Silicon Valley’s Ridiculous Showdown

Silicon Valley, Santa Clara, San Jose, Bay Area, San Francisco, CityPlace

Silicon Valley, Santa Clara, San Jose, Bay Area, San Francisco, CityPlace

San Jose initiates legal battle with neighbor Santa Clara over massive CityPlace project.


By Jacob Bourne

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he City of Santa Clara held a closed City Council session with legal counselors on September 20 to discuss litigation pursued by San Jose over the proposed CityPlace project, one of the largest in Santa Clara’s history. The $6.7 billion project by global real estate development firm, Related Companies, was approved by Santa Clara City Council this summer following a four-year planning process, but the neighboring city of San Jose is not pleased, and after continuous objections during the planning and city council approval process it decided to take the matter to the courts.

The project is situated on a 239-acre site near Levi’s Stadium and close to the northern San Jose border. The site is subdivided into five parcels for phased development given the enormity of the proposal. Current plans call for incorporating 5.7 million square feet of office space, 1.1 million square feet of retail, 1,360 residential units, 700 hotel rooms, 250,000 square feet of restaurant space, and 190,000 square feet of entertainment venues, all centralized within a mixed-use, walkable campus-neighborhood.

In November 2015, Harry Freitas, San Jose’s director of Planning, Building and Code Enforcement, sent an 11-page letter to Santa Clara’s Planning Department staff outlining feedback on the draft environmental impact report for CityPlace. The letter states, “The conclusions of the Land Use and Planning analysis raise serious concerns for San Jose’s ability to implement its own General Plan and construct desired development in North San Jose particularly. The lack of adequate residential development as part of the proposal project results in inadequate housing being made available to support the number of new jobs created, a substantial increase in VMT (vehicle miles travelled) and congestion, and a corresponding degradation in regional air quality and increase in GHG Emissions.”

On April 29, San Jose upped the ante with a 44-page letter sent by San Jose’s legal representatives, pinpointing particular deficiencies in the project with suggested alternatives, and urged Santa Clara to rectify the issues, explaining that the objections will continue until all issues are addressed.

Subsequent to the project’s approval by the Santa Clara city council on June 28, 2016, San Jose filed a lawsuit against Santa Clara just a month later on July 29 with the Santa Clara County Superior Court. According to San Jose City Attorney Richard Doyle, the legal challenge is directed against the environmental impact report, which is part of the CEQA process.

“There are two major issues,” Doyle said. “There are a host of traffic impacts at 12 intersections within San Jose and Santa Clara, which need mitigation. The project will add 140,000 daily vehicle trips, and they haven’t addressed the impacts. The other issue is housing. The project is going to add 29,000 jobs but is only attempting to add 1,200 housing units. Of those units, 1,000 would be on a landfill and the State won’t allow that. Only the 200 units in the original plan are realistic. There’s a huge jobs-to-housing imbalance in Santa Clara. They tried to address that with their recent General Plan update, but this project completely flies in the face of that.”

The city of Santa Clara has not been ignoring the issue, and one wonders what precedent does San Jose have to object to a project in a neighboring city especially after approving millions of square feet of office development within its own borders in the North First Street neighborhood, adjacent to the Santa Clara boundary.

At the city council meeting held in June the city of Santa Clara responded directly to the allegations made by San Jose’s Senior Deputy City Attorney Vera Todorov, who represented San Jose in publicly objecting to the project.

“We’re doing our share,” Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor said. “We don’t have the housing imbalance [San Jose does]…but that was their choice, and that’s their community that they planned. We know Santa Clara is a very attractive community, we know over the years our forefathers and mothers put in the infrastructure in our city to encourage business. We can’t help that we’re so attractive!”

This project will be a great project for city, she added. And while she acknowledged that San Jose officials have been communicative, she presented a thick, inches-tall file of documents that had been delivered to her office just hours before the final council meeting set to approve the development. It was the neighboring city’s last ditch effort to influence the decision and a project that will greatly benefit Santa Clara and the region, and none of the council members seemed to appreciate that gesture by San Jose’s attorneys.

In addition, Mayor Gillmor added, the Tasman East Specific Plan is looking at a 45-acre historically industrial neighborhood in northern Santa Clara to be rezoned to allow for residential development. This area is in very close proximity to the Related project and represents the city’s attempt at resolving the very issues that San Jose is raising.

“The residential will be higher density, multi-family, with up to 100 units per acre. There are developers actively engaged in the specific planning process. About half a dozen developers have started to tie up property,” said John Davidson, project manager for the City of Santa Clara Planning Division describing the interest of residential developers for the Tasman East plan.

Santa Clara is working with architecture and planning firm Perkins & Will to produce a draft of the plan by the end of the year or early 2017, with the whole process expected to be completed by mid-2017.

In addition to that, the Lawrence Station neighborhood, which is in close proximity to Caltrain, is another northern Santa Clara area that is being evaluated concurrently with Tasman East and will have a similar vision. Both of these initiatives are in plain sight of the city of San Jose, as well, yet it does not seem to want to relent in its pursuit to stop the Related Companies project moving forward.

Doyle mentioned Related Companies as playing a key role in the matter, and that, ideally, all parties will be able to reach a resolution. He explained that the suit is in a waiting period as the administrative record needs to be completed and certified before Santa Clara files a response. A hearing date has not yet been set.

Jennifer Yamaguma, Santa Clara community relations manager stated, “Approved by the Santa Clara City Council in June 2016, the CityPlace project is one of the largest projects in the City’s history and when developed will be a centerpiece of the City’s retail and entertainment area. Although litigation has been filed against the EIR, the project continues to move forward as Related is continuing its efforts to complete the design and other plans necessary to begin construction.”

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