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State of the City 2020: Facing Profound Challenges, Still Accomplishing

Despite unprecedented challenges, the City of Santa Clara is doing well judging by the residents’ solid approval ratings.

That’s the message of last week’s State of the City address by Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor and City Manager Deanna Santana.

The City made “great strides” this year, said Gillmor, including: park renovations, return of the Parade of Champions, hiring record numbers of underrepresented minorities, the City’s rapid deployment of COVID-19 relief programs and an on-demand COVID-19 testing station at the Northside Library (for information call 2-1-1 or visit sccfreetest.org).

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Record numbers of building permits were issued — increasing property tax revenue in future years. This includes over 200 affordable and low-income housing units.

The biggest subject these days is the City’s $10 million deficit this year and next year’s $22 million deficit.

There’s only so much leeway, explained Santana. Thirty percent of the operating budget going to fixed costs like pension contributions. Another 35 percent goes to public safety, and the rest for all the other City services from sewers to libraries.

Other risks, Santana continued, include pension cost increases, loss of Levi’s Stadium revenue, and unanticipated infrastructure needs.

In the short term the City will dip into budget stabilization reserves, currently $79 million. Beyond that, there only two answers: increase revenue and reduce spending.

Cost cutting possibilities include union concessions and, as a last resort, layoffs. Half the City’s temporary part-time positions have been cut and vacant positions are frozen. “Nothing is off the table” including Council salaries, Gillmor said.

Santa Clara is also examining its policing policies, especially use of force. “We’re going to [also] look at social service things that we can move to other departments, maybe non-profits or other volunteers,” Gillmor said.

District 1: Agnews Park is being renovated, said Council Member Kathy Watanabe, and work is going forward at Fuller Street Park for handicapped accessibility and new sports courts.

Related Santa Clara will break ground in early 2021 and housing planned at Tasman East — including 196 “income limited” units — will help serve workers at Related Santa Clara.

The City is developing a plan to address street RV parking, said Watanabe, and passed an anti-racing ordinance.

District 2: Bill Wilson Center received a $1.5 million grant to help residents meet rent payments, Council Member Raj Chahal said, noting that District 2 contains some of the City’s lowest income areas, making programs like the eviction moratorium critical there.

He also announced fast-track applications allowing restaurants to use up to 50 percent of parking space for outdoor dining. The Council should prioritize free citywide bus shuttle service, Chahal said. And he exhorted big companies to actively involve themselves in community welfare.

District 3: Complete renovation of District 3’s only park’s, Machado Park’s, aging facilities is on track, Vice Mayor Karen Hardy reported, and there will be a ribbon cutting when the park opens.

Hardy encouraged residents to continue to wear masks and safely distance, and noted that every day could be take-out day, not just Tuesdays, to support local restaurants.

District 4: A master plan is being developed for Santa Clara’s largest park and recreation center, reported Council Member Teresa O’Neill, and will include planning for a new swim center, existing Community Recreation Center, and the park’s guano-laden pond. El Camino specific area plan will be completed this year.

San Tomas Aquino Creek Trail will be cleaned, repaired and extended to Homeridge Park, which is receiving a complete overhaul. Fundraising is ongoing for the planned Magical Bridge Playground, the first all-abilities inclusive park in Santa Clara. 

District 5: District 5’s seat is currently vacant since Patricia Mahan’s resignation for health reasons, so Gillmor spoke about programs there.

Two district housing developments are in planning: Republic Metropolitan’s student and affordable housing on VTA land near the train station, and Prometheus’ project on El Camino near SCU. SummerHill’s senior housing development on El Camino is delayed.

A “renewed energetic interest in revitalizing” the historical downtown was the trigger for developing a new downtown revitalization precise plan, Gillmor said, to be completed in 2021. BART to Santa Clara is still planned, with construction now anticipated to be finished in 2028.

District 6: Council Member Debi Davis was absent and Gillmor also gave the presentation about district developments. Bordering three other cities and including five school districts, District 5 “benefits the most and suffers the most” from other jurisdictions’ decisions, Gillmor said.

The Agrihood project is going forward on Winchester. Westfield Valley Fair completed a new three-story addition in the Santa Clara side and is talking about expanding further. Apple is adding a second building at the former IHOP location near Lawrence.

City settlements with San Jose about the traffic impact of San Jose’s massive Santana West developments brought Santa Clara “millions” in transportation and affordable housing funding. The Council tabled extension of the Pruneridge Avenue road diet pending more community input.

The Council also gave seven COVID-19 Heroes awards: California’s Great America (District 1), Patricia Hernandez (District 2), Nob Hill Foods (District 3), Nancy Uyeda (District 4), Mission City Grill (District 5), Tony & Alba’s restaurant (District 6), Steve Silva (citywide).

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