On Wednesday I’ll be at the San Jose Planning Commission hearing at City Hall at 6:30. From all indications, so will numerous Earthquakes fans who have been patiently waiting for a final “yes” vote for construction to begin on the 18,000-seat, soccer-specific stadium near Mineta Airport.
At the end of 2011, a resident from the nearby Newhall neighborhood appealed the granting of a building permit on the grounds that environmental issues such as noise and light pollution were not adequately addressed. That forced the project to go under another (hopefully final) review to determine if the design of the stadium, including the shape of the bowl and roof, would properly protect the residents of Newhall.
Newhall is actually split in two by Caltrain. The bulk of it lies southwest of the tracks and extends to The Alameda and Park Avenue, close to Santa Clara University. The resident who filed the appeal appears to be from the area across the tracks, where multiple high density developments have been built in the last decade or so. The smaller part of Newhall is hemmed in by the heavily used railroad tracks to the west, I-880 to the east, and the airport to the north, That area is an odd place for any kind of neighborhood. It’s right next to the landing approach to the airport. It’s zoned Heavy Industrial and for decades was right next to the FMC plant, which was closed and bought by the City before it was resold (an option at least) to Lew Wolff and partners for a stadium/commercial development. The neighborhood is so small that when looking at it from an aerial photo, it appears that it could fit inside the Lowe’s store that opened nearby a couple years ago.
Getting back to the appeal, here’s what City staff wrote was the gist (warning – 9 MB PDF):
The Appellant states “The applicant has not met the burden of proof that the design complies with the EIR, because the noise and light impacts of the proposed stadium have not been properly simulated” and requests additional analysis. The Appellant specifically identifies a “large open-air gap between the top of the stands and the roof structure” as a change to the stadium design that was not adequately analyzed and requests that the stadium design be changed to enclose this area. The Appellant also requests that the Permit prohibit artificial noisemakers, such as vuvuzelas and other horns, within the stadium and in stadium parking areas, and also prohibit distribution of such devices by the operator. An updated Noise Report (attached) has been provided in response to the issues raised in the Appeal.
And the response:
The updated Noise Report clarifies that the currently proposed stadium design would not generate noise levels greater than those studied and disclosed in the project EIR because: 1) the current proposal has an amount of open area comparable to the stadium which was used as the basis for analysis in the EIR (the Home Depot Center in Los Angeles); 2) minor proposed changes to the stadium design are either comparable or beneficial in terms of the stadium’s overall potential for noise generation; and 3) the proposed stadium would only have 2/3 of the seating capacity of the analyzed stadium, thereby reducing the potential for noise generated by people attending the soccer games. As part of this discussion, the Report clarifies that changes to the stadium design include the overall reduction in size and height, due to the decreased capacity, reorientation of the open end of the stadium away from the residential neighborhood, and the addition of a small roof structure above the stadium seating area. The updated Report concludes that as a result of these changes the current stadium design would have the potential to generate noise impacts consistent with or less than those analyzed in the project EIR.
The Appeal raises the concern that a “gap” between the stadium seating and roof structure, which did not existing in the prior design, would result in potential light impacts upon the residential neighborhood. As noted above, the stadium design analyzed in the EIR did not include a roof structure. The addition of this roof and the reduction of the overall stadium height should help to reduce potential noise and light levels emanating form the stadium. All of the proposed stadium lights would be oriented downward toward the playing field and located either underneath the roof structure, or, at the open end of the field furthest from the residential neighborhood, on a free-standing pole that would not be taller than the stadium structure. Therefore, given for the proposed stadium design the distance of separation to the residential neighborhood, the height of the stadium lights, and the shielding of those lights by the stadium structure, the stadium lights would not have an impact upon the residential neighborhood. Other structures to be built on the adjoining and intervening properties, including facilities related to the BART (and possibly the high-speed rail) projects, would further screen the stadium from the residential neighborhood.
In short, the City is arguing that noise pollution would be the same as or less than those studied at Home Depot Center, especially because the planned stadium is smaller. In doing so, noise levels would be deemed acceptable, allowing the project to move forward. The Appellant argued that the gap between the roof would cause noise to leak out of the stadium and into the surrounding neighborhood. The stadium’s horseshoe shape was designed to channel crowd and PA noise out of the open end, the northeast side closest to the airport. The roof, which is tight to the rim of the stadium, is supposed to assist with this. The lights are tucked under the roof, which should limit light leakage.
All things considered, I think the Earthquakes and 360 architecture have made great pains to conceive a stadium that would have minimal impact on area residents (though it should be mentioned that the CEQA process is about much more than impacting residents). The project should be approved. The issues identified by the appeal aren’t unique to the situation. Measures being taken to restrict noisemaking devices such as horns or vuvuzelas will help a ton. Beyond that there isn’t much more the team can do. If noise really does leak out of the gap, the team could easily wrap the gap in long vinyl panels. I’d prefer they didn’t do this as the gap helps airflow during the summer. The time has come to stop studying and start building. Let’s get the Quakes the home they’ve deserved for so long.
P.S. – If you read the staff report, including the chronology of events, you’ll notice that the process looks somewhat similar to how the Diridon ballpark EIR was approved. When a complete San Jose ballpark concept is submitted by the A’s, you can expect similar treatment, except in the A’s case the stakes are far higher and the impacts potentially greater.