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.
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.