Envision San Jose 2040. A real plan or a dream?

Recently, I attended a presentation at the Santa Clara Association of Realtors® office on to learn about Envision San Jose 2040.  This is a project created by the City of San Jose’ planning group and the overview was presented well by Laurel Prevetti and Kim Walls.  If you are not familiar with the project, you can visit the web site and download various drafts and supplemental information.  I  was excited to hear the plan, but came away feeling it lacked substance.  This may be unfair as it is only in the planning stages, but I will be following this closely to see how it makes it way to real.

The first part of the process has great merit.  Bringing people together from the various San Jose communities to allow for a community based input of ideas.   The plan is to “complete 8 community workshops, 42 task force meetings, meetings with 23 community organizations, a bus tour, and an on-line engagement with 4,500 participants”.  (Bus tour?) If you would like to see the results of surveys completed by the 2000 and some odd residence of San Jose, click here.  One of the questions asked in the survey was which areas were “Most in Need” of a Neighborhood Plan to guide growth.    It is interesting to me that Bascom Avenue/Southwest Expressway came up as one of the higher ranked areas needing a plan as there is a pretty good implementation of new housing both for sale and for rent, as well as a new light rail station at Fruitdale and Southwest Expressway.   The East Santa Clara / 5 Wounds area had only began to add in new strip malls and housing when the housing crash happened.  This end of town definitely needs attention to build a stronger neighborhood connection to down town proper.  Stevens Creek was intended to connect Santana Row and downtown via the San Carlos Corridor renovation project.  Lots of battles to be fought on that point, due to surrounding neighborhoods like the Shasta/Hester community and Willow Glen residents not wanting growth to impact their neighborhoods.

The other graph in the report clearly indicates that new housing needs to work with new mass transit systems.  The future BART station and extended light rail stations need to be surround by housing.   The priorities highlighted in the brochure indicates that “economic development” and “fiscal stability” along with “environmental leadership” are most important to the residents of San Jose.  Next “Urban Villages” and “Transit Ridership” showed as key issues as well.  There was much discussion about the demographic prediction for the next 25 years being more of a mix of “childless” urban dwellers.  Both from the baby boomer crowd and the younger 25-35 professional group.  These groups want places to walk for coffee, jump on a train to San Francisco, and are less likely to want to use their cars even if they are Prius owners.

The simple definition of envision is “to conceive of as a possibility, especially in the future; foresee”.  The possibilities presented last week are great.  I felt excited for for the direction in which the project is heading.  With a $116 million budget deficit for San Jose (read proposals to fix here in PDF) it simply is not clear on how to bring this plan to reality.

Even though I understand the changes in demographics related to more “childless” residents,  most clients I meet with are very interested in good school districts.  The graph above indicating which neighborhoods need a plan for growth are the same areas that need a plan for better schools.  The following screen capture is from the web site School Performance Maps.com and it indicates by color the API ranking of schools.  In this image you can see the high performing schools (light to dark blue) and the poorest performing schools (yellow to red) and how geographically they align with the need for planned neighborhood growth.

I can’t sell downtown or the East Side without better schools and better transit options to Silicon Valley.  An urban village needs to be connected, safe, and supported by performing schools.  This is a critical component of San Jose’ future not only as a city but as a participant in our country’s  future.

We could be the environmental leaders through technology, transit, and urban planning.  We could be a beacon to other urban areas where communities thrive on all levels and not just on the flat surface of a microchip.  But that’s my vision for San Jose 2040, when my son will be 40 and I will be… well, older.

There was one definite take away from this presentation for me was that I need to get more involved.  How can I help grow the City of San Jose into the community that I can happily brag about to anyone in the world?  How can I bring my expertise as a real estate professional to make sure not only smart planning for housing occurs but also ways where housing affordability and resale can commingle.  Where value, if tied to a school district, encompasses all of San Jose school districts.  If our future is tied to the success of our children then we should set out to be successful in making this verb envision actionable in our daily decisions as members of this growing urban village.

The next General Plan Update Task Force meeting will take place on Monday, September 13, 2010 at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall at 200 East Santa Clara Street. The meeting will be held in Wing rooms W118, W119, and W120.   Of course, there is a Facebook page that you can keep up with all the details.  Of all the things we click when on Facebook, this might be one we should See you there?

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