Every Santa Claran can be thankful for the talent, expertise, vision and innovation of former City Manager Don Von Raesfeld. He passed away last week while in church.
While Santa Clara was just getting its training wheels, Don Von was thinking and asking, “Why not Santa Clara?”
Because of his foresight, he envisioned Santa Clara as the mecca of business and industry. The City had the land, its own power company, was receptive to business and had the desire to grow.
Don Von also happened to be city manager at the time Gary Gillmor was mayor. The two of them realized a major problem. Highway 101 was recently finished. It cut Santa Clara almost in half and there was no easy access to the north side of the City. How could we make use of the north side if you had to drive an extra five miles just to get there? The answer: they needed an overpass over 101. The only problem was the millions it would take to build this access.
Ronald Reagan was governor of California at the time and the dynamic duo of Gillmor and Von Raesfeld made an appointment to visit his office. They told their story of the split that existed in Santa Clara and they needed to borrow the money from the state to build an overpass.
Reagan listened with interest but without comment and when the meeting was winding down, Regan looked at them and simply asked, “Will you pay us back?” They looked at each other and said a resounding “Yes.” Reagan lent the City the money, the overpass, which is now Great America Parkway was built, and Santa Clara did repay the loan.
This one monumental move made it possible to invite business and industry to take up residence in Santa Clara. The City became home to Intel, Nvidia, AMD and a host of burgeoning chip and electronic companies.
That overpass opened the north side, which has thrived with hotels, Great America, the convention center and eventually Levi’s Stadium.
Completion of the Don Von Raesfeld Power Plant in 1980 marked the construction of what is one of the cleanest electrical generation plants in America.
Don was a visionary and a loving leader with a passion for preparation. His mark on Santa Clara was tremendous and he will be remembered as a prophet for this passion and dedication.