The Loma Prietan - November/December 2011

Almaden Ranch Plans “Ill Conceived”

by Andrew Melford

Yet another developer has proposed yet another wretched, traffic-inducing, climate-busting shopping center with 350,000 to 400,000 feet of big-box retail surrounded by acres of parking. The location for this proposal is Almaden Ranch, an undeveloped 43-acre parcel on the Almaden Expressway in San Jose. The land is currently being farmed, but it is surrounded by residential development and is a reasonable candidate for some kind of mixed-use infill development … just not this kind of auto-centric infill development.

Big-box retail surrounded by parking is guaranteed to generate auto trips. However, the Envision San Jose 2040 General Plan Update commits the city to reducing auto-traveled miles by 40% by 2040. “You’d think San Jose would have learned its lesson about this kind of ill-conceived development,” says Chapter Conservation Program Manager Megan Fluke, “especially after seeing the negative impacts of urban sprawl firsthand.” The city is adding lanes to Almaden Expressway, but this is to reduce current traffic congestion; no one pretends that these new lanes will accommodate new traffic generated by a new shopping center.

The Chapter recommends that San Jose hold up the proposal until developers create a plan more consistent with Envision 2040. Such a plan would be characterized by …

  • Mixed use, with residences, retail and services in the same development.
  • More orientation towards pedestrians and cyclists.
  • Safe and convenient access to the nearby Oakridge light rail station.

To see what can be done on 43 acres, one need look no further than Santana Row, the overwhelmingly popular shopping center-cum-residential area in northern San Jose. That development, on approximately the same acreage, encourages residents to walk to restaurants and stores rather than driving.

With the support of the Chapter’s Sustainable Land Use Committee, members of the Chapter’s San Jose Cool Cities Team (SJCC) have been working to oppose this project. The co-leaders of SJCC, Darren Ponce and Erica Stanojevic, wrote to the San Jose City Council voicing our concerns about the retail center and asking for changes to the plan. Requested changes include wider bike lanes, more seating areas, and structured parking to make better use of space. SJCC member Kenneth Rosales’s letter to the San Jose Mercury, stating that the proposed plan is inconsistent with the San Jose Envision program and that the city should not sacrifice long-term sustainability to fix short-term budget woes, was published on August 13.

During their August 24 meeting, the San Jose City Planning Commission asked the developers to perform an urban decay analysis and additional water supply analysis before bringing the project to be re-evaluated. An urban decay analysis determines whether a new development will drive existing businesses under. When the plan will be resubmitted to the planning commission is unknown, but it is estimated to be mid-November to early December. After the plan is submitted, it will be made available for public comment. Members of SJCC will continue to advocate to make this development more climate-friendly.

Andrew Melford has been a Community Outreach Intern with the Chapter since February.