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Divisive Mixed-Use Project Sparks Lengthy Debate

After much public input, the Santa Clara City Council opted to delay voting on a mixed-use development, unable to decide between the City’s need for more housing and residents’ concerns about the project.

The proposed development located at 950 Monroe St., would require a general plan amendment, shifting the parcel to planned development. The development would range from three stories at its lowest point to six stories at its highest.

It would house 50 condos, 3,800 square feet of ground-floor retail space, four townhomes while leaving three historic homes in the project’s footprint.

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As is typical of large-scale housing projects, setbacks, traffic, building heights and the overall aesthetic of the neighborhood drew ire from the public. Although the plans for the development underwent several iterations, the Historic Landmarks Commission and Downtown Community Task Force opposed the project while the Planning Commission supported it.

“This site is one that is adjacent to a lot of commercial, it is adjacent to transit, is relatively close to our BART station,” said Reena Brilliot, assistant director of community development. “It is a site that has a lot of accessibility to amenities, as Santa Clara has them south of El Camino Real, so this site makes a lot of sense to have density.”

Many claimed the developer, Salvatore Caruso, with Salvatore Caruso Design Corporation, failed to work with the community, including the civic group Reclaiming Our Downtown, to alleviate their concerns.

Further, opponents claimed the proposal is not in line with the City’s forthcoming Downtown Precise Plan and form-based code, a design guideline that aims to unify design across the City.

The site boasts 11 below-market-rate condos and 871 square feet of art space and would help the City in its goal to meet state requirements to produce more housing, especially housing at the lower end of the economic scale.

Many opposing the project worried about the precedent doing so would set.

“I want you to imagine your predecessors built a cave, bricked it up and held the dragon in the cave. That is the developer we have here today. Some people have punched holes in the brick, and let the dragon see outside the cave. So, he looked at the neighborhood and said, ‘I can take all of this by introducing one general (plan) amendment,” said Quentia Diduck.

“Once the dragon is released from the cave, once those bricks are pushed down through rules and little tricks, that dragon is loose,” he continued. “He is loose in your community…if you release that dragon today, he will still be roaming tomorrow.”

Danielle Kaliterna owns one of the historic homes near the project, a home her parents built in the 1940s. She said the developer offered to buy her home but at 1/3 its value.

“It is an insult to destroy my parent’s legacy and offer so low a price just to have them turn around, develop it and make millions on their development,” she said. “That is the only time I have heard from them. They have never tried to talk to me. They have never tried to be compatible with the historical building that is right next to them.”

Caruso maintained that his company made a good-faith effort to listen to community concerns. Further, he said it is unfair to hold a project to standards that have yet to be set.

“My understanding is that you can’t consider laws to judge current projects. That would be illegal,” Caruso said. “We want to bring something forward that makes sense today. To work with someone doesn’t mean that we do someone else’s will and beckoning. We listen and absorb. We make a judgment as to what makes good sense.”

Despite the legion of naysayers, many also praised the effort.

Robert Fitch said the project will help recover the downtown, revitalizing it.

“A downtown that died many years ago has a chance to be resurrected,” he said. “For downtown Santa Clara to live again, we need conditions that allow it to live. We need more people in and around downtown Santa Clara.”

City Attorney Glen Googins told the Council they were on firm ground to approve or deny the project. He added that use of guidelines in the draft Downtown Precise Plan would be inappropriate but that should the Council determine the project doesn’t fit with its vision for the area, it would be justified in denying it.

Council Member Antony Becker said he strives for “harmony” and “compromise” for projects such as this, something he said is simply not present.

“I feel we can do better by matching our residents’ needs and our housing needs,” Becker said. “Some answers I got tonight about why this plan benefits the community just didn’t cut it for me. I often feel there is no TLC in what is best for Santa Clara, not developers. It checks the guidelines, but does it actually capture the spirit of these neighborhoods?”

In a 4-1 vote, the Council deferred the item to an uncertain date in hopes of allowing the applicant more time to adjust the project so it aligns with community expectations. Mayor Lisa Gillmor needed to recuse herself because of a conflict of interest. Becker was the lone “no” vote. Council Member Suds Jain was absent.

