 2010 and 2035. The City of San Jose has done its own analysis, projecting that it will add 471,000 people between now and 2040. In fact, San Jose is expected to add more housing and jobs than any city in the entire region. (Compare this to San Francisco, which is projected to add 159,000 people and 238,100 jobs by 2035).
The City of San Jose is doing a remarkable job of planning for this growth on the backbone of its growing transit network. But there are incredible challenges to creating walkable, transit-oriented neighborhoods in San Jose:
- Due to San Jose's rapid expansion in the postwar period, large swaths of the city are composed of auto-oriented, single-family subdivisions. The "bones" of these subdivisions resist retrofitting: There is no real street grid, no walkable mixture of uses and the parcels, having been subdivided, cannot easily be assembled for redevelopment at higher densities. It is not always possible to increase densities near transit. Instead, opportunities depend on a happy coincidence of uneconomic transit infrastructure—typically, underutilized commercial parcels that can be assembled for mixed-use development.
- Many of the major streets in San Jose are wide, auto-oriented arterials, and creating walkable neighborhoods would require major reconfigurations. Can the streets themselves be retrofitted when we know from our own experience in San Francisco that it often costs millions of dollars per block to widen sidewalks and put in street trees?
- The city has been able to attract substantial investment in new housing into its downtown, but has not been as successful attracting jobs there, with the notable exception of the Adobe headquarters. Areas such as North San Jose, Edenvale and Evergreen remain the employment centers—and, of course, Sunnyvale, Mountain View and Palo Alto continue to be significant employment locations for the broader region. Unless employment growth is redirected from these outlying locations, both in San Jose and around the region, San Jose's downtown will not emerge as a major employment center. Should the city keep trying, or should it treat its downtown as a residential core, more like Vancouver, British Columbia or San Diego—with the distinction that the city's job center of North San Jose is but a short street car ride away?
- Often, San Jose's neighborhoods with the best urban bones are older, prewar neighborhoods that are the least willing to accept new, denser growth. This dynamic is familiar to San Franciscans: Current residents of a neighborhood don't want it to change. The "pro-growth" attitudes of San Jose's civic leaders do not translate into a greater willingness of residents to tolerate physical change in their own neighborhoods.
- The success of Santana Row, a master-planned retail and residential development that emulates many traditional city design principles, competes with downtown. Santana Row is crowded with pedestrians in a way that downtown San Jose only experiences at night around key attractions. Again, San Jose is faced with the enormous challenge of creating a center when there are so many competing locations in the South Bay.
Boulevards and villages: a smarter growth pattern?
The City of San Jose is grappling with these challenges in an update to its General Plan now underway, organized under the name Envision San Jose 2040. The document proposes many of the ideas that constitute orthodoxy among progressive planners today: directing growth of both jobs and housing into "urban villages" and corridors. Urban villages are intended to include a mixture of uses and have a walkable and bikable urban form. Corridors will function like urban villages, in linear form.
The plan also calls for focusing on five "grand boulevards" as connectors among neighborhoods and places with their own unique identity, including North First Street and Monterey Highway; Capitol Avenue and Capitol Expressway; Alum Rock, Santa Clara and Alameda de las Pulgas and the San Carlos, Stevens Creek and Meridian corridors. The plan also asserts that every street in the city should be a "complete street"—no small order in a city with such an auto-oriented street network.
The work to be done to fulfill this vision is dizzying in scale and ambition. The "planned and identified growth areas" show an extensive network of proposed neighborhood villages and "transit areas." These areas are in addition to the specific plan areas and employment land areas, which are in varying stages of planning completion.
How will the city take its proposed growth targets, now overlaid on a series of neighborhoods and corridors, and ensure that the zoning and urban design controls produce the urban villages it seeks? How will the private sector react to the forward-thinking goals of the city? The answers to many of these questions are unclear, but two overarching strategies may help San Jose move closer to its vision for the future:
1. Investing in long-range planning to get the details right
Given the incredible amount of planning work it will take to get the details of each urban village and corridor right, the City of San Jose should invest resources in doing the planning and urban design work necessary to make these new places successful. This includes completing detailed zoning controls and design guidelines for each neighborhood and corridor in the planned and identified growth areas. Different areas and corridors may require different types of design guidelines in order to build on assets and address deficiencies. Moreover, public investment will need to be made in each of these areas in order to enable them to thrive. The City will need to create implementation plans and funding programs for each area. With the level of growth San Jose is projected to take on in the next 30 years, it will be critical that both planning work and infrastructure investments be funded. Where will these resources come from? At a minimum, the City should look at fee programs that allow it to recoup some costs from the beneficiaries of this planning.
2. Creating a constituency for good urbanism
Part of creating great cities is promoting great cities. One of the very special characteristics of San Francisco is the fact that almost every San Franciscan has an opinion about what makes the city wonderful. The city is constantly celebrating itself and its very San Francisco-ness. Through organizations such as 1stACT Silicon Valley, San Jose is starting to do the same. But more will be needed as the city grows up. The city should continue to incubate groups that promote urbanism—such as SPUR and Livable City in San Francisco, or Great City in Seattle. Additionally, the city can continue its efforts to sponsor public lectures by great urbanists such as Jan Gehl and Enrique Penalosa.
Since the 1970s, San Jose has billed itself as the "Capital of Silicon Valley." It's a good tag line, but San Jose is more than that. It is a highly diverse city with an increasingly lovely downtown, great natural resources and a burgeoning urban culture, as evidenced by events such as South First Fridays (arts and culture events in San Jose's SoFA arts district) and the San Jose Bike Party (a monthly group bike ride). Given that innovation clusters—(or what the older economists would call "industrial districts"—such as Silicon Valley don't last forever, we can expect that San Jose will be an important city after Silicon Valley is history.
The fact that San Jose is so ambitious about its growth, making enormous investments in transit infrastructure while beginning the long process of retrofitting its suburban fabric, is something unique in American urban history. We admire the vision, plans and effort our friends to the south are putting into the urban transformation of their city.
