Council Considers Revamp of The Alameda

Contractors’ bids overshot the city budget to revamp The Alameda last year, so the City Council will consider a second set of proposals when it meets Tuesday. Even this time, the lowest bid comes in 15 percent over the $3.487 million budget. The city will have to take $936,000 from the Department of Transportation to cover the difference if the council agrees to the plan.

“The improved economy and growth in construction activity is reducing the number of bidders and increasing the costs of bids received,” says the memo signed by heads of the city budget, public works and transportation departments.

Cash for the roadway improvements comes from the Municipal Transportation Authority drawing on proceeds from a construction tax. Approving the lowest-yet-still-over-budget bid to Wattis Construction will allow the city to move forward with the beautification project, already delayed a year.

Renovations will turn the boulevard from Stockton Avenue to Fremont Street into a multimodal transportation corridor with clear-cut connections to major destinations like Diridon Station, HP Pavilion and downtown.

“The project will construct improvements that will help enliven The Alameda as a retail center and multimodal transportation corridor,” the memo says. “Design elements include raised median islands with decorative pavers and landscaping, enhanced pedestrian crosswalks with median refuges, corner and sidewalk bulb-outs, curb ramps, street lighting improvements and modifications to signalized intersections.”

The city tried to form an assessment district to charge residents extra money to pay for services above and beyond the city standard, but voting property owners and neighborhood residents killed the move.

Regardless, plans for improvement will move forward, even if the scope is smaller than initially planned.

Since its construction in 1795 to connect Mission Santa Clara de Asis to what would later become the city of San Jose, The Alameda has remained one of the region’s most historically significant corridors. California’s first stagecoach line ran through San Jose to San Francisco along The Alameda. It carried the state’s first interurban railroad in 1868, the second streetcar line and the first interurban electric streetcar on the West Coast in 1888.

“The Alameda is an important transportation corridor serving as a gateway to Downtown San Jose,” the city memo says. “As part of the Envision 2040 General Plan update process, The Alameda has been identified as one of the city’s ‘Grand Boulevards’ that contributes to the city’s overall identity and is intended to have special design features, including enhanced landscaping, lighting, and other attractive design elements.”

If the council approves a contract Tuesday with Wattis, construction could start as early as summertime, the city says.

More from the San Jose City Council agenda for April 9, 2013:

• Water from Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy reservoir courses through much of north San Jose and the Alviso area. So, when a group called Restore Hetch Hetchy asked voters last fall to weigh in on a measure that would have drained the reservoir and restored the valley basin, San Jose faced losing some of its water supply.

The measure lost. But because the city still buys some of its water from the San Francisco Regional Water System, which manages the Bay Area’s Hetch Hetchy supply, the council will discuss passing an amendment to the agreement between San Francisco and San Jose. The new deal would not allow changes to the contract unless both parties agree.

• San Jose could improve the way it manages its employee retirement accounts, says City Auditor Sharon Erickson. The city offers two deferred compensation plans that give workers the option of setting aside some of their own income for retirement. The first plan is voluntary. The second plan is mandatory in lieu of Social Security for part-time employees.

Between 1999 and 2007, the city botched some accounting when it allowed certain employees to exceed the annual contribution limit set by the IRS. It also credited more or less than some employees’ payroll deductions. Most of the accounting problems have been fixed, mainly because a lot of the calculations are now automated, the audit says.

The city could also save money for its employees by streamlining accounting operations, making sure tasks aren’t repeated unnecessarily by more than one person and clarifying responsibilities, the audit finds.

• The Planning Commission voted unanimously to move forward on a project to build a 394-unit, low-income apartment complex at the southwest corner of North First Street and Century Center. The development would bring $2.6 million to the city’s affordable housing funds.

• The council will consider selling off a surplus property on Bascom Avenue for $2.48 million to a healthcare nonprofit. The city bought the 1.3-acre site at 1015 S. Bascom Ave. in 2005, at the height of the market, for about $4 million, so it faces a pretty big loss.

