The Silicon Valley Voice

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General Plan, El Camino Real to Get a Facelift

The Santa Clara City Council has decided to accelerate the plan to revamp El Camino Real and to institute a “gatekeeper” policy on development projects that fall outside the scope of the General Plan.

As part of a special meeting on March 28 to discuss changes to the General Plan, the Council gave planning department employees the ‘ok’ to move forward with the changes. The “gatekeeper” policy would ensure that development projects outside the General Plan’s scope would require a different process than a typical development, alleviating the need for General Plan amendments.

Redrafting the General Plan was one of the Council priorities as described in its goal-setting meeting earlier this year.

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“I am very hesitant to go forward with any major development on El Camino until we have that plan,” said Councilmember Teresa O’Neill.

O’Neill added that she would like to see a “more aggressive” traffic mitigation to offset the boom in development.

Roughly a year ago, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission awarded the City a $900,000 grant to revitalize El Camino Real, Ruth Shikada, assistant city manager, told the Council. City employees are negotiating a contract with a consultant and should have a proposal back to the Council for approval in about a year.

Several members of the public expressed approval of the Council’s willingness to consider how the swell of development has negatively impacted neighboring communities. Andrew Crabtree, director of community development, said the Council has approved 60 percent of the density allowed by the General Plan along only 27 percent of El Camino Real.

Although Council mainstay Deborah Bress lauded the Council’s efforts to get public input, she was quick to say that Crabtree “cherry picked” data and that what he presented to the Council was “biased,” pointing out how he only presented how many housing projects were finalized, not how many the Council approved. Santa Clara does not need more housing, she said.

Many were critical of housing density saying it negatively affects those living near new developments.

“Density is a tool,” said Santa Clara resident and former City Council candidate Kevin Park. “You can’t just keep screwing a screw or the screw will break … stop screwing the neighborhoods.”

Creating special designations for California’s Great America and looking at how the Council can convert industrial areas into housing or businesses was also a theme at the meeting.

Scott Lane said there is a reason Santa Clara has industrial zones–they generate taxes.

“We need to slow it down,” he said. “We are on the verge of heading toward bankruptcy.”

Kiyomi Honda Yamamoto, regional representative for Greenbelt Alliance–an urban planning and conservationist nonprofit based in the Bay Area–said as the Council considers other areas for development, it should keep in mind that if people are unable to live near their jobs, they move to the City’s periphery, contributing to urban sprawl.

Elaine Breeze, with Summerhill Homes, said if the Council is rethinking the General Plan and giving El Camino Real a facelift, her company is interested in submitting another proposal for a development in the 2200 block. The Council narrowly struck down Summerhill’s proposal for a mixed-use development from 2232 to 2240 El Camino Real earlier this year.

Pilar Lorenzana, deputy director of Silicon Valley At Home, urged the Council to act “thoughtfully but expediently” to add to the stock of “affordable” housing in the area.

Although she agreed that the Council needs to consider rezoning some areas of the City, the only Council Member to speak against overhauling El Camino Real was Debi Davis, saying she is “not in favor of it right now.”

If you would like to share your thoughts on this project, please email your letter to scweekly@ix.netcom.com for publication. Please include your name and phone number with your submission–phone numbers will not be published. Letters to the Editor should be limited to one hundred and fifty words.

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