ALTHOUGH IT WAS JUST BEFORE LABOR DAY WEEKEND, RESIDENTS APPEARED IN GOOD NUMBERS AT A MEETING FOR THE COMMUNICATIONS HILL 2 PROJECT, THE MAJORITY OF THEM EXPRESSING LACK OF CONFIDENCE, IF NOT ANGER OR RAGE, WITH BOTH THE CITY OF SAN JOSE AND THE DEVELOPER, KB HOMES.
A few city officials were present this day, Thursday 28 August 2014; but, notably, the only visible person that spoke for the city before this crowd was Karen Mack of the San Jose Public Works Department. Of the few city officials in attendance, the remainder kept silent at the side, as if anonymous and not present.
This meeting was held at Fire Station No. 33 at Communications Hill; which, is ironic, since it was built by KB homes years ago and has long been closed, continuing to be just another reminder of several complaints by residents here. Indeed, a deputy fire chief happened to be present at the meeting and a question was directed towards his office; but, he never did speak, even once. It seemed just as well that the Deputy Fire Chief remained silent at the side; since, for the most part, residents at Communications Hill have become oddly removed from the long-standing concern of Station 33’s closure. It’s not that the issue has totally blown over; but, that many people here are now beyond being jaded in such regards. It’s as if they don’t expect much from the city or the developer.
[Vicinity fire station issues are reported here by de·Anza Post, including mention of Communications Hill’s Station 33 and others.]
The meeting began at 6:30pm with a welcome and presentation, although residents were really waiting for the question and answer session, so as to express a range of unhappy sentiments with no uncertain terms. Eileen Goodwin, a public relations representative from Apex Strategies, speaking on behalf of KB Homes and the city, monitored the questions. Residents eventually broke through that process, making definitive statements and accusations.
Current residents at Communications Hills — especially those of the Tuscany Hills Homeowners Association (HOA) — expressed sentiments that quickly moved beyond the commonplace, pointing to a heavy list of new additional concerns from those of years past. Their worry, now, is seeing situations compounded even further.
The meeting was set off by Darryl Boyd, formerly Principal Planner for the City of San Jose’s Department of Planning & Code Enforcement, who is nowadays an independent contractor. Boyd is currently a Senior Planner at Metropolitan Planning Group. He began by speaking on behalf of the history of the project — mentioning its roots back in 1992 — and then leading into current developments. Although Boyd’s talk gave some perspective, his appearance amongst residents only seemed to contribute to bad memories and the promises that were never fulfilled. Since Boyd is no longer a city employee, complaints by residents were heard but not necessarily acknowledged with any authority.
What Boyd did point out was that the land proposed for development must first be annexed from the county into the City of San Jose.
ITS BEEN SAID THAT AS OF TUESDAY 18 NOVEMBER 2014, THE CITY OF SAN JOSE IS TO ORDER ANNEXATION.
But it is not clear how this will come about. A General Plan Hearing is scheduled as of 7:00pm that day, but does not clearly state the regards for Communications Hill and plans for annexation. What it does state, is that:
Its a crucial first step, but years after the first development phase has been completed, “Communications Hill 2” is now on a fast track towards planning and development. If all goes as planned, construction will begin for Communications Hill 2 as of Spring 2015; that is, with only a few meetings and San Jose City Council Agendas happening between now and mid-November. So far, outreach has been targeted towards residents living in the older parts of Communications Hill, whereas few residents from the surrounding or adjacent areas appeared at this last meeting on Thursday 28th.
UPCOMING MEETINGS, with regards to the Communications Hill 2 development project, include the following:
TRAFFIC CONCERNS SURROUNDING COMMUNICATIONS HILL:
Karen Mack, San Jose Public Works, before the residents at Communications Hill. Many residents expressed concern about Curtner Avenue as it reaches from Communications Hill Boulevard to the intersection of Highway-87/Guadalupe Parkway and Almaden Expressway.
Currently this area is known as what’s called a “Level F” traffic condition, which means “Total breakdown. Stop and go conditions.” Residents here are complaining that they barely cross the intersection from Curtner Avenue to Hwy-87 and beyond.
