Letter to Urban Catalyst — San Jose

Michele Mashburn
7 min readApr 28, 2022

April 10, 2022

Urban Catalyst
99 S. Almaden, Suite 500
San José, CA 95113

RE: Notice of New Adjacent Development and Proposed Changes for Town Park Towers

This document is a compilation of my responses to the proposal delivered to Town Park Towers residents in March 2022 about the proposed Urban Catalyst Icon Residential and Eco Office Tower Developments. It is probably not in a great order, but the paragraphs are mostly full thoughts.

First, I want to comment that the City of San Jose continues to struggle with inclusion of disabled residents in their planning efforts and while this may be improved upon in the next 2–4 years, they still have a lot of work to do. Please realize that this letter includes my perspectives as a disabled resident with the lived experience around barriers and these inadequacies. I would highly recommend that the Urban Catalyst consult with Urban Planners like Victor Pineda or Aimi Hamraie. Another way of doing this is to show your design to a room of disabled residents to review and gain input. The population of disabled people is roughly 25% of the US population with some estimates as high as 33%, yet it is often underreported on the survey instruments used for the Census and other population studies.

While the Urban Catalyst can state that the funds will go to pay for capital improvements, this does not ensure that these improvements are resident determined. So, the direct benefit is not as clear as what is presented in the document received with the presentation packet. Also, Urban Catalyst is presenting almost nothing that will directly benefit this building’s residents in a substantive way.

What I read as being presented and some minor issues:

  • Parking that exactly matched the legal requirement that Town Park Towers must provide. Those provisions are also reduced during the construction period down to 22 spaces and not 26. Also, vendor parking is not clearly presented except that it will exist.
  • Relocating the ADA drop off zone from the rear to the front of the building
  • A secure path of travel that is not clearly presented as an ADA secure path of travel.
  • Relocated trash bins during the construction with a new trash pick-up access from 3rd street.
  • A necessary push of the building construction to 20 feet from the property line
  • Relocation of TPT’s utilities with necessary improvements
  • To negotiate an accessible drop-off zone in front of TPT (which technically the City was supposed to improve as an ADA request I made around 2018/2019 when the new bike lanes went in).

Note: With the bike lanes and the downtown demand for parking, the 3rd street drop off continues to be problematic and reducing the parking is not the best option either due to the workers who rely on the street parking as they cannot afford the parking garage when they provide services to this building’s residents. It will be interesting to see what is deemed accessible by the Urban Catalyst when the City of San Jose created a person drop-off zone that is inadequate for most emergency vehicles to use and fails to include disabled access overall.

In reviewing the presentation packet, I noticed a few omissions that leave me with ongoing concerns about Urban Catalyst’s awareness and familiarity with Universal Design principles and/or ADA accessibility in their planning. While I realize that developers are not required to use Universal Design principles, it is by far the most beneficial planning available to developers and planners. The ADA fails to include the differences that may exist in a senior population from multiple ethnic backgrounds. Universal Design principles include 1) Equitable Use, 2) Flexibility in Use, 3) Simple and Intuitive Use, 4) Perceptible Information, 5) Tolerance For Error, 6) Low Physical Effort, And 7) Size and Space for Approach and Use.

Nothing in the presentation addresses the light pollution that will be increased. Also, the hardscape and seating areas do not reflect adequate ADA seating options but rather a social space that is made using similar processes to the City of San Jose planning that fails to meet the needs of the disabled community members. Also, the Tai Chi area does not adequately meet these needs. If a fitness area is being put in close to a building that houses seniors, I would think that universal design principles would be the standard requirement and not an exception. Any fitness area for seniors should include adaptive fitness elements that meet the needs of the population and not a mostly standing exercise area that can be adapted but is often not in the awareness of those teaching those classes.

It is an unfortunate reality that the Miro Towers project has set a bad precedent on downtown construction in San Jose. So, from the lessons learned through the last 3–4 years, I want to present some requests for the construction process of your building.

