This page features every post I write, and is dedicated to Andrew Ho.
Good news via Streetsblog: the United States FRA are nearly done revising safety regulations which would allow for operation of high-speed trains in the United States!
A fleet of TGV waiting to serve passengers in Marseilles, France in 2002. These trains have a top speed of 200 MPH. Proposed US safety rules would permit lighter, faster trains that meet European safety standards to run at speeds of up to 220 MPH.
Current US regulations, from the 1800s and the 1930s, mandate heavier trains to survive crashes. Unfortunately, heavy trains cost more to build, operate, and maintain. Heavier trains are also harder to stop in an emergency.
European train safety regulations are comparable to modern cars: lighter trains are cheaper to build and operate, and they stop faster. They feature “crumple zones” to absorb damage in an accident.
Since the United States is a small market for passenger trains, divergent safety standards make it even more expensive to buy trains. Instead of purchasing inexpensive, reliable, “off-the-shelf” European-designed train sets, vendors need to make alternate, heavier, slower, more expensive designs for American railroads. The adoption of European safety standards will make it cheaper and easier for American railroads to provide modern, comfortable, faster passenger service.
In anticipation of these new rules, Amtrak in September announced the purchase of 28 Avelia Liberty trains from the French company Alstom. The trains will be manufactured in upstate New York and will be used for Acela service starting is 2021. These trains can be upgraded to run at 220 MPH, but this will only be allowed after right-of-way upgrades on the Northeast Corridor.
These rules coming at the end of the Obama administration, with promises of infrastructure spending under the Trump administration, could help American rail transport see more rapid improvements in short order.
Via Steve Vance, Mapzen has a new tool, Mobility Explorer, which can generate isochrones for walking, biking, driving, and transit. I have previously used tools provided by Walk Score, but Mapzen seems more accurate, and the transit shed can be calculated based on a time-of-day.
Here is how far you can get on public transit from Sunnyvale at noon on a Wednesday in 15, 30, 45 and 60 minutes.
The colors on the web site color scheme are not that great. On Steve’s blog you can see he’s generated his own map via an API call.
I was in Chicago this week. There was a death in the family, so it was good to be among my kinfolk with our adorable, loving child.
Chicago is famously corrupt and moribund and the State of Illinois is mired in perpetual scandal. It is a magnet for immigrants but it is also a city from which many of us Californians are originally from. I’ve gotten used to the California way and I generally prefer it but what I noticed this week in Chicago was all the construction.
For a city that is corrupt and moribund, there was an awful lot of demolition and rebuilding going on. On the way to the L in the evening we stopped and stared over a fence as a variety of heavy machines worked under brilliant stadium lights. The star of the show was a yellow machine with a huge claw on the end of a boom arm reaching several stories up, to the top of a building, it was tearing down from the top, girder by girder, as another machine sprayed down the dust with a water hose. The claw was at the very end of its reach, it felt the machine was on tippy toes, as it tugged away, girder after girder, waiting for torrents of debris to fall, pulling the pieces out and dropping them into piles to be dragged into more discrete piles by lesser enormous machines. It was like watching dinosaurs go about their business. Father, Son, and Grandmother: none of us could take our eyes off the marvel. “They should sell beer and peanuts,” said I.
The neighbors of this derelict house in Sunnyvale are terrified at the prospect of it being replaced with housing for families.
We don’t get this in Suburban California. What little “history” we have is viciously guarded and any attempt to replace the old with newer and better is often met with resistance and exaggerated speculation as to the intentions and end results of new development. You don’t see that so much in the old country–In Chicago, and in any place with some history under its belt, everyone knows that they are surrounded by at least a century of continuity–Everyone is merely links in a great chain. The city is inherited and bequeathed and the hope is to leave it in a little better shape: Urbs in Horto.
In Dublin, I saw them building a light rail line, right down an ancient street. It made the Northern Californian in me jealous.
They say that University Politics is the most vicious because the stakes are so low. I get a sense of that observing some of the political rhetoric in Sunnyvale. Out here the city is so new and raw that the idea of changing it implies that those who built the city and have lived in it until now are being completely rejected by the hordes of newcomers flooding the city from the Midwest and the Far East. But in the ancient lands where the immigrants come from, there is no such sentiment: the cities are naturally timeworn, and the idea of redevelopment is an intuitive component of the cycle of death and rebirth.
Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness,
Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has never lost a battle
The land in which I live would be enriched if it embraced a bit of the poetry of the land in which I was born.
There’s a darkness upon me that’s flooded in light
In the fine print they tell me what’s wrong and what’s right
And it comes in black and it comes in white
And I’m frightened by those that don’t see it
When nothing is owed or deserved or expected
And your life doesn’t change by the man that’s elected
If you’re loved by someone, you’re never rejected
Decide what to be and go be it
I am proud to have grown up in Chicago. It is a great city. But us Chicago fans have to admit to its numerous mistakes and sins. One of those sins was repeated over and over again in the mid-twentieth century, when neighborhood after neighborhood was torn apart to make way for highways. Working class neighborhoods, homes to people of color and immigrants … the fabric of community life was torn away. Neighborhoods were divided and conquered and made into ghettos.
One would hope for Silicon Valley in the twenty-first century not to repeat the mistakes of twentieth-century Chicago.
On Wednesday, the Santa Clara Planning Commission will review the Environmental Impact Report for the Lawrence Station Area Plan. The Lawrence Station Area Plan is an ambitious project to redevelop a low-rise industrial area into a modern urban neighborhood, providing 3,500 housing units, office space, and parks, directly adjacent to commuter rail services.
The Lawrence Station Area as it exists today: mainly low-rise industrial.
Plans for 3,500 residential units, 104,000 square feet of office, and six acres of parks.
Among the current recommendations is to cut off the Northwest block of housing from the rest of the neighborhood because it serves as a connector ramp between Lawrence and Central Expressways. Instead of crosswalks for people to walk across their community, pedestrians will need to walk up and over a ramp so as not to slow down the cars … on a two-lane road.
It is hard to find pictures of pedestrian bridges spanning two-lane roads. Picture something like this, with elevators on each side.
This is another case where we err on the side of inconveniencing people and dividing neighborhoods for the sake of keeping cars moving along as fast as possible. A crosswalk would allow people to cross the street in their new neighborhood and be better connected to their neighbors, at the cost of possibly adding an occasional minute or two to someone’s commute. Does that sound so unreasonable?
Perhaps instead of right-left-right through a neighborhood, we could drive a gentle arc around the neighborhood. The path is still there.
We might explore some alternatives. One thing I notice is that the right-of-way still exists to restore the old on-ramp from Lawrence Northbound to Central Eastbound. Instead of making a right-left-right through a residential neighborhood, drivers just coast on up a gentle right-hand curve and merge on to Central. From there, the existing two-way on-ramp might be adapted to a two-lane one-way street. The two-lane street allows more cars to queue at a crosswalk while pedestrians cross, reducing potential congestion.
Alternatively, traffic off of Central Eastbound could simply take alternate routes from Oakmead/Corwin.
The Santa Clara Planning Commission is in a place to recommend smarter planning that better addresses the concerns of pedestrians, neighborhood vitality, and motorists. The Commission will review the Specific Plan this Wednesday at 7:00pm. I hope to drop by and share my concerns. You should show up too, if you are interested. You can also write a letter to the Planning Commission: PlanningCommission@santaclaraca.gov and CC planner John Davidson: JDavidson@santaclaraca.gov.
Many thanks to Green Caltrain for the tip.
A few rules of thumb I use in evaluating California ballot propositions:
1) Is it a REVENUE BOND? — Likely YES
2) Is it a CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT? — Default NO
3) Endorsed by Jerry Brown? — Likely YES
4) Argument in favor/opposition use LOTS OF CAPITALIZED WORDS AND PHRASES — Those arguments are nutters
5) Wait, why shouldn’t the legislature, &c. be figuring this out?! — Likely NO
This time around I figure condoms, ammunition, and plastic bags are issues Cal/OSHA and the legislature need to figure out.
Earlier this month I attended a meeting at Bishop School in which Rob Smiley, COO of Sunnyvale School District, brought us up to speed on the current construction plans. I took noted and shared on Nextdoor.com, and I’m sharing them here for better community access.
