Council ‘Pushes Pause’ on General Plan Amendments Along El Camino
By David Alexander

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Santa Clara will halt general plan amendments–changes in land use–along El Camino Real for the next six to 10 months until the City Council can determine its vision for the corridor.

At its meeting Tuesday night, the Santa Clara City Council instructed the director of community development, Andrew Crabtree, to inform developers who submit applications that the Council will not approve new projects where developers are seeking a general plan amendments until an overhaul of the El Camino Real Plan is complete.

At a previous meeting, the Council instructed Crabtree to institute a “gatekeeper” policy–which would require any project seeking a general plan amendment to come before the Council–as part of the El Camino Real Specific Plan. Although not a moratorium, the new directive takes the idea further, sending the message to developers that the Council needs to assess how it wants the City’s main business corridor to look before greenlighting more development.

“When I drive down El Camino, some of the spots that can benefit from new opportunities are in Santa Clara,” said Councilmember Patricia Mahan, who made the motion to hold off on considering new development until community outreach can be done. “This is a chance to do what we all say we want to do: push the pause button.”

The Metropolitan Transit Division awarded the City a $910,000 grant nearly a year ago. That money–along with the 12 percent, or $109,200, match from the City–will fund the revisioning of El Camino Real. According to Crabtree’s report, “It is expected that the City will be able to match these funds with salary costs by tracking the time staff spend on this project.”

Although the Council only “gave direction” to Crabtree on how to move forward in processing applications for new developments, it voted unanimously to accept the contract with Raimi+Associates, a Berkeley-based contractor, to develop a plan for El Camino Real and conduct an environmental impact report. That contract is “not to exceed” $910,000; Crabtree’s report shows Raimi+Associates estimates the cost at $750,011.

The El Camino Specific Plan, Crabtree said, will focus on “high-quality urban design” and “upscale retail.” The idea, he said, is to create a walkable business corridor with commercial intersections dolloped between residential areas.

The main point of contention was whether to allow three developments already in the pipeline to proceed–an eight-townhome development at 1530-1540 Pomeroy Ave.; the replacement of a shopping center razed by fire at 3402 El Camino Real; and the 7.14-acre, three-parcel, mixed-use senior housing/hotel Mariani complex at 249-2500 El Camino Real.

Because she co-owns property outside Santa Clara with John Vidovich, the owner of 3402 El Camino Real, Mayor Lisa Gillmor recused herself from discussion on the issue of how to deal with projects already underway.

Of those developments, only the Mariani project would be affected by the directive Council gave Crabtree.

Mark Apton, a Santa Clara resident, called the general plan “completely ridiculous,” saying the density increases in the area are “taking advantage of the residents already here.”

“We do not want to live like in a kennel,” he said.

Elaine Breeze, with San Ramon-based developer SummerHill Homes, attempted to dissuade the Council from suspending development that would require rezoning or general plan amendments. SummerHill Homes filed a letter with the Council stating its intent to tweak a previously stymied mixed-use development to be located between 2232 and 2240 El Camino Real.

Councilmember Pat Kolstad called holding up developers who have already received Council approval “grossly unfair.” Mahan expressed a similar sentiment, saying she took an oath to uphold fairness for everyone in Santa Clara, including developers.

Still, the public was not as thrilled at the prospect of SummerHill Homes being able to resubmit once El Camino’s overhaul is underway.

“How many bites do they get at the same apple?” Council mainstay Deborah Bress asked. “I don’t understand how many times they get to use the same bus pass.”

Bress said the Council should approach the revitalization of El Camino Real with a “clean slate.”

The phases of the rollout will have overlap with community outreach for the El Camino Specific Plan taking place between June and February 2018; plans for development will get underway beginning in October and run through May 2018, and the environmental impact study will be conducted between January and July 2018. Adoption of the plan will come back for Council approval between August and November 2018.

Agreement Made with Landmark

Although it didn’t garner much discussion, comments on the acceptance of a five-year agreement with Landmark Event Staff Services drew pointed remarks from the public. Discussions over Landmark’s lack of unionization drew heavy fire from the public and Council alike during a meeting earlier this month.

However, with a lawsuit looming overhead, the Council approved the contract after Landmark threatened to sue, not only the City, but members of the Council/Stadium Authority individually.

Bress called for whomever was in charge of overseeing stadium matters to be fired. She called out members of the board, telling them they have “no authority.”

“We need to stop playing with ourselves,” she said. “The whole thing is just a house of cards waiting to come down.”

She added that nobody in City Hall has the “balls to step up and see how we are going to fix it.”

Hosam Haggag, another Council mainstay, said it was a “shame” that Landmark managed to “bully” members of the Council/Stadium Authority. He said the Council should have “taken a firm stand” to “stand for what’s right.”

The Santa Clara City Council meets again 7 p.m. Tuesday May 9 in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 1500 Warburton Ave. in Santa Clara.

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