Welcome to Apartment City (Guest Opinion)

Welcome to Apartment City

By Howard Myers

It seems like apartment buildings are going up everywhere in Santa Clara, and every day a new one pops up.

But 1) how much building is really going on,

2) why is it happening, and

3) what is the impact?

A few weeks ago Linda Zazzara started digging to find recently built apartments, projects under construction, projects approved and those that are being planned with our Planning Department. The magnitude was startling. Starting from 2015 and going to 2018 and beyond, there is a whopping total of 17,869 new units.

Linda did not find all the projects in one place so there we can’t assume the list is comprehensive.

Is 17,869 new units a lot for a town our size? We have a reputation for being a well managed city, how have we done that?

Controlled Growth.

For the last 34 years our population has grown at a very even rate of about one percent per year, giving us the luxury of planning and preparing for growth. The type of planning which helped win the All America City Award in 2001.

Good or bad, this rate of growth has ended. What will the new rate look like? If we average 2.5 people per unit, 17,869 units will increase our population about seven percent per year. That’s a 36 percent increase from 2014 to 2019.

Our General Plan does not anticipate this, so how did it happen?

It is partly due to the policy of our Planning Department. We know of instances when developers have gone to our City with one plan in mind and our Planning Department suggests they ‘super size’ it.

In the General Plan Review being presented March 28, our Planning Department is suggesting the City Council permit doubling up of density bonuses to allow developers more density. They also encourage developers to request density at the upper end of the allowed density range instead of the mid range anticipated in the general plan. They say this allows us to “… make a bigger contribution toward addressing regional housing shortages.” It appears the Planning Department is pushing the City in a direction different from the General Plan and in the past the Council has allowed this.

Can our schools adjust in time for a rate six to seven times more than we have seen?

Will our infrastructure hold up?

And traffic?

The good news is the largest projects are the farthest out, allowing a little more time, very little. Some of our neighboring cities, such as Cupertino, are digging in their heels.

Why are we rolling over?

One of the main strategies listed on The General Plan is to ‘Preserve and cultivate neighborhoods’.  That is important because the neighborhood environment is fragile. Dumping a high density apartment complex into the middle of a neighborhood does damage that can’t be undone. But not all high density projects do this.

A large scale development, irrespective of strains on the City infrastructure, generally harms nearby neighborhoods less than small, high density infill projects. This is due partly to its very size and the separation that comes with it. A large, self contained development like Rivermark contributes more housing to the City (if that’s a good thing) and does less damage to sensitive neighborhood environments.

Of all the projects reviewed here, 75 percent are the smaller projects that only contribute 17 percent of the units while the larger projects contribute 83 percent of the units. So all the pain and stress of cramming high density into every corner of our neighborhoods is not worth the grief it causes the residents and the City. Not to mention the damage to neighborhood environments.

Yes, there are a lot of new apartments, and there will be more.

The heated economy and high housing costs have encouraged developers to target Santa Clara. The Mayor and Council have recently stopped several of the more damaging infill projects, which is great. But we need them to step back, take a breather and resolve to no longer enable a planning department with its own agenda.

The growth rate has changed from a steady one percent annually to six and seven percent annually.

Our schools and infrastructure will be incredibly strained. And many smaller high density infill projects have damaged our neighborhood while the hodgepodge of small high density projects that spot the city are a testament to what happens when you have a plan but don’t follow it.

Editor’s note: The numbers mentioned in this column are based off of current and pending projects, as well as projects still being reviewed by the City’s planning staff – so the numbers are projections based on the units currently proposed – many of the projects mentioned have not been approved by the City Council.

Full Disclosure:  The author of this guest column, and Lida Zazzara have contributed to this site’s legal defense fund.

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  1. Stay with smart planning, develop small businesses again, add convenience items like grocers and hardware stores – daily needs you have and you don’t want to go online for. Safeway on Homestead Rd is jammed packed with people and long lines. So is Safeway in Rivermark. Need more conveniences like these. I drive to TraderJoes in San Jose, Santa Clara loses revenues. And reclaim our old downtown area – fill those empty lots with conveniences downtown stores we may walk too to get things.

