February 12, 2019

Santa Clara: Council Considers Housing-Rich Plan for El Camino Real


At a study session on February 4th, the Santa Clara City Council was presented with a robust proposal for a housing-rich future as part of the Specific Planning process for the El Camino Real corridor.  After over a year of public outreach and meetings of the appointed Community Advisory Committee, city staff unveiled a preferred land use plan that would increase residential densities to allow for up to an additional 4,400 homes, and new right-of-way alternatives that include a dedicated bicycle lane.

Dozens of Santa Clara residents, environmental, and housing advocates spoke in support of a vibrant mixed use redevelopment of the street during the study session.  The El Camino Real, which is currently dominated by aging strip malls, has already begun to experience modest residential development, but the new proposal calls for a carefully planned series of high-activity areas that would combine significantly higher-density housing with retail.

While the plan was generally well received by the four council members present (two others and the Mayor recused themselves due to property ownership abutting the planning area), the evening was not without tension as members of the community alternated between support and concern about a specific development already proposed along El Camino.  The active proposal would see development of both a new hotel and residential opportunities alongside a redeveloped restaurant and banquet facility.  The height and density concerns raised by residents of the neighboring single-family neighborhood added a cautionary note to the evening as everyone was reminded that even with solid planning, redevelopment will happen one project at a time and will often require community support.  SV@Home’s analysis of the land-use plan shows that the City will likely need to update its current set-back and shadow-line standards to realize the full residential capacity of the new plan.

Last week’s Study Session paves the way for a final community outreach meeting in March, followed by the preparation of an Environmental Impact Report.  Final consensus on the land use plan will also allow for additional public outreach, and the reconvening of the Community Advisory Council, to consider community benefits that might be incentivized by the new zoning opportunities created by the Specific Area Plan.  This discussion will include consideration of SV@Home’s priority that these opportunities need to be tied to expectations of more affordable housing at deeper levels of affordability than currently required by the City’s Inclusionary Housing Ordinance.  Along with the area around the Santa Clara train station, planned as the end of the BART line extension into the South Bay, El Camino Real offers Santa Clara just the type of transit-rich opportunities ideal for significant affordable development.