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Consultant Identified for Downtown Precise Plan but Mum’s the Word

The Downtown Precise Plan Community Task Force met with City of Santa Clara staff for the second time on July 23 to discuss progress and next steps for establishing a plan to recreate the City’s downtown that had been lost decades ago.

In February, the City sent out a Request for Proposals (RFPs) to hire an external consultant to help draw up such a plan. Applications were due in March, and after review, interviews were conducted in June. At the meeting, City staff explained that a preferred consultant has been selected but that the name isn’t ready for release because they’re in the midst of weeks-long contract negotiations. City Council will meet in September to decide on whether to approve the contract and award the consultant with the job.

Once commenced, the scope of the work will involve community outreach and engagement, market demand analysis, land use plan, circulation mapping, design, environmental review and developing RFPs for City-owned property in the plan area.

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In addition to working with the consultant, the task force has the opportunity to apply for technical assistance from the Urban Land Institute’s planning experts, who can help with specific problems and answer policy questions. Task force members expressed interest in possibly pursuing the opportunity later on if needed.

Prior to the meeting members had taken tours of downtowns of nearby cities such as Mountain View, Redwood City, Palo Alto and Sunnyvale to gather ideas of what works well and what should be avoided. Some of the take-aways to emulate in Santa Clara are: Mountain View’s strong walkability, Redwood City’s clear way-finding, Palo Alto’s beautiful architecture and the vibrancy of Sunnyvale’s Murphy Avenue. Members appeared to largely agree that the plan should focus on mixed-use development to avoid sprawl and dead spaces, and that it should create a unique environment.

“One of the greatest challenges is doing true mixed-use that is a destination for our downtown,” said architect Rob Mayer at the meeting.

Dan Ondrasek, Reclaiming Our Downtown Co-Chair, cited recent loses of retail business in Los Gatos to illustrate the pitfalls of single-use retail development versus mixed-use, which combines retail, with residential and commercial to mutually support each other. Adam Thompson, with the Old Quad Residents Association, added that the mix of uses helps cut down on traffic congestion and the need for overflow parking.

“Murphy [Avenue] is so successful because it’s so vibrant as a destination,” said Debra von Huene with the Cultural Commission. “The farmer’s market is there, the art and wine festival is there, the Wednesday night concerts are there — any time they can, they use it as a place to invite people to enjoy the community.”

Members also discussed the importance of integrating Santa Clara University into the downtown fabric, which will involve making sure there’s enough student and faculty housing, as well as the University making its campus and cultural programs accessible to multiple populations.

City staff explained that the consultant will be tasked with the bulk of questions regarding how the plan should proceed, including what aspects will be viable and feasible to pursue. Assistant City Manager Manuel Pineda commented that doing a financial analysis early on is the top priority as everything in the plan will be based on it.

A few members of the public advocated for all-underground parking for downtown and stressing that infrastructure needs to be accessible to those with mobility issues. A question was raised as to whether the underutilized Morse Mansion, purchased by the City, will be incorporated into the plan.

Following the meeting, City staff will work on establishing a technical advisory committee for the plan consisting of staff from various City departments. If City Council ratifies the consultant’s contract, the consultant will begin work by writing a report on the existing conditions in the area slated to be downtown and starting community engagement.

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The Mlnarik Law Group, Inc.

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