Something rarely seen at a Santa Clara City Council meeting happened during the Council’s last meeting: those who opposed a development project didn’t want to stop it; they wanted to expand it.
In order to develop a colossal mixed-use complex, Cupertino-based Hunter Properties sought a General Plan amendment to create a new density designation Tuesday night. The project, dubbed the Gateway Crossings project, located at 1205 Coleman Ave., would host 1,600 apartments, roughly 30,000 square feet of retail, more than 2 acres of park and a 225-room hotel.
Several members of Santa Clara’s Old Quad Residents Association, a neighborhood advocacy group, said community outreach on the project floundered. Many said they didn’t oppose the development — saying they would like to see even more density — so much as they would like the details ironed out.
“This is a once-in-lifetime opportunity,” said Rob Mayer. “Good design is not just the sum of its parts.”
When people view the Gateway Crossings project, they “should be amazed,” he said. If the details of the plan are not handled properly, the project will end up “piecemeal.” He likened the situation to composing a symphony.
Howard Myers, a Council mainstay, said the project was “not quite ready,” adding that the 1,000 ft. radius notification was insufficient. The public outreach for the project is not a “one size fits all” situation, he added.
Repeatedly, speakers said they didn’t want to stop the project so much as “pause” it, saying that, if hurried, it could be a “missed opportunity” or “fall short of [its] potential.” Many said even more density is warranted in the area; their main concern was with the lack of public input.
However, Andrew Crabtree, Director of Community Development, said the public outreach was “at least as much, if not more, than is required.” Should the developer opt to add more apartments the City would have to consider it a new project, delaying it further, he added.
Suds Jain, who sits on the Planning Commission, expressed concern about the buildings’ appearance, a sentiment echoed by Myers and others. Meanwhile, Tino Silva, a former Parks and Recreation Commissioner and Charter Review Committee Member, said the 1.4 spaces per apartment were woefully insufficient considering the amount of retail included in the plans.
The project saw support from the Silicon Valley Organization, the Santa Clara Unified School District and Santa Clara University.
Dean Hunter, with Hunter Properties, said it “reflects poorly” on him if people feel they weren’t heard during the public outreach portion of the project.
“I really feel like we included everyone,” he said. “It is our style as developers to build consensus.”
Although he seemed skeptical it would change things, Hunter said he was amenable to holding more public meetings if it will “buy a little more support.”
Mayor Lisa Gillmor encouraged Hunter to be “more open-minded,” saying members of the public can often be “very reasonable.”
The Council voted unanimously to table discussions of the project until its Feb. 5 meeting.
Council Appoints Task Force to Revitalize Downtown
Discussions surrounding the Gateway Crossings project played directly into the Council’s appointment of a task force geared to revitalize downtown. The discussion took place at a special study session prior to the regularly scheduled meeting.
The Council appointed a nine-member task force to act as its advisors on how to develop a precise plan for the eight blocks bound by Homestead Road and Benton, Lafayette and Monroe Streets, colloquially called “downtown.”
Among other things, the task force will look at a strategy on financial feasibility, land use and connectivity.
Mary Grizzle, a Santa Clara resident, said she was concerned the task force would only examine the downtown plan from a perspective that considers only the roughly six out of 21 acres that is City-owned. The area should not be “dealt parcel by parcel,” she said.
That the City had only scheduled five meetings for the task force was “ludicrous,” she added.
“We need to think this through and get this right,” she said. “We need to take our time.”
Cutbacks Make Dent in City’s Looming Debt
Money didn’t just come up during discussions of the downtown plan. City Manager Deanna Santana and Angela Kraetsch, the City’s Finance Director, also presented next year’s budget.
Santana announced that General Fund revenue increased $7.7 million — a 3.3 percent increase — while the City was able to cut spending by $10 million — or 4.4 percent — for the upcoming year. The news is good for the City, which is looking to avoid financial catastrophe in the upcoming years.
A 25 percent increase in the City’s reserves will bump that total to $278 million. Meanwhile, the General Fund stabilization fund, a reserve to insulate the City against fluctuations in the economy, is on track to increase by 56 percent, reaching its highest level ever at around $80 million, roughly $30 million higher than the City’s goal.
“It is a fact that the City is spending less and saving more,” Santana said.
Still, the $20.4 million contribution to the unfunded pension liability only amounts to a 4 percent dent in that debt.
Silicon Valley Power Set to Restructure, City Attorney Gets Raise
But it wasn’t all cutbacks. The Council also approved adding two new Assistant Director of Public Utility positions to Silicon Valley Power.
With the retirement of John Roukema, Director of Electric Utility, the Council needs to address issues of salary compaction within the utility.
Roukema said in order to set itself up for the next 10 years, the Council will need to look at restructuring, in the wake of new regulation and legislation governing utilities.
These “top level” changes, will have the Chief Operating Officer overseeing two assistant directors with a focus on becoming “more agile, transparent and accountable.”
Suds Jain said it is “imperative the utility move as quickly as possible.”
Further, the Council approved waving the standard 180 waiting period to hire retirees so it can employ Roukema to oversee Silicon Valley Power’s 2018 strategic plan, which the Council also adopted.
Unit 9, the City’s police management bargaining unit, also got a 4 percent raise. The pay increase also applied to City Attorney Brian Doyle, amounting to a nearly $13,000 a year raise.
The raise comes on the same night as the City settling a $2 million claim — buried on the consent calendar — from a man who claims the City’s negligence caused him to get run over by an SUV at the intersection Kiely Boulevard and Malabar Avenue in late 2015.
Council Member Patricia Mahan was absent.
The Council’s next regularly scheduled meeting will be at 7 p.m. on Dec. 11 in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 1500 Warburton Ave. in Santa Clara.
Correction: Hunter Properties is a 60-year-old Cupertino based development company. They are not based out of Cardiff as a previous version of this article stated. We apologize for the error and have corrected the article.