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04.16.08

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Silicon Valley News Notes

Fair Question

The plan to develop the County Fairgrounds has disappeared around a blind curve in recent months, but that's about to change. The 150-acre parcel, where 4-H members have showed off their prize pigs while hopeful housewives displayed their pies, is now hosting a more serious competition, and the prize could be a quarter-billion-dollar development project. After a controversial plan to build a concert amphitheater failed, Santa Clara County put out a Request for Proposals, and a preliminary qualification process that was completed in August. The deadline for proposals is next Friday, April 25. Seventeen development teams cleared the first bureaucratic hurdle. These include some of the valley's (and the nation's) biggest builders and land developers, from San Jose's Barry Swenson Builder and Robert Emami's ROEM Development to the upstart Catellus, formerly Santa Fe Public Realty, which now focuses on mixed-use and green building projects nationwide. Because of the project's huge size and financial requirements, many of the finalists in the competition are "development teams"— businesses that have gotten together for the opportunity to build on this valuable piece of public land. Mortgage firms are paired with construction companies; real-estate holding companies are holding hands with construction firms; big builders are doing the do-si-do with nonprofit housing agencies. And so, for instance, we find the team "KB Home/Flea Market/First Community Housing" competing with "Wilson Meany Sullivan/Stockbridge" and "ROEM Development/Shea/Housing Authority of Santa Clara County." (The ROEM squad has one advantage: its Corde Terra senior housing project built across the street from the Fairgrounds last year was cited in the count's RFP as its "benchmark for expected quality.") Winning this competition will require the development teams to jump through a series of complex hoops. One hoop (or "primary goal") is "to create a development that will serve as a model for responsible urban planning and environmental sustainability." Another requires "a plan that provides a balance of land uses among residential, commercial, retail, government/public use, greenbelt, and infrastructure uses." Furthermore, the county calls for "an urban, pedestrian and transit-oriented community that contributes to the vitality of the Monterey Corridor." And: "It is anticipated that the developer may include a new recreational amenity as part of the project." But: "The County's primary goal in developing the Fairgrounds is to generate significant new, ongoing revenues for the County General Fund. ... To that end, the County will seek optimal full market value for its land." And here lies the coming controversy: Will the county ultimately settle for the easy money—and will we see another soulless condo farm on the fields where our forebears celebrated their bucolic bounty? Eventually, after the county has vetted the process, the Fairgrounds development plan will be sent to the city. (The property, bounded by Tully and Umbarger roads between Seventh and Tenth streets, is set to be annexed.) Councilmember Madison Nguyen believes that the site is large enough to accommodate community uses as part of a large mixed-use development. "I want to see a recreational facility there. I'd like to see some open space. This is an opportunity for the city to provide state-of-the-art amenities for people who live on the East Side."


Naming Names

Attention legislators: If you don't go green, you just might make Chuck Reed's blacklist. Seeing that GOP senators could dismantle Silicon Valley's renewable energy industry, the San Jose mayor delivered to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger a list of the six Republicans who voted against renewing the solar and wind tax credits earlier this year. He asked the governor to call them and do some sweet-talking to his party faithful. "People don't see that stuff, but there's an awful lot that goes on behind the scenes that we are doing that may be affecting legislation in D.C.," said Jeff Janssen, senior policy adviser for Reed. Maybe his name-naming paid off. The Senate on Thursday passed a housing stimulus packaged with renewable tax credits attached. The House already passed legislation in February that included tax credits for solar and wind. Now, the two have to come together and iron out the differences on how to pay for the tax credits. Those credits are set to expire this year and the solar and wind industries are already feeling the pain, with some companies putting larger projects on hold until there's some guarantee of tax credits beyond 2008, said Monique Hanis, spokeswoman for the Washington-based Solar Energy Industries Association. In January, Silicon Valley's SunPower revealed to Metro that it was considering shifting its technology development and other investments to countries where governments are providing more subsidies to bolster the renewable energy. "We are in a crunch," Hanis said "If they can figure out a path to get it done in next four weeks, it will avoid a real disruption."


Pedaling Safety

The accident on Stevens Canyon Road that killed champion cyclists Matt Peterson and Kristy Gough on March 9 was a wake-up call for many South Bay bike riders. "The tragedy, it brought people together," said Ariadne Delon Scott, the director of advocacy and environment at Specialized Bicycle Components. "It mobilized us more then ever to work to promote safety." Specialized, one of the biggest names in bicycle manufacturing, is based in Morgan Hill, which will host more than 2,000 bicyclists for the 2008 Tierra Bella Bicycle Tour on April 19. Starting at Gavilan Community College in Gilroy and featuring four different routes, the 29th annual tour is a fundraising event for the Almaden Cycle Touring Club, one of the South Bay's most active groups of bicycle enthusiasts. Herman H. Wadler, vice president of the club and a member of the VTA's Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, said the March 9 incident "shook a lot of people up and made a lot of people angry." With gas prices on the rise, he said, he has seen an increase in people commuting by bike to work—which means even more tension on the road between cyclists and drivers. "I would like to see more safety education for cyclists and drivers," said Wadler. "The DMV now has a little information on bike safety, but I'd like to see more questions on the drivers' test regarding bicyclists." In the wake of a recent study by the San Francisco Chronicle which found that cyclists are at fault for 60 percent of accidents involving bicycles and cars in the Bay Area, Marc Evans, a San Mateo County triathlon coach who also trained Gough, is headlining a safety awareness campaign to get both cyclists and drivers to commit to obeying the rules of the road. Over the next month he is working to distribute symbolic black and red wristbands to cyclists, drivers and motorcyclists. "The black symbolizes that the wearer is willing to honor those who have last their lives in bike accidents, the red is a promise to obey traffic laws," said Evans. "When Kristy got killed, I felt compelled to do something. It's just a small idea that has big potential."


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