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LED Billboard Along Highway 101 Recommended for Approval

Santa Clara’s Jan. 10 Planning Commission meeting dealt with the Patrick Henry Drive Specific Plan, state housing laws implemented in 2021 and a proposed LED billboard visible from Hwy. 101.

After much debate, the Planning Commission voted to recommend the Santa Clara City Council approve a single-sided LED billboard that can be seen from Hwy. 101.

The 55-foot-tall billboard would be 14 feet by 18 feet and located at the Public Storage facility at 630 Laurelwood Road. The billboard would be visible to drivers going north on Hwy. 101 just past De La Cruz Blvd.

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Under the proposal, the billboard will operate 24/7 and consist of advertisements. No video, motion, noise or audio will be allowed. Billboard operators will be required to allot a percentage of the billboard advertising time to public service announcements and City notices.

During the discussion, some commissioners were concerned about the potential for driver distraction, the danger the billboard could pose to local birds, and the display’s brightness.

“Digital billboards are clearer, but they’re not brighter than traditional displays,” said the applicant.

The applicant says studies have shown that driver distraction is comparable to the distraction caused by standard billboards. He also stated that a study showed that local birds are already used to “urban” light and noise.

Many commissioners expressed concern about the general unsightliness of the billboard. However, City staff says the applicant worked within the regulations provided by the City and the state.

The City’s general policy asks the petitioner to remove three billboards for every new one added. The applicant removed a billboard at 2550 Lafayette St., two billboards at 4545 Stevens Creek Blvd. and plans to remove a billboard at 2983 El Camino Real.

The applicant plans to remove a billboard along a freeway in either San Francisco or Alameda County to meet state regulations.

All commissioners voted to recommend the City approve the adoption of the billboard relocation agreement and zoning code amendment to allow the installation of a new LED sign.

A vote to recommend a zoning code amendment to allow for the increased height of the billboard passed 5-2, with Commissioners Priya Cherukuru and Ricci Herro voting “no.”

A vote to recommend the approval of the Billboard Relocation Agreement passed 4-3, with Commissioners Nancy Biagini, Cherukuru and Herro voting “no.”

Patrick Henry Drive Study Session

The Planning Commission held one final study session on the Patrick Henry Drive Specific Plan.

The plan deals with an area in north Santa Clara. It is north of Mission College, west of Great America Parkway, east of Calabasas Creek and south of the Kylli site (the old Yahoo! Campus). The site consists of 76 acres and three public streets—Patrick Henry Drive, Old Ironsides Drive and Great America Parkway.

The Patrick Henry Drive Specific Plan is expected to be mixed-use along Patrick Henry Drive with residential in the rest of the planned area. It is expected to bring as many as 12,000 new homes to Santa Clara, as well as 10 acres of parkland.

One of the big changes to the plan is that it will not have a street connection to Mission College. The Mission College Board of Trustees voted to deny a street connection on Dec. 21, 2021. The college prefers a paseo connecting the two areas.

The members of the Planning Commission expressed a variety of concerns about the plan as it’s proposed. Commissioner Cherukuru was particularly worried that there is no designated space for a school.

“The city would be forewarned. With all of the other proposals coming right adjacent, with the Kylli project, with the Related. We are not planning for number of schools,” said Cherukuru. “It seems we are not being really progressive in all our thought process because if we are adding this many residential units, it is not being supplemented with the appropriate number of schools.”

City staff says it’s up to the school district to identify and purchase a property for a school.

Commissioner Lance Saleme was worried about a pedestrian walkway near a PG&E easement.

“PG&E doesn’t have a very good track record for safety and I’m just a little concerned that having that as a designated pedestrian area right above an active pipeline might be uncomfortable for people, but we’ll see,” said Saleme.

Commissioner Qian Huang asked why the highest density housing was near the center of the plan because it could cause a shadowing problem. City staff said the decision was based on developer input and concerns about the shadow impacting Sunnyvale if the highest density housing was on the outskirts of the project near Calabasas Creek.

Commissioner Herro expressed worries about traffic control and whether people would want to live so close to Levi’s Stadium. City staff says the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) considers gameday traffic.