The land was bought with library bond funds for the Bascom Branch Library. But when the city realized it could save money by consolidating the library and a community center nearby, it built elsewhere, rendering the property a surplus. Proceeds from the sale will go to pay down the library bond debt.

• The city is looking to sell another surplus property, but this time for a profit. San Jose bought the .9-acre parcel at 551 Keyes Street for $350,000 in 1989 as part of a street-widening project. For decades, the land sat empty. So, in 2009, the city advertised its sale to developers who could use the land to build affordable homes. No one bid, which left the city one other option: declare the land surplus and offer it for sale to the highest bidder. A company called Global Business Solutions has made an offer for $421,000.

• San Jose gets about 18 percent of its general fund revenue from the city’s 8.6 percent sales tax. About 1 percent of sales tax revenue goes to municipal coffers. But sometimes a transaction gets categorized as a use tax—that’s when tangible personal property is bought, consumed or stored in California.

Use tax revenue leaves less for the city, sending more to county and state accounts. In response, the city created what it calls a Business Cooperation Program, which gets more retail tax revenue diverted to the city and some reimbursed back to the consumer. The council will consider approving a contract with private consulting firm Muniservices, LLC, giving it legal authority as a representative of the city to examine the city’s sales and use tax records.

• The Santa Clara County Mental Health Department offered the city a $280,000 grant to pay for health outreach for senior citizens. The cash will support a program called “Aging with Attitude Lifelong Learning for Seniors and Boomers,” which provides more access to mental health help for the city’s elderly population. The city says it will host quarterly mental health seminars at 14 city community centers and serve about 750 people with the grant, if the council OKs the allocation.

• The state awarded San Jose a $200,000 grant to fund an anti-human trafficking task force led by police. The money will reimburse the San Jose Police Department for binoculars, cameras, memory cards, night vision monoculars, undercover wire, receivers, body wire and monthly cell phone bills. It also pays for shelter, intensive care management, safety planning, crisis intervention, mental health services and other help for victims of human trafficking.

• As the city tries to install more solar panels on public buildings, it’s asking the council to grant SolarCity Corporation the authority to “finance, engineer, install, commission and maintain solar energy installations” on public buildings, subject to availability of grant funding.

• A trail and pedestrian bridge project originally budgeted to cost $2 million will end up with a higher price tag if the city OK’s a contract amendment to allocate another $500,000. The money will pay for engineering services for various city trail projects as well as a new pedestrian bridge on the Three Creeks Trail by Willow Glen and South San Jose.

• A developer that built 1,700 condos at River Oaks Place and North First Street wants to change some terms of its public park agreement with the city. Every developer in San Jose has to agree to dedicate some land for a community park. WTI, Inc. says it can’t build a bocce court and “tot lot” as originally planned, though it will still set aside 5.2 acres for parkland, swimming pools, picnic areas, game tables, fitness areas and club rooms.

WHAT: San Jose City Council meeting
WHEN: 1:30pm Tuesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: 408.565.1260

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. We have to stop living in the past.  In no way, shape or form is The Alameda a “Grand Boulevard”, or is it a “gateway to Downtown San Jose”.  That may have been true before freeways, in the days of the Hart Department Store.  When the Harts lived on the Alameda it probably was a grand boulevard.

    The roads that have freeway access are the gateways to Downtown San Jose.  You might get off 880 at The Alameda to get into Downtown San Jose, but who does that now?

    Also, if the folks that live in the vicinity of “The Alameda” voted down a maintenance assessment district, then why should the rest of San Jose be forced to pick up the remaining $5.5 million the project will cost?  Why can’t I have the grand boulevards in D1 spiffed up too?

    Lastly, why can’t the “Engineer” come up with a decent estimate?  Is this a different “Engineer” than the one that was off in the first estimate by about 30%?  The second estimate was closer, but you have to wonder why he can’t get closer than $15%

    • Stop complaining, start smiling.  Why should those who live on The Alameda who have a higher income and thus pay much more in taxes – both city and state – pay for projects in District 1? 