  • Construction should not take place outside of this building’s quiet hours. Quiet hours are currently 9 pm to 8 am. Miro Towers had an almost blank slate for working hours. They pushed it as much as possible with the support of the city. This resulted in their working hours being extended to 6 am to 2 am for active construction. These extended hours impacted Town Park Towers throughout most of the project. Even before the start time was moved to an hour earlier, the construction crews would inevitably start early with loud noises that they would excuse as deliveries that were outside of their work window. The only fortunate thing that happened with the earlier start was that the early starts did not happen as much.
  • Notice must be sent to all residents with enough advance notice to change our plans when needed.
  • Lighting must be minimized during the dark hours and ensure the placement is not blasting light into anyone’s apartment. Also note that the lighting of the Miro Towers has significantly impacted the light pollution in this area. They were horrible with the placement of lights throughout their construction, requiring many calls to the City of San Jose and then the management team to correct. While I realize that there are requirements for security and safety, it is very important that the impact is lessened overall.

It is not enough to state that there will be the exact same number of parking slots. This building’s reduced parking and the increase in building in the downtown core impacts residents in huge ways. Some who work and have outside obligations must own vehicles given San Jose’s inadequate public transit system and now, the added risks for seniors and disabled residents with the COVID pandemic. We all do the best that we can to survive but as a disabled resident without an assigned parking space, I know all too well the impacts of having to worry about a parking space given my budgetary restrictions that still put city parking outside of my budget range. Also, when I have sought a permitted spot, I learned that I would not get a spot in the garage closest to me but rather one that is a couple of blocks away.

I do not have a parking space in the 4th street property but because I use a wheelchair accessible van, I often use the ADA spots located in the parking lot. The bike lanes make it difficult to park my van on the city streets, especially when I have items to carry up to my apartment.

Another huge area of concern is with the emergency planning and processes here at Town Park Towers in the event of a catastrophic event like an earthquake or fire. Town Park Towers still lacks things like evac-chairs as they rely on the elevator system for most evacuation procedures. This system does not ensure autonomy nor awareness of the residents’ needs. Granted, I would much rather be able to leave with my power wheelchair than without as would be necessary if I had to use the Evac-chair because there is no guarantee of replacement of equipment lost in that disaster zone. However, there is still a need for Evac-chairs on every floor. I will need to see Town Park Towers’ emergency plans to be adjusted to meet the changes in back, including the requirements through the construction period. A fully prepared emergency preparedness plan needs to be created as the proposed building will impact rescue efforts. At a minimum, the plan needs to be printed and shared with all the residents.

The parking placement in the MEP0.11 page may be problematic also. Many seniors struggle to make it from the existing parking to the inside of Town Park Towers, so I am not sure the proposed placement considers this. Also, most seniors have ADA permits for disabled parking so what will be done to ensure they are not parking in the ADA spots instead of their assigned parking places? This is an existing behavior that has caused problems with the existing parking lot.

My requests:

  • A parking options for other residents in this building at a subsidized rate that is less than the monthly charges for parking in the City of San Jose Parking Garages.
  • A fee-based parking option for the in-home workers who work for residents of Town Park Towers that is affordable with a set number of slots for those workers to reserve on a regular basis.
  • A fully developed emergency preparedness plan for Town Park Towers including the purchase of Evac-chairs for every floor (9 chairs total) or a comparable device.
  • An adaptive Fitness area instead of just the Tai Chi area (you may want to correct your spelling of Tai Chi when presenting it to others)
  • Fully ADA compliant tiles in the outside ground cover. These tiles must be approved by any disabled residents and those that use adaptive devices in this building. (This is a code thing that most of these tiles are painful to roll over when they are first installed, and this only gets worse when they are not maintained.)
  • Implementation of Universal Design principles where possible.

I still do not support this sale and the corporate finagling that has made it possible. I hope that there can be a remedy to these problems that can lessen the impact of the new development on the residents of this building. I already have heard many of the residents of Town Park Towers talk about how unhappy they are given all the changes that are going on. With the new management company, there are additional risks involved.

Michele Mashburn



Michele Mashburn

Disability Advocate, Educator, & Activist * Cat Lover * Opinions are mine