ArticleSunday, August 1, 2010Few regions have undergone more profound change in the past half century than San Jose and Silicon Valley. Since the 1950s, the area from Palo Alto to San Jose has transformed from an agricultural economy into the world's leading center of technology innovation and entrepreneurship.Waves of innovation—in defense electronics, integrated circuits, personal computing, the Internet and networking—powered business start-up and growth, and fueled immigration from across the United...
Few regions have undergone more profound change in the past half century than San Jose and Silicon Valley. Since the 1950s, the area from Palo Alto to San Jose has transformed from an agricultural economy into the world's leading center of technology innovation and entrepreneurship.
Waves of innovation—in defense electronics, integrated circuits, personal computing, the Internet and networking—powered business start-up and growth, and fueled immigration from across the United States and around the world. Small, disconnected communities grew together into a well-known region of more than 2.3 million people. The region's urban center, San Jose, grew from 95,000 people in 1950 to nearly 950,000 in 2005, and to more than a million in 2010. Today it is the 10th largest city in the United States. Despite the employment contraction following the 2001 dot-com bust and again following the 2008 mortgage meltdown, the region still remains the most significant concentration of technology companies and talent in the world.
Prior Waves of Innovation
To remain a major center for technological innovation and entrepreneurship, Silicon Valley has needed to constantly reinvent itself. Over the past 60 years, wave after wave of innovation has transformed both Silicon Valley and the broader economy: the commercialization of the integrated circuit, the development of the personal computer, the application of the Internet, and Web 2.0. Each of these innovations changed the nature of the economy in fundamental ways—as the railroad, electricity, and the radio did in the past.
Silicon Valley's economic history can be traced through distinct economic eras or waves of innovation.
Defense (1950s, 1960s)
World War II, and especially the Korean War, had a dramatic impact on the Valley by increasing demand for electronics products from Valley firms such as Hewlett-Packard and Varian Associates. Defense spending helped to build the technology infrastructure of firms and support institutions during the 1950s. During the Cold War and the space race, what mattered was not just the level of spending, but how the Defense Department procured technology. Often, the defense agencies specified their requirements and let the firms innovate to find solutions. In addition, the Defense Department required second-source arrangements, in which producers ensured that alternative suppliers of their products existed, spreading technology capabilities within the region. This wave came to an end with cutbacks in defense spending from 1969 to 1971, which stimulated the development of commercial application of defense technology.
Integrated circuits (1960s, 1970s)
The invention of the integrated circuit in 1959 led to the explosive growth of the semiconductor industry in the 1960s and '70s. Starting with Shockley Semiconductor—which begat Fairchild Semiconductor and its many offspring, including Intel, Advanced Micro Devices and National Semiconductor—more than 30 semiconductor firms developed in the Valley during the 1960s. Only five of the 45 independent semiconductor firms started in the United States between 1959 and 1976 were outside Silicon Valley. Don Hoefler, a reporter from Electronic News, gave Silicon Valley its name during this period. The technology wave had an additional push at Intel in 1971 with the invention of the microprocessor, which established the foundation for the next wave, led by the personal computer. Foreign competition in the commodity chip business challenged this wave and forced the semiconductor industry to shift into specialized chips, including microprocessors.
Personal computers (1970s, 1980s)
The technology foundation established by the defense and integrated-circuit waves created a rich environment for launching this next wave. Silicon Valley had attracted a critical mass of technology firms, support industries, venture capital and talent that helped ignite the PC revolution. Young talent meeting at the Homebrew Computer Club eventually gave birth to more than 20 computer companies, including Apple. The explosive growth during this technology wave led to an increase in the number of Valley firms, from 830 in 1975 to 3,000 in 1990, with an increase in employment from 100,000 to 267,000. The initial focus on personal computers that became commodities quickly led to the development of more sophisticated workstations, led by firms such as Sun Microsystems. During this wave, the seeds were sown for the next innovation, built around networks.
After a period of slow economic growth in the early 1990s, during the defense cutbacks following the end of the Cold War and growing global competition in both the semiconductor and computer hardware industries, the question arose about what Silicon Valley's next act would be. Could the Valley reinvent itself once again? The answer became clear with the commercial development of the Internet in 1993 and the creation of the World Wide Web. Building on its prior technology strengths, the region became a leader in the Internet revolution. The result was the explosive growth of Internet-related firms. At the forefront were Netscape, Cisco and 3Com. Between 1992 and 1998, software jobs grew by more than 150 percent, and jobs in computer networking doubled. Computer firms such as Sun and Hewlett-Packard, and semiconductor firms such as Intel and AMD, grew along with their Internet markets. The overcapacity created during the Internet bubble led to the current slowdown.
Web 2.0 (2000s)
Silicon Valley again reinvented itself in the 2000s in the aftermath of the dot-com bust. The transition of the Internet from strictly an information and communication tool into a dynamic and interactive means to facilitate information sharing and collaboration provided countless business opportunities and spurred many new firms in Silicon Valley. Continuing the trend of focusing on individual users and personal consumption that began with the personal computer, Web 2.0 companies design their products and services with the understanding that people should not simply be passive consumers of the Internet. Instead, they should actively engage in shaping the information and services that the Internet provides.
Predicting the Next Wave
Over more than 60 years of its recent history, Silicon Valley has demonstrated remarkable resilience. With each wave of innovation and in-migration, the economy and community have adapted.
Although the dynamism of high-tech makes it difficult to predict exactly what the next wave of innovation will be, there are several trends that will shape the economy of the future. By understanding these realities and realigning resources accordingly, Silicon Valley can position itself to compete for technology-based companies in the face of growing competition from many other city-regions around the world.
What factors will be key to Silicon Valley's next wave of innovation?
1. A Growing Focus on the Consumer Experience
More and more, product value stems not just from a product's creative new technical features, but from the product's design and other immaterial qualities that please consumers. Nontechnical elements—design, ease of use, brand, personalization, quality of service, distribution experience, content—are becoming more important ways of creating and sustaining competitive advantage for technology products.