      Having The Alameda beautified will encourage retailers, like Whole Foods, to move into the region, boosting tax revenue to San Jose, and increase property value.

      It’s a win-win.

      • I really think that the candidate for Mayor that can capture the anger and frustration of the residents that live in the outlying parts of San Jose over the continual looting of tax money to prop up the businesses in Downtown is going to win.

        • Sure.  Not too long ago the RD plan was to revitalize downtown.  Ask Zannotto’s how the $10 Billion taxpayers owe to RD has worked out.  Corporate interests are not taxpayer interests, and Rufas’ clan is all about making themselves rich and powerful.  Absolute power as they say…

        • Stop trying to predict politics with your tainted hyperbole remarks. It’s not a zero-sum game. San Jose needs to focus on projects that boost revenue to the city so it can fund projects in both districts.  Here’s why this project matters to me:

          – The Alameda beautification will encourage important high-end retailers who collect more in sales tax – like Whole Foods – to move to the street.  Keep in mind: San Jose is lacking in downtown shopping and the revenue it generates.  Whole Foods will be the only large retailer in all of downtown San Jose outside of a single Safeway (in the 88) and Ross.

          – Property values will increase – both for shops and homes – after improving the look, feel and “vibe” of the community, increasing property tax over time the city collects from condos and townhomes in the area.

          – Improving The Alameda will encourage more residents to be “out and about,” boosting spending and tax the city collects on local purchases.

          So stop looking at this issue as a zero-sum game where spending in one district prevents spending in another – we’re not a 5-year-old child, nor are voters. Development projects can help both districts as the city collects more taxes.

          Again, it’s a win-win for both districts.

        • Steven,
          I remember when money was drained from the city to pay for downtown back in the 80’s, with the same arguments you now make. Money is still being drained for downtown and siphoned off from the rest of the city, with the same consequences. We now have a mayor who has spent tens of millions more on land to give to the A’s – a team that will never come to SJ. I have since moved from SJ, but if I were a resident of one of the outlying neighborhoods, I would be very angry over the cuts in services to waste downtown.

  2. “The city will have to take $936,000 from the Department of Transportation to cover the difference if the council agrees to the plan.”

    Another example of the city robbing Peter to pay Paul. By taking from the Department of Transportation means potholes in my neighborhood won’t get fixed. The last I checked this section of The Alameda is still a state highway (Highway 82) city taxpayers should not be paying to improve a state highway, especially in a state that routinely steals money from its cities. I agree with S Randall…The Alameda is no grand boulevard or gateway to downtown the Highway 87 off ramp at Santa Clara Street seems to have claimed that honor.

    Dear San Jose City Council,

    Stop spending money on needless projects, restore services that have been cut and get your financial health in order before you spend more. The voices of angry voters grows with each and every day that passes.

  3. Stop trying to strike fear in the minds of people with division and hatred towards most of us in San Jose.  Seriously!  I thought we were one city, together?  Dividing us into haves and have-nots (Peter and Paul) is disgustingly crude.  We are all citizens who can build a better city together.

    WE CAN ALL BENEFIT.  How?  Through economic development both downtown and on the outskirts.  Economic development projects, such as improving The Alameda, will increase tax revenue so we can fight poverty, improve our education standards and strengthen the city’s already meeker finances. 

    For example, The Alameda project has the potential to increase property values in the area both for local mom-and-pop shops like Schurra’s, a locally-owned chocolate favorite for more than a hundred years, and average homeowners.  Who benefits the most from ever increasing property values and the taxes that come with it?  You might say the people, which is true, but it’s also our education system – our proud hard working teachers and the staff that support them.  Higher property values = higher property taxes = more funds for our educational system. 

