Santa Clara’s Planning Commission received one last update on the City’s zoning code changes before they are released to the public. The City’s Planning Department expects to have the changes posted online before Nov. 30.
Santa Clara has not updated its zoning code for nearly 50 years, so this is a massive overhaul of the code that takes into account changes in the City as well as development preferences.
There will be eight articles of structure in the code. The bulk of the regulatory work the Planning Department deals with will be contained in Article 2, which handles zones and development standards.
City staff says this new zoning code will be much easier to navigate. Similar districts will be contained in the same chapter, permitted and conditional uses will be presented in a tabular format and relevant allowed uses will all be contained in one chapter.
There will also be clear definitions such as “What is a short-term rental?”
Commissioner Priya Cherukuru asked the City staff to make the new code easier for a layperson to navigate and decipher. She says many times homeowners are unable to identify all the codes that impact a build in addition to the zoning code such as the Climate Action Plan and the Reach Code.
“In a progressive way, we should make it all into one, comprehensive resource document,” said Cherukuru. “I’m saying, insert language into [the] zoning code that points to these additional layers or changes that might happen.”
City staff agreed, saying they have received complaints in the past from people who have had difficulty managing overlapping development codes.
Zoning Code: Minor Use Permit Process Changes
One of the big changes will deal with minor use permits. Under the new zoning code, minor use permits can be approved by City staff without a hearing. If no one in the public objects to issuing the permit, the Planning Department will move forward.
Cherukuru expressed concern about the timing of the process. Previously, public hearings allowed members of the public ample time to object. Cherukuru is worried that if there is no public hearing and there is no timeline to the permitting process, community members would unknowingly miss their opportunity to object.
Commissioner Ricci Herro was concerned about who would be notified about the application for these minor use permits.
City staff will evaluate the process.
Zoning Code: Short-Term Rentals
Another change to the City zoning code deals with short-term rentals.
Under the new code, a short-term rental can only be used for 90-days a year when a host is not present. If a host is present, there is an unlimited amount of time a short-term rental can be occupied.
There will be occupancy limits for short-term rentals and property owners must have a permit that is renewed annually. They will also have to pay the City’s Transient Occupancy Tax.
Both Cherukuru and Herro expressed concern about other renting that are not covered by short-term rentals. Cherukuru says some people are renting out their pools for profit, while Herro is concerned about homeowners renting out their driveways for car or RV storage.
Commissioner Yashraj Bhatnagar asked City staff who would enforce the short-term rental code and hold permit owners to the 90-day limit.
City staff says it is still weighing how to enforce the rules, but that it will require more City resources.
California’s SB-9 Housing Development Bill
While it was not on the agenda, the Commissioners had questions about SB-9, which goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2022.
Commissioner Yuki Ikezi asked City staff if, like neighboring cities, Santa Clara will create an emergency ordinance to prevent SB-9 from going into effect until the City is prepared.
City staff says an urgency ordinance will likely be put into place in February 2022. The City Council will attend a study session on the issue in December.
The next Planning Commission meeting is Wednesday, Dec. 8 at 6 p.m.