This new-found importance on design and consumer products is somewhat of a departure from Silicon Valley's history as primarily a producer economy. Traditionally, most Silicon Valley companies produced products that were sold to other businesses, and were then used as inputs to final products or for production support (for example, semiconductors, electronic components or semiconductor equipment). Today, more Valley companies focus on consumers. Some of these, such as Yahoo, eBay and Google, emerged during the Internet boom. Others, "old" by Silicon Valley standards, are energized around new consumer products. Even some product companies, such as Intel, are making significant investment in the "soft" technology of consumer branding.
2. The Increasing Importance of Creativity
In many ways, Silicon Valley has been, for a long time, an "idea economy"—a place where companies and communities have grown through developing and using new ideas. Since the early days of Hewlett-Packard, the Varian Brothers and Fairchild Semiconductor, the value of technology products invented here has come not from the physical inputs themselves, but rather from knowledge and intellectual capital that combine and augment basic physical materials (such as silicon) in powerful ways.
With the anticipated focus on consumer products, creativity in design, engineering,
scientific and business management talent to
drive the creation of new ideas, methods, products, services, and business models will be more important than ever.
Supporting the future economy
Based on these trends, Silicon Valley's leaders have started to recast the Valley's core competency from simply being a hotbed of high-tech endeavoring to making the area known for
broad, deep base of creativity and innovation. New types of skills, capacities and community infrastructure are required to successfully implement this new vision and excel in emerging industries and markets that will drive the high-tech economy in the future.
#1 New value for design disciplines
One interesting implication of this shift is that people with specific training in art and design are taking their place in the high-tech workforce. More people with training in fields such as product design, interactivity, user experience, web design, animation, graphic design, digital media, game design and brand strategy are working in high-tech as employees, contractors or consultants.
#2 Cross-disciplinary teamwork
Creative breakthroughs come from an increasingly wider variety of disciplines working together. Traditionally, Silicon Valley companies have valued technical specialists. More and more, companies need specialists that respect and can work with people from other disciplines: computer scientists and engineers, for example, who can work with designers, anthropologists and marketing experts. And in addition to people with specialized expertise, companies also value people who transcend disciplines, people who can integrate
and synthesize and form strategies.
#3 Creative community environment
Competing on creativity requires new attention to the community quality of life and infrastructure, the context in which creativity is nurtured and takes place. The very nature of the community—the kinds of creative outlets and atmosphere it provides—affects the creativity of current employees, and the ability of employers to attract and develop new talent. Creating places and urban spaces—something that is currently lacking in much of Silicon Valley—has been the focus of urban planning and economic development efforts recently, and will continue to be central to the Valley's attempt to remain a desirable destination for talented workers.
Although it's impossible to predict the future, Silicon Valley understands the importance of remaining relevant among ever increasing global competition for desirable high-tech industries. To do this, leaders are doing their best to anticipate trends and understand the key elements that will provide the area with both the capabilities and the flexibility to compete when the next wave of innovation emerges.
ArticleSunday, August 1, 2010"The lowest farebox recovery in the country." That was the unfortunate tag line for the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority through the 1990s and early part of this century. Spurred by envy of other areas' light-rail systems, the VTA made big bets on a light-rail system shaped by a politically driven agenda and a belief that riders would simply flock to whatever the VTA built.Commute Mode Share to Work (Year 2000)[ Click to enlarge ] Source: Census 2000In its early years...
"The lowest farebox recovery in the country." That was the unfortunate tag line for the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority through the 1990s and early part of this century. Spurred by envy of other areas' light-rail systems, the VTA made big bets on a light-rail system shaped by a politically driven agenda and a belief that riders would simply flock to whatever the VTA built.
In its early years there was a tax base to support the transit system, but with the dot-com crash and change in economic fortunes in the Valley, the continued support for a modern light-rail system became untenable. This is the backdrop of the story of transit in San Jose and Silicon Valley. Mistakes were made: There was little connection between land use decisions and transit provision. and while there was strong political support for transit, there was little public support for actually using it. Despite all the investment, the Valley continued to suffer from chronic congestion and the transit alternative wasn't viable. Transit dependent communities continued to show reasonable ridership, but to satisfy all the cities—and in the interests of perceived fairness—transit services were provided to respond to geographic equity rather than market need.
The legacy of a backbone transit infrastructure is undoubtedly a benefit. But as the City of San Jose and the VTA look to the future, there is a sober recognition that the rules of cities still apply: Transit works best when it is driven by smart land use. And however much money is invested, transit will only work if it is designed to be competitive, draws significant ridership and is driven by proactive policy decisions on land use, transportation and parking.
In recent years the area has notched some successes, particularly in the development of bus rapid transit. And Diridon Station has the potential to be one of the region's most successful transit hubs. But there is a lot of work to be done. There is no culture of transit use in Silicon Valley, and this will be the most significant obstacle to success.
The first public transit agency in the Valley was formed in the 1970s: the Santa Clara County Transit District, later to be known as the Santa Clara County Transportation Agency.1,2 Its initial purpose was to absorb three financially strapped and privately owned local bus companies and to maintain a small, but essential countywide transit service for those who did not have access to a car.
