Santa Clara City Council’s Dec. 16 meeting marked the end of an era: Patricia Mahan’s last Council meeting as an elected official. During her 20 years in public office, Santa Clara has moved inexorably toward becoming a 21st century urban center. At the same time, as an adamant preservationist, Mahan has tried to balance both sides of the scale.
In this she has been a quintessential representative of Santa Clara – a city that often seems torn about whether to be a 19th century pastoral retreat, mid-20th century sprawling commuter suburb, or high-density 21st century live-and-work urban center.
However, when it’s decision time, the City – and Mahan – almost invariably chooses going forward over the status quo. While history shows some of those decisions prove to be disasters – downtown “urban renewal” – others prove brilliantly successful, like the City’s investment in Northside land and infrastructure.
Even the most notable preservation project undertaken by the City during Mahan’s tenure, the Ulistac Natural Area, reflects progressive goals to recreate indigenous landscapes, not simply leaving things as they happen to be at one point in time.
Mahan’s tenure saw the large-scale development of the City’s Northside, most notably Levi’s Stadium’s construction, which so far has been an economic boon – but one that brings in its wake big-city challenges; including the risk of a rich-poor divide in a city that has historically been characterized by its universal middle class-ness.
First elected in 1994, Mahan was elected Mayor in 2002 and 2006, and then returned as a Council Member in 2010. Her father, John Mahan, served 11 years on the City Council – holding the record for the longest-serving Council Member until Pat broke that record.
As the Council welcomed new and reelected members last week, Mahan reflected on the changes over 20 years, while thanking the officials she’s served with and the City employees who are the backbone of Santa Clara’s successes.
“In my time here,” she said, “I endeavored to improve our city, enhance neighborhoods and create growth and opportunity. I want Santa Clara to be a welcoming community, a place where people can afford to live, and keep our city a leader in industry, economy and innovation. We have proven it can be done.”
During her time in office the old Agnews State Hospital became the Oracle office campus and the thriving Rivermark community. A new state-of-the-art Kaiser Medical Center was built. A new, airy high-tech Central Library serving a diverse and growing population replaced an outdated one, and the Northside got its long-promised branch library. Two new supermarkets opened in the formerly retail-starved Northside.
The Target shopping center transformed a dying strip mall into a retail destination. The municipal electric utility has grown into an economic engine for the City, a top “green power” company that’s bringing Santa Clara ever-closer to being self-sufficient in electricity, while still supplying reliable power at low rates.
At the same time, there are now neighborhood architectural guidelines – launched in response to the 1990s “monster house” trend – which Mahan hopes “has helped Santa Clara retain its character while improving our built environment.” A former golf course slated for apartment complexes is now Ulistac Natural Area. “I am proud that our Council followed the recommendation to turn the land into a natural area,” she said, “restoring the flora and fauna of a time before European settlement.”
Mahan’s single most-remembered legacy will likely be Levi’s Stadium. “When Kevin Moore first told me â€˜One day there will be a Super Bowl in Santa Clara,'” she said, “I was tempted to ask him what he was smoking. Clearly, he was delusional. Yet, Levi’s Stadium will hold the NFL’s 50th Super Bowl game.
“If you agree the stadium may be one of the best things that ever happened to Santa Clara, thank Kevin Moore,” she said. “He was instrumental in making this work. If you don’t like the stadium, I’ll take the blame as it happened under my watch.”
Still, much remains to be done, Mahan said, including passing an historical preservation ordinance, fostering stadium area growth into a full-fledged tourism and entertainment destination, and rebuilding the International Swim Center. “We can return our swim center to its former glory. If we can bring the International Swim Hall of Fame, so much the better, since so many Hall-of-Famers swam for Santa Clara.
“The Council and the City will face new challenges and opportunities in the future, things we can’t even imagine tonight,” Mahan concluded. “As long as we adhere to the Santa Clara Way – dealing fairly, governing ethically, listening to the people and putting the needs of our residents before all – I have no fears for our future.”