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California’s Bay Area is known for its larger-than-life tech empire and pricey urban housing market. Home to tech industry giants Apple, Facebook, Google, and others, it’s easy to get caught up in the evolving picture of glittering Silicon Valley.

However, bigger isn’t always better. Three gargantuan projects planned for development in San Jose, Santa Clara and Mountain View — dubbed “megaprojects” by the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) — emphasize this fact, as their major plans for commercial amenities vastly overshadow the Bay Area’s desperate need of housing.

The three projects collectively total more than 1,000 acres and individually encompass several million square feet each. Located in three prime tech hubs in the Silicon Valley, the projects include:

  • City Place of Santa Clara;
  • Diridion Station of San Jose; and
  • North Bayshore of Mountain View.

All three projects are mixed-use, combining commercial and minimal residential uses into the new construction. In total, the megaprojects will create roughly 13,000 new housing units and 61,000 new jobs for Bay Area residents.

Here, apt observers will note the glaring discrepancy between the number of potential jobs and housing units resulting from the three projects. From where will the 48,000 employees who don’t live at the project sites come?

Housing units in the three projects modestly amount to:

  • 1,360 units in City Place;
  • 2,588 units in Diridion Station; and
  • 6,700 – 9,100 units in North Bayshore.

The scant inclusion of housing units translates to approximately 261,315 total vehicle trips per day, according to planning estimates for each of the projects. Thus, commuter traffic, exhaust pollution and other frustrating side effects of inadequate housing supply will take their growing economic and physical toll on the cities surrounding the megaprojects — not surprising news.

However, the dispersion of housing among the three individual projects demonstrates various results of more and less housing within a mixed-use development. North Bayshore, which appears the worst project for commuters as it lacks proximity to any public transit lines, actually has the potential to fare better than the others due to its much higher allocation of housing than the other projects.

City Place and Diridion Station are surrounded by public transit; however, without more housing units, it is still difficult for employees who cannot pay greatly distorted Bay Area rents to save money to eventually enter the market as tenants or owners nearer to their jobs.

The sheer size of the projects also suggests where priorities lie with city planning officials. Although job creation is critical in the current economy, Santa Clara County and San Francisco County are already among the top metropolitan areas nationally for new business establishments. Further, these areas recovered the most swiftly after the Millennium Boom and Great Recession.

In effect, areas of the state which actually need new jobs and businesses, such as Sacramento, are ignored in favor of the glittering (and economically healthy) urban tech hubs. This is all part of the vicious cycle leading to increased commuting rates, unsustainable high home and rental prices, and megaprojects like the above which, without mitigating housing demand, prioritize the already housed and gainfully employed over the new employees to come. The established few are the beneficiaries, to the detriment of all newcomers lured in by the employment opportunities the projects promise.

Another factor at play in the projects is the price of the housing units included. If all the units are to be rented or sold at market rates —which they no doubt will be without mandatory inclusive housing agreements put into place — those employees who  most benefit from acquiring housing within the same development as their workplace are priced out of the project. Instead, the convenience of residents with high incomes able to purchase and rent locally is given priority over geography.

Regardless, building homes and creating jobs are positive movements — they just need to be established in the right combinations and places. As the old mantra goes, location, location, location is the determinant that defines such projects as forward or backward steps in the Silicon Valley’s struggle to gain ground on its housing supply crisis.

Posted by Amy Thomas on journal.firsttuesday.us.



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