Commissioner Yuki Ikezi asked whether the proposal would need clearance from the FAA. City staff says the Airport Land-Use Commission has already cleared the airport issues.

Members of the public also offered input on the plan. Erika Valentine with the UA Local 393 asked the City to put in criteria requiring developers to use local workers and skilled union labor during construction.

Two members of the Santa Clara Library Board of Trustees spoke about the importance of designating a site for a City-run library, saying a library in conjunction with Mission College would not serve the community’s needs.

“The Board of Library Trustees strongly believes including a library within the proposed park will help the City meet the needs of current and future Santa Clara residents. It’s critical that we plan now for the future. We must create the space for a library branch while we have the opportunity even if we don’t have the funds to immediately construct the facility,” said the Board of Library Trustees in a letter to the Commission.

City staff says it has created conceptual designs that include a possible shared library and community center site, but that’s not guaranteed.

2021 Housing Law Changes

The Planning Commission meeting included a second study session covering state housing law changes in 2021.

SB9 Eliminates Single-Family Zoning

Under SB9, a lot owner can spilt an existing lot into two new lots if they are approximately equal in size and if each lot is 1,200 sf or greater.

If a lot is split, the applicant must live in one of the units for three or more years before moving or selling.

SB9 will not let homeowners demolish or alter any unit used as a rental in the last three years and lot splits cannot happen to historic properties. The new unit cannot be a short-term rental. It must be rented for 30 or more days at a time.

The City can require easements for public facilities and services. If there is a lot split, the City can also require that both lots access public streets.

In most cases, the City can not implement parking requirements.

Once a lot is split, Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) laws are not applicable.

City staff will outline the details of SB9 at the Jan. 25 City Council meeting. During that meeting, City staff will offer new objective standards that may help temper some of what is allowed under SB9.

SB10 Allows for City Upzoning

Under SB10, the City can upzone to allow for up to 10 units per parcel. SB10 will enable cities to rezone in transit-rich and urban infill areas. A majority of Santa Clara falls into at least one of these categories.

SB10 allows for a quick increase in residential density, but cities are not required to use the option.

ADU Laws

AB345 allows someone to sell an ADU separately from the housing unit without splitting the lot. This sale can only occur if a housing nonprofit built the ADU and the ADU will be designated as low-income for the first 45 years.

The buyer must occupy the property; it cannot be an investment property.

AB1584 says a Homeowners Association (HOA) cannot prohibit ADUs.

Density Bonus Laws

The state also adjusted how cities can hand out density bonuses to developers.

Now developers who create below-market-rate student housing can receive one density bonus incentive. Previously, they received no incentives.

The state has also created a moderate-income density bonus, giving developers incentives for building housing for people who fall into the moderate-income bracket.

SB290 says a city cannot deny a building incentive based on impact on the physical environment.

AB634 says a city can implement extended affordability periods on developments. The current rule is 55 years.

Integration of Housing

AB491 prohibits developers from isolating affordable units from market-rate units. Developers must also allow affordable units access to the same entrances, common areas and amenities.

This has little effect in Santa Clara since the City already has a law to that effect.

Housing Elements

AB215 says housing element drafts must be available for public comment for 30 days. Any revisions must also have public comment periods.

California’s Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) must approve Santa Clara’s future housing plans. If the City does not have enough affordable housing, it may use AB1398 to rezone large swaths of the City to achieve HCD approval.

AB787 will allow the City to convert market-rate units to moderate-income units to meet 25 percent of the City’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA). Under the law, the City cannot use eminent domain or convert already affordable units to meet this requirement.

AB1304 requires cities to identify Affirmatively Further Fair Housing (AFFH) sites.

SB591 allows for housing developments that integrate senior citizens and transitional age youth. This would create a housing development that is 100 percent affordable. The idea is to surround senior citizens with foster families to help alleviate feelings of loneliness.

Planning Commission Travel, Training and Other Business

The Planning Commission approved spending on two training sessions—Joint Venture State of the Valley on Feb. 18, 2022, and LCC Planning Commissioner Academy on March 16-18, 2022.

The next Planning Commission meeting is on Jan. 26 at 6 p.m. Commissioners will vote on the Patrick Henry Drive Specific Plan.

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