Service Characteristics for VTA and Other Comparable Transit Agencies VTA SF Muni San Diego Sacramento Portland Minneapolis Population within service area (millions) 1.8 0.8 2.2 1.1 1.5 1.8 Size of service area (square miles) 326 49 406 277 574 589 Population density (people/square mile) 5,546 16,827 5,469 3,964 2,555 2,990 Light-rail network length (directional miles) 81.0 83.1 108.4 73.8 95.9 24.4 Annual bus trips (millions) 33.4 162.3 49.0 17.5 64.1 71.6 Annual LRT trips (millions) 10.5 50.3 37.6 15.5 38.9 10.2 Annual bus revenue-miles (millions) 16.2 18.8 18.7 7.4 22.5 23.3 Annual light-rail revenue-miles (millions) 3.4 5.8 8.0 4.3 6.9 2.0 Annual bus service (million rev-hours) 1.3 2.4 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 Annual LRT service (million rev-hours) 0.2 0.6 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 Annual bus revenue-hours (millions) 1.3 2.4 1.7 0.7 1.8 2.0 Annual light-rail revenue-hours (millions) 0.2 0.6 0.4 0.2 0.5 0.1 Source: National Transit Database 2008
During its early years, the agency concentrated efforts on maintaining and improving bus service. By the 1980s, many cities in the United States were planning and constructing light-rail systems, and the agency decided to aggressively pursue light rail as a way to build ridership and bring new life to San Jose's historic downtown.3 Planning for the agency's light-rail system started in 1982 and the first line, a nine-mile segment between Santa Clara and downtown San Jose opened in 1987, only seven years after Muni's first modern light-rail line became operational. By 1999, the light-rail network covered 29 miles connecting Mountain View with downtown.4 Other transit services were also developed in this period, with the Capitol Corridor service starting in 1991 and the Altamount Commuter Express in 1998.
Performance and Cost Effectiveness of VTA Service vs. Other Transit Agencies Average Performance Measures VTA SF Muni San Diego Sacramento Portland Minneapolis Bus trips per revenue-hour 25.7 68.6 28.9 25.8 34.8 36.0 Light rail trips per revenue-hour 52.1 77.4 85.6 71.7 85.6 75.8 Avg. farebox recovery 12.0% 26.0% 39.0% 19.0% 23.0% 32.0% Operating cost per revenue hour (bus) $154.47 $168.50 $76.47 $128.17 $121.05 $115.28 Operating cost per revenue hour (light-rail) $276.85 $219.28 $127.34 $240.01 $185.04 $175.84 Operating cost per trip (bus) $6.00 $1.45 $2.65 $4.97 $3.48 $3.20 Operating cost per trip (light-rail) $5.31 $2.83 $1.49 $3.35 $2.16 $2.32 Source: National Transit Database 2008
The VTA was formed in 1995 and ridership peaked in 2001, which coincided with the dot-com boom. Peak ridership was 156,000 bus and 30,000 light-rail users per weekday, but with a farebox recovery of only 13 percent. This compared with Muni ridership of 311,000 bus and 164,000 light rail users and a farebox recovery of 25 percent.5 At the same time, transit trips in Santa Clara County were only 1 percent of all trips, compared to 4 percent in Alameda and 14 percent in San Francisco.
With the dot-com crash ridership declined further and the operating budget came under significant pressure, exposing the fundamental problems inherent in VTA's operations: low ridership, low productivity, and the lowest farebox recovery in North America. This had implications not just for the VTA but for the region as a whole. Investing in and funding a transit system that didn't work meant that the underlying issues of traffic congestion and lack of mobility were not being addressed in consideration of implications for the economy and community in general.
A New Mindset
Measure A, a 30-year half-cent transit sales tax, was passed in November 2000. And while it still included investment in light-rail extensions, Measure A also held the prospect of investment in more competitive and cost-efficient bus services. At the same, the VTA was moving through programs and policies to support a new approach to transit provision. The emphasis was on building ridership from the ground up—integrating transit and land-use strategies, placing greater reliance on market research, making some tough decisions on service provision and developing more efficient services that made better use of capital and operational dollars. These programs and policies were set out in the VTA's Community Design and Transportation Program and the Transit Sustainability Policy.
The Community Design and Transportation Program was one of VTA's first steps toward critically re-examining the patterns of dispersed growth and moving toward creating places that support transit and invite pedestrian activity. The manual that emerged from this program was a best practice guide for integrating transportation and land use—particularly around bus and rail transit, and station areas. The program funded projects including the streetscape and intersection improvements along El Camino Real and at the Stanford Avenue intersection, as well as the Downtown Sunnyvale Streetscape Project.6, 7
The Transit Sustainability Policy was adopted in February 2007. The policy focused on turning VTA service into a cost-effective service that met market needs. The goal was a system-wide farebox recovery ratio of 20 to 25 percent. Service performance standards were established for various modes, to identify which mode was best suited for a given corridor or service area based on ridership, cost, land use and development patterns. This represented the first instance in which the VTA specifically defined bus rapid transit as a separate mode with its own unique operating characteristics and service parameters. They also established desired levels of development and density along the particular corridors and at stations.
VTA vs. Muni and Other Agencies
Measured against six other comparable transit agencies in the United States, including Muni, the VTA's system underperforms on ridership as well as resource efficiency. Despite having one of the most populated service areas and one of the highest population densities by service area, the VTA serves the second lowest number of bus and light-rail trips annually. From an operating perspective, the VTA serves the fewest bus trips and light-rail trips per revenue hour of the six operators, while also having very high costs per revenue hour for both bus and light rail. The VTA has the lowest farebox recovery rate, at 12 percent, and the highest cost per trip served. In addition to low productivity, the VTA's fixed transit infrastructure is poorly used: It has the lowest trip density per light-rail route-mile of the six transit agencies.
Santa Clara County is expected to add nearly 500,000 residents and 400,000 jobs by 2035. New roads will not be sufficient to meet the resulting transportation demand, and the various cities and agencies recognize this in their development plans. San Jose, for example, has targets to accommodate growth without any increase in driving, instead relying on trips shifting to transit and other non-driving modes. This represents a shift in transit mode share from 4 percent to 20 percent by 2040.
Where to Now?
Mode shift targets[ Click to enlarge ]
Average Light Rail Trips per Route Mile (Year 2008)[ Click to enlarge ]
In San Jose today, the missteps of the past are easier to see than are glimpses of a transit supportive future. And yet it's interesting that there is BRT in San Jose but not yet in San Francisco, and that the Metropolitan Transportation Commission transit sustainability study is relying as much on input from the staff at the VTA as it is from Muni or BART. It's also interesting to see Diridon Station as a regionally significant opportunity for smart growth and transit-oriented development.
