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20 August 2009

Recap of walking tour

This was the second walking tour put on by the City. Leading the way was SJRA's Kip Harkness, along with several others from the City. The walk started out inside the station depot, where we were informed that the tour would take an hour. Bottled water was graciously provided (your tax dollars at work).

We quickly moved outside in front of the station, where Harkness explained the expanded station vision. The "Grand Central" concept was brought up, though any expansion would be done within the context of preserving the existing depot. As shown in previous materials, the expansion will provide connections to future HSR and BART, along with additional space for other uses. BART will run underground, while HSR could run either underground or above ground. One attendee asked if HSR could run under the ballpark. Harkness replied that it might be possible, but dealing with the area water table could prove difficult, especially if the ballpark were sunken - as it is in some conceptual drawings. He cited an example in The 88, a recently opened high-rise residential tower located downtown. Three floors of underground parking were in the plans, but construction crews struck water only 1.5 stories down, forcing a major pumping/rework effort. 20 million riders are expected to go through the expanded Diridon Station per year. Like most, I'm skeptical of the figures.

Next topic was the area plan. The various agencies whose projects will impact the area have been in contact and are contributing towards the plan. There is a window in which the area will be torn to shreds in order to accommodate the BART cut-and-cover operation, new foundation work for midrise (up to 130' tall) buildings, and the Autumn Parkway construction project. Guidelines will be part of the updated Diridon Area Specific Plan, from building heights to setbacks to streetscapes. Parking is the big unknown, since it's going to take some time to properly formulate the right mix of short and long-term parking.

Then we walked past some of the property recently bought by SJRA along W. San Fernando St. The only building not empty was Patty's Inn, which has a lease through 2011 (hint-hint?). A rep from Parks talked about the Los Gatos Creek Trail. It looks like the City is getting ready to buy the land on the western bank to build the trail. The fire training site south of the ballpark will not be used for a parking garage, as was drawn up in the original EIR. Housing has designs on the land, but that use is not politically feasible given the amount of neighborhood uproar it would cause.

In order to make the new Autumn Parkway streetscape the way it's being envisioned, the City may ask the state to relinquish the State Highway designation (CA-82) for Autumn and Montgomery Streets. Since those streets are state highways, they are subject to state design and maintenance rules, which would either have to be eased or modified to accommodate the changes the City wants to enact. The same goes for The Alameda, which area residents have long wanted to transform into a pedestrian-friendly, tree-lined boulevard.

Next up were the old KNTV studios (acquired) and the AT&T site (not acquired). There was talk of preservation of some kind. There could be some reuse of materials or fa├žades if possible. I would at least expect some monuments to commemorate the historic value of the sites.

The PG&E substation situation proved interesting. The City and PG&E acknowledge that the existing layout is not exactly space efficient, so they are looking at ways to reconfigure the site in a more compact manner. It seems more likely that reconfiguration will occur than a substation move, partly due to lower cost, partly because a 32,000-seat ballpark may not require a substation move.

We then hoofed it back to Diridon Station, under the tracks and out to Cahill Park, which is west of the station. Mostly this was to show how good, community-driven TOD can be built. Keep in mind that there's a good chance that zero housing will be built in the planned area. Finally, we congregated on the Alameda, across the street from the site of the always six months away Whole Foods site. Not much to say about that. I asked about the state of the revised ballpark EIR. Harkness said that it's still in process and that no date has been set for its release, though 60 days is a pretty good guess. Those who want to be notified should head over to SJRA's ballpark page to get on the mailing list.

Questions? Fire away, and try to keep it on topic.