Google submits formal campus plan to San Jose
By Janice Bitters, San Jose Spotlight
Google submitted its formal application and master plan for its sprawling downtown San Jose campus Thursday, setting in motion its countdown to a late 2020 City Council vote on the 60-acre project.
The submission is a “significant step toward bringing the project to reality,” according to Timothy Rood, a division manager in San Jose’s Planning and Building department.
“We’ve been talking about the project and talking about the concept for two years, but this step allows us as the city to really swing into action to review the plan compared to our policies,” he said. “And it demonstrates Google’s commitment to the project.”
The tech titan aims to build about 6.5 million square feet of office, between 3,000 and 5,000 homes alongside 500,000 square feet of retail, hotel, community and other “active uses.” Those plans miror what the company presented to the community in a sneak peek last August.
Notably, Google’s submission shows it wants to study the impacts of a larger development than presented a couple months ago. The maximums in the company’s plan include 5,900 homes and 7.3 million square feet of office space on the west side of downtown around Diridon Station.
But despite those larger maximums, the company’s vision hasn’t changed, said spokesperson Michael Appel. Google is still aiming for the project presented to residents last summer, but wants flexibility to make changes based on the city’s review and public feedback over the next year, Appel told San José Spotlight on Thursday.
Google’s vision also includes nearly 17 acres of parks and green space weaved throughout the sprawling campus and as many as 5,160 parking spots.
Alphabet-owned Google, which is also seeking to build major campuses in Sunnyvale and its hometown of Mountain View, plans to lean heavily on transit in its San Jose project, according to company officials.
That means the tech giant may seek to build fewer parking spots to encourage employees to take Caltrain, VTA or BART and high-speed rail when it arrives in the South Bay city.
In all, about 50 percent of the 60 acres Google owns and would redevelop has been set aside for office, while the other half of the land would be for everything else.
Many of the details on things like how many buildings will rise or what they’ll look like aren’t ironed out in the master plan submitted to the city Thursday.
Today, the maximum height limits in the Diridon Station area range from 65 feet to 135 feet, but under recently approved height limits in the area, Google’s project may be allowed to reach 160 feet to 290 feet high. The plans submitted Thursday show the tech titan aims to use that extra height.
A map in Google’s plans outlines a rough idea of how tall the buildings may be in its development. Yellow is 160 feet high, orange is 190 feet high, the pink areas range from 200 to 240 feet high, purple areas range from 250 to 260 feet high and the blue areas range from 270 feet to 290 feet high, with the darkest blue being the tallest planned buildings. Image Credit: Google, city of San Jose public documents
More design details will start to take shape in the spring, when Google submits a draft of its design standard guidelines.
As the pieces come together, community groups are watching closely. Some worried about being displaced as the plan comes together and others worried about the rapid changes Google’s interest in the city has brought.
“It’ll be interesting to see if the city holds other development to this same standard,” said Bob Staedler, president of land use consultancy Silicon Valley Synergy, which is representing a coalition of local neighbors called the Diridon Area Neighborhood Group.
“That is the concern,” he added. “Is Google going to be a platinum process and is everything else going to be silver?”
Chava Bustamante, spokesperson for Silicon Valley Rising, said Thursday that Google has taken important steps to acknowledge its impact on working families, but it may not be enough.
“I worry this plan still lacks details on public’s number one concern — what Google will do to protect the thousands of families struggling to afford housing in San Jose from displacement if Google’s arrival causes rents to soar,” he added. “There is no more time to wait, we’re ready to engage in pulling a plan together to prevent displacement and bring our families and our community the peace of mind they deserve.”
The San Jose City Council is expected to vote on the project before the end of 2020, a fast, but important timeline because Google has told city leaders it intends to use a 2011 law known as AB 900, which helps streamline large projects that meet specific requirements.
In order for Google to utilize AB 900, the project will need to meet a list of requirements and get eligibility approval from the governor by Jan. 1, 2020. The city would need to vote on the project by Jan. 1 2021 to qualify.
In a memo released in August, the city noted that “the city does not have to comply with the AB 900 timeline if it determines there is more work to do before taking the project before City Council for consideration.”
But for now, San Jose officials are moving ahead based on that timeline.
Later this month, city officials will vote on a contract for a consultant to guide a major update to the existing specific plan for the Diridon Station area, of which about one-third is taken up by the Google project.
The new plan will take into account major changes since the last Diridon Station Area Plan was adopted in 2014, when the city believed a new Major League Baseball stadium would rise in the area and building height limits were shorter than they are today. San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo last year also set a goal that 25 percent of all homes in the area will be considered affordable, an ambition that could make its way into the revamped plan.
Specific plans usually take between 18 months and two years to complete from scratch, but San Jose aims to have the final version of the updated Diridon Station Area Plan approved before the end of next year.
Its approval will likely come around the same time that Google officials will stand before the City Council looking for their own affirmative votes, Rood said.
”They’re on separate tracks, but our goal is to bring both efforts together for the Planning Commission and City Council to consider by the end of 2020,” he said. “We’ll be analyzing these efforts — both the Diridon Station Area Plan and the Google project — for aligned and compatible objectives.”