But in spite of ambitious goals to reduce reliance on the automobile, the big threats are political and cultural. How do you break the connection between car use (as distinct from car ownership) and quality of life, and how do you develop a robust and time competitive alternative to the car? The extension of BART to San Jose, the continued extensions of light rail and new BRT lines will be a test of the Valley's commitment to transit, to see whether these investments will be fully leveraged. Successful, high-profile projects will go a long way toward building a transit culture, and this will mean not simply investing in the system but supporting that investment with appropriate land-use planning and managing parking.
It remains a challenge to convince many people that taking transit is as much a part of life as taking the car. To date, the car culture has proven to be resilient—but at least now there are signs of a willingness to change.
- Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority History
- McCaleb, C. S. (1994). Rails, Roads & Runways: The 20-Year Saga of Santa Clara County's Transportation Agency. San Jose: Santa Clara County Transportation Agency.
- Tennyson, E. L. (2004). San Jose's Light Rail Performance and Current Problems. Light Rail Now
- Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority History
- National Transit Database 2001, VTA and Muni Profiles.
- Palo Alto City Clerk Reports
- Regional Transportation Improvement Program for Downtown Sunnyvale Streetscape Improvements
- Transit Operations Performance Report, 2009 Second Quarter Report (July 1, 2008-December 31, 2008)
- Comprehensive Operations Analysis, Existing Conditions Report, 2006, VTA.
- Diridon Station Area Plan, 2010
ArticleMonday, February 1, 2010When viewed from space, the Bay Area looks like it got some of the big planning moves right. The Bay itself is ringed by development, clinging tightly to the shore in San Francisco and the East Bay. Urbanization spreads out from there. But the overwhelming impression is that the region is ringed by green.We got this first, big planning move right—and it didn't happen by accident. Far-sighted activists and planners worked over many decades to preserve open space through a combination...
When viewed from space, the Bay Area looks like it got some of the big planning moves right. The Bay itself is ringed by development, clinging tightly to the shore in San Francisco and the East Bay. Urbanization spreads out from there. But the overwhelming impression is that the region is ringed by green.
We got this first, big planning move right—and it didn't happen by accident. Far-sighted activists and planners worked over many decades to preserve open space through a combination of strategies: buying land and putting it into county parks districts and land trusts; zoning to preserve agricultural land; and establishing urban growth boundaries around cities. The emergence of what we now call the slow food movement is inextricably tied to the preservation of agricultural lands near to the urbanized parts of the Bay Area. And nothing contributes more to our quality of life than enjoying access to nature in areas so close to where we carry out our urban lives.
The problem is, we got some of the other big planning moves wrong. Come down for a closer look, and most of the urbanized parts of the Bay Area are built out at very low densities—so low that most people have to drive a lot in order to carry out their daily lives. Densities are too low for transit to work well and too low for most people to be able to walk to a neighborhood shopping district. This makes the Bay Area's carbon footprint essentially identical to the rest of America, which is shockingly high by world standards.
These diagrams, drawn by an urban planner and GIS specialist at AECOM, show changing settlement patterns of the Bay Area as it progressed from a monocentric region clustered around San Francisco to a polycentric one with contiguous growth along highway corridors and spilling over the hills to areas "off the map."
ArticleTuesday, September 1, 2009Of the nearly 60 Fortune 1,000 companies in Northern California, only one-third of them are based in our megaregion’s central cities of San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento and Oakland. This sprawling pattern of job growth poses great challenges as the boundaries of the megaregion expand outward, resulting in unsustainable commute patterns and increased levels of greenhouse gas emissions. While many key industries of our megaregion’s economy are now based in these car-oriented...
Of the nearly 60 Fortune 1,000 companies in Northern California, only one-third of them are based in our megaregion’s central cities of San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento and Oakland. This sprawling pattern of job growth poses great challenges as the boundaries of the megaregion expand outward, resulting in unsustainable commute patterns and increased levels of greenhouse gas emissions. While many key industries of our megaregion’s economy are now based in these car-oriented suburbs, this sprawling pattern of employment must change if we wish to meet regional and statewide targets for addressing climate change.
In particular, the recent California state Senate bill 375 aims for transportation planning that reduces driving through better-coordinated land use planning. While the bill specifically discusses planning for housing, it is just as important for employment. We will not be able to reduce daily driving unless we investigate the matter of where jobs are located, and develop effective strategies to shift more work to locations that can be served by regional public transit.
In addition to its impact on the environment, the location of jobs is a key variable in the economic competitiveness of our regional economies. Long commutes on congested freeways reduce productivity. The spread-out pattern of work makes job access a challenge for people in lower-income households, who have fewer choices of where to live. Yet dense employment districts benefit employers as they share ideas, workers and clients. Proximity to other businesses — particularly in related industries — is an important factor in a firm’s competitiveness. This is best achieved when jobs and businesses are concentrated into centers.
This article outlines the problem of job sprawl, and offers a framework to address it. Our overall goal is to slow the continued outward growth of jobs from already developed employment centers, and to shift more commuters — wherever they work — into sustainable commute modes. We propose a four-part land-use solution to:
- Shift more work back into traditional transit-served downtowns, such as the central business districts in San Francisco and Oakland.1
- Concentrate more employment at suburban transit stations in "edge cities" such as Walnut Creek, Concord, Sunnyvale and Mountain View.
- Remake existing low-density office parks and scattered office buildings along highway corridors into higher density employment districts with the potential to be served by transit.
- Reform the self-enclosed, car-oriented corporate campus into a more sustainable model that may include increasing employment density while also bringing in other uses, additional shuttles and new transit.
Achieving these four goals requires policy interventions that shift the incentive structure for employers, developers and individual commuters.
Ultimately, we envision a polycentric megaregion where the various employment centers serve different roles, yet are all connected in a transit network. The shifting of work to transit-served areas reinforces each center (including the traditional downtown) as more businesses become connected to each other. This vision recognizes the multi-centeredness that is a permanent feature of our megaregion, but tries to reshape this geography for a 21st century in which non-driving alternatives are increasingly important.
