San Jose Light Tower

San Jose Parks Advocates opposes the use Arena Green Park for the Light Tower Corporation’s proposed art project.

We believe that :

  • The site analysis report ctains fatal flaws
  • The Arena Green Park site is too environmentally sensitive
  • The proposed use is not compatible with existing policies, plans, and studies of Arena Green Park and this planning area,
  • It will negatively impact the fundraising plan of a previously approved major city park redevelopment project, St. James and the Levitt Pavilion
  • The proposal is based on a flawed assumption that the Light Tower Corporation’s open, uncompensated art contest will lead to great art.
  • A “free gift” should not take park land from a park deficient area nor require the use of City Park Trust funds to produce the site analysis, provide uncompensated Senior Management time, nor should complete of the project require future park trust fund/development fees or Google Community benefit funds. We ask that the Council reject the site analysis and ask the proponents to fully fund their gift by compensating the city for all expenses and by buying a site rather than taking parkland from a park deficient area. San Jose Parks Advocates is an all-volunteer organization of neighborhood leaders and community members concerned about San Jose parks. Our mission is to bring parks into the public political consciousness, to make parks an issue in all discussions of civic priorities, neighborhood services, and community interactions with the City of San Jose. We envision a City where quality parks and trails for all of its residents is universally supported as a core City service. Civic leaders will develop, enhance, and maintain these spaces as a source of civic pride and essential to the health and quality of life of the residents, workers, and visitors.

Flawed Site Analysis—paid with City Park Trust Funds

The site analysis was incomplete and erroneous. Some attributes were not fully defined; some were misleading and made assumptions. A notable absence was what would be lost by park users and riparian fauna if the site were changed to a built environment. There was no discussion of the lost amenities and whether they would be relocated or replaced.

1. The analysis does not include full complement of city sites were not included. Why were only parks and future parks evaluated? Why not City Hall? The promontory point where the Fallon statue now sits? Bassett Park? North San Pedro Park? Or perhaps a gateway location, like Coyote Meadows. More importantly, for a project this size, why aren’t the proponents buying their own land?

2. The environment score was defined as the impact on the proposed art project with NO discussion of impacts of the new project on the environment. This is contrary to the usual meaning of environmental impacts as used in CEQA documents. It serves to hide the impacts and betrays a lack of a real process. It is not defensible in the absence of a true CEQA-like measure.

3. The riparian setback was incorrectly stated. The project cannot extend to the edge of the walking path, a built environment must be setback a minimum of 100 ft. Further, the city’s adopted riparian policy would require a 200 feet where there is active recreation, lighted areas, or mechanical equipment. The site analysis did not discuss the mention this larger setback—even though the proponents mention dreams of a decoratively lighted structure.

4. The impact of the use of large scale utilities on the park, adjacent users, or sensitive environmental receivers was not studied even though the site analysis included points based on the availability of large scale electrical utilities for this piece of art.

5. The massing score for Arena Green Park is too high. The computation was based on an incorrect riparian setback and considered the land on top of the flood bypass channel as available for construction when it is not.

6. The matrix included an undefined score for “incentives and cost offsets.” The proponents have offered a “free” gift to the City. There should not be an expectation to use Park Trust Fund fees collected from the nearby residential development or Google Community Benefits to pay for their “free” gift to the City. These monies are already tagged to acquire parkland, perform major infrastructure repairs on downtown parks, and provide a plethora of community benefits discussed by the Diridon Station Area Advisory Group (SAAG). This giant art project was not one of those benefits.

7. The transportation score is invalid. By way of example, Discovery Park scores in the lowest group with service from two LRT lines and multiple bus lines (routes 23, 81) while Park Avenue had more than double the transportation score and no public transit service.

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8. The narrative claims that Arena Green Park has the most available acreage of the sites without regard to configuration and buildable square footage. The site is bifurcated and has serious restrictions due to the underground flood control bypass channel of the Guadalupe River. The report understates the riparian setback in two ways—the minimum 100-foot setback and the 200- foot setback where there is active recreation, lighted areas, or mechanical equipment. In addition, the report does not mention the reduction in size from the future Autumn Street re-alignment nor does it include the many easements that further reduce the park’s availability for development of a built environment. Also, the possibility of a tunnel portal consuming part of Arena Green Park was never mentioned—even though the Mayor has had multiple conversations with the Boring Company over the past year.

9. Mitigation is not mentioned. The construction of a large built environment will require mitigation. There is no discussion of onsite mitigation. Many trees of Arena Green Park West would be lost and Arena Green Park East cannot accept the replacements due to flood bypass channel rules. Amenities would be displaced. The costs and relocation considerations were not evaluated.

