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Council, Planning Commission discuss Traffic Conundrum for City Center Project

The Santa Clara City Council may look to impose penalties on Related, the New York-based company developing the 39-acre city center project, if the company does not meet traffic thresholds.

Traffic at the site of the proposed $6.5-billion city center construction project was the main focus of discussion at a joint study session between the Council and Planning Commission Tuesday night. The release of the final environmental impact report (EIR), sparked discussion about whether the council should set thresholds for the inevitable uptick in traffic once construction begins.

Daniel Rubins, an associate with Fehr & Peers, the transportation consultant on the project, said the city center project would generate 4,210 trips during peak morning hours and 6,020 trips during peak evening hours during the first few phases of construction of the mixed-use development. Once complete, those numbers will jump to 10,020 and 12,310 respectively.

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Long-time Santa Claran Deborah Bress didn’t mince words in criticizing the commission’s’ discussion on the topic, calling it a “Keystone Cops routine,” saying it was “making decisions without facts” and that the city’s planning was “irresponsible.”

“If we don’t have penalties … Santa Clara is stupid,” she said. “We are behind the eight ball. Let’s close these loopholes that make us stupid. I know we want to be on the map, but let’s not be on the map for being stupid.”

The developer is working on strategies to offset the increased traffic such as ridesharing, shuttles, financial incentives for not driving, and bike sharing programs, Rubins said. Also, as part of the project, Related will improve 28 intersections in Santa Clara County and San Jose and contribute “fair share” contributions to another 45 intersections that will see traffic swell as a result of the project.

However, Bress wasn’t alone in her criticism. Planning commissioner Suds Jain voiced concern about a lack of accountability to meet traffic benchmarks.

“There is just a bunch of suggested measures,” he said. “There is no target. There are no penalties. It took me 50 minutes to get here from Redwood City because traffic is so bad in the Bay Area. Adding nine million square feet of office and retail space isn’t going to help.”

The size of the project, which will replace the golf course and BMX track, has caused it to strikes a chord with everyone from BMX enthusiasts, environmental groups and business leaders both supporting and decrying the construction.

Melissa Cerezo and Robert Swierk, with Valley Transit Authority (VTA), disputed the EIR’s claim that mitigation was unable to reduce the impact to light rail to “less-than-significant.” VTA opposes the new intersection on Tasman, they said, and the project will cause unnecessary delays.

Further, Cerezo said although Related representatives have claimed to be working closely with VTA, the city has dismissed VTA’s proposed mitigation measures to reduce or eliminate the impact on VTA’s services.

“The city failed to describe in the [final environmental impact report] the methodology used in performing the transit analysis, nor has it released this analysis despite repeated requests,” Cerezo said.

Making use of city land for recreational activities was also a topic of discussion.

While the EIR lists alternatives — deemed more “environmentally friendly” — to the initial proposal, Rich Walter, senior fellow with ICF International, the EIR consultant for the project, said the more “green” option doesn’t meet the project’s objectives of increasing the area’s tax base and creating jobs as well. That’s because that option would decrease the size of the project.

Emissions during the project will exceed the Bay Area Air Quality Management District thresholds but are consistent with the City’s Climate Action Plan, Walter said. The EIR has evaluated emissions through the project’s expected completion date in 2030, he added.

Alice Kaufman, with the committee for green foothills, implored the committee to consider the impact of the project, adding that just because the project calls for a certain land use doesn’t mean the Council needs to go along with it.

“This land belongs to you. You can make a decision as to what to do with it,” she said.

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The Mlnarik Law Group, Inc.

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