Santa Clara loses 3rd El Camino TOD in a year, casts doubt on BART TOD viabiliy

Last night, Santa Clara City Council voted down 4:3 a 5-story mixed-use development with 151 apartments and 10,000 square feet of retail at 2232-2240 El Camino Real near El Camino and Scott. The proposed development was located on the VTA 522 Rapid line, just one rapid bus stop away from Santa Clara Caltrain and the site of the proposed Santa Clara station for BART Silicon Valley Phase 2.

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Explaining their votes against the project, council members mentioned concerns such as a desire for a greater amount of retail at the site, and a desire for senior housing instead of market-rate housing.  Another concern was that the market-rate housing would not be affordable to lower-income residents (although new market-rate housing provides attractive options for higher-income residents who would otherwise bid up the price of existing older housing).

A prevalent comment was the sense that Santa Clara had already added enough housing. In her remarks before voting against the project, the Mayor commented, “our residents have reached the limits of their tolerance for the amount of housing we are willing to tolerate.”  

Just two weeks earlier another developer pulled an 158-unit project on El Camino Real in Santa Clara near Kiely Blvd right as City Council was to review that project for final approval on February 21.  At that city council meeting, Council members commended residents for their active engagement to oppose the housing development.  

Less than a year earlier Santa Clara lost yet another housing/mixed use development, immediately across from the Caltrain station and proposed future BART station.  That project was pulled by the developer, after community opposition reduced the size of that development from 450 apartment units, to 370, to 318. 

Part of the environmental justification to extend BART to Santa Clara is transit-oriented development in the station area. However, according to these actions and statements by the City Council and community, the city seems unwilling to allow TOD at the proposed station and within the transitshed of the station on the El Camino rapid bus line.  Therefore these environmental benefits seem unlikely to be realized.    

The reluctance to build TOD at the station and its transit shed also poses risks to the project’s finances. Value capture methods are described as a potential revenue source. This revenue source is at risk given the demonstrated challenges for TOD housing in Santa Clara.

This concern is over and above the fundamental concerns about the segment of the BART Silicon Valley project connecting Diridon Station to Santa Clara, which is redundant to the existing Caltrain connection.