The Loma Prietan - April 2013

Win for the Environment and Sunnyvale

Sunnyvale City Council Adopts Transit-Focused Development Plan

Erin Barrite

The Chapter and its allies are working to make the area surrounding the Caltrain station a low-carbon neighborhood. Photo: Erin Barrite
The Chapter and its allies are working to make the area surrounding the Caltrain station a low-carbon neighborhood. Photo: Erin Barrite

The Sunnyvale City Council and an environmental partnership including the Chapter achieved a significant win for the city, the environment, and the climate when the council voted February 26 to adopt a general framework for the Lawrence Station Area Plan. The proposal passed by a tight 4-3 margin, even after a series of community outreach meetings and considerable public input supporting the plan. Developed by a Citizen’s Advisory Group (CAG), the plan calls for a compact, mixed-use development around Sunnyvale’s second Caltrain station, at Lawrence Expressway. The preliminary plan includes improved circulation for all modes of transportation through the neighborhood, better connectivity with the city, open space at five locations, and a flexible mix of housing, retail, commercial, and appropriate industrial development throughout the half-mile radius around the station.

“This framework allows more efficient use of the station area, which should boost Caltrain ridership, make walking and biking more convenient and safer, and provide a neighborhood focal point and services,” comments volunteer Sunnyvale Cool activist Barbara Fukumoto. Such urban planning is needed to reduce automobile use and control the area’s carbon footprint.

The Sunnyvale Planning Commission had unanimously endorsed the Lawrence proposal earlier. While the city council was closely divided, all three members the Chapter endorsed for election—Chris Moylan, Tara Martin Millius, and Vice Mayor Jim Griffith—voted in favor of the proposal. They could point to considerable community support for their vote, thanks in part to our work.

 
Months of Effort
Over the last few months, Sunnyvale Cool joined with the Chapter’s Sustainable Land Use Committee (SLU), the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, and Friends of Caltrain to provide recommendations and champion the plan. To learn about the area near the station, Sunnyvale Cool organized an informative December walking tour, led by Chapter member and CAG member Gustav Larsson. The tour brought together representatives of each of the partner groups, including SLU volunteers Bonnie McClure and Gita Dev, and interested community members. Adina Levin of Friends of Caltrain then wrote an illustrated blog about the tour, further raising awareness and increasing understanding.

In January advocacy began. Prior to the joint session of the council and the planning commission to study the plan, SLU submitted extensive written recommendations, based on the Chapter’s “Station Area Guidelines.” We and representatives of our partner groups then attended the study session, voicing supportive comments and suggestions.

In February we worked along with our partners to inform the community and promote the advocacy effort. Sunnyvale Cool hosted a public meeting, attended by coalition partners and residents, at which Sunnyvale's Community Development Director explained the CAG's proposal in detail. Following his presentation, Gita distributed and explained our Station Area Guidelines and outlined our goals for zoning the land within approximately 1/2 mile of the Lawrence Caltrain station. The Station Area Guidelines provide town planners, planning commissions, city councils, developers, and interested citizens with a wide menu of options to create walkable and bikeable rail-centric communities with a lower-carbon lifestyle. The Silicon Valley Leadership Group hosted presentations for nearby businesses at which Sunnyvale staff explained the proposals.

The coalition partners submitted letters of support and encouraged allies to register written support for the framework prior to the planning commission and council hearings. Partners also made oral comments at the hearings and encouraged allies to do the same. Chapter interns also spoke up for the plan at the hearing.

“It’s inspiring to see the impact that has been made by the strong collaboration on this project,” said Megan Fluke Medeiros, the Chapter’s Conservation and Development Manager. “Our region is lucky to have Barbara, Gita, and the other dedicated community activists on the Sunnyvale Cool Team and the Sustainable Land Use Committee.”

 
More Work to Do
The timeline to complete the plan calls for the CAG and Sunnyvale city staff to explore urban design elements and affordable housing possibilities during March and to review implementation and infrastructure from June 2013 through March 2014. Following completion of an Environmental Impact Report, the plan is to be returned to the council in May 2014. Our Chapter teams look forward to providing continued support along the way.

Erin Barrite is a member of the editorial board of the Loma Prietan.