This graph is a jobs index comparing the jobs located more than 10 miles from CBDs to jobs located within three miles of CBDs. The dark blue sections show the difference in this ratio between 1998 and 2006. (For instance, the ratio for Phoenix is 1:1, meaning Phoenix experienced 100 percent more growth at its urban boundaries than it did in its city center.) The lightest areas show the values for cities within the Northern California megaregion.
Why the suburbs don’t have to sprawl
Suburbanization, or the outward movement of people and economic activity from central cities, has been a persistent feature of urban settlement for centuries. It is neither a contemporary problem, nor an issue specific to a certain city or country. But while every economically prosperous city in history has extended its boundaries by adding new residents and work settlements on its urban fringes, the first signs of suburbanization hardly resembled the low-density, auto-dependent and placeless pattern of development that we now know as sprawl.
By contrast, in the 19th century the suburbanization process was a logical extension of the city itself. While places like Brooklyn, New York and Lake View Township north of Chicago were initially located outside of the traditional city, by 1900 they were annexed by the growing city and no longer considered suburbs. Around the same time, many cities extended electric streetcar lines to residential communities called “streetcar suburbs.” These places were characterized by a streetcar connection through a main street commercial district. Parts of the inner East Bay such as Berkeley, Piedmont and the Rockridge neighborhood in Oakland were all streetcar suburbs. While these places today are praised for their liveliness and walkability, they facilitated an outward growth of metropolitan areas that helped fuel sprawl with the rise in private automobile ownership.
A more car-oriented era of suburbanization followed the declining use of streetcars. Before World War II, rising rates of car ownership fueled the development of suburban strip malls and manufacturing plants. (The issue of ‘whether jobs follow people or people follow jobs’ still remains unresolved. Some argue that the industrial jobs first left the city and then people followed the jobs — this was certainly the case for many of the Bay Area communities that grew to support shipbuilding industries during World War II.) Manufacturers were attracted to lower land and labor costs (particularly with the increasing advent of assembly lines) outside of city centers. And with the introduction of trucks, they no longer needed to be in city centers to utilize lower freight costs.
This pattern accelerated with the widening availability of homeowner subsidies and massive investments in highway infrastructure in the decades after WWII. Still, the most dramatic shift of employment centers occurred after 1970, particularly in office functions that had previously been located in downtown central business districts. As new service industries developed, locating employment in CBDs became unnecessary and expensive since most of the work could be done in remote office spaces using telecommunication technologies. As a consequence, many films built back offices in suburban sub-centers.
What is job sprawl?
Over the past few decades, employers have followed residents to the suburbs as the share of jobs in central cities has declined. In fact, most workers now live in one suburb and work in another, rather than commute back to the city. This process of job decentralization is the key factor that has facilitated job sprawl.
Yet what we call "job sprawl" is simply the spread-out organization of work into locations where the density is too low or that are too poorly designed to be effectively served with transit. As a result, the vast majority of commuters drive to work. Put most simply, the primary problem with job sprawl is that as work decentralizes, it puts more jobs in non-transit-served locations and means most commuters are unable to access work without a car.2
By contrast, when most jobs are in the core of a region, the "commute shed" — or the geographical area from which a region’s commuters originate — is fairly contained, and a higher percent of all commuters have overlapping commutes. Not only do most commuters live within a reasonable distance of their job (a commute of approximately 30 minutes), but many of them also have similar commutes, thus making transit investments highly effective.
But as more jobs move to the suburbs, each new job site has its own distinct commute shed. Suddenly, a "reasonable" 30 minute commute to this new suburban location can include a much more remote community now at the edge of the region. Because many of the edge communities have few economic development options, they often have city councils that are distinctly pro-growth and therefore willing to accept any development. In a region such as the Bay Area, where many of the core communities are generally anti-growth, pressure at the edge becomes even more intense. For example, as more work shifted to Concord and Livermore in the East Bay, commutes from places such as Brentwood, Antioch and Tracy became much more reasonable. The same holds true for job-rich Sacramento suburbs such as Rancho Cordova and Roseville, which makes living in the Sierra foothills viable.
Yet it is not the outward movement of jobs alone that is the problem. Instead, it is the disorganized, low-density form of employment that forces most people to use a car to make the trip between home and work. The more job locations there are, the harder they will be to serve efficiently with transit, particularly when the region’s commute patterns begin to look more and more like a spider web. In this situation, the most effective way to get from one place to another (or from home to work) is the private automobile. Public transit can almost never work where job density is too low and the residential origins are too scattered.
Over time, this process becomes self-reinforcing. As more jobs move to the suburbs, the commute sheds become more stretched out, and the edge sprawls farther out into farmland or natural habitats. And as workers increasingly move farther toward the edge of the megaregion, more employers will follow them and continue to perpetuate this cycle.
Today, the suburbanization of work is now a key driver of residential sprawl as the commute shed defines the edge or boundary of a megaregion. Reversing residential sprawl necessitates stopping job sprawl. Yet with more than half the U.S. population now working in the suburbs, stopping job sprawl is no longer about limiting the movement of work to the suburbs, but instead about reorganizing work within the suburbs to better meet the needs of a sustainable region.
Many of the jobs facing the highest decentralization rates nationally are key industries in the Northern California megaregion. For some industries, such as transportation and warehousing, decentralization is not surprising. But why are industries such as management, information and education moving away from central cities?
Why job sprawl is getting worse
As evidence that job sprawl is getting worse, we analyzed three trends: the decentralization of jobs, declining transit commute patterns, and increasing congestion and vehicle miles traveled.
Trend #1: There has been significant increase in job growth outside traditional downtowns
Since the 1990s, the share of jobs located within three miles of central business districts has steadily declined. Based on an analysis of the decentralization of work from the four central business districts or primary downtowns of Northern California (San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento and Stockton) during the eight-year period between 1998 and 2006, these CBDs experienced a net loss of more than 22,000 jobs, while jobs located 10 to 35 miles from these CBDs increased by more than 225,000.
