Don’t Destroy El Camino Real Like We Destroyed Santa Clara Downtown Decades Ago

By Debbie Sparks, Diane Pizzo, Howard Myers, Linda Zazzara, Rich Bonito

It is very important to prevent the city from doing to our El Camino what they did to our downtown. Those that destroyed our downtown had good intentions and like you, they had the grandest of visions.

From the start the city misrepresented the objective of the El Camino Real Specific Plan by telling us the purpose was “…to implement the City’s General Plan goals and policies for the El Camino Real corridor by providing more detailed guidance for future land uses and urban design elements.”

The unspoken purpose has been to increase residential density not implement the General Plan.

  • When a city planner was asked during a Citizens Advisory Committee meeting what would happen if the committee decided the density should be reduced, her response was “well that would defeat the purpose.” (quickly retracted, oops)
  • In one example the Mariani property was increased over 100% from Community Mixed Use at 19 to 36 dwelling units per acre in the 2025 – 2035 General Plan to Corridor Mixed Use with 45 to 65 dwelling units per acre. This is not implementing the General Plan.

Also, this entire process has had the appearance of faux outreach. 

Community feedback was gathered using completely unscientific methods.

  • The feedback was not directed at people impacted nor limited to one opinion per participant in the ‘Pop-ups’ or online ‘survey’.
  • The Community Advisory Committee was weighted with people and groups interested in getting rid of automobiles and promoting high density.
  • US mail announcements were limited to people within 300 ft of the huge rezoning project to ‘save money’, reducing exposure to the very people actually impacted.
  • This mailed notice is the only place we find this legal disclaimer. “If you challenge these land use decisions in court, you may be limited to raising only those issues you or someone else raised at this public hearing or in written correspondence delivered to the City at or prior to the public hearing.”

As is too often the case the general outcome appears to have been determined before the ‘investigation’ began. And the predetermined outcome is increased density. 

Some on the council advocate for thousands of ‘micro units’ along the El Camino Real. No wonder we worry the city would do to our El Camino what it did to our downtown. 

Again, those that destroyed our downtown had the best intentions and like you, grandiose visions. We see what that got us.

Editor’s Note: The authors represent Santa Clara for Smart Growth – Mariani Neighborhood Resident Group.


  1. What exactly are “form based codes”? Are zoning laws no longer being used in Santa Clara? How are “form based codes” different from the zoning laws in the Santa Clara general plan all these years?

  2. Since the property and area has such great value it’s a worldwide attraction. We can slow it down and grow smartly. The big money seems to be pushing us faster and bigger before we could even get our arms around it. I’m all for progress but in a few years you won’t be able to recognize much of the area.

    We could smartly grow Santa Clara into a better place or let big money and political agendas push our politicians into 7,000 micro units on El camino. Very depressing.

    • No Richard, it is exactly the opposite, current nationwide and acceptable zoning ordinances deals with local government being able to have self control in zoning issues, single family, multiple family, apt, commercial, retail, etc… In a form based code system the only thing the city could control is how the building looks and designed from the outside, inside it could be anything conventional housing, 3x as micro units, even commercial, what ever the the developer wants in every neighborhood. Form based code will evolve into socialistic type generic housing, destroying any communities unique identity.

  3. Right, will Suds transform his 3,000+ sf home into 10 micro units? He and his wife can use one and the other 9 will be available for low income renters. Or is he one of those dreaded NIMBY’s?

  4. As we enter another drought year, I wonder: did the City of Santa Clara or the real estate developers secure any water rights to guarantee all these new apartments were provided for? What is the market value of an apartment that has no running water? Yeah, of course the developers that dumped don’t care, but the City should.

  5. Robert, thank you for publishing this. The group of authors is a team called Santa Clara 4 Smart Growth. This team was formed 7 years ago when Mariani threatened to destroy our quality of life by doing in our neighborhood what the city wants to do to the entire ECR. I would hate to see them chase all the small business out that they don’t like and then be left with nothing. Their visions for ECR are eerily similar to the ones they had for our down town. We see how that worked out.

    • …It will happen again. Our Downtown was destroyed by short sighted politicians, Recently certain councils members led by Suds Jain has slowly been introducing the concept of “Form Based Code” this will replace our industry standard zoning codes, this new standard that will allow these “Mini Units” (300s.f.) throughout the city. This group has fully integrated these ideas within our community groups such as reclaim downtown, the old quad residents association and others. Members of these groups have been lobbying all over town and on social media without a full understanding of the devastating changes this form of regulation will bring to our city. Imagine take any project now on the books or recently completed now triple or quadruple the occupancy with the new approved mini units, think of the added traffic, parking, yes they will all have cars. Suds Jain’s new vision for Santa Clara will also devastate our neighborhoods ending single family R1 zones by allowing 3 or 4 plexes to be built in these locations. What about small business along El Camino? this is no longer in the plan only housing. What about the new downtown? The majority of the residential units will be built as these micro units and will become a pseudo dormitory village with retail accommodating the University lifestyle. Wake up Santa Clara we cannot allow this type of vision to again destroy our communities. 60 years ago it was the downtown now it’s the entire city.

    • Good information.
      I wondered why I was seeing
      Postings by Mary grizzle
      Promoting raj chahal and form
      Based code.
      Made me think the guy was
      Running for mayor now it just
      Seems they’re just getting
      Folks to drink the Koolaid.
      Maybe both?
      I am a newcomer to Santa Clara
      And was very happy with past
      Council. Now not so happy and
      Now it sounds there a concern about
      Council that suds and raj
      Are leading the way to take down
      ElCamino in the process.
      Good grief!

    • Reclaiming Our Downtown sole focus has been and will always be the return (after multiple attempts) of the 10-block Downtown after 55 years. (We don’t have the volunteer hours to look to El Camino and what follows may not apply to the El Camino development).

      We have research scores of cities through the United States; spoken to City Managers, their Urban Planners, and to their citizens and retailers. Those Downtowns that were returned successfully utilized ”A Precise Plan” followed by “Form-Based Code.” The Downtowns that failed, did not. It is like building a house – you don’t build it room-by-room – You plan the entire house before driving the first nail. Since 2018, the Downtown Task Force has taken inputs from the community in 20 meetings and, from these inputs, are working on a “Precise Plan” that reflects what Santa Clarans want.

      If you want to see “Room-by-Room” planning, please drive to what was Downtown and look at the current hodgepodge of architecture. Two strip-centers, a courthouse, some apartments a bank building and acres of cement. This replaced one of the greatest Downtown Street Grids designed in the Bay Area and possibly the State.

      A “Precise Plan” and “Form-Based Code” will bring this Street Grid back.

      This process is based on the idea that quality (of place, of pedestrian experience, of architecture, of housing and life-style) is most important. The understanding of many community activists (and cities and planning consultants) is limited to discussion of quantitative measures such as DUA, FAR, building height, parking counts, rather than the more important question: What sort of environment are we making here for our citizens?

      We have started with the qualities of the environment based on citizen input, while also accounting for and calibrating all the vitally important quantitative metrics as well. Once done – we will have this “Precise Plan” for the ten block Downtown. But this Plan is just a “suggestion.”

      “Form-based Code” makes it a rule.

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