Silicon Valley: ‘Proud parent’ on Google transit village’s potential
The Silicon Valley Leadership Group has chalked up notable accomplishments with Carl Guardino at the helm of the organization. Construction of a new freeway extension, Highway 85, where none existed between south San Jose and Mountain View. Financing to bring BART into Santa Clara County. The electrification of Caltrain. Funding for housing construction.
Yet Guardino, who took over in 1997 as CEO of the leadership group, remains restless, decades after the organization was launched in 1977 at a Palo Alto lunch spearheaded by legendary tech entrepreneur and mogul David Packard. The leadership group has, from the start, sought to exorcise what Guardino dubs “the twin demons” of housing shortages and traffic jams.
Despite numerous successes, those two problems, linked together in a negative loop, still bedevil Santa Clara County. San Jose continues to build far more housing than neighbors such as Santa Clara, Cupertino, Sunnyvale, Mountain View and Palo Alto. Those smaller cities prefer to bet on development of offices and research centers for the booming Silicon Valley tech industry.
Despite new freeways, upgraded expressways and far-reaching transit improvements, traffic has steadily worsened and home prices have soared to record levels.
Nevertheless, the leadership group’s relentless push to create more mass transit in the South Bay leaves Diridon Station poised to be a major transit hub for this part of the nation. The aging transit complex already is a hub for Caltrain, Amtrak, the ACE Train and light rail. Plus, BART will build a stop to serve Diridon Station. And eventually, high-speed bullet trains could stop there, linking the Bay Area with the Central Valley, and eventually, Los Angeles.
These Diridon Station connections could pay off in nothing short of a game-changer for downtown San Jose. Mountain View-based Google and its development ally Trammell Crow have been busy collecting properties in an aging industrial and retail district near the Diridon train station and SAP Center. Google is laying the foundation to create a vast transit-oriented development that some call a Google village, where 15,000 to 20,000 Googlers might work in 8 million to 10 million square feet of offices.
We talked to Guardino, chief executive officer of Silicon Valley Leadership Group, about the challenges and opportunities facing Santa Clara County, and how the Google tech campus in downtown San Jose fits into all of that.
Q: How does the proposed Google village tie into the leadership group’s accomplishments?
A: Seeing the potential for 20,000 Google workers — high-skilled, high-wage Google jobs at and near Diridon Station — is like being a proud parent upon your baby’s delivery day.
Q: Is that because the train station has been a key piece of your efforts?
A: The leadership group has invested two decades to make Diridon Station one of the strongest transit stations in the western United States. It will only be successful if it leads to transit-oriented development at its full potential. As the organization that has led all the efforts to provide such a rich rail and bus transit environment at Diridon, to realize that a company such as Google sees the quality and potential of Diridon Station is quite rewarding.
Q: What are biggest challenges before the Google village can become a reality?
A: The fear that I and others have is one that well-meaning interest groups, or even elected officials, will treat Google like a cash cow rather than a respected partner. If the cash cow approach, the idea that Google should somehow pay for everyone’s wish list of ideas, then San Jose runs the risk that it will snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Q: If the obstacles are overcome, what could be the benefits for the South Bay?
A: The opportunities are almost limitless. One, up to 20,000 high-tech jobs. Two, the incredible tax base provided to San Jose through those jobs. Three, a transit-oriented development that will maximize taxpayers’ investments in Diridon Station. Four, a robust strengthening of downtown San Jose, including its restaurants and shops for decades to come.
Q: What is the leadership group’s role in the ongoing project at Diridon Station?
A: The group has played the key private-sector role in making Diridon an attractive place for development. We have led four successful transportation sales tax campaigns that will generate $15 billion, including bringing BART to Diridon Station, as well as electrified and modernized Caltrain service, as well as the Altamont Commuter Express, or ACE Train. By 2025, we could see electrified Caltrain, BART and high-speed rail at Diridon.
Q: What would be the overall effect of all these trains feeding into Diridon?
A: All combined, it would be 600 trains a day into Diridon Station by 2025. That is an environment ripe for a forward-thinking company like Google that is committed to the community and commuting alternatives.
Q: Have transit villages finally come into vogue?
A: Yes, the concept of transit villages is more and more a reality. People would rather trade their stalled car for a rail car whenever possible. They just get on one train and they will see the difference.
Q: How stark are those differences?
A: Sometime in the next nine months or so, the first segment of our BART extensions will come to San Jose. That trip from north San Jose to downtown San Francisco will be 61 minutes on BART. I ask you, when was the last time you could travel from San Jose to downtown San Francisco in 61 minutes? And on BART it will be a consistent 61 minutes, not the two hours or longer that it can take now when you drive.
Q: Despite your best efforts, housing prices continue to rise. What’s going on here?
A: The main reason, unequivocally, that housing costs have skyrocketed is supply and demand. We have 101 cities in the nine counties. Almost none of these cities are willing to to build homes while almost all of them are willing to add jobs with new office developments. Jobs require a place to go sleep at night. We need more cities to play the positive role that San Jose has traditionally taken in recognizing that families and workers need homes. Yes, let’s welcome jobs. But cities, we need you to also welcome homes for workers and their families.
Q: Why is the traffic getting steadily worse, despite all your transportation-improvement successes?
A: It’s funny that we can live in a region defined by how bad traffic is. If we have more communities providing opportunities to build more homes than jobs, that will allow more people to live closer to their jobs. That shrinks the distance and the time of the commute. If we can create more transit villages that place more jobs and homes near transit, that will take stress off our highways, streets and roads.
Q: What factors make the leadership group different from yet another public-private partnership?
A: Our mission has never been solely about employers. This has always been about the balance that Mr. Packard championed. To be successful, companies must contribute equally to our communities and the quality of life for our employees and their families.
Q: What else differentiates you from other groups?
A: We get things done. We don’t just whine about the problems. We create winning solutions. We are an organization that puts our wallets where our words are. This is for the benefit of our employees, sure. But it’s also a benefit for the broader community.
Carl Guardino profile
Organizations: Silicon Valley Leadership Group, Silicon Valley Leadership Group Foundation.
Job: President & CEO, leadership group; executive director of the foundation.
Birthplace: San Jose.
Residence: Monte Sereno.
Education: San Jose State University, degree in political science.
Family: Wife and three children.
Five things about Carl Guardino
Community and charity efforts: Founded and directs the Silicon Valley Turkey Trot, Santa Run Silicon Valley and Heart & Soles Run.
Questions to test job satisfaction: Am I making a difference? Do I respect my colleagues? Do I feel valued? Am I learning everyday?
Role as CEO: “My most important job is to help my teammates succeed at their jobs.”
Biggest professional risk and reward: Co-created the “Housing Trust Silicon Valley,” which has raised $109 million in voluntary donations to help 25,000 people afford housing.
Daily commute: “Burn carbs, not carbon.” Bike commutes 17 miles each direction.