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West Alma

In Design

544 W Alma Ave, San Jose, CA 95125

Project Overview

• Project Type: 100% Affordable

• Owner/Developer: Resources for Community Development (RCD)

• Presented to our members: April 2024

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Catalyze SV evaluates project sustainability, equity, and vibrancy. Learn about our project review process.

West Alma Project Scorecard
Project Overview:

West Alma is a 100% affordable, 91-unit, five-story building situated along the Guadalupe River and within walking distance of Tamien Station. RCD proposes an affordability mix of 182 low-income units, 46 moderate-income units, and two above-moderate-income units. Additionally, 20% of the units are reserved for formerly homeless households, and 50% are for families. Available units are allotted relatively evenly between studio, 1-bed, 2-bed, and 3-bed to accommodate families of different sizes. The ground floor will be dedicated to parking (approximately 64 spaces), management, and support services. Amenities include a community room, outdoor courtyard, and laundry facilities. The property is composed of two parcels. The developer is pursuing concessions regarding the floor-to-area ratio, rear setback, and private open space requirements.

West Alma scored an overall 3.86 out of 5 from our Project Advocacy Committee members.

Community Score: 5/5

Resources for Community Development (RCD) has put tremendous effort into their community engagement work and has set a high standard that other developers should follow. Their exemplary work highlights a comprehensive approach that has involved voices frequently left out of the conversation. The developer has met with disability advocacy organizations like The Kelsey, as well as the Sacred Heart Housing Action Committee and the Survivors of the Street Committee, whose members include formerly and currently unhoused people. RCD has plans to continue to meet with The Kelsey during the design process to ensure that the project meets a high standard of accessibility. Greatly impressed with RCD's outreach, members of the Project Advocacy Committee had a few suggestions to further enhance it. Members would like to see the developer create some form of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) and full project plans available on its website. Additionally, providing an online community feedback questionnaire would allow folks to stay continuously engaged and make the process more transparent through ongoing communication.

Vibrancy Score: 3/5

Members appreciate the pedestrian path/pocket park along the river and the design elements that connect the project to nature, such as the ground-level and second-floor courtyards. Since the project sits next to the Guadalupe River, members suggest investing in public art that reflects this connection with the environment. Particularly, there is a desire to see murals that honor the river, wildlife, and local history. The project's proximity to nearby parks, community centers, commercial areas, and the VTA transit station are major benefits for West Alma's future residents. However, some members raised concerns over the project's reliance on the neighborhood's existing vibrancy instead of creating new sources. In the absence of a commercial component, West Alma should place greater emphasis on design elements that contribute to the vibrancy of the public realm. Members suggest wrapping the building in natural colors, providing seating along the pedestrian access path, and creating artwork that faces the street. With these elements added, we’d welcome re-scoring this project and category higher.

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Transportation Score: 3/5

West Alma has a parking ratio of 0.71 spaces per unit, which aligns with its proximity to public transit and active transportation infrastructure. The project is roughly a quarter of a mile from the Tamien VTA and Caltrain stations and just across the river from a future access point to the Guadalupe River Trail. Members appreciate the 1:1 bike parking, e-bike charging stations, and dedicated cargo bike spaces. These features synergize well with the nearby transit stops and will enable West Alma's future residents to embrace multi-modal lifestyles. West Alma must also accommodate visitors who use alternative modes of transportation. Members recommend providing safe, secure bike parking and suggest looking into BikeLink lockers as one option. Transit passes are a frequent recommendation made by the Project Advocacy Committee, and members compliment the developer for already planning to provide them to residents. We want to see this intention converted into a commitment. Between the choice of offering Caltrain or VTA transit passes to residents, members suggest working with VTA. Providing SmartPasses to residents will allow them to use light rail and take advantage of VTA's bus network, enabling them to conveniently access more destinations.

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Intensity/Zoning Score: 4/5

As with nearly every project, our members want to see buildings that maximize and take full advantage of the potential available density. While West Alma may not max out its height and density—coming in at five stories and 80 du/acre—members are still impressed with what the project has achieved, as it is notably denser than what is typical for this neighborhood. However, the developer did mention that they would be willing to explore greater densities if funding were available to construct such a building. If these funds do become available at a later date, we heavily encourage RCD to pursue building a denser project.

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Sustainability Score: 4/5

RCD intends to meet the City of San Jose's building standards regarding sustainability. West Alma will feature drought-tolerant plants, water control systems, low-flow plumbing, and permeable landscaping. The project also goes beyond city requirements by including rooftop solar panels that will provide on-site energy generation. Our members emphasize buildings that go above and beyond in this manner and want to encourage RCD to pursue the highest possible GreenPoint Rated or LEED score.

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Affordability Score: 5/5

West Alma excels in our affordability category, receiving unanimous praise and commendations from our members. The project is 100 percent affordable, with income limits between 20 and 50% of area median income (AMI). Additionally, of the 91 units West Alma will provide, 20% are reserved for formerly homeless households, and another 50% are reserved for families in two—and three-bedroom units. The mix of unit sizes alone is impressive, accommodating a diverse range of household sizes: 20 studios, 24 one-bedroom units, 23 two-bedroom units, and 24 three-bedroom units. All of these features represent what our members want to consistently see from affordable housing developments.

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Legacy Score: 3 /5

We do not typically score projects in the legacy category, but our members felt it important to emphasize the connection between legacy and vibrancy as relating to this site. As discussed in the vibrancy category, members want to see West Alma decorated with public art that reflects the area's historical and cultural relations. Our members point to the Guadalupe River as the most obvious source of inspiration. In the past—and hopefully one day again in the future—the Guadalupe River served as a home for thriving salmon and beaver populations. Members recommend looking toward the river's ecology to inform artistic details. They also suggest installing educational signage discussing the past and present ecological conditions. A noteworthy visual example is the ecological and historical-oriented art featured in the newly opened Vitalia Apartments in San Jose. Including these features outlined by our members would substantially enhance the overall vibrancy and legacy of the project.

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