    Strengthening our community through economic development projects, such as improving The Alameda, will not only help our teachers and children, but it will also gentrify a sometimes unsafe and crime-ridden street.  Safety should be key to the city, and police officers should understand the cause-effect relationship between economic development in the area and no economic development and the impact it has on their job. 

    For example, re-development projects, such as improving The Alameda, will decrease the amount of calls the city gets from the area.  It’s striking to see the statistics on the number of crimes reported near the re-developed Plant 51 before and after re-development.  Before Plant 51, which sits on The Alameda, was re-developed it was a vacant run-down factory building, providing shelter – and fun – for graffiti artists, drug addicts, homeless and adventure seeking teenagers, among others.  Without re-development, the area was a major headache to our proud and determined first responders, our beloved police officers.  We need to make their job easier by making the area they patrol safe so they can go back home and have fun with their lady-friend. 

    These are only a few examples for improving our city so we can all benefit – I could go on and on, but I just don’t have time to address all your craziness in one sitting.

    • Before Plant 51, which sits on The Alameda, was re-developed it was a vacant run-down factory building, providing shelter – and fun – for graffiti artists, drug addicts, homeless and adventure seeking teenagers, among others.

      I didn’t know about the “adventure seeking teenagers”.  Why didn’t you say so earlier?  I’m in!

    • Steven,

      You write…

      “Stop trying to strike fear in the minds of people with division and hatred towards most of us in San Jose.  Seriously!  I thought we were one city, together?  Dividing us into haves and have-nots (Peter and Paul) is disgustingly crude.”

      I am not striking fear into the minds of people. Just in case you haven’t noticed that fear is already present. (Slow or no police response to crimes, fire department response times slowed etc.) Yes we are one city of “haves and have-nots” and the haves in D6 want the rest of us to pay for renovations that they themselves have turned down. You are asking the rest of the city to suffer while the city clowns, sorry council, divert funds from the Department of Transportation that can be used for road repair throughout the entire city so the haves in D6 can have their “Grand Boulevard” they don’t even want let alone pay for. The article correctly points out:

      “The city tried to form an assessment district to charge residents extra money to pay for services above and beyond the city standard, but voting property owners and neighborhood residents killed the move.”

      Yes, the expression Peter to pay Paul is in your words “disgustingly crude” but very much to the point.

      My point is our city needs to have an open and frank discussion concerning finances. We need to get our financial health in order, restoring services that have been cut then look forward making improvements. I don’t know about you but in my home and that of most residents of this city we conduct our finances that way. I do not rob Peter to pay Paul. The mayor and city council need to be truthful to the voters and citizens of our once great city so we can make sound decisions with our votes.

      This year the mayor told us there was a 10 million dollar surplus and with that he opened libraries etc. In the same breath he told us next year we will have a deficit. Does that mean those libraries will once again be shuttered? Like Nero before him Rome is burning while he fiddles. The city streets are in disrepair and in serious need of attention, the police department is depleted, sewage services are in jeopardy and the list go’s on and on. Does that mean we divert money from badly needed repairs to do “improvements” on The Alameda,not repairs, because someone has a fantasy to make this a Grand Boulevard? I think not.

      You mention RDA a number of times but in case you missed the news RDA is dead, gone and buried. It sounds to me you’re suggesting that the city divert funds from other programs and departments to fund its own RDA. Which library do you propose closing or which street won’t get repaired in order to fund this fantasy.

      Looking at venom in your responses to the comments of this article I can only guess and it would probably be correct that you have an office in City Hall, probably the 18th floor.

  4. Give me a break. Do you people ever see the motivation for this? Its all about providing improved access to anticipated development in the area, like San Carlos ave. The Alameda is stuffed with traffic during rush hours due to current condo development in the area.

    A new one is soon finished on Stockton Ave and San Carlos. I live off the Alameda, and always worry what “upgrading” means, 100% upscale, as the City obsesses over downtown.  Even Willow Glen has retained some relevance to those with moderate income.

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