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Related’s New Plan for Northside — Bait & Switch?

If you want to know what a sizable part of Santa Clara’s former golf course and promised future urban and entertainment center is likely to look like in the future, you should skip Santana Row and take a drive down Central Expressway.

On Jan. 31, Related Companies, which has held an exclusive negotiating agreement (ENA) on the 240 acres of former city golf course since 2013, proposed a development plan amendment (“Scheme C”) to add 1.6 million sq. ft. of light industrial space. It cut retail, restaurant and entertainment space by 30% and office space by 20%.

This is the latest development in a project plan that was supposed to be in its second phase by now, but still hasn’t begun any construction activity on the site.

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“Related continues to work with regulatory agencies in an effort to secure all the approvals necessary from the State of California, the County of Santa Clara, and the City of Santa Clara in order to begin construction,” the City said in response to a records request, although some Related building permits are currently pending with the City.

“Updated” and “Reimagined”

In a press release, Related described the new plan as “an updated approach to beginning development at Related Santa Clara. The amendment would allow for light industrial and advanced manufacturing uses on a peripheral portion of the project site.”

“Reimagining portions of the project in ways that better suit today’s economic environment has the potential to accelerate economic benefits to the City,” said Steve Eimer, Related Companies Executive Vice President and Co-Managing Partner of Related Santa Clara.

Santa Clarans didn’t hear about this from their elected representatives or City Hall. It was announced to them via the SV Business Journal and the Mercury News — which presented the new proposal as a fait accompli: “A huge mixed-use village in Santa Clara will undergo a major shift by replacing millions of square feet of offices with manufacturing and industrial spaces.” (Mercury News, Jan. 31)

The City’s story is somewhat different from the media coverage.

“Nothing has been approved at this point,” said Santa Clara PIO Janine De la Vega.

“The [new development plan] application will now go through review by staff to determine if more environmental review is needed. This is the beginning of a public process and it will go before the Planning Commission for recommendation and City Council for final approval. This process for approval of any amendments…will go through multiple public meetings,” continued De la Vega.

“We know the Related Santa Clara project is of high interest to the community and the regional economy,” said City Manager Jovan Grogan. “City staff will conduct a full analysis of the request in the coming months and support the City Council in their review and determination of the application.”

Right now Related’s new plan isn’t on the council’s agenda, although some have said privately that it may come to the council in May or June.

“The important question is: Are we realizing the vision we have for this development,” said Council Member Kevin Park.

January Meeting Blitz at City Hall

Although it came as a surprise to residents, Related’s announcement of the new plan wasn’t a surprise at City Hall.

Related held a series of Zoom meetings with council members on Jan. 2, 3 and 4. Those meetings were with two or three council members to avoid violating California open meeting laws (the Brown Act). However, the public had no way of knowing about these meetings because the council calendars weren’t published until mid-February.

The meetings included Santa Clara city staff Jovan Grogan, Reena Brilliot, Chuck Baker and Elycia Knight; and Related staff Eimer, Thomas Boshaw and Nick Vanderboom, according to Council Member Suds Jain.

The topics Jain and Related discussed included changing the master plan to add light manufacturing and warehouses, power needed to support data centers, option payments from Related for “locking up our land for so long” and parking for stadium events.

No other council members responded to the Weekly’s request for details about their January discussions with Related, which also declined to provide any information about discussions with the City.

To some, Related’s series of meetings with council members “looks and feel” like a serial meeting, prohibited by California’s open meeting laws.

The Brown Act, defines a serial meeting as a series of communications, each of which involves less than a quorum of the legislative body, but which taken as a whole involves a majority of the body’s members and involves discussion, deliberation or taking action on agency business. Meetings with fewer than a majority of the council with members of the public aren’t subject to the Brown Act.

“The three meetings in which you are referring do not constitute a ‘serial meetings’ in violation of the Brown Act,” De la Vega told The Weekly.

“Each council member attended only one of the three meetings, where each meeting consisted of less than a quorum of the Council. Each meeting consisted of a briefing on the update to Related’s application for an amendment change,” she continued. “This is a standard practice to provide updates/briefings on topics of this scope and size to the City Council and the same information was provided at each of the three council briefings.

“During the briefing,” De la Vega continued, “Related informed the City that they would be filing an amendment change and subsequently sending out a press release to inform the community.”

New Industrial, Less Entertainment

The new industrial buildings would be double the square feet of the “entertainment district” — a big selling point for the project in 2012-2013 — and cover about the same footprint as the office, hotel, retail and entertainment space put together. Further, the industrial development would border residential development and a new city park.

So, what is “light industrial” exactly? The designation includes warehouses, distribution centers, data centers, R&D and light manufacturing. But, the biggest demand for this type of zoning is coming from distribution centers/warehouses and data centers.

Santa Clara is already near a breaking point with data centers, with these mammoth electricity consumers pushing the boundaries of Silicon Valley Power’s generation capabilities and blighting the esthetics of nearby residential neighborhoods.

Distribution centers mushroomed in Southern California during the COVID-19 pandemic, with dire consequences for those unfortunate enough to live near them.

With 1.4 billion sq. ft. of distribution centers, the Inland Empire was described by the L.A. Times as the state’s “warehouse empire” and a “gridlocked sea of warehouses” in a 2022 editorial. The Times dubbed nearby residential areas “diesel death zones” because of the air pollution.

