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San Jose Planning Department General Plan Amendment Annual Review Community Meeting -- September 16, 1999

by Walter Alvey

Last revised: Sept. 29, 1999

These are the notes that I took during the San Jose General Plan Annual Review meeting that took place Thursday night, Sept. 16, 1999 at the Camden Lifetime Activities Center.

As with the Sept. 13 meeting, I apologize for not taking more complete notes. I am reporting some discussions from memory. I welcome corrections and additions from anyone else who was there.

"Question" means a question from a community member to the Planning Division staff. Answers are from someone on the staff. "Comment" means a comment from someone in the audience. This is usually a community member though not everyone identified himself/herself as such.

The meeting began with Laurel Prevetti giving an overview of the General Plan. This presentation is described in my notes from the Sept. 13 meeting, but I can add some description of the major strategies:

Economic development: San Jose is largely residential. We need some economic development to provide a tax base that pays for the services that we use.

Growth management: The 70's saw a need to control our growth.

Downtown revitalization: A lot of money has gone into revitalizing the downtown area.

Urban conservation/preservation: This protects historic resources.

Greenline: This recognizes that there is an ultimate limit to growth.

Housing: We want to identify new housing for all income levels.

Question: How can I get a copy of the General Plan document?

Answer: It is available at City Hall, Room 400 for $20. They are out of stock right now. There may be some in next week (call before coming over).

Laurel mentioned that this is the third of three community meetings to seek community input. Following this meeting, there will be three planning commission hearings and then three city council hearings.

Another planning commission member then went over the District 3 changes. One that generated discussion was GP99-03-06. This changes an area near San Jose State from "Medium Low Density Residential/High Density Residential" to "Medium Density Residential".

Question: Will this remove existing housing?

Answer: No, it's just to bring the zoning in line with what is already there.

Question: There are a lot of historic homes in that area. Will this allow second units to be built on the properties?

Answer: Generally no. They could be built only within the allowable density. This area is zoned R1 (single family) which does not allow second units.

Rich then went over the District 4 changes. One that generated discussion was GP99-04-05. This changes an area that is currently a shopping center from "Neighborhood/Community Commercial" to "Medium Density Residential".

Question: Will this be for condos?

Answer: Potentially but the applicant will build single-family detached homes on about 3000 square foot lots.

Comment: That sounds very small.

Answer: That's about as small as you can go for a single-family house.

Question: Will there be adequate services?

Answer: We're analyzing that. At the last meeting, there was considerable concern over that. The last major tenant in that shopping center was a Lucky store that moved out five years ago. Since that time, the other businesses have suffered.

Comment: If there is no shopping center, the neighborhood will suffer.

Comment: The red areas just above the proposed rezoning are senior citizen residents. They could need help to get to a grocery store that is farther away.

Question: What criteria do you use in your analyses?

Answer: The biggest is land use compatibility. We also look at compliance with the General Plan goals and policies.

Question: Do you have criteria for a balance between commercial and residential?

Answer: Yes.

Question: In New England, you sometimes can't build unless you have at least two acres. How can it get to this point? Can't you just reject an application right away [based on some predetermined criteria]?

Answer: Anyone can file and we have to accept all applications. That doesn't mean that we will approve it

Calpine has two requests in District 4 (GP99-04-02 and GP99-04-03). They have yet to decide which one to pursue based on uncertainty over the location of the PG&E substation. They have yet to apply to the CEC. They have requested deferral of this amendment.

Question: When will PG&E decide on the substation location?

Answer: We don't know.

Question: Can anyone propose a General Plan amendment?

Answer: Yes. They have to pay a fee.

Question: Do you always know what it's for [what project the applicant has in mind]?

Answer: For some changes, we don't know the exact project. Public/Quasi-Public is different. [That's the change that Calpine is requesting for the Metcalf Energy Center.] We won't consider a change to Public/Quasi-Public unless we know what it is for. Also, a power plant requires a California Energy Commission (CEC) process. We will use the document that comes out of that process.

Discussion then moved to District 5. One that generated discussion was GP99-05-02. This changes an area from "Urban Hillside/Low Density Residential" to "Medium Low Density Residential".

Comment: There is a lot of unstable soil in that area. There could be landslides.

Answer: This change would require clearance from the city geologist.

Comment: This could have a domino effect on neighboring areas. It is a bad idea.

Comment: The state owns Alum Rock Ave. and CalTrans has proposed widening it. [I think they meant that would make the area more crowded.]

Comment: The traffic already backs up along Alum Rock. This will make it worse.

Comment: We will lose the foothills. This is how [excessive development] starts and this is where it should stop. This is a terrible idea. It's just someone trying to make big money and destroying a neighborhood.

Question: How does the Planning Commission apply the criteria of compatibility with existing homes?

Answer: There is no formula or rule. It's based on public input. We comply with city policies.

Question: If this is county property, why is it in the city plan?

Answer: It's an unincorporated area within county jurisdiction. [There was more but I didn't get it in my notes.]

Question: What if the county approves something that is not consistent with the city's plan?

Answer: They run projects by us first. We participate in their planning process.

Question: What if some disaster happens even though the geologist has approved the project? Is the city liable?

Answer: There was a situation like that where the city was sued. They had to buy back the property and it cost them a lot of money. Because of that they are a lot more careful now.

Question: At the last meeting there was a question as to whether the applicants Michael and Joe Guerra are related to the Joe Guerra who is the mayor's budget and policy director. I don't know if they are, but in that situation what guidelines do you have to prevent someone from exerting an inappropriate influence over the decision?

Answer: That would be a conflict of interest and the mayor would abstain from voting on it.

Someone from the audience [I understand that this is someone who works for the city] said they were definitely NOT related.

Discussion then moved to District 6. Items that generated discussion were GP99-06-02 through GP99-06-04. These change some areas near Southwest Expressway from "Neighborhood/Community Commercial" to "Transit Corridor Residential".

Concerns (especially for 06-04) included: The property should be designed so that no windows look into the neighbor's windows. The new building will have too many stories. There won't be enough parking. The wedge-shaped parcel at St. Elizabeth and Curci should be a park. The police could easily patrol it by driving by. [There was more but I did not get it in my notes.]

At this point, it was apparent that we could easily run over our allotted time (until 9:00 PM). Laurel asked that we move on. One person said that they didn't cut off the District 5 people. Laurel apologized and said she should have made it more clear at the start of the meeting that we had only limited time for each discussion.

Comment: There is a uniform theme to all these amendments: an urban in-fill approach to planning. Should we allow modest expansion and stick the existing plan? Already the inflow is almost up to what was planned for 2020.

Discussion then moved to Districts 7 and 8. An item that generated discussion was GP99-08-02.

Question: Will the church look like the one at [some other location that I didn't catch]? That's a monstrosity.

Answer: They have not yet submitted a plan.

Comment: It's mistake to allow this one but not a high school in Morgan Hill.

Discussion then moved to District 10. One that generated discussion was GP99-10-01. This changes an area near Harry Road from "Private Open Space" to "Low Density Residential".

Question: What effect will this have on the bike trails?

Answer: There will be no impact. The proposed development has a 100-foot setback.

Comment: This area and the area eastward are prone to flooding.

Answer: The Santa Clara Valley Water District has reviewed the proposal and made recommendations. The EIR [Environmental Impact Report] should address that. It is (or will be) available on our web site and at the library.

[One of the applicants for this item is IBM. Because I work for IBM and the remainder of the discussion concerned IBM's role in this amendment, I feel that it would be a conflict of interest for me to report on it. I will skip to the next item.]

Question: Is there a plan for the schools to accommodate the children in all these new residences? [Many of the plan changes involve new housing.]

Answer: That is a separate plan but we look at it and consult with the school district.

The next item that generate discussion was GP99-10-02. This changes an area near Blossom Hill Road and Cahalan Avenue from "Medium Low Density Residential" to "Medium Density Residential".

Comment: It will cause traffic congestion. It's already crowded there and you can see that the access to the area will be from Blossom Hill Road.

Discussion then moved to what many south San Jose residents had been waiting for: GP99-02-01. This is the change that Calpine has requested for the Metcalf Energy Center. It will change the area south of Tulare Hill from "Campus Industrial" to "Public/Quasi-Public".

Laurel showed a slide giving an overview of the Metcalf Energy Center. It will require a one-mile natural gas line and a 7.3-mile recycled water line.

The next slide summarized the required permits: General Plan amendment (GP99-02-01), planned development prezoning/rezoning (PDC99-08-071), annexation [of county land to the city], tree removal permit, and planned development permit.

Laurel said that the CEC would not have its staff assessment done until December 1999 (the preliminary version) and February 2000 (the final version). Without adequate environmental clearance, San Jose Planning will likely defer this item to early 2000.

Comment: I have a number of concerns that I have written down. I worked in the power industry for years and never thought I'd be on the other side of the fence. Putting a power plant in an urban area is a "dumb idea". The Warren-Alquist Act that deregulated power plants has "greased the skids" for power plant companies. Any zoning category that does not distinguish between a school, a church, and a power plant needs to be re-examined. [He was referring to the Public/Quasi-Public zoning that Calpine is requesting. I did not write down the rest of what he said because it was from his paper that he plans to put on the web.]

Question: What criteria would you use to say yes to this?

Answer: We review the project with regard to existing General Plan policies, goals, and strategies. We indicate where it conforms and where it does not. At this point we couldn't speculate on the reasons that we would approve it.

Question: Are you responsible for doing a needs assessment?

Answer: The issue that we focus on is location. We don't evaluate the need.

Question: Could the City Council just deny it? Would they have to give a reason?

Answer: They could vote to not approve it. Although they don't have to give a reason, for an issue like this they almost certainly would. Their decision is final. There is no appeal process.

Comment: The community could take legal action [to oppose the decision] and we are considering that.

Comment [my own]: My uncle worked in the power industry and spent his life building power plants. I am not someone who would be automatically opposed to a power plant. However, I am not happy about this one for several reasons: Common sense would say that locating two smoke stacks a mile from my house will only make my air quality worse. It could open the door to other companies building facilities that go against the General Plan. High tech companies will be hesitant to locate near a power plant. Those companies will increase property values. That, along with the companies' own property tax payments, will bring in more revenue. A power plant will have the opposite effect. Calpine has a lot of money to spend on lobbying. Our neighborhood cannot compete with that. Money has power. Please don't let that influence your decision.

Comment: Look at how many more people want to speak than we have time for. This whole process is rushed. This is one of the first plants built under deregulation. There should be more time for evaluation.

Comment: This is a good project. There will be no impact on housing or schools. There will never be a cleaner plant in this area, maybe even in the whole country. It will provide a lot of property taxes. It will eliminate potential brownouts and blackouts. It will be away from homes.

Comment: It won't be away from my home. I live on the other side of Tulare Hill. The wind comes up over the hill and blows down to where my house is. It will blow the pollution there. We're not saying that we don't want the plant built. Just move it farther away from houses.

Comment: I live within a mile of the plant and have been in the area for 29 years. I'd like to inject a little humor in this discussion. I hope the neighbors won't throw tomatoes at me on the way out, but I favor the plant. A local cement company and autos from 101 produce a lot more pollution than this plant will. It's 40% more efficient than other plants. If there is a problem with it, the CEC will find it.

Comment: We need more generating capacity. I'd like to read a letter from PG&E: Electrical demand has been increasing. The expected peak load will exceed transmission capacity. The transmission system cannot provide the needed electricity without increased generation.

If the plant isn't safe, then don't build it. But let the CEC decide. The other major argument is property values. No one will suffer any economic impact. Property values in this area are determined by supply and demand and demand exceeds supply.

While some people were speaking in favor of the plant, one or two people interrupted and asked where they lived. A few of them replied San Jose and said that it was rude for people to interrupt them. They said that they had remained quiet while people were speaking in opposition to the plant and would like the same courtesy.

Comment: I'm not a resident of San Jose. But this is a state-of-the-art project that is necessary. There is no major power plant in the south Bay Area. Without more power we could lose power for weeks or months.

Comment: I'd like to point out an interesting fact: The day of the first hearing on this issue on July 12 [1999], electrical usage hit a new level.

Comment: Before we look at the increasing need, we should look at rebates for power conservation. If we can give rebates for new toilets that save water, why can't we do the same for saving electricity?

Comment: I'll tell you a win-win situation. Upgrade Moss Landing and other sites. That will reduce pollution, provide jobs, and provide the needed power.

Comment: If this power plant is such a great idea, why is it on the fast track? Why is it being kept such a secret?

Comment: Calpine has said this will lower transmission costs. The savings on my bill will be only a few pennies. The loss in property values will be in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Comment: I don't live in that neighborhood. I am a life-long resident of San Jose and I share the concerns of the neighbors. This plant will bring strong benefits to the community. It will be an asset to the city of San Jose. Calpine has been receptive to the people's concerns. It is necessary to meet demands. It will use members of our community. We need to look at the big picture.

Comment: My house is larger and in better condition than another house farther away. But I have to ask less for it because it may be near a power plant. My realtor also told me that another man had wanted to buy a house in our neighborhood. Once he found out that a power plant could be located there, he wouldn't even look at it.

At this point, we were past our allotted time and the meeting ended.

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