San Jose city officials raised a flag last week about three roadblocks to Google’s Downtown West development that could still derail the potentially more than 10 million-square-foot project entirely.
Economic Development Director Nanci Klein broke the news during a Nov. 16 City Council study session on Google and the redevelopment of the Diridon Station area.
According to Klein, issues related to developable space, limits on how high construction cranes can rise and an apparent stalemate with the Sharks over parking could reduce Google’s development capacity and cause the tech giant to withdraw its plans for 6.5 million square feet of office space, thousands of homes, hundreds of hotel rooms and a slew of new retail and art space.
The first issue—about whether Google will have enough space develop their plan —comes down to a question of how much land is needed for the revamped and expanded Diridon Station and all its new transportation lines.
That plan, known as the Diridon Integrated Station Concept Plan (DISC), might take more space in an area that Google had hoped would be its own.
“There is concern that if too much land is taken [by the station], the [Google] project will not be able to yield development capacity that is needed to produce a sufficient amount of community benefits,” Klein said.
Local transit agencies began the reimagining process of Diridon Station—a downtown San Jose transit hub that serves 17,000 passengers a day—back in 2017.
The plan is to transform the 85-year old station into one of the “busiest intermodal stations on the West Coast,” with 100,000 daily passengers hopping on and off light rail, Caltrain, BART and high-speed rail.
Public benefits being negotiated between the city and Google include affordable housing, displacement prevention and community stabilization and education, training and jobs.
“Google and the city have been very clear that if we can’t accomplish a high-quality project that brings with it proportionate community benefits, the project will not take place,” Klein added.
Up, Up and Away
Recently raised height limits could also pose a problem. Last year, the City Council approved new building height limits that added an extra 35 feet to building heights in most of its downtown, but an additional 150 feet in the area around Diridon Station.
The controversial decision was opposed by several airport commissioners who argued the increase could be detrimental for nearby San Jose International Airport. Although the height limits are compliant with Federal Aviation Administration guidelines, opponents of the policy said airlines could be forced to reduce weight in the off-chance an engine fails and pilots need to make an emergency landing.
While the taller height limits were approved, not taken into account was that when tall towers are constructed, even taller cranes are typically erected to help build the buildings. That could pose a problem for the airplanes coming and going from the nearby airport.
“The current allowance for crane heights is not sufficient and would inhibit the build-out of the full heights of the Downtown West project as designed,” Klein said. “This could have the same type of impacts, limiting the development capacity, limiting the amount of community benefits and causing the project not to proceed.”
In a follow-up interview, Klein said that city officials—including Airport Director John Aitken—are trying to figure out what other cities with downtown-adjacent airports, like San Diego, have done.
“How do we find room and exceptions to be able to work really closely with the crane companies and jumping the cranes to minimize the time they are in the ways and having opportunities for airport to declare hazard or no hazard?” Klein said.
Hit the Goal
Meanwhile, the Sharks, San Jose’s teal-colored hockey team last week issued a frustrated open letter earlier this month about where they—and the fans who drive their cars to games—fit into the whole thing. Google’s plan envision a trio of city-owned parking lots redeveloped with the rest of its 60-acre plan for the area, but the NHL team currently has an agreement with the city to reserve those spots for game nights.
“The planners of these projects appear intent on moving forward in a manner that could force the Sharks out of San Jose,” the letter said.
It’s ultimately up to Google and Sharks to work out whether there is a win-win for both the tech giant and sports team. But, it seems the two still have plenty to work out.
When asked if the city had real concern about whether Google could withdraw its plan, Klein acknowledged there was, but emphasized they “have reason to be optimistic.”
On Monday, a few council members echoed officials’ comments that, despite the city’s major land deal with Google in 2018, there’s a lot of work yet to be done.
“I think it kind of felt like that maybe for many as we’ve moved along because there have been some major milestone decisions,” Downtown Councilman Raul Peralez said of people feeling like the project was a done deal.
A spokesperson for Google did not respond to a request for comment by press time.