The Silicon Valley Voice

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City Desk: Dec. 31, 2014

New Council Seated

At the Dec. 16 Santa Clara City Council Meeting, newly elected Council Members Dominic Caserta and re-elected Patrick Kolstad were sworn into office. Both are familiar Santa Clara faces. Caserta, a history and civics teacher at Santa Clara High School, served two previous terms on the Council from 2002-2010. Kolstad, a retired police officer, served on the Council three terms; first from 2000-2008, and again in 2010.

Townhouse Development at San Tomas & Saratoga Unanimously Approved
At its Dec. 9 meeting, the City Council unanimously approved a development proposal for 33 three-story townhouses on 1.76 acres at166-170 Saratoga Avenue, at the corner of San Tomas. Neighboring properties on the east side of Saratoga Avenue can be Medium Density Residential (19 to 36 units per acre) or Community Mixed Use. There are office buildings behind the property that have a right-of-way.

Although the land has only two houses and a remnant of an early orchard, analysis by San Jose-based Archives & Architecture concluded that the property lacked historic significance and the houses weren’t eligible for historic listing under current city policies.

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The Santa Clara Planning Department recommended approval of New Home’s proposal on the grounds that the development provided more for-purchase housing and less intense use of the land. Further, the zoning change was justified because there is already a shopping plaza across the street, and Stevens Creek Boulevard is an easily walk-able three blocks away.

Opposition to the development came from the homeowners association of Vista Del Lago condominiums on Buckingham Avenue, and owners of single-family houses on Estella Drive, which backs the property. These are also the only residents of the neighborhood included in the community meeting. Their objections include added traffic and congestion at a busy intersection, lack of privacy, and the buildings’ height.

“This family [the owners] had all those properties built around them [including] Vista del Lago,” said Council Member Lisa Gilmor. “The owner of Vista Del Lago tried to get that property [166-170] but couldn’t. I experienced it first-hand, growing up in this neighborhood. I like the fact that this is owner-occupied property. [Further] It’s an odd-shaped property, it’s not suitable for commercial use.”

“I think this is a really good project,” said Council Member Teresa O’Neill. “Vista del Lago is more dense than this project.

“These will bring more affordable for-sale homes,” she continued. “I’m probably the biggest preservationist on the Council (except former Council Member Patricia Mahan). I live in this part of town. It hasn’t been an orchard for many years. I’d rather see us focus on other areas – Harris Lass preservation, the six acres the city owns on Winchester for honoring the Santa Clara’s agricultural heritage.”

“This is a great opportunity to make projects for-sale for young families coming into the area,” added Council Member Jerry Marsalli.

Re-Development Proposal for Mariani Property at El Camino and San Tomas Continues to Take Shape

At the Dec. 9 meeting, the City Council had a study session on a proposed 7.8 acre, residential development at 2500 El Camino (currently Mariani’s Inn and several moderate-priced apartment buildings). Studies for redeveloping the land have been going on for about 15 years, with the first tentative site plan put forward in 2013. The original proposal was for 511 units, five stories high.

The current proposal by SnS Construction is for a total of 395 units (mostly one bedroom apartments) with 14 townhouses. Typical rents will be about $2,500 a month. The maximum height in the “Spanish style” development would be four stories, but would be tiered away from the single-family streets surrounding it. The development will have the typical high-end private amenities such as fitness centers, swimming pools, and other “flexible options.”

The development will be subject to the new park fee, and include 1.15 acres of functional open space, according to the developer. When Mayor Jamie Matthews asked about land dedication for a continuation of the San Tomas Aquino Creek Train, the developer replied “that’s something we’re going to work on.”

The property will be worth $150 million post-construction. It’s currently worth about $25 million.

Residents on neighboring streets want Buchanan Street closed (which currently opens on to El Camino) and the new development walled off, with as few windows as possible facing the rest of the neighborhood. They want the new development to be accessible only from El Camino, so that new residents couldn’t “get over the wall” and mingle with the rest of the neighborhood, drive down neighborhood streets, or, presumably, have easy access to neighborhood amenities like Mary Gomez Park and swimming pool.

“You’re going to displace a lot of people there,” said Council Member Debi Davis. “My concern is that [replacing] affordable housing, low income housing, for some of these folks it’s a problem.” Further, closing Buchanan “looks like a chokehold for that neighborhood.” Kolstad voiced concern about fire and police access if the street was closed.

“My concern is how many affordable units will there be,” said O’Neill. ” As a city we have to worry about our residents who are living in those apartments now. Have you thought about how you’re going to relocating those folks?” she asked the developer.

He replied that he hadn’t thought about that “yet” and suggested that maybe some studio apartments could be “more affordable for these folks.”

In general, Davis said, “There’s a lot of development on El Camino, all in that general vicinity … and that’s going to impact our core services, our general fund. Right now, this might have a huge impact. I would like to see … the money put back into what’s there now. I would like to see how we can help the community better.”

Lacking the money that the defunct Redevelopment Agency contributed to Santa Clara’s affordable housing fund, it’s unknown where any money for incentivizing or subsidizing affordable housing development would come from.

This plan, like almost all residential development projects currently, appears to be driven by two considerations; neither of which seem to be the quality-of-life for the everyone in community as a whole.

The first is maximizing revenue potential with one-bedroom apartments. This is also beginning to look like a deliberately anti-family policy (California law prohibits outright rental discrimination against families with children.)

The second is appeasing residents on suburban streets who oppose new development, new neighbors and anything that would change the mid-century suburban, car-centric landscape – even its strip mall eyesores.

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