Nov. 11--SAN JOSE -- Thirty-five years ago, San Jose agreed to move forward with an ambitious plan to build a massive technology campus, aiming to ease traffic jams by offering reverse commutes for employees living in burgeoning nearby communities.
The project promised to bring thousands of jobs. It would have built a transit link as well, with access to rail for the workers who opted out of commuting by car.
It may sound eerily similar to Google's proposed transit village, but San Jose's past effort to build a huge tech campus in Coyote Valley -- far from the downtown core -- never got off the ground, despite many attempts to resurrect it from the ash heap of history.
So, what's different about Google's plan for a massive transit-oriented tech campus in San Jose? More than three decades have passed, and supporters say this project is urban overhaul, not more sprawl.
The Coyote Valley project would have risen on bucolic farmland far south of the city's urban heart, prompting opposition from environmentalists.
Google aims to build right in the city's center, in a western part of downtown that many believe is ripe for renewal. It would sit beside a transit station whose expansion into a major regional hub is already underway, something city officials and developers say may be its saving grace.
"The area that Google is looking at in downtown San Jose will have all kinds of transit," said Scott Knies, executive director of the San Jose Downtown Association. "It's going to be full-tilt boogie. You can't get any better than that in terms of what Google is trying to develop at Diridon Station. Coyote Valley was a relic of the sprawl that characterized San Jose's growth, post World War II."
San Jose's downtown has changed dramatically in the decades since the first talk about the Coyote Valley project. Adobe recently revealed plans to expand its downtown headquarters with another office tower, where it could employ 3,000 more workers. Oracle now occupies an office tower in the area, and Amazon's Lab 126 recently moved into two floors of a downtown building.
Google's nearby proposed village would sit on about 240 acres, replacing aging industrial, retail, dining, office and residential structures, along with vacant land and parking lots.
"Silicon Valley needs a hard reset for its traffic and housing problems," San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo told this news organization. "If we continue Silicon Valley's pattern of sprawling development, we will only exacerbate the traffic nightmares experienced by thousands of our residents in every morning and evening commute."
Under the Coyote Valley plan, which received its first major City Council approval in 1982, gleaming tech campuses would have sprouted on 1,400 acres, near the growing communities of South San Jose, Morgan Hill and Gilroy. The proposal for 16.6 million square feet of office and research space, with potentially enough room for 50,000 workers, would have allowed reverse commutes for thousands of drivers on Highways 101 and 280.
Over the years, tech giants including Apple, Tandem and Cisco Systems proposed building huge campuses in Coyote Valley. Yet one by one, those proposals sputtered. By October 2001, as Silicon Valley's economy nose-dived amid the dot-com meltdown and following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York, the grand vision of a new tech city in South San Jose fizzled. Cisco delivered the final blow, scuttling its plans for a headquarters of 6.6 million square feet where the networking company would employ 20,000.
In contrast, Google's village of 6 million to 8 million square feet would employ 15,000 to 20,000 workers, placing employees' offices close to an upgraded Diridon Station, with BART, light rail, Caltrain, ACE Train and high-speed bullet train connections, and plenty of buses.
"What is happening in downtown San Jose and specifically at Diridon Station provides that opportunity where we can create a transit-oriented village focused around what will become the busiest multi-modal transit station in the western United States," Liccardo said.
The project's supporters believe Google -- and the city -- have learned from the past.
"Coyote Valley was undeveloped land, cherished by many for its agriculture and rural settings," said Carl Guardino, president of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, which represents many local businesses in working to shape public policy. "The land around Diridon Station has been developed, buildings torn down and then redeveloped, over and over again, in the heart of the 10th largest city in the nation."
Tom McEnery was mayor of San Jose when the city first considered the Coyote Valley proposal. He led the council's approval to include the development in the city's general plan. In an interview, McEnery recalled how the city faced pressure from developers to allow a slew of residential subdivisions in Coyote Valley that would have drastically increased San Jose's sprawl.
"In 1983 and 1984, what Apple was proposing would have put thousands of jobs at the south end of the city and would have been great for San Jose and great for Silicon Valley," McEnery said. "But that was then, and this is now. What Google is proposing is exactly the right thing at the right time for San Jose."
Bob Staedler, principal executive with Silicon Valley Synergy, a San Jose-based planning and development consultancy, also believes the stars are aligned for Google's downtown village.
"At the time of Coyote Valley, California was still the land of cars," Staedler said. "But now, corporate campuses will be developed so they are integrated with the urban fabric of a downtown and mass transit."
Bay Area residents today, including millennials, are more inclined to use mass transit, and many young tech workers hope to live and work in a lively, urban setting, Liccardo said. Google understands this, he said.
"It is important that Silicon Valley create that vibrant core where you can have creative collisions among imaginative people," Liccardo said. "Google wants to create a place where Googlers and the rest of us can enjoy retail, restaurants, public plazas and all the amenities that we expect."
In Coyote Valley, long-time merchant George Guglielmo said he's convinced his neighborhood is better off without the tech offices that San Jose had wanted to create there. He is principal executive with Guglielmo Winery in Morgan Hill, founded in 1925 during Prohibition.
"The traffic would have been even worse than it is now, if they had built out Coyote Valley," Guglielmo said. "It might have brought more visitors to the winery, but maybe our winery wouldn't be here anymore with all the development pressure that would have happened. As properties get gobbled up and homes are put on them, you can no longer make a living with agriculture."
In San Jose's downtown, Tito Hernandez, owner of World of Sports Memorabilia on South Montgomery, leases a building whose owner has told him that the property will be sold to Google within two years. As a result, Hernandez is looking to move his store, which has hosted autograph signings for sports luminaries including Joe Montana, Jim Plunkett, Steve Young, Marcus Allen, Jerry Rice, Fred Biletnikoff, Draymond Green, Yasiel Puig, Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence.
"Overall, Google will be worth it for San Jose, because it will bring more businesses, more people downtown, and it will help the business and restaurants downtown," Hernandez said. "I would 100 percent love to find a location near where they are going to build this."
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