What Google’s San Jose project means for downtown

For years, much of the area around Diridon Station has been a neglected jumble of grimy auto body shops, vacant lots overgrown with weeds and shabby warehouses.

Google — whose plans face a critical City Council vote Tuesday — is expected to transform some 50 acres into a mix of offices, shops and restaurants connected by pathways that wind through parks and plazas filled with public art. Steps away, Diridon is set to undergo its own renovation and become the only place in the Bay Area where BART, Caltrain, Amtrak and high-speed rail converge.

It’s a tall order. But if the tech giant succeeds, the project could transform a downtown that has struggled to rebound from sprawling development in the 1950s and 1960s, when city manager Dutch Hamann rapidly annexed land at the city’s fringes while neglecting its urban core. When it’s complete, the area could support more than 25,000 workers, a 65 percent increase in the number employed in the core of the city today.

For longtime restaurateur and downtown business owner Steve Borkenhagen, Google’s foray into San Jose might finally spark the kind of urban rejuvenation he’s dreamed of for decades. For Kathy Sutherland, a nearly 40-year resident of the Delmas Park neighborhood in the shadow of the proposed development, the project brings both the long-sought possibility of a vibrant neighborhood and the fear of displacement. And for the urban studies theorist Richard Florida, the project is less personal but no less important — a chance for a major American city to finally get redevelopment right, to provide an antidote to the debacle of the Amazon HQ2 rollout.

It will be years before any such dreams or fears are fully realized, but the sale of more than $100 million dollars of city land — expected to be finalized at the Tuesday council meeting — sets the stage for planning and development to begin in earnest after months of closed-door talks and speculation about the biggest thing to happen in San Jose in generations.

 

 

Read more on the East Bay Times

 

 

Oakland’s building boom is giving rise to robos, virtual reality and other construction tech

With the building boom in full swing in Oakland, many contractors are using different technologies from productivity software to robots to improve productivity, efficiencies, and job-site safety.

Contractors that are ahead of the game are using drone technology, 3D modeling and building information modeling, virtual reality, print camera technology and mobile-friendly software, such as PlanGrid, which digitizes building plans and makes them accessible on any device. The startup was just bought by AutoDesk for $875M.

Nationwide, contractors are turning to these technologies to create better efficiency, supplement the workforce during a skilled-worker shortage and reduce mistakes and project costs.

Construction technology is still new to many contractors in Oakland, and it hasn’t yet been fully implemented. Because of this, some contractors are still running up against a lot of rework due to poor communication, PlanGrid Western Region Customer Advocate Ross Wagner said.

“Business out here hasn’t had the growth that San Francisco has had … but overall there certainly are people who are ahead of the curve in Oakland,” Wagner said. “The growth curve is just a little bit later.”

He said technology is allowing contractors to work together and increase productivity without having to go back and forth to the trailer to get information needed at the job site.

 

 

Read more on Bisnow Oakland

 

 

A sample of SF waterfront redevelopment concepts

The Port of San Francisco’s “request for interest” for 14 waterfront structures within the Embarcadero Historic District is an outgrowth of a larger effort to update the port’s Waterfront Land Use Plan.

That effort began in 2015 and should move to environmental studies next year. The goal for the requests is to try and begin making plans to revive specific piers, so work could begin soon after an update is approved.

Respondents include restaurateurs seeking space, cultural entrepreneurs, and developers or design firms eager to take part in future projects. The full set of 52 responses can be found at www.sfport.com, but here are six examples that show the range of ideas.

 

Read more on the San Francisco Chronicle

 

 

New effort to push more housing near transit stations by setting state rules

A state bill to allow dense housing near transit stops, alleviating long commutes and coaxing people out of cars, never made it out of committee last session. But backers think the mood has shifted enough in the housing debate to try again.

“I think the political climate is changing,” said state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco. He’s the lead sponsor of the More HOMES Act — HOMES stands for Housing, Opportunity, Mobility, Equity and Stability.

“In talking to my colleagues, there’s more support than there was earlier,” Wiener said.

The new iteration, SB50, prevents cities from restricting density within a half mile of a major job center or transit hub, such as a BART or Caltrain station. It raises height limits to 45 feet, about four stories, within a half-mile of the station, and 55 feet or five stories within a quarter mile. It also eliminates minimum parking requirements for new developments, a move that the Board of Supervisors is contemplating for San Francisco.

Those provisions are less dramatic than what Wiener proposed in SB827, his first attempt at statewide zoning reform. It would have barred cities from rejecting four- to eight-story apartment or condo buildings near transit nodes.

Wiener’s first measure laid bare an ideological divide in a state struggling with soaring rents, jammed freeways and a paucity of housing. The crisis has pushed people farther from jobs, forcing them into wildfire zones or soul-grinding commutes, Wiener said. But it has also ignited fears that new development will push out existing residents — or drastically change the landscape. And many opponents bristle at the idea of Sacramento interfering with local governments’ ability to shape their own neighborhoods.

“The issue seems to be that Scott Wiener and his bills are so often looking to undermine local control,” said Susan Kirsch, founder of Livable California, a San Francisco organization that advocates for local urban planning and moderate growth. It opposed SB827.

Political leaders in San Francisco and Berkeley fumed at the building heights in SB827, saying it would allow luxury high-rises to sprout up, unchecked, in quaint residential neighborhoods. San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors passed a resolution against the bill after an emotional hearing in which residents compared it to a “hydrogen bomb” and an “undemocratic power grab.” Some detractors worried that their neighborhoods would be remade to look like Manhattan or Miami Beach.

To other critics, the original bill felt like an unfinished draft. It didn’t do enough to protect tenants from displacement or require affordable housing.

“It felt like it was a big proposal, it was a bold proposal, and there were a lot of details that had not been sufficiently worked out,” said Anya Lawler, a policy advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty. The center opposed SB827 but has not taken a position on the new bill.

Yet in the last few months, the tenor of the debate has changed. London Breed was elected mayor of San Francisco on an ardent pro-housing platform — she’s among the politicians tentatively supporting Wiener’s revised legislation. In September, the Legislature passed a law empowering BART to fill station parking lots with homes. And Wiener is seeking an ally in Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom, who emphasized the link between housing and transportation in a post-election speech.

 

 

Read more on SFGate