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Mountain View, CA: Applying TOD Principles to Revitalize Auto-oriented Corridors


The City of Mountain View El Camino Real Precise Plan covers 287 acres and extends the entire 3.9-mile length of El Camino Real in the City, including some adjacent parcels. The Precise Plan, adopted on November 17, 2014, implements the City’s 2030 General Plan vision for the El Camino Real Corridor as a revitalized grand boulevard. The El Camino Real Precise Plan represents a unique application of the transit oriented development (TOD) concept to a linear auto-oriented transportation corridor. Instead of concentrating development around a single transit station, it creates a series of tiered developments within the corridor focused around transit and pedestrian activity centers, with higher intensity around bus stops in the Village Centers. It also includes neighborhood-serving retail at other intersections, as well as additional higher-density housing and some mixed uses provided in between with appropriate transitions to protect adjoining residential areas.

The Precise Plan supports the Grand Boulevard Initiative (GBI), a collaboration between 19 cities, counties, and local and regional agencies whose vision is for El Camino Real to achieve its full potential as a place for residents to work, live, shop and play, creating links between communities that promote walking and transit. This Precise Plan can serve as a model for cities in San Mateo County, either along El Camino Real or with similar linear transit corridors.

Policies/Ordinances that Contributed to Project Success

The Precise Plan aims to create a more livable community along the boulevard through policies and standards that promote a “tiered” development approach, which concentrates higher density activities at specific locations with improved transit access. A coalition of local organizations representing over a thousand Mountain View community members with interest and expertise in transportation, land use, housing, and environmental protection participated in the development of the El Camino Real Precise Plan. They were particularly concerned with improving active transportation (walking, bicycling) along the corridor to access the housing and other facilities being proposed.

Indicators of Project Success

Overall, the city has approved about 1,400 new housing units in the corridor, including about 125 affordable units, some built during development of the Precise Plan, which helped guide future policies. Several new residential projects approved under the Precise Plan include:

  • 2700 El Camino Real:: 211 residential mixed-use development (11 very low-income units) with 2,000 square feet of ground floor commercial space and underground parking to replace an existing motel and vacant restaurant buildings. It includes a 20% State Density Bonus with development waivers allowing up to 2.2 FAR. The developer is providing a public bike path to give children a safe route to school and paying $35 per month for each tenant into the city’s transportation fund.
  • 1701 West El Camino Real, Eagle Park Apartments: a 67-unit studio and one-bedroom affordable housing complex for the area’s low-income veterans and households developed by Palo Alto Housing (PAH), within walking distance of groceries, pharmacies, restaurants, and public transit.

Challenges and Lessons Learned

The community was very interested in active transportation and affordable housing, but residents were also concerned about the potential loss of local retail. There were several keys to meeting those concerns. Under the plan, the City encourages housing all residents along the street, including infill housing (such as row houses on smaller lots), but provides for higher densities to support commercial development at key intersections. Another key was the City’s community benefits program, which provides clear and predictable standards for what the community wants to see in the corridor.

Mountain View zones

National City, CA: Strategies for Ensuring Broad Public Input


In 2005, National City launched a public outreach initiative to develop a Specific Plan for the Westside area. The purpose of the Specific Plan is to address concerns of the impact of incompatible land uses expressed by the community. Over the next five years, the city held public workshops to receive input, explore issues, and build community consensus on a planning framework and eventual adoption of the specific plan. The Plan identifies the requirements and guides the development of, among other features, the Paradise Creek Affordable Housing Project, a 201-unit project on the east side of Paradise Creek.

The Westside Specific Plan established principles, programs and standards for land use, development, and public improvements for the Westside area. The plan was the result of a collaborative effort by the community, interested and concerned groups, and business owners to revitalize the area. During a series of community workshops, the community collaborated on and agreed to a central vision and four guiding principles:

  1. Respect and encourage single-family homes and small residential development;
  2. Improve environmental health conditions for residents in the area;
  3. Limit uses adjacent to Paradise Creek to restoration, passive recreation, and open space; and
  4. Enhance pedestrian safety and promote the walkability of the community.

Historically, this area of National City was occupied by brownfields, warehouses, car repair businesses, and a few modest older small homes. Because of the comprehensive and transparent nature of the public outreach effort and the anticipated community benefits, this project has received national recognition as well as nearly $10 million in construction grants from the California Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund.

