Santa Clara City Desk
By Carolyn Schuk

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New City Manager Aims to Build on Santa Clara’s Momentum for Growth

The highlight of last week was undoubtedly the debut of Santa Clara’s new City Manager, Julio Fuentes.

“I’ve been here a week and it’s been an incredible week,” he said at last Tuesday’s Santa Clara City Council meeting. “It’s a beautiful city an incredible city, and I’m honored to be your city manager.

The next day Fuentes was the featured speaker at the Chamber of Commerce’s Santa Clara Outlook 2013. Articulate, well informed about local issues, and a passionate advocate for finding creative solutions to community challenges, Fuentes received a warm welcome from local business representatives and city officials at the event.

A California native, Fuentes enjoyed a two-decade tenure as Alhambra’s City Manager. Under his leadership the town went from a sleepy bedroom community to one of California’s fastest-growing entertainment destinations - one that, Fuentes says, even draws the celebrity Hollywood crowd.

Because his audience was business people, it’s no surprise that Fuentes highlighted his view that one of the jobs of a City Manager is “all about marketing your community - if you come here and invest you’ll get a return.

“You look at existing infrastructure and marry tenants to the building,” he continued. “It’s about carving out that unique niche for the city, recognizing the things that drew the stadium. How do you build on that? If you create synergy, you will create an environment people will come to.”

Marketing Santa Clara, he added, “isn’t going to be difficult.” From his first introduction to the city, Fuentes said he was impressed by many things about Santa Clara - from the friendliness of the people he meets every day, to the city’s highly-professional staff and Council, to the community’s diversity and sense of history, to Santa Clara’s success in making the city an easy place to do business.

But realizing vision, Fuentes said, takes perseverance and patience.

In Alhambra, revitalizing a lifeless downtown started with a single property. “The corner of First and Main became ground zero,” he explained. “We did a deal with a local restaurant. Each time we signed a tenant, we used it as marketing for future tenants. Over time it became an entertainment alternative.”

That’s not to say that the community doesn’t face challenges. The immediate one Fuentes sees is the RDA shutdown and the risks it presents to city assets and future revenue - about 10 percent of Santa Clara’s general fund.

“Our first intent is to preserve the assets,” he told the audience Wednesday. “If we have to litigate, we’ll do that. But we’re looking at other options. It’s going to take time, but the sooner the better to have this cloud lift.”

Keeping Silicon Valley Moving

A conversation with Rod Diridon Sr. about the real possibility of “terminal gridlock” on Bay Area roads suggests that a better title for TransForm’s upcoming “Let’s Get Moving Silicon Valley” summit would be “Let’s Keep Moving.” The Mineta Transportation Institute Executive Director is the keynote speaker for the Feb. 23 event.

Beijing experienced terminal gridlock a few years ago in a famous 100 km, nine-day traffic jam in which people abandoned cars on the road and an entire service economy sprang up to serve those that stayed. Diridon thinks that Silicon Valley is likely to experience a similar event in the next five to 10 years.

“We’re close to that as we move back to full employment, and as we see Apple and Google and other companies building new campuses,” explains Diridon. "The only alternative [to gridlock] is a very convenient and sustainable mass transit system that takes people from where they live to where they work. We can’t expand our roadway system because we’re out against the sound walls."

And with California’s population on course to almost double by 2050, now is the time for setting in place long-term plans.

From the start of preliminary studies, to the completion of construction of a single transportation element is 15 to 20 years, Diridon explains. “That includes everything from environmental studies, to acquiring the vehicles, to informing the community.”

The county got its first master transportation plan in 1976, which mapped out 140 miles of light rail and up to 2,000 feeder bus routes. "But it hasn’t been built because there’s inadequate funding," says Diridon. "We’re one-third of the way there."

Diridon praises Valley residents for their willingness to tax themselves for local transportation needs. However, three depressed economic periods - in the 1970s, early 2000s, and most recently in 2008 - drove down sales tax revenue. "We can never recoup that sales tax revenue," he explains.

Despite the funding problems, Silicon Valley has been able to take significant steps, Diridon says. These include the current project to bring BART to San Jose and Santa Clara, three local commuter rail systems, and the state’s high-speed rail system that’s close to beginning construction.

The summit is an opportunity for people to learn more about the county’s master transportation plans, including VTA expansions such as the Bus Rapid Transit corridor on the El Camino Real. Also on the agenda is a preview of how the high-speed rail system will affect local commuters.

Let’s Get Moving Silicon Valley is Feb. 23 at Luther Burbank School, 4 Wabash Ave. in San Jose, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and registration begins at 9 a.m.

TransForm (www.transformca.org) is a non-profit advocacy group for walkable communities and public transportation.

Closed Sessions Matter

The City Council held a special closed session meeting on Feb. 18 to discuss the terms of a Super Bowl bid. Another subject that’s getting lots of closed session attention is possible litigation about former RDA assets and demands being made on the city by the state department of finance. Contracts with the city’s employee unions are also being negotiated.

Requiescat in Pace

The Feb. 12 City Council meeting was adjourned in memory of Gilbert "Sonny" Metzgar, longtime Santa Clara resident and husband of retired city employee Eleanor Metzgar, and longtime Santa Clara resident and teacher and former Senior Advisory Commissioner, Foster Steven Lopes.