Good Planning Will Make San Jose a City of the Future



By Tom McEnery

The city of San Jose stands on the edge of the Pacific Rim, the center of the Golden State, with the clear opportunity of becoming the much-heralded city of the future.

Last December, the City Council established a task force to review San Jose’s economic development policy. Specifically, we were to analyze the economic development programs of the city for their effectiveness, chart the needs for growth and expansion by major companies, study our land supply, and determine the necessity for expanding our industrial land. A puzzle to be solved, if ever there was one.

Members of the task force represented leadership in high technology, finance, the community, and labor. This broad representation was intended to ensure a blending of perspectives in the formulation of policy recommendations.

After five months of fact-finding, the task force has prepared its recommendations for us by the City Council in its May general plan hearings. These recommendations will also be incorporated into the deliberation of the Horizon 2000 task force which is charting the future direction of our city.

Taken together the task force recommendations form not only general and specific directions, but an active marketing strategy intended to thrust San Jose to the forefront as the leader in high-tech development for the United States. These findings provide a solid foundation for bold, diversified development without compromising current service levels and qualities of life. This is the crucial link between the neighborhoods of San Jose and the industries of this valley: Both need a livable city in order to prosper. This is the sine qua non of both San Jose’s and Silicon Valley’s future.

The information presented to the task force was unprecedented in scope, depth, and detail. Never in this city’s history has so much data been compiled and brought into focus on a land-use decision. The task force was supported by senior city staff members from public works, planning and redevelopment as well as the Santa Clara County Manufacturing Group, the Arthur D. Little Co., and the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy.

Arthur D. Little was contracted to conduct an inventory of the vacant industrial sites within the urban service area. Their findings indicated that among the 5,400 acres in the inventory, the availability of larger parcels is extremely limited.

We concluded from the Little report that current vacant industrial land is adequate for accommodating the needs of small and medium sized companies. However, attractive and affordable large parcels (50-plus acres) that could provide a choice for mature high-tech companies were needed.

Concurrent with the land-use inventory, the task force commissioned the Santa Clara County Manufacturing Group to survey major local firms to determine their projected growth needs. The land-use inventory and the survey of local firms were two critical pieces of the economic development puzzle. Viewing both supply and demand was essential in determining the direction to take with San Jose’s future. They survey indicated that a substantial number of companies would be expanding in the next five years. Furthermore, six of these companies expressed an interest in local sites of 25 acres or larger to meet their expansion needs.

The task force was faced with three alternatives to accommodate the expansion needs of large high-tech companies: increase the supply of large sites in the current urban service area, expand the urban service area, or do nothing. The choice of doing nothing was eliminated out of hand. After serious consideration, there appeared to be no feasible way to significantly increase the supply of acceptable large industrial sites in the urban service area.

The final piece of the puzzle was estimating the impact on infrastructure needs if industrial development were to be considered outside the current urban service area. Projected costs were developed for streets, sanitary services, and storm drainage for the potential development of areas adjacent to the Edenvale redevelopment area and the Coyote Valley. While these cots would be significant, the task force concluded that they would be reasonable, and should be borne by private development.

For the first and perhaps only time, the three critical pieces of the puzzle were linked. Now we were ready to discuss San Jose’s future economic development. After hours of painstaking deliberation the task force made a series of recommendations including the following:

– Expansion areas should be for the primary use of large single-user high technology companies with an average parcel size of 50 acres and minimum parcel size of 25 acres.
– Planning and zoning controls should be implemented to ensure the high quality, “unique character” of the large sites.
– Industrial expansion should not rely on using existing or planned capacity needed to serve the current urban service area.
– San Jose should expand its urban service area in Edenvale and North Coyote Valley as locations suitable for meeting high-technology requirements into the next century.

From the outset, stemming back to the general plan hearings last fall, this has been one of the most important and complex issues the city has faced. We have taken a prudent course of action in analyzing this issue in depth, thoughtfully and clearly, as you would a business venture. We are now in a position to move in new directions with our eyes on the future but with our feet based firmly on facts, not myths, wishful thinking or scare tactics.

If these proposals are adopted by the city council, and I fervently hope they will be, we have the opportunity to greatly increase our tax base, provide thousands of jobs for our residents, enhance our city’s identity and improve our quality of life well into the 21st century. Five months ago we had the option to act expediently, rashly, and satisfy the needs of one proposal. Now we can extend the benefits of our city’s great future to dozens of companies, companies that can indeed make San Jose a thoughtful city, a business-like city, a city of the future.
Tom McEnery is the mayor of San Jose. He wrote this article for the Mercury News.

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