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Santa Clara Transportation Management Standards Lag Behind Region

The Sept. 25 Planning Commission meeting was dominated by study sessions. A guest planning specialist, Elizabeth Hughes, spoke to commissioners about trends in Transportation Demand Management (TDM) Plans across the Bay Area. TDM seeks to maximize the utilization of existing transportation resources and to reduce the number of miles traveled in personal vehicles. This is done through physical infrastructure, outreach efforts and monitoring of transportation trends. TDM plans can be created for new development projects, large employers, and incorporated within area planning documents for municipalities.

Hughes stated that TDM programs vary greatly across the region’s cities but that the City of Santa Clara’s plans have had low requirements relative to other nearby cities. She stressed that people must have alternatives to personal vehicle use in order to reduce their number of trips. Measures like employers allowing telecommuting work and offering shuttles can help as well as robust public transit systems.

“Employees can’t ride transit if there is no transit,” she said.

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“When I talk to residents, their number one complaint is traffic and the number two complaint affordable housing,” said Commissioner Suds Jain. “Santa Clara has traditionally under-emphasized traffic, our impact fees for traffic were always very low. Our VMT [vehicle miles traveled] reductions are much lower than other cities.”

Safe Parking, Assisted Living

As City planners are in the midst of conducting a comprehensive zoning code update, they are delving into issues that haven’t been given as much focus in the past. One of those challenges is how to address the increasing numbers of individuals residing in vehicles, especially during overnight hours. City staff stated that many nearby cities are dealing with the issue as well and the opportunity exists to craft regulations in the zoning code, which would spell out conditions for “safe parking sites” such as a requirement to have onsite sanitation facilities. A major looming question regarding the sites is where to locate them.

Another topic to be addressed in the zoning code update is around supportive housing facilities for seniors and homeless individuals. The City currently only has one zoning designation for assisted living facilities and staff is examining ways to differentiate between various types of facilities including between those that are more commercially-oriented and others that are residential in nature.

 

Brown Act 

Likely due to the presence of new commissioners, Assistant City Attorney Alexander Abbe, gave a primer on the Brown Act as it applies to municipal bodies such as City Council and Planning Commission. Originally passed in 1953, authored by then-Assembly member Ralph M. Brown, the legislation has evolved over the decades.

The law states, “All meetings of the legislative body of a local agency shall be open and public and all persons shall be permitted to attend any meeting of the legislative body of a local agency, except as otherwise provided in this chapter.”

At its core, the Brown Act is designed to safeguard the public’s right to know and participate in public business. The act mandates that meetings be conducted in front of the public and allow for public participation, and that sufficient notice of upcoming meetings be posted.

The law applies to any meetings where officials are discussing items in the subject matter under their jurisdiction. In other words, Planning Commissioners can’t hold secret meetings about proposed development projects, but they can attend cocktail parties together out of public view. The Brown Act also applies to emails between commissioners and City staff.

Planning Commissioners are disqualified from being involved in decision-making on projects if they live within 500 feet of the property in question. If they live less than 1,000 feet from the property their ability to participate is determined by factors such as whether the decision will impact the market value of their property. Abbe said that the safest precaution would be for commissioners to not participate if they live within 1,000 feet.

Officials such as commissioners also can’t have business interests that could compromise their decision-making such as holding stock in a real estate company that’s developing a project being decided upon.

The Santa Clara Planning Commission meets again on Wednesday, Oct. 9 at 6 p.m. at Santa Clara City Hall.

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