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Cisco Means Sprawl

by Gary A. Patton

The Mercury News says, "Cisco is good for San Jose" (Editorial, September 17, 2000). That's true only if "good" is defined solely by the project's potential to generate revenue. As a tax generator, the Cisco project is a winner. At the same time, it perpetuates a pattern of urban sprawl that is undermining the quality of our environment, and that is damaging the foundations of our economy and the integrity of our family and community life. This is not "good for San Jose." In fact, saying that something is "good" for San Jose, when it demonstrably damages the region of which San Jose is a part, represents a major failure of analysis. As approved by the City Planning Commission, the Cisco project will damage the quality of life in this region, and San Jose's quality of life will be undermined, too. I urge an alternative approach, which is good for everyone.

Make no mistake; Cisco represents a massive example of destructive urban sprawl. We all know what constitutes sprawl. It's a type of development that radically separates jobs from housing, so that workers are compelled to drive long distances to find a home they can afford. Those commutes not only lead to traffic gridlock and air pollution; they destroy the integrity of family and community life. When workers spend from two to four hours each day just getting to work and back, they have little time left for themselves, for their family, or for their community. We all know that this pattern of destructive sprawl is now characteristic of the Silicon Valley, and is making life more and more intolerable. Ultimately, it will even undermine the economy, for at some point, when the lack of close-in, affordable housing means that workers can no longer be attracted and retained, business will go elsewhere.

There could be no clearer example than the Cisco project. While it may be within a designated "urban growth boundary," the proposed Cisco campus is on the very periphery of current activity centers, and will create 20,000 jobs, yet not one new home. All of its housing demand is going to be "exported." Cisco workers will have to find housing wherever they can--and where they can afford it. Whether they look north or south, or into the Central Valley, they will be driving to work, filling up the 22,000 parking spaces that are part of the project. Cisco will make a massive addition to the urban sprawl problem that is afflicting us today.

An alternative approach can help stop sprawl. When new jobs are created, we need to create nearby housing at the same time. If we have not done this in the past, we've had an excuse. Most of the jobs within the Silicon Valley are created in relatively small increments. It's hard (though not impossible) to ask small employers, who are creating jobs in batches of five, or fifty, to see that nearby housing is constructed as new jobs are brought on line. But Cisco is not a small company, creating only a few jobs. Cisco is one of the largest and most successful businesses in the world. It is proposing to develop a site of over 600 acres, immediately adjacent to other open space. There is no reason that Cisco shouldn't build housing as part of its project. In fact, building such housing would be good for Cisco. Employers are already having trouble attracting and retaining employees, because of spiraling housing costs and long commutes. There is room right "on campus" for Cisco to build housing for many of its workers, and what a great way to attract and retain the very best!

Using models that have proven their attractiveness and suitability throughout the United States, including in California, Cisco could provide 3500 new housing units on 93 acres--and that land is available on site, as part of their development. This is the new approach we need--putting jobs and housing together--and we need to start with Cisco. Unless the City requires Cisco to provide housing, the Cisco project will not be "good" for San Jose--or for any of the rest of us, either.

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