Nationally, job growth out from the center has become a significant trend. Of metropolitan areas with more than 900,000 jobs within 35 miles of the central business district, all have experienced a decline in the share of jobs within three miles of the CBD and an increase in jobs 10 to 35 miles from the CBD.
Also, the rates at which jobs move outward in certain industries in the United States are increasing. Nationally, some of the most rapidly decentralizing industries are the same industries that are most important to the Northern California economy, and particularly to its traditional central business districts. Industries such as management, information services and education are experiencing the greatest share of relocation to areas 10 to 35 miles from CBDs. While it may not be surprising that manufacturing, transportation and warehousing are moving out into the suburbs and beyond, the trend of less cost-sensitive industries (for instance, knowledge services such as management of companies and finance) moving out poses yet another challenge for traditional downtowns, given that these are industries where the CBD is also most competitive. For example, nationally, 46 percent of jobs in "management of companies" and 42 percent of jobs in professional, scientific and technical services are located 10 miles or more from a traditional CBD.3
Over the last 8 years, central business districts in Northern California have lost over 22,000 jobs. Meanwhile the number of jobs located 10 to 35 miles from the CBDs has increased by over 225,000 (that’s more than half the number of jobs in downtown San Francisco).
Trend #2: The number of commuters who drive alone to work has increased dramatically.
The share of commuters in the Northern California megaregion who drive alone to work has been increasing since the 1980s. Even in San Francisco, where transit ridership is historically and significantly higher than elsewhere in the megaregion, the share of commuters who drive alone has grown. This increase is in part due to the movement of jobs from urban cores to suburban office parks that are not as easily accessible to transit. It is also due to the growing number of professionals living in San Francisco and commuting to information and technology jobs in the Peninsula and South Bay.
Among counties in the Northern California megaregion, San Joaquin County in the Central Valley and San Benito County south of Santa Clara County stand alone in experiencing a decline in the share of drive-alone commuters — due in no small part to the advent of transit access in these areas. San Joaquin County saw a significant increase in transit ridership following the 1998 creation of the Altamont Commuter Express, which links Stockton to San Jose with daily rail service. San Benito County also experienced an increase in the number of commuters who use transit to get to work, once Caltrain was extended to Gilroy in 1992 and transit from San Benito County to the station was introduced. This suggests that improving transit access to areas where it previously did not exist can have significant impacts on commuter travel behavior.
Despite the increase in drive-alone rates, there is hope. More than 30 percent of commuters who live within half a mile of a regional rail station take some form of public transportation to work. Improving transit access for commuters, on both the home and work trips, can have major impacts on traffic congestion, the number of vehicle miles traveled, and greenhouse gas emissions throughout the megaregion.
Trend #3: There has been a rise in VMT and traffic congestion across the megaregion.
The spreading of jobs across the megaregion has led to major increases in daily freeway vehicle miles traveled, the percent of commutes spent on congested roadways, and the personal cost of congestion that those who drive alone to work must bear. In 1982, only 35 percent of peak hour travel in the megaregion was congested. Today, that number is closer to 80 percent. Congestion costs each peak hour traveler more than $1,000 a year in wasted time, fuel and resources. As jobs continue to move farther away from both central business districts and transit nodes, this trend is only going to get worse.
Increasing congestion has been a consistent feature in Northern California commutes. Not surprisingly, the total transit ridership per capita has scarcely changed. With future population growth, just maintaining our current high levels of congestion will require shifting many more people and jobs to places served by transit.
How to solve job sprawl
While reinforcing traditional downtowns is a key goal of the megaregional planning agenda, suburban job locations increasingly are a part of our economic landscape and thus invariably a part of the solution. Job sprawl cannot be stopped or reshaped without acknowledging this and finding a way to make more suburban jobs transit-accessible.
We propose four solutions:
- Put more jobs into existing transit-rich downtowns.
- Shift more work to suburban transit-served employment centers, often in or near "edge cities."
- Remake multi-tenant suburban office parks and scattered office buildings along highways corridors (our "edgeless cities") into more clustered, transit-served destinations.
- Redesign the corporate campus to accommodate significantly more work and to further reduce drive-alone rates.
All four of these land-use approaches are necessary to reduce the harmful impacts of job sprawl. But each also has limitations.
Solution #1: Put more jobs into existing downtowns with high transit ridership.
First, the simplest solution is to create more jobs and encourage more businesses to be situated in downtowns that already have high transit ridership, mixed uses, mobility and infrastructure. This was the argument SPUR made in its "Future of Downtown" policy paper. In Northern California, San Francisco and Oakland are the best examples of downtowns with healthy transit ridership: San Francisco has more than 50 percent and Oakland around 24 percent. Downtown Sacramento and San Jose trail significantly, but are ideal places to add jobs, particularly because both are investing heavily in transit and asserting themselves as the economic and cultural centers of the surrounding areas.
The key to making this model work is the right combination of transit infrastructure, market-based parking pricing, good urban design, a well-maintained pedestrian environment and, depending on the city, the overcoming of other non-physical business-climate issues — such as perceptions about Oakland’s public safety or San Francisco’s costs.
This approach is easier said than done.4 It is very rare in American urbanism to successfully restore a continuous pedestrian fabric to central city landscapes that have already lost their historic buildings and replaced them with blank facades and surface parking lots, but that is the ambitious planning agenda we call for. This approach also requires significant investment in peak-hour transportation infrastructure, keeping in mind that it is generally less costly than the auto-centric infrastructure required by other employment models. The successful central business district model of good transit and a pedestrian environment with limits on parking is the most successful and proven way to get commuters out of their cars.
While some may argue that the idea of shifting more jobs back downtown is an attempt to return to the pre-automobile pattern of the early 20th century, when each region had a more monocentric form with a single large downtown, our notion actually is more of an acceptance of the polycentric form of the contemporary region. Given the three types of downtowns considered in this essay, the solution of adding more jobs to downtowns results in a widely differentiated set of transit-served downtowns that range from Oakland to Berkeley to San Mateo to San Rafael.