City Return for Tying Up Land Since 2013: $839,375

In the 12 years that Related has tied up the land, the company has paid the city $839,375 in ground lease payments for three of the four parcels — 11% of what the City would have received ($7.75 million) had the project been developed according to the original plan.

In addition, the City has received none of the $15.5 in annual tax revenue the development was projected to bring Santa Clara — $77.5 million since 2019, the year Related Santa Clara was first projected to open.

The document provide to the City from Related did not appear to have a scheduled date for when this new, adapted project would break ground or be completed.

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10 Comments
  1. Jim 3 weeks ago
    Reply

    The area in question is on top of the old city dump. What does that mean?

    • Fred 3 weeks ago
      Reply

      It means the project stinks.

  2. John Haggerty 3 weeks ago
    Reply

    Thank you for another fact-filled news article. A few observations:

    (1) So, the 49ers are not the only secretive, special interest in Santa Clara. Interesting.

    (2) Industrial warehouses do not bring as much traffic, municipal services, and criminal activity challenges as commercial, office, manufacturing or residential developments do.

    (3) Looking at the decline of the El Camino Real and Stevens Creek Blvd., as well as the closures of the Vallco and Sunnyvale Shopping Centers, I cannot blame Related (or any other company) for not rushing into any new developments (haste makes waste), we do not need any more “ghost developments” in our fair city.

    (4) What would be wrong with just keeping the golf course as it is–an entertainment, green space for our city (perhaps, upon which we could build a new swim center since it is free, city land).

    (5) I think that many of the people who bought their homes on the Northside 20 years ago were under the reasonable impression that that golf course would remain a permanent fixture of our city and/or that it’s density would not be increased too rapidly.

    Thank you, once again, for keeping the citizens of our city informed of these important municipal matters.

    • Ed Richards 3 weeks ago
      Reply

      Just some random thoughts that your comments brought to mind… You mention secretive organizations such as the 49ers. Did you include the City Council’s closed sesion meetings?
      If you look at wherehouse/distribution center concentrations I believe you will find heavy traffic & poor air quality.
      Ths golf course was underutilized and subsidized by the City. Lisa Gillmors description.
      I do like the idea of the swim center being rebuilt there.

  3. Ed Richards 3 weeks ago
    Reply

    Just some random thoughts that your comments brought to mind… You mention secretive organizations such as the 49ers. Did you include the City Council’s closed sesion meetings?
    If you look at wherehouse/distribution center concentrations I believe you will find heavy traffic & poor air quality.
    Ths golf course was underutilized and subsidized by the City. Lisa Gillmors description.
    I do like the idea of the swim center being rebuilt there.

  4. Ed Richards 3 weeks ago
    Reply

    Just some random thoughts that your comments brought to mind… You mention secretive organizations such as the 49ers. Did you include the City Council’s closed sesion meetings?
    If you look at wherehouse/distribution center concentrations I believe you will find heavy traffic & poor air quality.
    The golf course was underutilized and subsidized by the City. Lisa Gillmors description.
    I do like the idea of the swim center being rebuilt there.

  5. Fred 3 weeks ago
    Reply

    Related. 49ers. Lisa Gillmor has a track record of cheerleading when it comes to bringing in white elephant programs but then washes her hands of them when is politically expedient.

    How long before she turns on Related, which has contributed to her?

  6. John 3 weeks ago
    Reply

    That piece of property would make an excellent golf course. I for one would be playing there every week and would have my kids lessons there as well.

    As for the statement that it was an under utilized golf course, this was not the case prior to related. The course was very popular and was always busy every time I played there. It only became under utilized when they redid the cart paths to allow for stadium parking on the golf course and announced its closure due to related. It stayed open another 3 or 4 years after that announcement, however, the play level never reached the levels pre-related announcement. I talked to a lot of people during that time that did not even know the golf course was open anymore.

    If it were to reopen today, the course would be fully booked, as it is almost impossible to get a tee time anywhere now and all of the golf courses are over crowded.

  7. Bruinguy 3 weeks ago
    Reply

    Obviously Relared is never going to use all of this property. Why not take 12-15 acres at the north end near SR237 and move the three soccer fields away from the stadium. The 49ers might be happy to contribute either directly or through rent paid for the current soccer park land. This would also benefit the soccer people who wouldn’t have to deal with having soccer games inside of the stadium security zone on game days.

  8. Mike 2 weeks ago
    Reply

    Come on, everyone. A golf course? Really? In one of the most expensive real estate markets on Earth, next to an Amtrak and ACE train station as well as multiple VTA light rail stops, next to a massive stadium hosting the Super Bowl in 2026 and the 2026 world cup, next to a new development area of 6.5k new housing units with the tallest buildings in the entire city, in an area with a severe housing affordability crisis, in a state with persistent and worsening water shortages, during a time when more people want to live in walkable areas you would have the city dedicate almost 2% of its area to a few older guys hitting balls on flat stretches of grass once a month? Seriously? I would assume when people moved to a metro area of 8 million people with the most active tech sector on the planet it would be pretty self explanatory that they weren’t moving to a quiet village outside Fargo, ND. It is baffling to me people who moved here can act so entitled. I’m glad you bought a house, give other people a chance to have one too someday

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