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Tuesday, May 8, 2007

San Ramon Facing Downtown Envy Disease

The Antiplanner Perspective On The San Ramon City Center

From The Thoreau Institute, a non-profit organization that seeks ways to protect the environment without big government.

The following quotes are from an article written on The Antiplanner website looking at the San Ramon City Center plan.

But the city is suffering from an acute case of "downtown envy," a disease the strikes many Sun Belt cities. Many people, including most urban planners, think that a city can’t be a real city unless it has a distinctive downtown or city center. But in today's automobile age, developers no longer build distinctive city centers, so cities that have grown up since 1945 often feel they have to subsidize them.

The article goes on to ask the tough question. Why does San Ramon need a downtown?

At the city council meeting that first heard Mehran's proposal, someone testified that San Ramon "needs a downtown." Why? San Ramon is not a pedestrian-oriented city like Berkeley — yet it is hard to really find a downtown even in Berkeley. It is not a streetcar city like Los Angeles — yet Los Angeles only has a downtown because of huge subsidies and lobbying from downtown property owners.

Anyone that has gone through the intersection of Bollinger and Alcosta Blvd. in the morning or evening commute has to wonder, do we really need more density in this particular area?

Yet I have to wonder if San Ramon needs more density. Thanks to environmental demands that all available greenspaces be kept green, San Ramon's population density has already increased to 4,400 per square mile, which is pretty high considering all the land that is in office parks. Mehran's proposal will just add to the density, which will add to the congestion. Mehran himself lives in San Francisco, so he probably doesn't mind density, but many San Ramon residents are not too keen on the idea.

Alex Mehran, of Sunset Development Company, is the developer that is leading the charge on this downtown center plan. Accordingly, "Mehran's vision in 1978 was that San Francisco was too expensive and too congested and so many companies would want to locate in a suburb that was relatively free of congestion." Now, Mehran and the City Council want to turn that San Ramon vision into a nightmare of congestion, and high rise densities like that of Concord, with eight-story office high-rises. Furthermore, Mehran wants to have a major upscale shopping anchor for the downtown center. But, no upscale department store has yet committed to the downtown plan. What happens if no upscale department store is found to anchor a downtown plan?

Maybe, the San Ramon Council needs to step back and really ask themselves if this "downtown envy" is good for San Ramon. The questions that must be addressed are: Do we want more traffic? Do we want higher densities? Do we want 8-story office high-rises?

Read the complete article:
Anti-Town Planning #2: San Ramon City Center

Would also like to thank The Harper Team for forwarding the article to us.

Feel free to email us information or links that might prove insightful to this topic or other city topics.

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