Senate Bill Divides Indian Residents

During a lengthy public comments section, disagreement about the benefit of SB 403 ran rampant. The bill aims to add caste to the list of protected classes and is being couched as a “civil rights” law.

Proponents say the caste system is still alive in America today and the law would aim to place caste status alongside other protected categories such as age and sexual orientation to provide “clarity” in the law.

“[The caste system] is used to isolate and discriminate against caste-oppressed communities in the state and in the country by denying people promotions and enacting verbal harassment and housing and schools and much, much more,” said Gayatri Girirajan, with Californians for Caste Equity.

However, opponents say the bill’s wording leaves the door open to another form of discrimination, one that targets people based on their caste.

Parem Desai said the sponsors of the bill assign Indians a caste based on their last name.

“They assign me as a caste oppressor. I do not have a caste in America…my predecessors were revenue collectors for the provincial government,” said Desai. “How does that turn me, here right now, into a bigot and caste oppressor?”

Both sides, which were nearly evenly split, urged the Council to comment publicly on its position on the bill. Because the testimonies were part of public comments, the Council took no action and did not comment.

Consent Calendar Spending

  • A five-year $3 million contract with BKF Engineers, Bellecci & Associates, Inc. and Mott MacDonald Group, Inc. for on-call design for potable water and recycled water transmission and distribution systems and sanitary sewer collection systems.
  • Three $500,000 contracts with D2 Industrial Services, Farwest Insulation Contracting, and JT Thorpe Industrial Inc. for insulation and heat trace services, primarily at power plants.

The next regularly scheduled meeting is Tuesday, Aug. 29 in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 1500 Warburton Ave. in Santa Clara.

Members of the public can participate in the City Council meetings on Zoom at https://santaclaraca.zoom.us/j/99706759306; Meeting ID: 997-0675-9306 or call 1(669) 900-6833, via the City’s eComment (available during the meeting) or by email to PublicComment@santaclaraca.gov.

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12 Comments
  1. Buchser Alum 11 months ago
    Reply

    David,
    .
    Two corrections for you:
    .
    “said Reena Brillot, assistant director of community development”
    .
    Reena’s last name is spelled “Brilliot.”
    .
    “Danielle Kaliterna owns one of the historic homes near the project, a home her parents built in the 1940s. She said the developer offered to buy her home but at 1/3 its value.”
    .
    Kaliterna inherited the building that used to be home to her mother’s hair salon which her mother and father had built on a plot they purchased in the 1940’s and which she alleges the developer only offered to purchase for a third of its value. She was speaking as a commercial land owner, not the owner of one of the historic homes near the project.

    • David Alexander 11 months ago
      Reply

      Thank you for the note.

      The first was simply a typo that the copy editor must have missed and the second I must have misunderstood.

      • Buchser Alum 11 months ago
        Reply

        David,
        .
        I am happy to have pointed these out and did not think the first was anything but a typo or that the second was a small oversight.
        .
        Danielle Kaliterna’s mother was a beloved Santa Claran who did much for our city along with running a hair salon that was popular for decades.
        .
        I personally am very curious about what the developer offered to Danielle for the building her parents built. If you do follow up reporting on this story I hope that you will ask her what the amount of the offer was. If she is willing to share that number and it was a predatory low amount then that would be valuable for people to know when considering this project and its developer.