10. Existing policies, plans, studies and master park plans were not assessed. No consideration was made as to whether this large project conformed to or was compatible with existing plans. For example, the Diridon Station Area Plan calls for art work in the northern portion to focus on environmental themes. The Arena Green Park’s role in serving 25,000 future residents was not considered.

11. There was no discussion of the coffee shop/restaurant use and its compatibility and likelihood of success at the location. The proponents talk about building some sort of food service to generate funds for maintenance. We think it is folly at Arena Green Park but might be possible at some other sites. Most restaurants fail in the first year.

12. The importance of sight lines was underestimated. The proponents have shared that it is critically important that their large public art structure be in a location where it could be photographed easily. They felt it was critical for attracting visitors. However, the site selected, Arena Green Park will have poor sight lines. Towers are planned north and south. Riparian trees will block the view from the east.

13. Pending Construction was not considered. The Arena Green Park area is poised to be a hotbed of construction with the BART construction staging area directly to the south followed by two towers. The art project is proposed to be completed just in time to be surrounded by construction impacts. That’s not the best strategy to attract visitors to a new facility. The possibility of a people mover tunnel portal within Arena Green Park was ignored even though senior staff knew about it.

14. The Parking analysis is flawed and based on currently available lots that are scheduled to disappear in the near-term. The reduction in parking is so significa t, as analyzed in the BART EIR, that the Sharks Organization is suing.

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15. Social considerations. The impact of local homeless persons in the short-term and long-term was not analyzed. Tourists and visitors tend to avoid places with large numbers of unhoused persons. For example, the impact of unhoused users was highlighted in the Arena Green Park 2015 study and their presence was cited as a barrier to use for those surveyed. Quantifying these impacts is important.

16. Analysis of Current Arena Green Park Use was incomplete. The report emphasized park permit numbers only. Residents’ use of the park and the status of amenities was not considered nor valued in the analysis.

Environmentally Sensitive

Arena Green Park is the most environmentally sensitive of all the sites. Incredibly, the site report does not address the impact of the project on the environment. The site report considers the impact of the environment on the art project. This is unbelievable for a project spearheaded by experienced construction professionals.

This site is one of the few stretches of intact riparian corridor through downtown. When the US Army Corps designed its flood control project, riparian advocates made certain that this area was left intact and deep pools remained so that migrating fish could be successful. The canopy of trees was protected so that temperatures would remain cool in that part of the creek and river system. Arena Green Park West was specifically planted heavily with trees to support birds within the riparian corridor. Community members actively negotiated with the US Army Corps to create the park as mitigation and compensation for the loss of riverine habitat and homes along River Street. A built environment would lower the quality of habitat that was specifically designed to support the riparian habitat. Such development may be in violation of the flood control project EIS mitigation agreements.

The Guadalupe River and Los Gatos Creek Confluence area is a critically important flyway for birds. It is the only area where there is little risk of crashing into tall structures. Lights can cause birds to become disoriented. They will circle in light beams.1 They can be blinded temporarily and forced to land if the light contains the wrong spectrum. Importantly, Arena Green Park’s current status as a park with closing shortly after sunset and minimal lighting is perfectly designed for the city’s riparian and migrating birds. Other cities have implemented darkening of their skylines for this reason.2. A tall lighted structure, as is in the minds of the proponent, would be deadly for the birds.

1 Tribute in Light 9/11 Memorial Turned Off Repeatedly As Birds Get Stuck In Soaring Beams Birds spend hours flying in circles or crash into windows. Songbirds, seabirds, all kinds. Tribute In Light 9/11 Memorial Turned Off Repeatedly As Birds Get Stuck In Soaring Beams

2 “Many North American cities—including Houston, Boston, and Atlanta—have adapted “lights out” practices, promoting the darkening of their skylines to protect the biology and ecology of local insects and animals.”

The 9/11 Tribute in Light Is Helping Us Learn About Bird Migration

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Migrating fish are also affected by night lighting. City policy 6-34 calls for a 200-foot riparian setback for active recreation, lighting, or mechanical noise generating sources.3 We also note, that there is a trend across the world to reduce night lighting to create darker skies and healthier habitats for all creatures, including humans. It is important that the park area next a riparian habitat stay dark at night.