Maps viewable in school office, and online at: http://www.sesd.org/Page/3722
… re-bidding is not yet complete …
Renderings of new campus and a site plan.
October — Temp Classrooms to be installed on blacktop (note: these were installed last week)
December — Fencing / Construction begins (North Side)
August 2017 — move into new rooms
August 2018 — project complete
North Side construction thru Aug 2017
South Side construction thru Aug 2018
– Reduced on-street parking (25 parking spaces removed)
– Increased traffic
– Reduced play area
– “Hard Hat Cafe” (during kitchen construction, from June 2017)
– Noise (no loud construction during testing)
– Demolition (.. asbestos .. “abatement” ..)
Q: When does Maude Ave bike lane (remove parking) happen?
A: Do not know
On October 10, 2016, file 16-0548 was heard by the Sunnyvale Planning Commission. The item was to down-zone a condominium development per the General Plan, and to up-zone a one third acre parcel from Residential Low Density to Residential Low-Medium Density. By up-zoning the site at 838 Azure St, the property owner would be able to build four homes on the property instead of a maximum of two.
The Planning Commission passed the down-zoning proposal but denied the up-zoning at 838 Azure St. I do not believe the decision with regard to 838 Azure was consistent with the public interest of Sunnyvale residents. At a time of housing crisis, we should err on the side of providing more affordable homes for more families, and the location at 838 Azure is well suited to providing housing with minimal impact on congestion.
Current Status and Options
The property presently hosts two dilapidated structures which had recently housed squatters. There are dying trees and contaminated soil from Sunnyvale’s orchard days.
Proposed zoning for 838 Azure St
Present zoning is R0: 7 homes per acre, or 2 per 1/3 acre
Two lots of 7,200 square feet, homes up to 3,240 square feet
Requested zoning is R2: 12 homes per acre, or 4 per 1/3 acre
Four lots of 3,600 square feet, homes up to 1,620 square feet
||3200 sq ft / 5 bed / 3.5 bath
||1600 sq ft / 3 bed / 2.5 bath
The lot in question is about 14,400 square feet, and present zoning allows for up to two houses. At 45% FAR one can build two homes of 3,200 square feet. Comparable homes in the area are typically 5 bedroom, 3.5 baths at $2,400,000. With a 20% down payment of $480,000, a 30 year fixed mortgage at 3.875% with taxes and insurance runs nearly $12,000/mo.
On the other hand, a 1,600 square foot townhouse or condo in this area is typically 3 bedroom, 2.5 bath at $1,000,000. With a 20% down payment, a 30 year fixed mortgage, taxes, insurance runs nearly $5,000/mo.
If we assume that housing is “affordable” at 33% of Gross Income, then the big houses are affordable to a family with $436,000 annual income, and the smaller homes are affordable at $182,000.
See Also: Redfin
See Also: Residential Zoning Standards – City of Sunnyvale
Location: Pedestrian and Transit Quality vs Congestion
Much of Sunnyvale is poorly suited to walking or public transportation. Housing in such areas encourages automobile trips and results in congestion. If you want to increase housing while avoiding congestion, you want to place the housing in areas where walking and public transit are viable options: when people have the option not to drive they are less likely to add congestion.
The average Walk Score in Sunnyvale is 55. For 838 Azure the walk score is 78. The site is well within Sunnyvale’s walkable downtown core, a very close walk to multiple groceries, restaurants, and Murphy St. This pedestrian accessibility does not encourage automobile trips, thus it mitigates congestion.
To avoid congestion, put housing in Sunnyvale’s walkable core: 838 Azure is at the Y of Mathilda and Sunnyvale in the lower right. Source: Sunnyvale Walk Score
The site is very near VTA’s premier bus route: the 22/522 El Camino Real, as well as the 55 and 54 routes for North-South mobility. Within an hour, public transit can get residents across Sunnyvale, including the offices on the North Side, as well as much of Cupertino and Santa Clara. The downtown areas of San Jose, Mountain View, and Palo Alto are accessible. At just over a mile to Sunnyvale Station, the site is not a convenient walk to Caltrain: residents may prefer to bicycle.