  2. Buchser Alum 11 months ago
    Reply

    I cannot blame the residents of the Old Quad who are against the development. It can be understandable and is very routine for neighbors of a proposed project of higher density to oppose it.
    .
    But I fail to understand their pointing to a need for the developer to wait for a Downtown Precise Plan to be finalized and approved before proceeding with their development. As the project architect explained many times the development closely adheres to the guidelines in the current Draft Downtown Precise Plan. And contrary to claims of not hearing out the neighbors the developer has clearly heard them out and modified the plan to make major concessions.
    .
    Anthony Becker’s choice to side with the opposition to the development is a curious decision that he eventually revealed in his characteristically amateurish way accompanied by his trademark smarminess. It was eye rolling to watch him read from questions that sounded. Because they sounded as if they were prepared for him by the opposition and because he was asking questions that presupposed mischaracterizations that had already been fully explained by staff and the applicant. So when they were answered in a way that showed their emptiness he of course had no follow up to ask or rebuttal to make. His claim to be so deeply concerned with this development and the impact on the neighbors was shown to be sham when he himself admitted that he did not make time to meet with the architect because he supposedly used up all his time meeting with neighbors and otherwise was on recess.
    .
    He clearly went into the meeting intending to pose himself as the champion of the opposition and was not going to be swayed by the many good arguments placed before him showing that the development is in keeping with the Draft Downtown Specific Plan. And despite all his various supposed concerns being allayed with answers to his questions he still moved to deny the proposal. He clearly went into the meeting having decided to do just that no matter what was said.
    .
    His last second playing of “let’s make a deal” dealmaker was a farce. Demanding that the developer agree to significantly lowering the height of the building with only a few minutes to deliberate on the economic feasibility and refusing to join his council allies in voting for a continuance shows his disingenuousness and unreasonableness. It appears that he has decided in this matter to curry favor of the Old Quad by being an opponent to considerate and sensible development of more housing and more density for an area that will eventually become more of a transit hub with BART.
    .
    I commend Karen Hardy for evaluating this project on its merits and seeing that it has been designed with more consideration for neighbors than any other project that was shown as an example. And is only objected to by the neighbors seemingly because it meets height requirements of the Downtown Specific Plan that they want to guide development in downtown. They want developers to follow the Downtown Specific Plan but apparently only after it is finalized and approved whenever that might be.
    .
    I am glad that Hardy and Watanabe saw this matter clearly and acted without fear of backlash from the opposition. Raj Chahal continues to be a fence sitter always looking to go whichever way he feels the breeze is blowing. Kevin Park continues to be someone who will drone on and on and on about what other people said to belabor his point that he listens to everyone and then fixate on little details to make himself appear to be ready to take a stand either way if only one more little detail can be explained to him. But who also seems to just want to follow Chahal’s method of being swayed by the political winds.
    .
    And Suds Jain’s being conveniently absent from discussion of a controversial project in his own district seems like it might need to be repeated lest he have to actually have to take a stand on a controversial project in his own district.

  3. Adam Thompson - Chair of the DCTF 11 months ago
    Reply

    @ Buchser Alumni,

    The proposed project does not meet the Downtown Precise Plan, hence the opposition from the community. If the proposed project met the Precise Plan and Form Based Code (FBC), the community would have come out in support, including DCTF members wich unanimously aposed this project due to it failing to meet the plan.

    The project architect included sections and metrics from the plan that has mislead the council and community, while leaving out sections and metrics where the plan failed to meet those requirements. I would encourage you and other people interested in the project to review the *draft* Precise Plan and FBC.

    The BONUS height for instance is limited to 5 stories and 72’ to the top of the structure, including architectuaral features (“Height is regulated by the number of stories as well as the maximum number of feet. Buildings must not exceed either metric”). The current proposal includes 6 stories with the architectural features extending up to 84’ 8”. Counting the roof parapet is not the intent and is clearly called out in the pan multiple times. (This information can be reviewed on page 98 and 99 in the Precise Plan)

    The project does not include tangible community benefits to justify the additional height and density the developer is requesting. Providing a community room, something that is NOT listed in the plan, is misleading (Pg. 98). The claim that this project will include conservation of the existing historical homes is also misleading. The 906 Monroe home has had a Mills Act Contract since ‘98, which the work agreed to and required within said contract was not complete and is still owed.

    The project does not have the proper setbacks from the public ROW to support pedestrian activation and outdoor seating. This is paramount to get correct so we don’t “miss out” on creating lively DT. If you look at Sunnyvale, Campbell, Mountain View, and Santana Row they have all extended into the parking and/or closed the street to provide the additional space we are defining in the plan. (Pg. 19 FBC).

    These are just a few examples of how the proposed project does not align with the Downtown Precise Plan or FBC.

    If you are interested in learning more and would like to meet I am always open to. I would reach out but you have not identifed yourself, I too am a “Buchser Alumni” (Middle School), and so I will ask you to get ahold of me if you would like to futrther discuss.

    I would also recomend attending the next DCTF meeting in September, date will either be the 14th or 21st staff to confirm, we will be reviewing the “Final Draft” of the plans prior to going to council the following month.