As seen from the attached table (click that image for a web link), the city has long adopted a General Plan Level of Service Policy for Traffic; whereby, at this meeting, Karen Mack addressed the applicability and scope of such policy in her explanation of relevant solutions. When pressed by residents as to how the city could continue the project at Communications Hill without using this policy as a growth management tool, she shrugged and retorted, “that’s what a city does.”
Residents here were not conversing with the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT); but, instead, having questions addressed by the city’s Public Works Department. If Curtner Avenue and the connectors to the highway and expressway are in fact planned for significant improvement, it would seem to go beyond the sole administration of the city’s Public Works Department.
When Karen Mack made her presentation on traffic congestion, she acknowledged that the city had serious problems on SR-87 and Almaden Expressway; but, she pointed out that there are no real mitigations or solutions for the highway or expressway. Instead, she provided that the city can widen Curtner Avenue, as it continues under the Guadalupe Highway and Almaden Expressway. Funds for that should come from KB Homes, including a number of other improvements.
Still, additional traffic concerns were stated for the junction of Narvaez Avenue and Hwy-87, another area that triangulates with Capitol Expressway to the south of Communications Hill. This is nearby the Colonial Mobile Manor (a mobile home community) and the Play ‘N’ Learn Preschool. At this vicinity, what feeds much of the traffic is the adjacent Home Depot and Avalon Rosewalk apartment community. These routes will be subject to further planning and improvement.
BIKE PATHS, PUBLIC TRAILS & PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION CONNECTIONS:
A number of residents spoke out about lack of continuity amongst the existing and planned bike paths from both inside and outside of Communications Hill, saying that this should be a priority; thereby, providing residents an alternative form of transportation and safe routes as new development progresses in stages.
A bridge is planned from the newly planned Communications Hill 2 area to the existing park at Dairy Hill. This will be located at the north-west tip of the new development, crossing over the railroad tracks. Dairy Hill is Opposite of Mill Pond, divided by the rail.
Residents would also like to see a priority made with new and alternate staircases, situating them further away from the existing residential places. This way, it’s believed, visitors would be diverted from the current sites and defusing heavy traffic, parking and loitering. One of such newer stairways will be located at Hillsdale Avenue. But the number of stairs, aside from their actual placement, is relevant to existing residents.
For example, many residents realize that the bridge is essential to pass from the older development into the new area, including bicycle and pedestrian trails that connect to the VTA Light Rail Station to the west at Curtner Avenue; or, to the north-east, where there is a CalTrain Station at Monterey Road.
BIG PLANS ARE LESS OF A CONCERN THAN EXISTING ISSUES:
As the discussion continued, clearly the interest moved further away from new development, architecture and buildings; but, more towards these other unresolved issues. Mark Day, a Senior Principal at Dahlin Group, is named as the Urban Planner for KB Homes development team at Communications Hill 2. But, residents seemed only half interested in his talk about improvements. As he made the presentation, residents returned their critical regards with a mix of skepticism. A list of improvements that were mentioned include: a central new “main street,” bridge overpass, a park around Communications Hill Tower, new retail space, additional mixed residences, a school site, and so on.
One of the questions asked exactly how high the retail buildings would tower, including rental apartments. To that Mark Day replied that they would be from 35 to 40 feet high, about 3 stories. It didn’t seem like a definitive answer. But, looking back at the pictures of which he presented, such towers are actually depicted with six to seven stories. More than that, they include several connecting buildings thereof. Still, nobody mentioned that, or pressed the issue.
Despite the big sale and presentation, residents pressed on and came back with a long list of complaints that made it all seem less glorious.
They largely protested that Communications Hill has become an unsupervised domain, lacking adequate resources for what’s already a significant development at one side of the hill. Many residents here are blatantly calling for the stop of further development, until the city adequately meets these homeowners’ calls for growth management and accountability.
As just one example, they say that there are too many people coming from outside Communications Hill to visit, therefore taking up valuable parking space for regular home owners. But, that’s in addition to what they point out as an increased number of residents per household, deviating from the average size or footprint. One person actually believes that some households can have up to six cars, with more than one generation living therein, plus visitors.