Policies/Ordinances that Contributed to Project Success

Program Environmental Impact Report (EIR) was prepared for the Westside Specific Plan and considered the buildout of the area. This type of EIR covers future developments consistent with the Specific Plan, which reduces costs associated with preparing an EIR and conducting public outreach for individual projects. The Program EIR helps facilitate new development in the Specific Plan area.

Challenges and Lessons Learned

Late in the planning stage of this project, there was significant controversy over efforts to reduce the parking ratio of cars to units. Proponents of the project sought to reduce the ratio, but because decisions around the ratio had already been made and the public opposition was strong, the City was unable to reduce the ratio.

According to the City’s housing office, the waiting list for the Paradise Creek project is over 3,000 applications for the 201-unit development. To ensure that the residents of the community, especially those who were displaced in the project’s development, had access to the project’s affordable housing units, the National City Council adopted an ordinance giving first priority to those already living in National City.

Redwood City Downtown Precise Plan

A Community Remaking Itself

Place-type: Urban Neighborhood, City Center


Downtown Redwood City Map
Redwood City Downtown: Existing Land Use Conditions

The Redwood City Downtown Precise Plan (DTPP) was created to revive the heart of Redwood City. It covers 183 acres within the city’s historic center including two historic residential neighborhoods. Most of the DTPP area lies within a quarter-mile radius of the Caltrain station—an ideal size for a walkable district, about a ten-minute walk end-to-end. The Plan acts as a detailed zoning and design code that regulates land use and development within the downtown area. It also guides private and public investment actions in support of downtown growth.

Policies/Ordinances that Contributed to Project Success

  • The DTPP authorizes up to 2,500 additional market rate and 375 affordable housing units for households earning no more than 80 percent of the area median income. The City has adopted policies and programs such as impact fees and incentives to promote the development and preservation of affordable housing.
  • The DTPP adopts a “Complete Streets” approach to street design to meet the need of all users, including bicyclists, public transportation riders, and pedestrians. The plan sets new standards for sidewalk widths, street trees, wayfinding signage and lighting scaled for people rather than cars, to increase pedestrian comfort and safety.
  • The plan encourages the tallest buildings to be placed in the downtown core, and adjacent to the station area while limiting heights around key public open spaces and historic structures to maintain the character of these streets.
  • The city’s progressive parking policy adjusts downtown parking rates by monitoring supply and demand to provide “just enough” parking and creates a “park-once and walk” district to minimize cruising.
  • The Program Environmental Impact Report (Program EIR) assesses the project-level cumulative impacts of the proposed New General Plan. It is more exhaustive than an EIR for a single project and covers future developments.


Recent City-conducted residential housing surveys show an increase in walking, biking, and transit use and less driving alone for all trips. Higher densities, mixing land uses, and investments in multimodal facilities shorten trip length and encourage more non-auto travel options.

Redwood City now has four downtown parking garages with a total of over 2,500 spaces, plus the 160-space Caltrain lot and several smaller surface lots. City reports show that these facilities successfully accommodate current demand for parking. Most offer free parking on evenings and weekends. The City has also installed multi-space “smart meters” for on-street parking, with convenient payment methods, such as credit card or with a remote phone feature.

The DTPP has been supplemented with several new planning initiatives that will further enhance the downtown area and facilitate additional housing construction while managing traffic and parking impacts. RWCmoves, the city’s new transportation plan, provides a framework for a balanced multimodal transportation network addressing the City’s transportation challenges and needs. It offers transit and street corridor improvements, grade separation of the Caltrain tracks, a long-term vision for the downtown transit center and train station, new street connections, complete street corridors, and bike/pedestrian improvements.

Challenges and Lessons Learned

The DTPP took over 20 years to develop through a very thoughtful outreach effort. Despite these efforts, it faced a court battle that forced major revisions just before it was finally adopted in 2010. The Plan has since been amended twice. It has also been a challenge to create more open space for new residents in the fast-growing downtown area and encourage retail activity. Despite the addition of new businesses and residents in downtown, there has been a decrease in retail activity. The city hopes that the completion of all the developments will bring new retail and restaurants to the area.

The success of the Redwood City Downtown Precise Plan shows that urban areas can accommodate additional residential and retail spaces, while careful planning can minimize traffic and parking impact. The Plan’s design guidelines facilitate adequate parking without detracting from the pedestrian character of the street. Since some drivers may be tempted to avoid slower arterial traffic by detouring through adjacent neighborhoods, the City is working to discourage cut-through with traffic calming strategies. Additional parking can be provided as needed and parking demand can be regulated through pricing and new technology.

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