    I hope this helps clarify that the proposed project does not comply with the Precise Plan or FBC. If the developer wants to proceed ahead of the plan (which they are allowed to if they choose) then we ask that they follow the current General Plan and do not ask for an Amendment of Pland Development re-zone.

    Santa Clara has had enough development without a vision, it’s time to start planning our city to be a better place to live, work, and play

    • Buchser Alum 11 months ago
      Reply

      Adam,
      .
      Thank you very much for your detailed clarification of your criticism of this development. There is a lot in your reply here that I did not hear during the public meeting or did not pay enough attention to. It seemed that there was a decision to focus on the nonconformity with the general plan and potential precedent set by use of PD zoning but I personally as someone not deeply invested in this development either way would have been more swayed in discussion of how it does not conform to the Draft Downtown Precise Plan which I feel to be a more important thing to stress. I do not say this to argue with you on your strategy during the meeting but simply to share my personal perspective.
      .
      I may not have been paying close attention to all speakers but I did not hear anyone pointing out that the actual height of the proposed development is over eighty feet tall and now I understand that the seventy three feet that was constantly being claimed comes from not including the height of the building’s parapet or other features that add height as I understand you. And also taht the seventy two feet height allowance is bonus height allowance and not the base allowance. This is a very important point and I now understand height to be a more substantial problem than portrayed by the architect. Especially if the claiming of community benefit for bonus height is being made on insufficient grounds. I believe that councilperson Hardy also has the same misunderstanding given that she also thought the development is seventy three feet in height.
      .
      I also did not know that the 906 Monroe house has a Mills Act contract. I suppose that the other two that were proposed to remain as is do not and are properly claimed as being preserved by the developer in this proposal. On the 906 Monroe house I believe that the developer proposed to move the house and at least one of the others. And that if the owner of a Mills Act contracted property does not comply with the contract requirements then the contract can be terminated and the owner will suffer an assessment penalty as a result. It sounds like the developer could let the 906 Monroe home lapse into noncompliance with the contract and then have the contract cancelled and also that the Mills Act contract does not necessarily require that it stay at its present location?
      .
      Thank you for your corrections and additional information and reference to other resources I should read in detail to better understand before I state any strong opinions on the development or your opposition to it.
      .
      Going back to the issue of height I was taken aback by Anthony Becker’s seemingly out of the blue offer to make a deal with the developer asking them to match the height of the Silicon Sage building which is thirty feet lower I believe. Lower even than the base maximum allowance in the Downtown plan and much lower than the bonus height. Was Becker making this offer of a deal with the knowledge or agreement by you and your fellow opponents of the project? If so then I wish that you pushed him to offer something less simplistic than a drop below the base maximum height in the Downtown plan. It came across to me as a cynical offer that they must have refused especially given that he presented it as something to accept without exception and on the spot.
      .
      I have only casually browsed through the Downtown Specific Plan draft but I was very impressed by what I saw and I think that it lays out a beautiful guiding vision for the area and if it is and can be feasibly followed by developers may eventually result in a Downtown we can all enjoy or perhaps our children or grandchildren as the case may be.
      .
      I hope that this developer can come to a closer compromise that puts its development squarely within the guidelines of the plan. Not just in height but also when it comes to sidewalk setbacks for vibrant activity at the street level. In looking at this development proposal I personally have felt it unfortunate that the development is limited in its footprint by the preservation of the existing single family homes in their current locations. And I wish that the developer and Danielle Kaliterna were able to come to an agreement to purchase her commercial property and expand the footprint.
      .
      I they were able to redevelop the ground on which the houses and the Kaliterna building are situated I feel that they would be able to design a development that would be able to conform to the letter of the Downtown plan and preferably earning bonus height where applicable. In this way more easily conform to the plan including expanding the sidewalk space while also providing a rate of return that motivates them to invest in this location rather than deploy their capital elsewhere or otherwise leave these properties to languish in their current states which does little good for anyone.
      .
      Thank you for your gracious offer to join in the DCTF’s efforts. I do not live in the Old Quad so I only have an average Santa Claran’s interest in this development and what happens in the Old Quad. If I am ever able to devote my time to joining with you I will. I do not identify myself here with my real name because I comment on political matters and want to do so freely without fearing personal and professional ramifications for the views I express.

  4. Mary O. Grizzle 11 months ago
    Reply

    Mr. Alum. Please get your facts straight

    Most of the arguments arise from the concern that that building is actually 30’ taller than the adjacent building and if it passed it would set a precedent for other properties being bought and sold to developers that they could build that high around residences and around the downtown. It could dwarf the downtown and block sunlight. The ask was no to the amendment to the general Plan that the project did not meet. Furthermore, it is not usual practice to amend the general plan and happens very infrequently.

    • Buchser Alum 11 months ago
      Reply

      Mary,
      .
      I do not live in the Old Quad and so it is easier I am sure for me to not be so concerned with this proposed development being taller than the Silicon Sage building. I personally am happy to see it rise taller if it qualifies for that height properly. But thanks to Adam’s explanation above I now understand that the proposal is higher than the height that was repeatedly quoted and that this height is bonus height with their qualification for the bonus being questionable.
      .
      Admittedly perhaps because I do not live near this site I would like to see the development qualify for the maximum bonus heights allowable within the Downtown Specific Plan but of course I would like for the development to adhere to all the guidelines set forth within the plan such as those laid out for qualifying for bonus height and sidewalk setbacks and etcetera.
      .
      If this were done prior to the Downtown Specific Plan being finalized and approved and thus through PD zoning then I would be happy to see that happen as this would mean it would be commenced sooner. But it does appear that there are still some very significant problems with the development as proposed and perhaps there is a chance that the Downtown plan will be approved sooner.
      .
      I now understand the opposition better and hope the developer can create a new version that is not just economically feasible but desirable for them to develop and that this can all start sooner than later.
      .
      I have followed your efforts on behalf of revitalizing downtown some and I greatly appreciate all your work to make a better future downtown for Santa Clara.

  5. Lucy Haro 11 months ago
    Reply

    Commend Karen Hardy? Ms Hardy was adamant that this project would have legal implications for the City if it not approved and was in fear of possible litigation from the developer, without factually knowing if this project had any legal implications. The attorney confirmed that the decision of approval or denial was at council’s discretion.  She stated, during the meeting “decisions made in fear are often bad decisions… fear of litigation… are not a good way to make decisions?” Yet she was convinced (and told me directly) she had to approve the proposal, that the City’s hands were tied, based solely on fear of potential litigation. 

    Watanbe made statements that there were “budget cuts” to SiliconSage (okay but I think there was a major Ponzi scheme at play but let’s go with budget cuts).. and that this proposal went from “eight stories to six stories’ ‘ – and therefore, the developer listened to the community by dropping it down… however, it never was proposed at eight stories. She also felt the addition of affordable housing of 20% (100% AMI) would be beneficial to SCU students. 

  6. Buchser Alum 11 months ago
    Reply

    Lucy,
    .
    If you see my replies to Adam and Mary above you will see that I have been corrected on the issue of height and others when it comes to this development.
    .
    I also wrote that Karen Hardy seems to have also been mistaken about the actual height of the project. Perhaps she was not but I did not feel as if her not wanting to deny the proposal was based upon fear of litigation. I of course could be wrong but my sense was that she believed what I had believed following the conclusion of all presentations and comments which is that the project was very close to the Downtown Specific Plan draft rather than being noncompliant in very significant ways.

  7. Lucy Haro 11 months ago
    Reply

    @BuchserAlum

    Thank you for your reply. This has been a very emotional process for me, so I apologize if my words were harsh regarding the two council women. It was a very, very long evening for all of us and this has been a very lengthy and exhausting process. I am hopeful the developer will work with the community to develop a project that is more in line with our small-scale historical neighborhood. Have a nice evening.

    • Buchser Alum 11 months ago
      Reply

      Lucy,
      .
      I of course understand that it is an emotional process especially if you live near the development. Even if I disagree with opposition to a development such as this I do sympathize with neighbors and do not blame them for not wanting the development and of course not for feeling emotional which is only natural.
      .
      I wish you and your neighbors luck in extracting more concessions out of the developer. I would like to see a big development built and it seems higher than many neighbors want but if you are able to win concessions that the developer will accept and which will make the development acceptable to the neighbors as a whole then as a Santa Claran I will be very appreciative of all your efforts and emotion in getting this done.

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