Before Santa Clara inked its deal with the Related Companies to develop the City’s 240-acre golf course, City Planning Commissioner and candidate for Council District 2 Raj Chahal found that Santa Clara could have saved 75 acres of land from development at a loss of only 11 percent of anticipated revenue. Chahal took his findings to Santa Clara City Council and was told to send them to the developer, all for naught. His discovery went unexplored and Related was eventually able to lease the land near Levi’s Stadium to develop an office space, shopping, entertainment, restaurant, hotel and residence district on Santa Clara’s Northside.
With a turf war between the City of Santa Clara and the San Francisco 49ers over the Santa Clara Youth Soccer Park, as well as plenty of pushback on the proposed swim center complex at Central Park, the decision to dismiss the alternative of retaining 75 acres is questionable. Had Santa Clara kept direct control of the land, here’s what could have been accomplished in terms of community facilities directly benefitting taxpayers.
Santa Clara Swim Center
Last year Santa Clara hired Project Finance Advisory Ltd. (PFAL) to provide financial advisory, capital campaign, public opinion research and project management services for a new swim complex, which would include a new International Swim Center, Community Recreation Center and lure the Swimming Hall of Fame from its current location in Florida to the Mission City. The project, which has been sent back to be scaled down, proposes a 171,000-square-foot (approximately four acres) center with a performing arts venue, classrooms, indoor gym, exercise studios, children’s and after school program space, new pools, the Swimming Hall of Fame and parking.
If the Swim Center project was moved into that open 75 acres, Santa Clara could raze the current swim center and Community Recreation Center in favor of additional open space in Central Park. Or the City could keep the swim center as a public year-round pool and improve the Community Recreation Center for city classes and the Roberta Jones Junior Theater.
Related’s lobbyist Jude Barry is also a consultant for PFAL, which is one possible explanation of why this alternative for the Swim Center was never considered.
Space left: approximately 71 acres
Santa Clara Youth Soccer Park
The ongoing battle over stadium parking between the City of Santa Clara and the San Francisco 49ers has remained a touchy subject. The City claims the 49ers reneged on a promise to move the Youth Soccer Park to avoid the inevitable traffic on Stadium game and event days, while the 49ers want any deal to provide additional soccer facilities to include use of the park for additional parking. The head-butting between the two entities continues to play out at City Council meetings and within closed door sessions, and both parties refuse to back down.
One resolution to this dispute is for the City to retain some of the golf course acreage and offer the 49ers the current soccer park on Tasman for parking in return for building a new soccer park on the golf course land.
The Santa Clara Youth Soccer Park is only 10.8 acres, and moving it to within the remaining 71 acres the City could have kept would have been one solution to stop the war. The City, too, would have been likely to recoup some of the funds lost from downsizing the Related project in what it would charge the 49ers to lease the soccer park land.
Space left: approximately 60 acres
Facilities Meeting Santa Clara’s Needs
Santa Clara’s Central Park is 52 acres and includes two softball fields, tennis courts, a man-made lake, the Community Recreation Center, the Swim Center, the Lawn Bowls Club, two playgrounds, the Pavilion and open space. With only 60 acres left within the available space, a carbon copy would have been feasible, but Santa Clara doesn’t necessarily need a second Central Park. It does, however, need additional space for little leagues and recreational activities.
In the 1990s, former-Council Member Kevin Moore was leading the charge to lure a major sports team into Santa Clara. Santa Clara also had the opportunity to serve as the home for a professional baseball team when the Santa Clara Dynasty was invited to join the Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs in 2014. The only roadblock standing in the way was the lack of available fields.
Santa Clara could have easily developed a project similar to San Francisco’s AT&T Park in the remaining 60 acres. The 12.5-acre site would have translated well into the available space and further bumped interest for future residents. Although Santa Clara does not necessarily need major league-sized facilities, for the sake of argument, removing 12.5 acres from the remaining 60 would leave 47.5 acres. Considering that Santa Clara’s Washington Park is only two acres, adding two little league fields in addition to a professional sized field would still be completely possible within the remaining golf course land. Two Washington Park sized fields would take the remaining land to 43.5 acres.
It’s also possible to fit approximately six full-sized tennis courts, plus space, into one acre. Santa Clara could have improved its sports facilities by developing one acre to include six new tennis courts, taken an additional 20 acres to develop a driving range and an additional 5 acres for a BMX track.
Space left: approximately 17.5 acres
Another Way to Look at It
In November 2013, Council initiated a Youth Sports Complex Needs Assessment and Feasibility Study, which was completed in 2014, two years prior to the Related deal. That assessment indicated Santa Clara needed approximately 30 acres of athletic facilities to serve residents. Available on the City’s website, http://santaclaraca.gov/government/departments/parks-recreation/park-projects, the needs of the community, as determined by the study, were the following: 11 acres for soccer fields; six acres for multi-use fields for baseball, softball, cricket, lacrosse and other sports; two-and-a-half acres for 10 tennis courts; two acres for an indoor gymnasium; four or five acres for a BMX track and four acres for support facilities. All of this could have been completed within the 75 acres with 45 acres remaining.
Including the aforementioned sports facilities, Santa Clara could have used the remaining 45 acres for a 20-acre driving range, a new 11-acre Santa Clara Youth Soccer Park and still had 14 acres leftover to use at a later date or keep as open space.
Not Just Sports
With both possible proposals, the remaining space is 17.5 and 14 acres, respectively. All of the new developments with the City have impacted Santa Clara schools. Related’s project increases citywide dwellings by 1,600 (less if had been scaled back). If only 50 percent of the new residents occupying those apartments have one school-aged child, that’s 800 new students flooding Santa Clara Unified School District. The current school facilities would not be able to handle an influx of that many students. A new K-8 school would fit into either of the proposed land use models with plenty of space to spare.
Here’s how 75 acres could help alleviate the crowding:
Santa Clara’s Don Callejon School is 74,500 square feet, or about two acres, while a new high school could require up to 32 acres (Santa Clara High School is located on 31.7 acres). If Santa Clara wanted to use the 75 acres of land to serve its students, it could have used 34 acres on new educational facilities, leaving 41 acres. Eleven of those acres could have gone to a new Santa Clara Youth Soccer Park, with 30 acres left over for a new swim and recreation center (four acres).There would still be 26 acres remaining in this model, which could have been used for nearly all of the projects laid out in the 2014 feasibility study — soccer fields, multi-use fields, tennis courts, an indoor gymnasium, BMX track and support facilities.
As with any major renovation project, the cost is always a factor and the price tag to complete everything that has been laid out would be exorbitant. This simply serves as a general guideline of all that could have been accomplished if Santa Clara had listened to Chahal and preserved 75 acres of land.
Based on complaints of increased traffic, inadequate infrastructure to support new developments and resident pushback that has occurred in discussing every new project, the last thing Santa Clara residents want is 1,600 (likely luxury and un-affordable) residential units, 5 million square feet of multi-tenant and build-to-suit office space, 700 new hotel rooms down the street from two existing hotels, plus another shopping center.
Mayor Lisa Gillmor constantly paints a “David vs. Goliath” picture with the City portrayed as a smaller, weaker party pitted against a “giant” football team. But it looks more like Related is the Goliath that is calling the shots in the City. There was no public referendum on Related’s City Place, as there was on Levi’s Stadium. And Related has been scarce in the community since City Place got the go-ahead, except for the company’s lobbyist Jude Barry, whose involvement in City policy appears to extend substantially beyond representing his client.
It’s something to think about.