The future of the Santa Clara stretch of El Camino Real could be established in the next few months. On Feb. 24, Santa Clara’s Planning Commission received an update on the revised plan.
City staff amended the plan to take into account public comment and review. Requests included making El Camino Real walkable with better access to transit and more safety measures for pedestrians. Respondents also asked the City to make the roadway safer for cyclists.
“The vision is that El Camino Real will transform into a multi-modal, complete street for all users and mode types,” Alessandra Lundin, a consultant on the project, told the Planning Commission.
Under the El Camino Real Specific Plan, street parking will be removed and replaced with a protected bikeway. Bus islands will be added for access to public transportation. New developments will be mixed-use with retail below and residential above. Building heights will be capped at four to five stories. Developers will be required to include structured parking and take walkability into account in their plans.
“The idea is as parcels redevelop, they would be required to provide an easement or a dedication to meet this new 20-foot-wide sidewalk requirement,” said Lundin. “So, you would have a nice big 5-foot planter zone with landscaping and street trees between the walk zone and the new cycle track. Additional pedestrian scale furnishing such as benches; pedestrian scale lighting attachments. A big, wide walking zone and then a setback or a frontage zone where there could be outdoor dining and such.”
Activity centers such as Moonlight Center, Santa Clara Center and Lawrence Square would be required to have publicly accessible, privately maintained open space in addition to Santa Clara’s parkland dedication requirements.
In total, the El Camino Real Specific Plan is expected to add 6,200 new residential units to the area while reducing retail by 39,500 square feet.
Commissioners Nancy Biagini and Lance Saleme both asked City staff to require a mix of architectural styles.
“This is going to be a long, continuous road that really needs some variety to make people feel like they’re traveling down an experience,” said Saleme. “It’s not just the trench on the Death Star. It’s actually a collection of individually conceived and designed buildings. I’m hoping that will continue on.”
Commissioner Priya Cherukuru asked that the street’s diversity continue to shine even after redevelopment.
“El Camino Real is very rich in it’s almost a pocket of cultural zones, for lack of a better word,” said Cherukuru. “There’s a lot of ownership of these communities within these and I did not find that acknowledgement come through in the desired outcome. It’s very important for us to acknowledge the cultural sensitivity and the cultural integration into this project.”
Commissioner Qian Huang expressed concern that taller buildings on the northside of El Camino Real would cast a shadow over the street. He asked City staff to consider lowering build height on the northside with possible compensation on the southside.
The El Camino Real Specific Plan will be used to outline what El Camino Real will look like in the future.
If all goes well, the Planning Commission will vote on the plan in late April, with a City Council vote in late May.
Students Ask City for Environmental Accountability
During the public comment section of the Planning Commission meeting, local members of Silicon Valley Youth Climate Action asked the Planning Commission to push an all-electric reach code with the City Council.
Students pointed out Sunnyvale, Cupertino and Mountain View have already adopted all-electric reach codes, while Morgan Hill and San Jose have taken other steps to protect the environment.
“In the past few years, my generation has first-hand experienced the harsh effects of climate change,” said Sindhu Saggeri, a junior at Santa Clara High School. “From year-long droughts to raging wildfires that plague our state, we’ve seen it all and it’s only going to get worse if we do not take action now.”
The City Council is expected to vote on March 9 to fill the final vacant seat on the Planning Commission. Two seats were left open when former commissioners Suds Jain and Anthony Becker were elected to the Santa Clara City Council in November 2020.
The next Planning Commission meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, March 10 at 6 p.m., but there are currently no items on the agenda.