Google plans to build a large campus in San Jose in the coming years and a boom in downtown development. The fight for the construction of taller buildings near the airport is raging.
The City Council is due to vote this month on the opportunity to change the height limits of the building near Diridon Station and the heart of downtown. According to the city's economic development bureau, higher buildings would yield millions of dollars in taxes every year and help revitalize a city that has long been known for its urban sprawl. The buildings, they say, will allow more office space and housing, as well as shops and restaurants. The main airport managers, as well as development enthusiasts and business groups, have agreed.
But for the first time in recent memory, the city's Airport Commission has broken with airport staff, implying that the decision could relegate Mineta San Jose International Airport to a regional airport and cause tragic accidents. .
"From a safety point of view, it's almost unfathomable," said Raymond Greenlee, a long-time Delta pilot and airport commissioner. "I think, unfortunately, money will talk."
But airport officials have refuted these accusations.
"We would not recommend anything dangerous," said Judy Ross, deputy director of aviation for San Jose, at a meeting of the San Jose Downtown Association on Friday morning.
City and airport officials support Scenario 4, which would allow buildings to be 5 to 35 feet taller in the downtown core and 70 to 150 feet taller around Diridon Station.
The Federal Aviation Administration has a series of guidelines to protect the airspace around the airport. Whatever the actions undertaken by the city, these must be respected. Separately, each airline has its own procedure for knowing what to do in case of an emergency and if one of the engines of an airplane breaks down: a broken engine or OEI. If this happens, planes must be able to climb high enough to avoid obstacles, turn around and land. From now on, airlines can use two corridors – one on the city center and one on the Diridon area – in case of emergency. With taller buildings in the area, airlines should make some adjustments, such as carrying fewer passengers or freight or less fuel.
For the city, it's an economic problem. And while higher buildings can reduce, for example, the viability of long-haul flights to and from Asia, this is a compromise that managers are willing to make.
"We are not supposed to compete with San Francisco, which has a significant international market," Ross said at a committee meeting late in January.
In the end, some airlines may have to overturn passengers – which would involve providing hotel and food checks – or upgrade their planes.
Councilman Johnny Khamis said he was concerned about the possible loss of international connections.
To offset the losses of the airlines, Ross suggested, San Jose could set up a locally-funded program run by a group such as a chamber of commerce.
"It's good urban planning," said Kim Walesh, the city's director of economic development, in a recent telephone interview.
Especially around Diridon, the change could generate about 8.6 million square feet of new developments and generate billions of dollars in construction. And, insist the officials, there is no difference in security.
But several commissioners are concerned that high-rise buildings pose a higher risk of accidents. They approved scenario 10B, which preserves some of the current OEI procedures and allows slightly taller buildings near Diridon, but not downtown.
"We are human beings and humans make mistakes," Greenlee said.
He is also concerned that the city is complying with Google's wishes. In 2007, the city studied height limits and decided not to allow high-rise buildings. But this time, as they revisit the idea of raising the height limits, the city hired a consultant to conduct a new study on the potential impact. According to information notes for Mayor Sam Liccardo obtained by this news agency, the city coordinated "regularly" with Google and an OEI consultant that the company hired itself.
Then last summer, the city approved an agreement with Google, the technology company paying $ 1.33 million to the city to cover the staff, consultants and other costs associated with their development and development project. planning for the Diridon station area. According to the agreement, an opportunity to spend $ 100,000 of these funds concerned an OEI consultant.
However, said Walesh, "The city did not actually use any of Google's money back funds to cover the expenses associated with the recent airport height study; the study was fully funded by the airport funds. "
Google has not responded to a request for comment on the funds.
City Mayor Sam Liccardo, a city councilor in 2007, said the idea that Google alone had convinced the city to consider changing current height limits was "false".
The decision not to allow the construction of higher buildings in the mid-2000s, he continued, was economic. At the time, the airport was in a precarious financial situation and forcing airlines to rethink their policies on OEI could have caused major airlines to abandon their connections with San Jose. Today, it is unlikely.
And the mayor said: "having a pilot license does not give anyone the know-how necessary to cancel the in-depth analysis undertaken by the FAA" and other industry experts.
Ross Aimer, retired pilot of United Airlines and CEO of Aero Consulting Experts, said San Jose should learn about the results obtained by other cities before continuing. In San Diego, he said, a large covered car park located near the airport has proved problematic.
"The pilots complained," said Aimer. "It makes it very difficult."