San Carlos Transit Village Impacts on Greater East San Carlos and Suggested Mitigations and Benefits:
A Letter from GESC for Urgent Delivery to Consultants Performing Draft Environmental Impact Report
Dear Mr. Savay and Ms. Nelson,
The North East San Carlos (NESC) Neighborhood, the northern sub-area of the Greater East San Carlos neighborhood, will be heavily impacted by the San Carlos Transit Village as a result of the currently proposed height of these structures and other impacts we will discuss. The Greater East San Carlos (GESC) Neighborhood Association has put together a letter detailing potential impacts of the San Carlos Transit Village project as well as a list of requested mitigations and benefits to offset these impacts. We would like to see all of our points detailed in the Draft Environmental Impact Report and are currently concerned that our viewpoints are not being adequately detailed in this document at this point. We would like to kindly request a letter or email from you stating that the GESC Letter has been delivered to the consultants doing the Draft Environmental Impact Report.
Legend: The following is a legend that explains key abbreviations to subjects discussed in this letter:
- GESC: Greater East San Carlos and/or Greater East San Carlos Neighborhood Association
- SCTV: San Carlos Transit Village
- OCR: Old County Road
- NESC: NorthEast San Carlos (The neighborhood North of Holly on OCR, Springfield, Sylvan, Inverness, Riverton, Northwood, and Fairfield)
- SESC: Southeast San Carlos (The neighborhood South of Holly Street including Laureola Park, Bayport, McCue, Montgomery, Hall, and Cherry Streets)
As stated previously, the building of the San Carlos Transit Village will result in major impacts on Greater East San Carlos. The following section describes the impacts on the NorthEast San Carlos neighborhood that the San Carlos Transit Village will have if built in its current form:
View: The view of the San Carlos and Belmont Hills can be seen throughout the North East San Carlos Neighborhood. According to former City Manager Mike Garvey “a special compact berm was built by the City of San Carlos at an increased cost with the specific purpose of preserving the view for GESC residents”. The current plan for a 46-foot structure of walls will “delete” the view of the hills for our entire neighborhood. Views constitute an extraordinarily important part of property values. The deletion of this view represents potential “harm” in terms of damages.
Project Height: Height is by far recognized as the biggest issue for residents in our neighborhood as it will directly adversely impact our quality of life. No single family neighborhood wants excessively tall buildings right next to it. The height of these buildings next to the single family homes on Old County Road is unprecedented along the El Camino corridor. The planned 46 foot height of these buildings will not only block our view, but lead to a number of issues identified below. As part of the alternatives considered in the Draft EIR we’d like to see consideration for increased density along either side of Holly Street, where there are no single family residents directly across OCR from the project, and the height of residential structures proposed north of Holly to be reduced to no higher than 3 stories. We would also like to see alternatives suggested for other lower density land uses be considered. We want to request to see the EIR acknowledge that the proposed housing location as proposed by SCTV is not the only transit oriented development possible near the CalTrain station, nor is the density as proposed the only possible way to improve these lands. Concerns about the height of the proposed structures were identified as a major concern in the Railroad Land Use Plan completed in 2002. It is recognized that this development will require the city to make a General Plan redesignation, and Zoning to change to allow the density as proposed by Legacy.
Privacy: Because of the proposed heights of the buildings and associated windows on these buildings, Old County Road homeowners will lose key privacy in their yards. Homeowners have invested tens of thousands of dollars fixing up their homes and yards and will lose this privacy with this project overlooking their yards. The height of the project may also enable viewing into the yards of the first set of houses along Springfield, Sylvan, Inverness, and Riverton Drives.
Separation: By building large buildings on the other side of the berm, SCTV further walls off Greater East San Carlos from the rest of town, which was significantly separated when the berm was constructed 10 years ago. This separation creates an “us and them” mentality. It’s obvious to GESC residents that the power lines placed in OCR sidewalks prohibiting ADA access and unresolved for ten years is a condition that would never have been allowed to occur in West San Carlos. The lack of safe, well-marked crosswalks and connectivity of the NorthEast San Carlos neighborhood to the project further isolates the community. It stands to reason for example that Transit Village residents will want to access Laureola Park and businesses along Old County Road and Holly Street, so this separation is bad for everyone.