Plans and Policies

General Plan Envision 2040

The Envision 2030 General Plan emphasizes San Jose’s unique character “Living Amid Abundant Natural Resources,” strong riparian policies, goals for parkland serving residents, both acreage and distance (PR 1.1 and PR 2.6). The Diridon Station Area/Delmas Park is park deficient. Removing park land for a large built environment violates these goals for both current residents and the anticipated 25,000 more residents expected from the Diridon Station Area growth.

Relevant General Plan Policies

(PR4.6) Public Art should reflect the surrounding community, local history or the ecology. The Light Tower Corp has not stated their artwork will conform to this goal.

(PR5.3). Adhere to Guadalupe River Park Urban Design Guidelines. A large built structure does not.
(PR 6.7). In design and construction, preserve, enhance, restore existing ecosystems/wildlife habitat A large built structure does not enhance the riparian habitat.

(PR1.14). Survey park users and surrounding communities to implement improvements. The Light Tower Corp did one public outreach meeting. Community members expressed significant concerns.. The City studied Arena Green Park in 2015 and community members were interested in keeping the trees.

We wish the Light Tower Corporation would conform to (PR8.2) “Encourage privately owned and maintained and publicly accessible recreation spaces that encourage community interaction; complement the private property uses; and, when adjacent to existing and planned parks, trails, recreation facilities, or open spaces, connect them to these facilities. This policy is particularly important in dense, urban areas.”

The Light Tower Corporation should buy land, build their project, and maintain it, just as is done with the dog parks downtown and at many sites with POPOS (privately owned, publicly open spaces).

3 Council Policy 6-34

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Riparian Policy

The General Plan calls for a 100-foot setback for all but trails. The subsequently adopted Council Policy 6-34 calls a 100-foot setback, 200-foot setback for lighted structures and noise making equipment.

The use of bright colors, and glossy, reflect, see-through or glare producing building and material finishes is discouraged on Buildings and Structures. 4

Guadalupe River Park Master Plan 2002 and Urban Design Guidelines

Arena Green Park is part of the Guadalupe River Park and a large built environment as part of a public art project violates the Guadalupe River Park Master Plan. The process for public art within the park is laid out and the proposed Light Tower project violates that process.

“The park will continue to grow and change, but the vision that brought it to this point will remain: it will continue to be a natural heart for San José, providing a range of passive activities and offering habitat for wildlife.”5

“All public art should be designed to complement the vision of the park. Proposals should be related to the river or the immediate surrounding area—its history, environment, and the role they play in the city. Any proposals will be subject to the City of San José’s established procedures for the development of public art, with review by the Friends of Guadalupe River Park & Gardens, the Guadalupe River Park Task Force.”

“To preserve the open-space character of the Guadalupe River Park, new buildings in the park are discouraged.”

“New specific-use facilities such as museums or recreation centers are not part of the vision or mission of the Guadalupe River Park and should be sited elsewhere.”

Guadalupe River Flood Control Project Collaborative (1997) and Flood Control EIS

Arena Green Park was created as part of the US Army Corps Flood Control project. The Environmental Impact Study (EIS) called for mitigation measures and subsequently, additional measures were developed by the Guadalupe River Flood Control Project Collaborative. We believe the Light Tower project does not conform to these agreements.

The City of San Jose, the Redevelopment Agency, the Natural Heritage Institute, CONCUR (environmental facilitators and mediators), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the California Department of Fish and Game, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the State Water Resources Control Board, the Santa Clara Valley Water District, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers met

4 Council Policy 6-34. Page 7. Item 4a.
5 Guadalupe River Master Plan 2002

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in response to threatened litigation about the adequacy of the flood control mitigation measures. The group was able to reach a consensus to modify the plan and successfully addressed agency and environmental-group concerns, allowing the flood control project to proceed.

Elements of this new design included the underground floodwater bypass creating Arena Green Park East. This kept important existing riparian habitat within today’s Arena Green Park from Santa Clara Street to the north and expanded onsite and offsite mitigation, and made refinements to allowed recreation features, including their location.

Arena Green Park User Study 2015

PRNS performed outreach via two community meetings and an online survey about Arena Green Park East. Some members of the community had complained about “too many trees” and PRNS was looking for guidance. The results show that many members of the community specifically liked the trees. Complaints focused on the number of unhoused persons hanging out the park making it feel unsafe. The closed carousel and the worn and vandalized playground also attracted comments.

Arena Green Park was once more heavily used when the Carousel’s operating costs were subsidized by the Sharks, the playground was not worn, and fewer people unhoused people were residing nearby. The shaded trees and river breezes still attract many residents in the summer. The vacant lots to the north and the south combined with the intermittent nature of Arena operations contribute to low usage rates. We believe the addition of 50,000 employees nearby will increase use of the park.