Whatever that number of cars per household, there’s often more than just one or two, causing residents to compete for parking at the street side. After all, just amongst homeowners, a larger than average household can include its guests, raising the car count. But, many here complained that there is no dedicated parking for homeowners and/or their visiting family, friends or guests. They are competing amongst strangers that visit from out-of-bounds, similar to any public place. Meanwhile, they do not have the benefits of ample public enforcement. Communications Hill is not a closed and gated private community. There are also no parking meters. Homeowners are left at their own devices.
When residents do complain, they claim that the city often responds by telling them that many of such concerns are “not enforceable areas.”
Yet, the Communications Hill area has also become a popular public destination for its grand, outdoor staircases that meander throughout the hillsides. Some people enjoy these features for their romantic landscape and views; while, for others, its become a popular fitness venue or regular work-out area. Indeed, several pictures and videos can be found online, by simply doing an internet search for “Communications Hill Staircase.” This site and surrounding activities has become a spectacle on social networking devices like Facebook, YouTube, Foursquare, Pinterest, Meetup, Flickr and more. More surprisingly, in some instances, the staircases are included with images of Rome’s famous Spanish Steps, offering a localized simulation thereof.
To make matters worse, the loitering continues well into sunset and after nightfall. Not only will visitors continue to linger all night, but they will be making noise, smoking marijuana and even having public sex next to a homeowners residence.
To enforce that, is it the responsibility of the San Jose Police or a private security contract by KB Homes and/or the homeowners? That matter seems to be unresolved.
Communications Hill is an attractive area, but residents say that the city does virtually nothing to patrol the streets, parking and unwanted behavior. They scoff at the suggestion that the San Jose Police Department would help manage affairs. Beyond the non-enforceable areas contention, they know of the politics surrounding all emergency services in the city, as that goes beyond the fire department issue. They don’t expect cooperation from either of these parties, public or private. So, indefinitely, the problem runs on.
More upsetting is that many residents are fully aware that San Jose’s Vice Mayor, Madison Nguyen, lives at Communications Hill; whereas, it was noted that she had chosen not to attend this August 28 meeting. Instead, the Vice Mayor was seen at the annual “ChamberPac Barbecue,” hosted by San Jose/Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce. While Communications Hill residents were offered free boxed cookies and water, they were not happy to realize that the Vice Mayor was across town at a closed and private affair; that is, schmoozing with sponsors that included a heavy list of area developers, real estate firms, construction companies and other prominent lobby interests. The cost of attendance for the ChamberPac Barbecue was set at $175 per person, a modest fee to other Chamber events. The Chamber represents those interests that homeowners at Communications Hill are continuing to challenge, since KB Homes is just one of these powerful lobbies in the city of San Jose. Many of such interests are members of the Chamber, as well as sponsors of the barbecue.
REQUEST FOR A SCHOOL, NOT GUARANTEED:
One woman advocated that KB Homes must make good on its plans to build a school in the project vicinity of Communications Hill; but, that request could not be made complete or absolute by the developer. While a five acre site has been planned for a school, such as for a kindergarten through 8th grade school; still, representatives for KB Homes said that such concerns are subject to the City of San Jose and an independent school board. With that said, this provided another indefinite to homeowners, many of them wanting a nearby school that would be less of a commute for their children. Of course, it’s also about quality and affordable schooling, what was supposed to be a benefit to investing here at Communications Hill as a homeowners.
For many homeowners, that investment, plans for a quality family life and dreams of a beautiful home at one of San Jose’s prime neighborhoods… is not measuring up to expectations.
ADDITIONAL PERSONS NOT SHOWING AT THE MEETING:
Of those named on the outreach postcard to residents, Martina Davis, Acting Senior Planner for the City of San Jose never made an appearance. Neither did Peter Lezak, Senior Director (Forward Planning) for KB Homes.
Plans for the Communications Hill 2 development can also be seen at San Jose’s online document center: