Thank you for the opportunity to be here to talk about my favorite subject – the exciting changes underway in the City of Santa Clara and the entire South Bay region, and the challenges we still have ahead of us. The Mayor sends her regrets for not being able to attend this evening, but I’m very pleased to be here in her place tonight. I’d like to recognize my fellow Council Members, Debi Davis and Kathy Watanabe.
With today’s climate, I want to emphasize that with your attendance here, it signifies that you care about this City and you want to be part of a bright future. It doesn’t matter if you work, live or play here – when you are in Santa Clara, you are a Santa Claran. Earlier this year, the City issued a statement to reassure citizens that it will stand in solidarity with those who may be the targets of discrimination and bigotry. Together, we will not tolerate any hate crime. The City takes great pride in our diverse population and it welcomes those from different backgrounds, nationalities, and cultures. The diversity in Santa Clara represents the texture and strength of this community, and the City will not allow any member of our community to be intimidated, threatened or marginalized. Regardless of ethnicity, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, gender or sexual orientation, the City of Santa Clara is proud to have you and will protect your rights.
Over the past year, the Council has put extra effort it placing the community first – encouraging the public to engage and participate to higher levels and provide invaluable feedback. We asked and boy did they listen! Our Council and Committee meetings have been full of impassioned, informed and influential members of the community voicing their opinion and representing what they believe in. We just had a Council Chambers overflowing with people who wanted to stand up and support the Worker Retention Ordinance. Because of their participation and input into the process, the Council unanimously approved the Ordinance which is designed to provide for the protection and retention of certain food and building services workers in Santa Clara. The action was a true example of democracy working at its finest and I am proud to have been part of process.
The growth we are experiencing is obvious everywhere you look. Construction projects big and small demonstrate that developers see tremendous opportunity in our region and they are investing in our future. They see the same Santa Clara that I see – a beautiful place to plant roots and make some money along the way. Yet, as enticing as Santa Clara is for developers, the Council has heard the community loud and clear that there needs to be a thoughtful and strategic approach to any new building. We have focused development efforts with the City Place project – a $6.5 billion mixed use project that will be built on the site currently occupied by the golf course. This is not just the largest development in Santa Clara history, it is one of the biggest private development investments in all of Silicon Valley. The first phase will focus on retail, restaurants and entertainment venues – businesses often requested by our residents who would like more variety to choose from in their hometown. At full build-out, City Place will provide millions of dollars to the General Fund. With that dedicated funding source, the City will be able to provide higher levels of services with more staff and make Santa Clara even greater than it is today. This destination project will provide the perfect platform to showcase what we have to offer and represents that in Santa Clara, we go by the philosophy of work hard, play harder.
Yet, with change, comes uncertainty and there will be many tough decisions ahead of us as we try to control and direct new development in a way that both takes care of our current needs and is respectful to our future needs 10 to 20 years needs from now. Those are not always the same thing.
For example, let’s look at housing. As one of the most expensive housing markets in the U.S., the South Bay needs more housing stock of all types – single family . . . multifamily . . . owned and rental . . . studio, one, two, three, four and five bedrooms – there is an eager market waiting for whatever gets built. But within the need for more housing there are two sub-segments that need our special attention: housing for our senior population and affordable housing for our residents who do not work for big paychecks. The youngest Baby Boomer turned 53 this year and the oldest is 71. For the next couple of decades, the biggest generation will be retiring, downsizing, and learning to live on fixed incomes. Most will want to remain in the community where they have lived, worked and raised their family – but will we have places for them to go?
In the City of Santa Clara, we have placed a high priority on adding residential projects designed for seniors, especially those that are affordable. The loss of redevelopment agency funds for affordable housing was a disappointing blow to all jurisdictions and especially to Santa Clara where our commitment to affordable housing over the past three decades helped to provide homes to thousands of low and very low income individuals and families. As a region, we need to work together to find innovative solutions to encourage and fund affordable housing projects. There will always be people in the South Bay who work in service jobs and other lower pay rate positions who will struggle to find an affordable place to live in close proximity to their workplace. We need them in our workforce, and we need them to live in a home with access to public transit or a short commute. We must continue to look for solutions to the affordable housing crisis.