Noise: When the berm was built in the mid-1990s, the GESC neighborhood was told by the “experts” doing the EIR that there would be no additional noise as a result of the grade separation. There turned out to be nothing further from the truth. The grade separation has dramatically increased noise further east of residents along Old County Road throughout the GESC Neighborhood compared to an at-grade crossing. We believe there will be an increase in noise from the planned project because of bounce-back noise created when the train noise hits the high 46 foot walls of the SCTV and creates amplified noise impact 24/7 throughout Greater East San Carlos. Because of our prior history of inaccurate acoustic studies, we are worried that another noise increase will just be passed off on the GESC neighborhood.
Vibration: Again, when the existing berm was constructed 10 years ago, GESC residents were told that there would be no vibrations from the raising of the berm. In fact, homes near the berm have suffered cracks in their walls from the train since the berm was raised. We are uncertain exactly how a 46-foot building, and another future berm and additional 200 daily high speed rail trips will impact vibrations to the GESC Neighborhood.
Traffic: The in-flow of approximately 500 new cars into an already impacted Holly Street and El Camino Real will slow traffic, particularly as PAMF is finalized at Holly Street and Industrial. The City’s solution will likely be to widen Holly Street and take away parts of Holly Street homeowners’ front yards. This is another example of GESC bearing the full impact of the SCTV project without any benefit to the GESC Neighborhood.
Parking: We are concerned about the 1.6 parking spaces proposed as opposed to 2 as required by every other residential development in the City per 2 or 3 bedroom apartment, which will likely push ongoing parking demand into our residential neighborhood. Since the berm was created, SESC has experienced more CalTrain-related parking in its neighborhood.
Sunlight: The sun will set sooner in NESC because of the shade created by the San Carlos Transit Village. We believe that the sun will set up to an hour sooner on residences along Old County Road as a result of this 46-foot project. We would like to see studies that say otherwise.
East Side Park Crowding: An additional up to 1,000 people from SCTV will soon Laureola Park as their closest park. Laureola Park is a tiny park that serves the entire East Side and no other park is available in Greater East San Carlos. The city has developed a new Park Master Plan that recommends a number of future improvements including new playgrounds to meet current safety standards, a replaced Community building, and expanded park acreage. To date, we have heard of no proposed park fees that will go towards improvements in Laureola Park specifically. We do not want to see another situation such as the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s $1 million in park funds go to fund west side ball field improvements which provide no benefits to GESC residents. There needs to be a nexus between impacts and mitigations/benefits in Greater East San Carlos.
Property Values: As a result of all of the aforementioned issue, the final problem, according to our appraiser, is property value. We are generating estimates of the net negative impact of this development on our property values. GESC residents will expect to be reimbursed for lost property values suffered as a result of this project in conjunction with the proposed high speed rail. The City also stands to lose in property taxes from the GESC neighborhood as appraised values reflect any loss in value caused by this project.
The following is a list of suggested mitigations for the SCTV project. These mitigations will help reduce the impact to the NESC neighborhood. In our discussion, we have tried to assess the level of possible impact. Since mitigations will not reduce the impact of the project on NESC to zero, we are also asking for benefits in the following section as part of the project.
Landscaping Plan (Urban Forest): As previously requested in writing to the City, SamTrans and Legacy Partners, the GESC neighborhood is interested in a Landscaping Plan that will create multiple layers of landscaping between the project and the neighborhood. The first layer would involve working with the City/Redevelopment Agency to plant trees along an improved east side of Old County Road (this may involve removing some parking spaces, undergrounding utilities, creation of a bike path and shrinking the width of the road). The second layer would replace the existing trees on the berm on the west side of Old County road east of the railroad tracks with larger-sized trees. The third layer would be planted just west of the tracks on the berm adjacent to proposed high speed rail tracks, and the last layer will be on the edge of the proposed housing development itself. We would like the Landscaping Plan (including types and size of trees, irrigation plans and maintenance plans) to be well defined in the Draft EIR We understand Legacy Partners has agreed to put in 2 of the 4 requested layers of trees, but we would like the city to require the remaining two layers. We feel that it is wrong that Legacy Partners is selling the 2 layers of trees as a “benefit” to our neighborhood when the layers are only mitigations and are only half of what we asked for. While GESC views the urban forest as an important mitigation, we also believe the row of trees on the Eastern side of OCR next to the houses, would serve as a benefit. By placing trees in the road at this point, discrete parking spaces between the trees would be created that would slow down traffic and protect cars and people from accidents often experienced when speeding cars crash into parked cars on OCR. We have witnessed 2 such accidents in 2009 alone when parked cars were clipped.