The BART EIR addressed parking during and after construction. Importantly, the Sharks Organization believes that the analysis indicates they will have insufficient parking after development. The Light Tower Corporation wants to attract tourists so they will depend on the same parking spaces. If the Sharks Organization foresee negative impacts to events on which their fans spend significant dollars, the more passive Light Tower project will be negatively impacted too.

Diridon Station Area Plan and Midtown Specific Plan

These two specific plans called for the area around Diridon Station to be served by parks at Arena Green Park and at the Fire Station Training Center. In additional the Los Gatos Creek trail, and the Diridon Station Promenade were identified as open space.

Unfortunately, the Fire Station Training center was sold to Google. Caltrain Integrated Station Concept plans suggest taking most of the Promenade. No new park sites have been identified to serve the 25,000 new residents and 50,000 new employees. Current park acquisition ordinances prohibit transfer of parcels und 1⁄2 acre, posing an additional obstacle to creating a non- continuous chain of park and recreation facilities.

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This leaves only Arena Green Park to serve all 75,000 new residents and employees expected in the Diridon Station area. Perhaps, some privately owned public recreation areas will be built. Fees on residential units will be collected and a community benefits fund is suggested to meet many needs, including open space, housing, public art, road improvements, trail improvements, and much more..

The construction of a large scale art project at Arena Green Park, creating a large built environment, will take from the only open space that we know will be available to serve all these residents.

Diridon Station Area Advisory Group (SAAG)

The SAAG Group has been meeting in response to the proposed Google development proposals. They have discussed concerns and issues. Public open space was a priority and they highlighted the Diridon Station Area plan, the General Plan, and the Greenprint as their guiding principals. They felt that quality of life was dependent on the presence of green open space, not just paved plazas. They will continue to meet to make recommendations on the allocations of the Community Benefits Fund.

Project Subsidies and Costs

The Light Tower Corporation claims it wishes to offer a free gift to the City however, the Corporarion has already received significant subsidies and appear to be requesting additional subsidies. We oppose any subsidies for this project.

Subsidies already given

Site Selection Study Paid by City Park Trust Fund (PDO/PIO money) Senior Management, Park Staff Time serving as project manager and consultant

Paid by City Park Trust Fund and General Fund Senior Management, Public Works, City Manager, Airport, Office of Economic

Development, Office of Cultural Affairs. Over 50 hours to Develop Site Selection Study Paid by General Fund, Hotel Tax, and other funds

Subsidies Expected

Parkland worth millions of dollars per acre
Unspecified money from grants and other funds linked to Arena Green Park location6— this appears to be

Park Trust Fund

Community Benefits Fund
Senior Park Management Serving as project management

Art Contest Likely to Fail

The Light Tower Corp proposes an open contest for their icon. They cite only ONE example of a successful open contest leading to a public icon: the Washington DC Vietnam War Memorial. In

6 Site Selection Study. “Incentives and cost offsets.”

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contrast, when the city initiated the St. James park re-visioning project, the Office of Cultural Affairs recommended that the City proceed with soliciting qualified competitors and pay them a stipend for their submissions. The regular city process requires artists to submit their portfolios, i.e. pre-qualify.

Any large scale project will require advanced construction knowledge. Great artists with these skills are unlikely to spend time on submitting to an open art contest. If the Light Tower Corp has enough money to pay for a giant project, then they should use their money to conform to a method of soliciting ideas that the city has found to successful here.

Fundraising Competes With City Priorities

The Light Tower Corporation fundraising activities will be competing with a previously approved project—the Levitt Pavilion and St. James Park Re-visioning. Fundraising will start in earnest when the EIR is completed and certified. We do not think both projects, Light Tower and St. James Park, can compete in the philanthropic environment.

Lightning in a bottle

We believe in public art. We also believe that creating “world class, iconic art that will attract tourists” is like catching lightning in a bottle—nearly impossible. The world and our city is littered with failed and divisive art projects. We believe there are other places that are more appropriate to take the risk of an ordinary or divisive piece of art. Further, we believe that a true gift to the City would mean buying the land needed for the project rather than taking land from the park system, compelling neighborhoods of modest means to give up access to parkland in order to receive a “gift” subsidized by the city.

We urge the Council reject the site analysis and ask the proponents to fully fund their gift by compensating the City for all expenses and by buying a site rather than taking parkland from a park deficient area.

Sincerely, /s/

Jean Dresden
San Jose Parks Advocates