Public Comment and Planning Board
Two neighbors spoke against the zoning change. A neighbor who lived in an adjacent townhouse was concerned that the development of townhouses on the neighboring property would not meet his aesthetic standards. A neighbor to the south was concerned that his dogs might get out if the property was developed, and that if the driveway were moved from Sunnyvale-Saratoga to Azure then there would be less street parking available on Azure.
Per the minutes:
Commissioner Melton noted that the benefits of the GPA and Rezone of the Azure site are the PD designation and an increase in housing density, and that the negatives include parking, neighborhood incompatibility and inappropriate density.
Commissioner Simons said he does not like the potential spot zoning of 838 Azure.
MOTION: Commissioner Melton moved and Commissioner Simons seconded the motion to recommend that City Council deny the General Plan Amendment and Rezone for 838 Azure Street.
Vice Chair Rheaume said he is not supporting this motion and supports increasing the density of this lot.
The motion carried by the following vote:
Yes: 4 – Commissioner Melton
No: 1 – Vice Chair Rheaume
Absent: 1 – Chair Harrison
This item should come before the City Council on November 1. Anyone who might wish to speak up on behalf of the virtue of increased housing in Sunnyvale can contact the City Council or make a public comment of up to three minutes at the upcoming council meeting. I am hoping to attend and speak November 1. If you think you might also be interested, or would like to be notified of any updates, please drop me a line: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This item was considered by the Sunnyvale City Council on November 1, 2016. City Council heard testimony from City Staff and the Property Owner. City Council candidate John Cordes and I made public comments in favor of the change. A few neighbors made public comments against the change.
The City Council enacted an ordinance to change the zoning at 838 Azure from R0 to R2-PD. The vote was 6-1, with Council Member Pat Meyering in dissent. Council made it clear that they were only approving the zoning change, in order to provide more housing in an area well-suited to pedestrian, bicycle and public transit. Council was generally most concerned with how the development would transition from the adjacent R2 zones to the rest of the neighborhood, which is among the several considerations which will be addressed subsequently in the planning process.
The Property Owner is now at liberty to submit plans for development, which will be subject to review by the Zoning Administrator, with community feedback, and potentially by the Planning Commission and the City Council.
This year there will be an election for four of the seven seats on the Sunnyvale City Council.
Mapping Out the Council
I found a nice web site that summarizes campaign contributions for the different candidates. As I have only recently taken an interest in the City Council, it helps me paint a crude picture of the council as it exists today. There seems to be a core majority and an independent minority.
Caveat: it has been pointed out to me that my data source is not entirely accurate. Raw data can be obtained directly from the city. Unfortunately, that data is provided in PDF format. If I find a convenient way to parse the data out of those PDF files, I’ll take a crack a re-doing the Financial Backings visualization, below.
Heading up the “Core” are Mayor Glenn Hendricks and Vice Mayor Gustav Larsson, who have each received overwhelmingly large sums from the National Association of Realtors Fund.
Jim Griffith is an Software Engineer who has mainly bankrolled his own campaigns. He is the only second-term member of the council, thus his cumulative financial backing is larger than most members of the council, with the exception of Mayor Hendricks and Vice Mayor Larsson. Jim maintains a blog about city council activities at dweeb.org.
Next are what I would label the “Friends” which includes Larry Klein and Tara Martin-Milius. Klein very recently won a special election held in August after the resignation of Dave Whittum. Neither of these candidates have the volume of donations as Hendricks, Larsson or Griffith, but the Inner Core have made friendly contributions to the Friends. Martin-Milius has received contributions from Hendricks, Larsson, and Griffith while Klein has received contributions from Hendricks and Griffith.
The Inner Core and Friends make up a five-member majority. Council motions are often made and carried with minimal dissent.
Beyond the Core are the two “Independents.” Jim Davis‘ campaign contributions are mainly from non-resident individuals, none from the Core members. He generally votes along with the Core, though he did vote against the Maude Ave bike lane, an issue which I took a special interest in. Pat Meyering‘s campaign is completely self-funded. He often clashes with Mayor Hendricks and other members of the council.