  2. I was born and raised in Santa Clara and I raised my children here. I’m 57 now and my husband and I fought hard at a young age to save enough money to buy a house in Santa Clara. We long-time Santa Clarans deserve respect for fighting to keep our community small and you interlopers can just stay the heck out. Do you think you are somehow entitled to spoil our community with high density apartments because of “supply and demand” We Santa Clarans have a right to the community we invested in and we will fight you every step of the way.

  3. This person doesn’t understand supply and demand. It’s kind of incredible.

    You can dig your heels in all you want, but the jobs are coming here regardless (and to the surrounding communities), and as such people are still coming to Santa Clara. The traffic is not going to magically get better by forcing people to live elsewhere (but work in/near Santa Clara).

    We can either embrace these people as residents in smartly-planned developments, organized around transit and job centers – i.e. less people that need to drive their cars to work or out for daily needs…less traffic! Or we can go with no planning and development and hope magic takes care of it all (read: it won’t…obviously).

    Also, by building more housing, you increase the supply and bring prices down from their current asinine levels. Perhaps the new developments themselves are not cheap, but their existence on the market will take pressure off of the rest of the housing market.

    For example, a tech couple that actually would prefer to live in a 3br condo near their jobs can look for that instead of buying up some bungalow that they didn’t really want in the first place (and out bid a middle class family to get). Have enough of this instances, and the effects will echo through the entire market.

    Yeah, your house’s value may go down…but that’s good for the health and sustainability of our region. Something I actually care about. I care about our people and its culture. I don’t care about the preservation of some buildings…but I do want to see people that want to stay here have those options.

    Fighting development isn’t going to stop the demand. As long as the Bay Area is a significant job center, this will be an issue. Deal with it or move elsewhere if you want the small town experience.

    • The people who were here before you, Mark, have a right to expect their City to conform to their expectations. You’re the one who needs to “deal with it” and move elsewhere if you want a big city experience.

    • Mark, one of the interesting things that comes from the figures I present here and the meeting on the d28th is that the projects that damage neighborhoods the most provide the least units.
      We need a planning Dept, not a project approval dept.

  4. More apartments? Sure! Lower rent it will be? Bravo! I will finally be able to afford to rent a closet closer to my work!
    In the year of 2017, who still cares to “Preserve and cultivate neighborhoods” to the state in 70’s of your city… Hmm.. I mean your village?

    • YT on H1B,
      1. The article points out the difference between smart growth that provides the most units and the damaging infill projects. Nothing about no more apts for YT’s on H1B.
      2. Affordable rent? Have you seen any new apts that could be considered affordable? And when new apts get the crazy high rents that just pulls the rent of the older apts up with them. Don’t count on the crazy building to make your closet closer to work affordable. At least not in the near future.

      But you will read what you want to read or see what you expect to see, I expect.

  5. Good thing Linda didn’t cite any sources at all so we have no idea if she’s actually stating facts or just making them up.

    Anyways, let’s oppose all construction so our houses keep going up in value to the detriment of everyone else! That’s the Boomer way, baby!

    • Dear Concerned,
      As indicated they all came from the city’s web site. Some from the project lists, some from the EIR’s.
      ALL are named if you bother to read the charts.
      These same numbers were presented to City Council on the 21st. The reaction wasn’t to question the numbers it was the effect of seeing them presented graphically.

  6. I don’t believe the Planning Department has gone rogue!

    They are implementing what the previous City Manager(s), Mayors and City Council have directed them to do.

    It is critical to get as many people as possible to this meeting tonight. We can and must stop this madness!

    Worse yet is Santa Clara is losing its tax base converting commercial and industrial to residential. And has amongst the lowest fees in the valley so we are not even capturing the proper amount of fees up front.

    And these are all luxury apartments too!

    We need a few things:

    1) Demand at least a 6-9 month pause on all development above a certain amount until we get the public a chance to properly get up to speed on how Santa Clara leadership is selling us down the river.

    2) Grand Jury investigation to find corruption amongst the Santa Clara leadership. Massive corruption is the best explanation for the Council and past City Managers arrogance and utter disregard for Santa Clarans.

    3) Referendum to stop residential development that is a burden to residents and the bottom line.

  7. Thanks Howard and Linda. This really puts what’s been going on in perspective. Hopefully we can do something tonight to help correct it.

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