City Manager Deanna Santana calmed some social angst that had been brewing in the community regarding plans for rebuilding Santa Clara’s downtown when she sent a public letter on June 25. The letter provided a status update regarding the Downtown Precise Plan and the overall efforts to revitalize the downtown area, which consists of 21 acres bounded by Benton Street, Lafayette Street, Homestead Road and Monroe Street.
The topic of downtown revitalization has been a priority for many in the community for several years, with grassroots efforts springing up to spur the City to restore the original street grid and breathe life back into the urban core. These efforts culminated with the creation of Reclaiming Our Downtown, an organization with 3,700 members working towards restoring the original downtown street grid, and related goals.
“The community wants shovels in the ground by 2022 and it’s coming up very quickly,” said Mary Grizzle, Monroe Street resident. “The letter has been long overdue as the City has been more focused on large projects such as CityPlace. In sending the letter and explaining where the process is, Deanna came out as our champion. There’s still a lot that needs to be done but the ball is definitely rolling. The letter did a good job of outlining what’s been done and what’s ahead — I’m very pleased.”
The letter addressed accomplishments to-date including the approval of a $400,000 budget for the Downtown Precise Plan, City Council making reinstating the original street grid a priority, the City setting an agreement with developer Prometheus to purchase street easements for a section of Franklin and Washington Streets and the creation of a Downtown Community Task Force. The next step is for the City to select a consultant for the urban planning process; interviews took place on June 28. A City Council update on progress is scheduled for October.
“The Plan for the redevelopment of the traditional downtown area, consistent with the community’s goals and vision for a downtown, is underway and the City has committed significant resources to this effort. Over the last 18 months, the City has made significant accomplishments towards a new downtown vision,” wrote City Manager Santana in the letter.
“Santa Clarans, this is not the first time that there has been an effort to revitalize the downtown and, unfortunately, those efforts were not successful,” the letter continued. “I understand the heightened interest and I share in the excitement. Curing the mistakes of six decades takes time and I am committed to working on this project, but these measured and strategic steps will take time. The City has listened and will continue with this effort, while balancing other City priorities. We remain available and, while many challenges are sure to be ahead of all of us, we seek the continued collaboration to work hand-in-hand with the many stakeholders on the broad spectrum of interests that we must work through to advance this effort.”
Grizzle said that she spoke with Santana recently, sharing some of her hopes for the process. “I’d like Brokaw Road to Benton Street to be opened up for a trolley or maybe an underground system to benefit the downtown, considering all the businesses going in,” she said. “I would also like to see City Hall moved into downtown as studies have shown that this makes downtowns more successful.”
In addition to the return of the “exact street footprint,” Reclaiming Our Downtown calls for a holistic plan versus project-by-project development, a blend of architectural features from the historic downtown with current mixed-used designs, return of the historic trolley, as well as the protection of current retailers and residents in the area.
December of last year saw a lot of activity around planning for downtown with a City Council meeting on Dec. 4, 2018 where the overall planning process was outlined. Then on Dec. 20, the Downtown Community Task Force had its first meeting with City staff to discuss the community outreach and visioning process. “What’s the dream? That’s what we’re here for,” Dan Ondrasek, Reclaiming Our Downtown Co-Chair had said.
Ondrasek sits on the Downtown Community Task Force along with representatives from Santa Clara University, Old Quad Residents Association, Historical Landmarks Commission and the Cultural Commission.
Some members of the task force expressed a desire to see connectivity between El Camino Real, downtown and uptown in the planning vision as well as strong connections to Caltrain and future BART, in addition to entertainment and recreational opportunities for community members.
The task force has met regularly since the December session and plans to have another session with City staff on July 23 to discuss next steps, as well as provide an opportunity for the Urban Land Institute to participate in the development of the Precise Plan.
According to a statement from the City, there have been seven failed attempts in the last 55 years to revitalize the downtown — demolished in the 1960s — with an area that’s economically viable and architecturally distinctive. Research conducted by the community hasn’t found any examples in the country of a downtown that had been destroyed and subsequently restored in that time frame. If successful, Santa Clara would be the first do since the 1906 earthquake that destroyed much of San Francisco.
Read a related article here: Why There’s No There, There