Mapping Out the Election
The Deep Pockets (Hendricks, Larsson, Griffith) are not up for election this year, but everyone else is.
Seat 4: Recently won by Larry Klein, is challenged by John Cordes and Mike McCarthy. Klein, who recently served on the Planning Commission, is backed by a few Business and Real Estate PACS, and several residents, including the Core council members, and Stephen Williams, who ran against him in the special election. John Cordes, who also ran against Klein in the special election, is an environmentalist who serves on the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission. He is mainly self-funded, with an even split between resident and non-resident contributions, and a single PAC donation from the California League of Conservation Voters. Mike McCarthy is entirely self-funded.
Seat 5: Incumbent Pat Meyering is solely self-funded, and I could not find a campaign web site. He is challenged by Russell Melton, who has served several terms on the Planning Commission, and has the support of several developers, the Core council members, and numerous individuals. Melton also managed Mayor Hendricks’ successful 2013 City Council campaign.
Seat 6: Incumbent Jim Davis is a former Public Safety Officer who has served many government and community organizations. He is funded mainly by non-resident individuals. Challenger Nancy Smith has chaired the Santa Clara County Water District Environmental and Water Resources Committee, and is funded by several residents and non-residents.
Seat 7: Incumbent Tara Martin-Milius is funded in the main by several individuals, including Core council members, along with business and real estate contributions. She is challenged by unfunded Ron Banks and self-funded Michael Goldman.
Visualizing the Council and the Election
In an attempt at objectivity, I have compiled the following table to provide a quick reference to in understanding the Council and the election. I welcome feedback, especially factual corrections.
|Seat ||Name ||Financial Backing ||Background ||Web Site ||Video Statement |
|Seat 1 ||Gustav Larsson || ███ ███ ████ ██████████ ██████████ ██████████ ██████████ ██████████ ██████████ ██████████ ██████████ ██████████ ██████████ ████████ ██████████ ██████████ ██████████ ████ ████ █████ █ ███████ ||Engineer at Ciena
|| █ ███ ███ ██████████ ██████████ ██████████ ██████████ ██████████ ██████████ ██████████ ██████████ █████████ ██████████ ██████████ ██████████ ██ ████ █████████ █████ ████ ██████████ ████
||Manager at PayPal
|| ██ ██████ ███████ ██████████ ██████████ ██████████ ██████████ ████████ ██████ ██████████ ██ █████ █ ██████████ ██████
||Software Engineer at Apple
Numerous Government Activities
|| █ ████████ ███ ███████ ██
||Staff Engineer at Qnovo
|| ██████████ █ ██ █
Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission
||CEO at Green Galaxy Homes
Plaza Del Rey Residents Association
|| ██ █ ██████████ ██████████ ██████████ █████ ███ ██ █████████ █
|| █ ███ █ ████████
||Sunnyvale Public Safety Officer
Numerous Government Activities
|| █ ██████ ██████████ █████ ██████████
||Program Manager at NVIDIA
Santa Clara County Water District Environmental and Water Resources Committee
|| ██ ████████ █████ █ ██████████ ████ ██████████ ██████
||Teacher, UCSC Extension in Silicon Valley
San Miguel Neighbors Association
Financial Backing Key
██████████ represents $10,000
█ represents $1,000
█ Business PAC
█ Real Estate PAC
█ Elected Official PAC
█ Political Party
█ Political Committee
█ Environmental PAC
█ Social Issues PAC
█ Union PAC
Source: http://www.specialinterestwatch.org/, cumulative contributions through June 30, 2016
In the sky, we could sea the Earth. Where were we? Someone explained that this was a rare astronomical phenomenon where the moon reflected the Earth’s image back onto itself. We stood, looking up in awe. I snapped a picture on my smart phone. The apparition slid across the sky toward the horizon. We were on a cruise ship, approaching a large orb, a micro-planet of waves crashing upon each other. A label hovered just in front of the microplanet: bold block small-caps serif letters in white read:
I was overcome with religious ecstasy. I fell to my knees and bowed my head and allowed the emotion to sweep over me. Then I took a peek around and noticed everyone else was nonchalant.
I woke up an had to pee.
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