Google unveils dramatic vision for downtown San Jose village

SAN JOSE — Google unveiled on Wednesday its most detailed vision yet for a transit-oriented neighborhood in downtown San Jose, a game-changing development that bids to reshape the west edges of the city’s urban core while still blending in with adjacent communities.

The plan also underscores the tech behemoth’s continued commitment to its San Jose plans at a time when businesses around the world are rethinking the future of office space amid the work-from-home era brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

Downtown West, Google’s village, would add new offices, homes, and amenities in downtown San Jose near the Diridon train hub, and pave the way for a big increase in affordable housing and green development, documents the search giant filed Wednesday with the city show.

“We’re excited about this next step in our project, which incorporates feedback from thousands of people over the last two years and provides another opportunity for community input,” said Alexa Arena, Google’s development director for San Jose.

The mile-long project would be a city within a city. It would include 7.3 million square feet of offices, 4,000 residential units, shops, restaurants, a hotel, 10 parks, cultural and entertainment hubs, and immersive and interactive educational elements. Google could employ up to 25,000 on the site.

“This is the next level of development for San Jose,” said Scott Knies, executive director of the San Jose Downtown Association. “You have the housing, the affordable housing, and certainly the offices are there. But you also have the extraordinary combination of open spaces and cultural uses that makes it really unique.”

Google said it would work with city leaders to ensure that 25% of the homes would be affordable in the Diridon Station area, which contains the Downtown West footprint.

“We continue to hear that housing and preserving affordability is a priority for San Jose and our proposal offers more affordable housing, job pathways, and community spaces for San Joseans,” Arena said.

The 4,000 residences that Google aims to develop in the project will be made affordable to people at all income levels, Google said.

Google filed two major documents with the city Wednesday. One is a 1,350-page draft environmental impact report that sketches out the project’s effects. The other details design guidelines and how buildings would be massed.

The document filings kick off an intensive review and approval process that will include public hearings and formal votes.

“The pandemic has made the biggest concerns from the community about this project — preventing displacement, adding affordable housing, and ensuring quality jobs for working families and communities of color — even more critical,” said Maria Noel Fernandez, campaign director with Silicon Valley Rising, a community group that’s critical of Downtown West.

Downtown West’s footprint is 80 acres, of which 55 acres can be developed. Of the 55 acres, about 30 acres will be set aside for housing and public spaces.

Google says the project will not create any net additions in greenhouse gases.

The tech titan intends for the new buildings to be nearly completely electric. About 65 percent of the site’s trips would occur via mass transit, bicycling, and walking. Just 35 percent would be people driving alone. Plus, Downtown West would generate 7.8 megawatts of on-site solar energy and feature a local microgrid. Google also will buy carbon offsets.

“At a time when so much in our world is on pause due to COVID, it’s heartening to know that San Jose’s most significant long-term urban development project is on track and hitting a key milestone” with the filings, Deputy City Manager Kim Walesh said. “Google is moving forward with Downtown West, its extraordinary project and investment in San Jose.”

Google aims for a development that doesn’t present a walled-off look and feel.

“Downtown West is designed to be a true part of the city, the opposite of a traditional corporate campus,” said Laura Crescimano, founder of SITELAB urban studio, the project’s  lead urban designer. “The draft design standards and guidelines published today set out the roadmap for a resilient and connected Downtown West.”

Historic buildings and natural features such as the Guadalupe River and Los Gatos Creek will be incorporated.

“Our team worked with Google to draw on the uniqueness of the location to propose a place where urban life and nature can coexist,” Crescimano said. “We’ve brought together new and historic buildings, opportunities for arts and culture, playful spaces, and moments of respite along the Creek.”

Building heights will range from 40 feet to 290 feet, a Google spokesperson said.

“This is an…

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