These are our immediate housing needs, but as I said earlier we are also challenged to look into the future and anticipate what we need to prepare for in years to come. That brings us to the Millennial generation. Right now the Millennials are in their late teens and 20s. They are the future of this valley and their values and lifestyle preferences are quite different from the traditional ways we have lived and worked in Silicon Valley up to now. They are far more ready to embrace the components of an urban lifestyle than their parents or grandparents – and that means being comfortable with higher density, multi-story housing, more use of public transit, more demand for entertainment and social gathering venues, and – of course –easy access to technology infrastructure like the City of Santa Clara’s free outdoor wifi – we all know that they can never be very far from their phone and I’m fairly certain that they could rule the world from just the palm of their hand….and that blows my mind. I can’t even image what my young son will be able to do when he is old enough to have a phone. In fact, I’m not even sure I want to think about that!
And, I wonder, will Millennials change as they grow older and begin to raise families? At that point, will traditional suburban homes and playgrounds be more appealing? Perhaps . . . but perhaps not. While the rest of us have had to get used to being one of the largest, most influential metropolitan areas in the nation, they grew up with that status, or moved here because of Silicon Valley’s reputation on the world stage. It is far more likely that Millennials will continue to want the urban village look and feel as they go through the passages of life.
Paying attention to the Millennial generation is also important to technology companies who are back to battling for the best and brightest employees. Tech companies don’t just need more space for their growing enterprises, they need the right kind of space – new Class A campuses that support the collaborative way that people work nowadays, and in locations that appeal to most sought after engineers and innovation experts. Again, that means easy access to public transit, stores, restaurants, entertainment and amenities like trails and parks. During the November election, the voters passed a measure to protect open space in the City and we now have park fees to help bring new opportunities for people to gather outside and enjoy the 300 days of sunshine we get here. In addition, the City has embarked on an innovative community engagement process in partnership with Projects for Public Spaces and several workshops have already been held – you can catch them on the City’s Facebook and Youtube channels if you missed them – and the fundamental key is that if you build public spaces around people, people will come to public spaces.
In addition to growth, building, open space and housing, we also need to be mindful of Mother Nature. The City Council has placed emphasis on sustainability efforts for decades and, now more than ever, are looking for ways to respect the environment. Silicon Valley Power has continued to be at the forefront of being a green power supplier and have been recognized for their outstanding efforts, initiatives and programs that promote the use of green power within homes and businesses and advance the development of green power sources. Next month, you will hear a very exciting announcement of a local major business that will be going to 100% green power…I’m not at liberty to say which business it is but here’s a hint – it’s very close to here, on Great America Parkway and just had their Season Opening Day this past Saturday. Stay tuned!
I hope you’ve notice that I am several minutes into my comments and I haven’t mentioned Levi’s Stadium. That restraint in no way should suggest that I am any less excited about it than I was when we cut the ribbon in July 2014 to open the best stadium in the U.S. Every time I see it, I still get a thrill — knowing what the City of Santa Clara and the 49ers accomplished in conceiving, funding and building this incredible regional asset in record time. And to be able to host Super Bowl 50 was an unforgettable honor and allowed us to showcase a region that is progressive, cosmopolitan, diverse, and growing.
We cannot over-estimate how much this one facility has added to the future potential for growth and development in the South Bay. More developers want to invest here because of it. More people want to visit here because of it. More companies want to locate here because of it. It will not only generate millions of dollars to the City of Santa Clara General Fund, it will give the region’s economy a significant boost.
And, as hard as it may be to toot your own horn at times, I have to just take a minute and say that the Santa Clara has done the impossible with regard to our financial situation. Not only did we have a balanced budget for 2016-17 but that was with the addition of nearly 69 newly funded positions to bring more and better services, and with – and here’s the amazing part – incredibly healthy reserve balances that were greatly depleted during the Great Recession. The Working Capital Reserve, the “safety net” for economic fluctuations had declined from $21.1 million in 2008 to just $2.5 million two years later. Yet, with creative and innovative approaches, we were able to sustain cutbacks on expenditures and enjoy a recovering economy to bring that total up all the way to nearly $50 million. And, the Capital Projects Reserve had also declined to a balance of $2.5 million in June 2010, but as of April last year, it now stands at over $8 million. Now, we have a substantial rainy day fund and will look to prioritize some of the areas that have been on hold. Things like fixing and replacing aging infrastructure; replacing playground equipment; building a new fire station; and looking at what we are going to do with this building – the Convention Center – to make it the gem it used to be.
The opportunities are limitless for the South Bay, but with great fortune comes great responsibility. As government and business leaders, we must stay focused on balancing the needs of today with the needs of the next generation, and to serve both with development that will be a legacy we can all be proud of. Together, all of us in this room, have a social responsibility to work together to be part of the cause. I call upon all of you to become engaged with the Chamber of Commerce and to become engaged with the City Council. We depend on it and together, we can get from good to extraordinary.