San José Grand Vision Sustainability Plan

By Bruce Naegel  September 2017

The Grand Vision

San José is working on a grand vision sustainability plan  integrated with the San Jose 2040 Master Plan.  Business consultant PWC (Price Waterhouse Cooper) leads this effort. Relevant to this discussion, PWC brings the experience of crafting sustainability plans for Los Angeles and New York City.

PWC and San Jose started Interaction with the public on this Grand Vision Sustainability plan in April.  On August 21, PWC presented the plan a City Council study session.It was an active session, As a result, the study session ran for 3.5 hours instead of the scheduled 2.5 hours.

The Grand Vision Sustainability plan is still a work in process.  The plan provides ambitious goals and strategy.  PWC and San Jose plan to share the implementation (and measurement / enforcement plans) in 2018.

The Actual Slide Presentation

You will find A link to this slide presentation  below. This article highlights specific slides of interest in the text and in a list at the end of the article.


The Focus of the Plan is Paris.

The San Jose sustainability plan references SB 32, AB 32 and the executive orders addressing climate change. However, the limits highlighted in Paris are the ones the plan ties to (#ParisAgreement).  The Paris Accord is the goal of the 365 #climate mayors.  Slide 40 shows the pathway to Paris.

San Jose’s Sources of GHG:

San Jose is starting out with a 2017 baseline for their GHG as 6.7 mT C02e. The petroleum used for transport contributes 3.8 mT C02e or 57%.   Residential contributes 0.9 mT C02e or 13%. Commercial and Industrial contribute 1.3 mT C02e (19%).  (Slide 13)

GHG Graph
Sources of GHG for Santa Clara County 2015


The top of the list is transportation. That means more mass transit, electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles cycling and walking. We need to decrease the number of single occupancy vehicles.

VTA 522 Bus
VTA 522 Express Bus serving El Camino
Electric Caltrain
Electrified CalTrain Artist Rendering
Google Autonomous Vheicle
Google’s cautonomous electric care with millions of test miles


Carbon Neutral Electricity:

Carbon Neutral Electricity provides the first step to  a carbon neutral environment is carbon neutral electricity. One can then use that clean power to power almost everything. San Jose will have carbon neutral electricity in 2021 thanks to their CCE San Jose Community  Energy.

Cost Benefit Analysis for Reducing Carbon

Starting on Slide 24, the presentation provides e cost benefit analyses of removing carbon. The x axis on the graph represents the amount of C02e saved. The Y axis (on a log scale) represents the cost per ton to reduce carbon. This allows one to choose the order of implementation to be cost effective.   Note the Y axis has a log scale.

Many Elements are Needed to get to the Paris goal

The chart on page 32 lists sustainability plan elements and how they fit together. Moving to sustainable requires a combination of elements.

High Density Housing and Quality of Life Benefits:

The start of the PWC plan was to ask what people wanted in their community. Having to drive less and being closer to work were all viewed as being life benefits. High density housing and integrated transport will help enable these benefits.

High Density Housing and Mass Transit.

High density housing makes mass transit work well. The higher the density of housing, the more often mass transit can run. Mass transit that runs every 5 minutes is much more appealing than running every 30 minutes. Eventually mass transit becomes the transit of choice since it gets s one there faster than any other method.

Transportation i contributes the most to San Jose’s GHG level. One needs to go beyond just greening the electricity supply.  Reducing GHG further requires powering all energy consuming devices with carbon neutral electricity.   So, greening the transportation system is not enough. We need to move to urban centers which limit the amount of GHG.  Work needs to be near housing and accessible by mass transit.

Ron Diridon’ and MTI have provided plans to build new housing on top of transit stops. . Building on top of transit stops means using existing land. It also means transit is built in.

Transit Village
Ron Diridon Presentation on Transit Villsge


Land Use and the Plan:

CARB (California Air Resources Board) lists agricultural and natural land use as an important component of any plan. Plants are the main natural facility for sequestering carbon.  Increasing the density of existing structures means more open land can be left as open land for more plants.

Open Land Discussion:

The current San Jose Environmental Sustainability Plan does not contain sections on land use and allocation. These are part of the General Plan. There were about 10 citizen groups that came up to highlight the importance of open land use to capture water during floods.  Preserving open and working lands also addresses species and habitat preservation.

A major component in the discussion is the Coyote Creek properties. While the city owns some part of this open space, most of it was sold to a developer. If San Jose tries to stop development, a $100 M lawsuit will be involved.  What can be done is to negotiate with the property owner for more favorable terms on habitat preservations.

The Plan Includes Reducing Water Use

The Bay Area needs to recognize we will not get more water in the future. We will be lucky to have the same level of water supply in the future as we have now. We need to reduce water consumption over time and the goal is a 30% reduction in per capita use. This needs to be done while San Jose’s population grows.

Next Steps:

The draft strategic plan will be completed in October 2008. The implementation plan is due in 2018. (See Slide 63).


Slide 3:                 How the sustainability plans fit with the general plan
Slide 13                Sources of C02
Slide 14:              C02e estimated emissions with various scenarios
Slide 17:              Word cloud listing desirable neighborhood characteristics
Slide 19:              The 53 key climate measures
Slides 24-31:       Cost effectiveness of various climate measures
Slide 32                Putting the measures together to achieve Paris goals.
Slides 34-39        Pillars, strategies and playbooks
Slide 40                Paris Compliant Pathway
Slides 41-46        Electrification
Slides 50-54        Planning for Urban Villages
Slide 56                Lowering  water use by 30% (per household)
Page 61                Community Networks
Page 63                Timetable