Traffic: Since the project is called San Carlos Transit Village and is supposed to be a model Transit Village, all possible avenues should be utilized to encourage the residents of the SCTV to use mass transit. Nothing to date suggests that any effort is being made to give these new residents transit options other than its proximity to the CalTrain station. Transit options for the current residents should also be increased including more trains that stop in San Carlos and the availability of train passes or discounts for residents. Many possibilities exist and SamTrans is aware of them.
Noise: The neighborhood expects to see a plan that involves ways to decrease noise from passing trains for residents enjoying their yards (i.e. if electrification, a defined timetable when this will occur, and the impact of the height and visible impact of the electrical lines should be addressed). Also since there is a real potential for a future high-speed train (the vote recently passed), the cumulative effect of any possible future high-speed train noise should be concurrently evaluated in the EIR as part of the project. To see an example of a successful noise impact mediation program involving residential development we suggest contacting Dave Carbone with the Airport Community Roundtable who works on noise mitigation of homes and businesses around the San Francisco Airport. He can be reached at 650 363-4417. We’d also like to go on record that GESC’s position is we are interested in a net reduction of current noise impacts including those potentially occurring from the proposed project and high speed rail so as not to require residents to live in hermetically sealed homes with large noise impacts 24/7 the minute they walk out of their front or back doors.
View Corridors: View corridors are a mitigation that has been suggested by Legacy Partners as a means of securing partial views of the San Carlos/Belmont Hills for GESC residents. GESC does not believe these view corridors will allow residents to see much of the hills, particularly from houses on Old County Road and houses on any main NorthEast San Carlos Streets within 10 houses of Old County Road. We believe this is a marketing term that offers limited mitigation in spite of the name’s fancy sound. Nonetheless, view corridors are better than one continuous wall, so we prefer them to no view corridors.
To offset the harm, here are some of the benefits we are expecting:
Improvements to Old County Road: Replace sidewalks and underground utilities on Old County from Brittan to Harbor. As part of raising the tracks, utilities from west of Old County were moved under the sidewalks on the East side of Old County and haphazardly patched leaving multiple levels of concrete. When you combine this with the existing telephone poles located in the middle of the sidewalk, the large number of posted signs in the sidewalk itself and the failure of the public works department to repair crumbling sidewalks and curbs, it leaves GESC with a sidewalk that is difficult for the elderly, people with strollers and the handicapped to navigate as well as a challenge for the average individual. We understand the Redevelopment Agency is funding a Pedestrian/Bike Plan evaluating sidewalk, bike and crosswalk improvements along Old County Road between Harbor to Brittan, which should provide guidance to future improvements including undergrounding of utilities.
Holly Street Intersection Crosswalk Project: Improve Holly Street intersection to match (pavers) planned for Holly / El Camino, San Carlos Ave. / El Camino and the Old County Street Crossing from the train station. With the new development more individuals will be crossing into and out of our neighborhood. Currently, the entire NESC neighborhood is required to cross a busy intersection with poorly demarcated crosswalks in order to go to the Train Station, El Camino Real, or Downtown San Carlos. How is it that paver crosswalks are planned for everywhere else other than the affected neighborhood in NorthEast San Carlos? This is incredibly frustrating to us.
East Side Parks: Park Mitigation fees for increased use by up to 1000 new residents should pay for park improvements in Laureola Park as identified in the City’s Park Master Plan since Laureola is the Park closest to the new development and is likely to be the most impacted by the throng of new residents.
San Carlos Transportation Plan and Holly Street Improvement: The Holly Street entrance into San Carlos has become a parking lot at different times of the day as traffic moves in and out of San Carlos. A recent study being conducted by the City is attempting to develop alternatives to widening Holly Street and taking away the front yards of GESC Residents. With the additional impact of new residents moving to the San Carlos Transit Village, there is even more urgency to develop alternatives routes to enter into San Carlos.
We have detailed the impacts of the SCTV Project and have listed mitigations to these impacts as well as benefits that could help offset these impacts. We fully anticipate that the City will take an impartial view of this development in the context of overall impacts and improvements to the quality of life of all of who work and live San Carlos including GESC residents. We therefore look forward to seeing our issues integrated into the Draft Environmental Document being prepared for the City, SamTrans and Legacy Partners.
Ben Fuller, President, GESC Board, Sam Herzberg, GESC Board, Tim Hilborn, GESC Board, Paul Magginetti, GESC Board, Richard Peterson, GESC Board, Jim Vick, GESC Board
cc: Bob Grassilli, City Council and Mayor, Matt Grocott, City Council, Omar Ahmad, City Council, Randy Royce, City Council, Brad Lewis, City Council, Brian Fitzpatrick, SamTrans, Jess Couch, Legacy Partners