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City Desk: May 22, 2015

49ers $3 Million Rebuffed, Kohl's Plaza Project Gets Go–Ahead

Last week's meeting of the Santa Clara City Council was preceded by another study session on the latest plan for downtown revitalization. Two other items slated for discussion – a consolidated Council agenda and a federally funded rental assistance program – were postponed for lack of time.

“Thanks, But No Thanks” to 49er $3 Million Gift for Athletic Field Upgrades

Last week the Santa Clara City Council declined a $3 million gift from the San Francisco 49ers “to support the improvement of youth athletic fields and facilities in the City of Santa Clara,” writes 49ers CEO Al Guido in a letter to City officials.

Guido's letter states the donation was unrelated to any “previous proposal” and requested nothing in return. The donation was not solicited, said Parks and Recreation Director Jim Teixeira, and the City had no discussion with the 49ers about it.

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The 49ers should have saved the ink.

In the face of the hue and cry unleashed by the 49ers' now–withdrawn proposal to lease the Santa Clara Youth Soccer Park for stadium parking, and continuing public question about its genesis and sudden appearance on a closed session Council agenda, it was a foregone conclusion that anything from the NFL team would be shouted down by the anti–49er Jacobins – many of them the same people who were equally passionate in 2010 to persuade voters to approve stadium construction.

Now they're joined by virtually everybody in town with an ax to grind: stadium opponents looking to stay relevant, defeated and aspiring City Council candidates positioning themselves for 2016, a classic Marxist denouncing “the ultra–rich selling out the masses,” and a victim of delusional paranoia whose information about sinister Council cabals with the 49ers comes from “God's mouth to my ears.”

Guido's attempt to mollify critics was dismissed as further evidence of 49er duplicity. The offer was “a diversionary tactic,” “smoke screen,” “as cheap as the paper it's printed on,” “a Trojan horse,” “bribe,” and “payola.” Former Mayoral candidate and stadium opponent Deborah Bress admonished the Council, “We need to tell them to stick this where the sun don't shine … entertaining this is an insult to us.”

Noting the City has and will continue to have significant business with the 49ers, Council Member Patrick Kolstad urged, “Let's try and maintain a civil relationship with people we have to negotiate with.”

In declining the donation Council Members' reasoning was that it wasn't proper for the City to accept gifts from the 49ers at the same it negotiating with them about the soccer park land. They did leave an opening for the 49ers to present the offer again, after the soccer park question was no longer “the elephant in the room,” as Council Member Teresa O'Neill called it.

“We're in negotiation for real property and we're offered $3 million – this doesn't feel right to me,” said Council Member Lisa Gillmor. “We've been put in a very awkward position.”

There was no legal restriction on accepting the donation, said City Attorney Ren Nosky. “It doesn't have, on paper, any connection to those [soccer field] negotiations. They're not asking us to sign any kind of contract.”

“I don't know why we have to make a decision before we have [next week's soccer park] study session,” said Council Member Larry Marsalli.

“If we continue this until after the study session, it will be directly linked to study session,” explained Gillmor.

“If we were to entertain this, I would like to see a donation agreement,” said O'Neill, “to make clear, if we did accept this money, that we have a range [of options] and it does not negate any other obligations the 49ers have [per Measure J].” Reiterating that accepting the donation didn't “feel right,” Ethics Committee Chair Council Member Debi Davis added that it would be better if the money could be used in an entirely unrelated way.

“It may be legally fine, but it's not ethically fine,” said resident Hossam Haggog. “I'm very much in favor of a donation agreement that clearly articulates they have not fulfilled their obligations,” adding, “Three weeks ago we said no, and here we are with $3 million in our lap. We should say 'no' more often.”

Before the vote Council Member Dominic Caserta, the only vote to accept the donation, presented a different view.

“No one here wants to get rid of kids, no one is kicking them out of the soccer park,” he said. The $3 million gift was being mistakenly conflated with the soccer park proposal, when it was an entirely separate question … He also reminded people that soccer wasn't the only sport played by Santa Clara residents, and all needs were equally entitled to consideration.

“The bottom line is that if the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Oakland Raiders offered us $3 million dollars … we wouldn't be having this discussion,” he said. As a teacher in Santa Clara Unified, he had saw the benefits from partnership with the 49ers, such as the STEM labs at Cabrillo Middle School and Santa Clara High School (under construction) and the middle school Fitness Zones.

Responding to repeated accusations that Council Members were unethical – 'on the take' – because they received 49ers campaign donations, Caserta said, “I've taken contributions from some of you in the audience. Am I unethical because I'm listening to you here, answering your emails, acting on your concerns?”

Meanwhile, a growing cohort of Facebook, web pages and Change.org petitions continue to exhort supporters to be vigilant to “save Santa Clara,” not allow “Santa Clara leaders to destroy existing parks and open space on behalf of the 49ers,” and recall Mayor Jamie Matthews and Council Members “Consserta” and “Kolstadt;” as well as sharing anti–police cartoons from “grassroots revolutionary media” and insights including, “When a guy named Guido offers you 3 million dollars with 'no strings attached' guess what folks…there are strings attached.”

“Teaching values to our youth today, through sports,” explains one post at the Stand Up for Santa Clara website, “makes for a better future.”

Gateway Village (Kohl's Plaza Redevelopment) Project Approved

The Council voted Tuesday to approve Essex Property Trust's Gateway Village on El Camino, three years after the developer made its initial proposal.

At a May 6 study session, the Council reviewed a new design with fewer apartments – 461, mostly one–bedroom – more retail space (108,000 sf), and five live–work units. The development would add about 1,260 new residents.

The current shopping plaza brings about $150,000 in sales tax to the city. Estimates for the new development are $2.7 million. The developer is paying $1.7 million in park fees, although the project was started before the park fee went into effect last summer.

It's uncertain if Kohl's will remain after the redevelopment. The retailer is looking for a specific lease rate, said City Manager Julio Fuentes, and if Kohl's choses not to take the space, there are other retailers that are interested. But “we want to keep the Kohl's name in the City portfolio.”

The development will have a “significant and unavoidable impact to traffic” – which would increase with the increased retail – for which there is no solution, according to the Environmental Impact Report. “Since the main driver of congestion is the long pedestrian crossing time, because the street is quite wide, the developer could contribute a fair share towards a pedestrian over or under–crossing,” suggested outgoing Planning Commissioner Keith Stattenfield in an email.

Other Business

The 2015 Santa Clara Youth Commission Scholarships went to Alon Schwarz and Hannah Villalpando.

The Q3 Santa Clara Convention Center financial report shows a net $111,161 profit on $4.6 million in revenue, which is $238,542 less than the 2014–2015 budget.

The Council also approved:

  • Subdividing a 31,305 sf lot at 990 Wren Ave. (in the Birdland neighborhood north of Lawrence Expressway) into five new lots, which would bring the City about $80,000 in park fees and $17,000 in additional property tax. Larome Development bought the property last year for $1.5 million. The Planning Commission had unanimously recommended project redesign.
  • $116,375 to participate in the Bay Area Water Conservation Agency's (“BAWSCA) Home Water Use Reports Program, analyzing water use and providing targeted conservation advice for customers via an online water use dashboard. Program participation makes the City eligible for a $3–per–household state grant.
  • Extending the City's agreement with Housing Trust Silicon Valley (HTSV) to administer its tenant security deposit assistance program through 2017. The federally funded program will provide about $2,500 for about 50 residents, using unspent money allocated to for affordable housing in 2013. The money wasn't spent because the previous $1,500 limit wasn't enough to keep pace with rapidly escalating rents.
  • $5,000 toward the Portuguese Band of Santa Clara Championship Team's expenses during its July goodwill and cultural exchange trip to the Azores Islands, Portugal. In addition to preserving Portuguese culture and music, the 41 year–old band provides free music lessons and instruments to anyone interested in learning music.
  • A cooperative agreement with the County to add additional left turn lanes at the San Tomas Expressway and El Camino Real intersection.
  • To watch the meeting or read the agenda reports, visit santaclaraca.gov/index.aspx?page=1504.
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