But today, this model must coexist with other ways of organizing work.
Solution #2: Channel more suburban jobs into transit-served nodes and edge cities.
The second-best locational solution to job sprawl is to shift more employment adjacent to rail or regional transit stations in the suburbs. Suburban transit-oriented development nodes are emerging and have created the foundation for increased transit commuting to suburban job destinations. This can be achieved through a variety of strategies, such as building on surface parking lots next to stations, rezoning nearby areas and reworking the street grids, and ultimately by influencing more businesses to locate near these established nodes.
There are some drawbacks to the suburban transit-oriented development approach. Even a successful suburban job center likely will not approach the density levels of a traditional downtown, and thus it will be hard to achieve high transit ridership. Further, commuters will be coming from scattered places, thus making it easier and faster to go from home to work via car, even if work is at a suburban TOD. Ultimately, the level of transit ridership to these places will be based on the availability and price of parking at the job center, the pedestrian experience from the station to work, and the density and transit accessibility of the commuters’ homes.
Solution #3: Create denser suburban job corridors.
The third locational solution is to remake existing car-oriented employment centers. These places are the low-density office, lab, retail and industrial spaces that spread along or near highway corridors and proliferate throughout suburbia. The places include buildings such as the Zhone headquarters along I-880 or Vacavalley Business Park. These edgeless areas are the hardest to address, in fact, because their employment densities are low and their employees are spread out. Additionally, in some places the land values are low, thus making it harder to increase densities.
Some of these edgeless cities do not have any rail transit today, but may be getting close to appropriate levels to support it. According to a well-known 1977 study, 8,000 people per square mile is the minimum residential density necessary to support rail investment.5
Solution #4: Reimagine the corporate campus.
The fourth locational solution is about remaking the traditional corporate campus, which is typically a relatively dense job center with a single tenant. There are several ways to accomplish this. First, there should be an expansion of the successful shuttle programs of employers such as Genentech, Apple and Google. For example, as many as 50 percent of workers employed at these companies (who live in San Francisco) take shuttles to work. This rivals the share of commuters taking transit to downtown San Francisco.
Second, there should be an increase in the number of jobs at each campus by building on the seas of parking and landscaping that surround existing buildings. With less parking, companies could begin to charge for parking and provide the revenue to transit commuters. Less parking and landscaping is also a cost-saver to the company. As employment density increases over time, new transit could be brought to the campus.
Third, the self-enclosed design should be opened and better integrated with the surrounding community. University campuses remain places of innovation and intellectual protection while also being more open to outsiders. This remaking of the campus could also involve integration of other uses such as retail and even housing to the campus and the areas immediately around it.
The number of Northern California commuters who drive alone to work has been steadily increasing since the 1980s, except in areas where regional transit access has been improved. For example, after the creation of the Altamont Commuter Express (ACE), transit ridership in San Joaquin county rose by 1,137 people daily. Similarly, when Caltrain was extended to Gilroy in Southern Santa Clara County — with shuttles linking San Benito to the station — ridership in San Benito jumped from 302 to 2,248 commuters per day.
As this article argues, solving job sprawl does not involve a single approach. We live and work in a polycentric region with a wide range of employment locations, each with a slightly different opportunity to capture future job growth. We also cannot be naíve and assume that the traditional central business districts will regain a majority share of regional jobs, even if this would be the most effective strategy to reduce overall driving. But we certainly can push to make sure that employment throughout the region shifts to more appropriate places. This strategy is the only viable approach to solving the worsening challenge of job sprawl, which in turn is one of the major causes of residential sprawl. Over the next year, SPUR will explore this issue further, refining its approach and developing policy solutions. If we are serious about stopping sprawl, we need to be just as focused on jobs as we are on housing.
1 See "Recentering Work: The Future of Downtown San Francisco," March 2009, where we argued for channeling job growth into transit-rich cores, like downtown San Francisco.
2 We are focused primarily on office sprawl. While many jobs in an economy do not require offices (retail, distribution, construction, production, etc.), the majority of work in the megaregion is directly tied to an employment center that is primarily a collection of office buildings.
3 Kneebone, Elizabeth. "Job Sprawl Revisited: The changing geography of metropolitan employment." Brookings, 2009.
4 An example from the City of Oakland demonstrates the challenge of increasing parking prices. When prices were raised to help fill a budget hole, local businesses staged a strike by shutting down their businesses, thus forcing the City Council to reverse the parking rate increases indefinitely. While well intentioned, this approach of ramping up parking costs can backfire if residents and local business owners perceive the increase to be more about paying local salaries and less about managing congestion or ensuring that there is always a free parking space. Reversing a poorly executed increase in parking prices can push back an improvement to parking management for years.
5 See: Pushkarev, Boris S. and Zupan, Jeffrey M. Public transportation and land use policy, 1977.
ArticleThursday, November 1, 2007The United States population is projected to grow by more than 45 percent in the next half-century. The total population today of more than 303 million will surpass 400 million before 2050. Unlike Europe and Japan, we face the question of where our growing population will go. In an era when people distrust government, dislike taxes and in many cases are opposed to growth itself, how will we provide the infrastructure to enable a continued high quality of life for a country that will be much...
The United States population is projected to grow by more than 45 percent in the next half-century. The total population today of more than 303 million will surpass 400 million before 2050. Unlike Europe and Japan, we face the question of where our growing population will go. In an era when people distrust government, dislike taxes and in many cases are opposed to growth itself, how will we provide the infrastructure to enable a continued high quality of life for a country that will be much larger than it is today?
Demographic trends suggest that America's growth will be clustered, virtually all of it going to 10 to 12 large "megaregions" of the country. Other parts of the country will actually lose population.
This paper looks at the idea of a megaregion in Northern California — one of the nation's most important and economically dynamic megaregions. In it, we explore:
- The historic relationships that have defined the region.
- Evidence of increasing Northern California integration.
- Various approaches to defining the boundaries of our megaregion.
- Planning strategies that become possible by using the new megaregion frame.