2023 in review: The biggest Santa Clara stories of the year
An aerial image of a part of the city of Santa Clara. Photo courtesy of The 111th Photography.

Santa Clara had a busy year, from committing to the construction of hundreds of homes, to accusations and legal troubles among officials, to millions of dollars flowing into the city from headliner events at Levi’s Stadium.

Here’s a look back at 2023 and what transpired:

Thousands of homes

The Santa Clara City Council took its state-mandated housing goals down to the wire before approving an eight-year plan. The city will construct 11,632 homes by 2031. The state requires every city to develop a plan that increases its housing stock as its population grows.

There are 11,946 homes coming through the city’s housing pipeline, along with 340 granny or in-law units. Another 7,810 have been identified for possible housing projects. If everything is completed, Santa Clara will meet the state mandate on schedule.

This rendering shows what a 200-apartment complex could look like when complete at 80 Saratoga Ave. in Santa Clara. Image courtesy of Santa Clara.

Affordable housing

Affordable housing takes center stage in Santa Clara with plans for 200 apartments at 80 Saratoga Ave. A two-story building that housed a YMCA of Silicon Valley office and a separate automotive repair building on the site will be demolished for the new development.

The building will be six stories, with five levels of apartments above one parking level. The apartments will be priced below market-rate, except for one manager apartment. Of the 200 apartments, 71 will be studios, 21 will be one-bedrooms and 54 each will be two- and three-bedrooms.

Agrihood is an urban farm development with a community garden and affordable housing for low-income seniors, veterans and other residents. Photo by Jason Torres Iraheta.

A unique project sprouts

Santa Clara’s housing development known as Agrihood officially opened this year. It offers 160 mixed-income apartments, 165 homes for low-income seniors and veterans and 36 townhomes on 5.8 acres. The property includes a 1.5-acre agricultural lot where residents can grow their own produce. The development is on the former site of a UC Master Gardeners facility.

While the senior residences are complete and those tenants began moving in earlier this year, the mixed-income apartments—which include residences offered at market-rate prices—have not yet been built. The townhouses are still under construction.

Proposed mix-use development in downtown Santa Clara on Monroe Street. Rendering courtesy of Lamb Partners LLC.

Resurrecting the downtown

After years of neglect, the city council approved a major facelift of Santa Clara’s five-acre downtown. The Downtown Precise Plan provides a path to revitalize the area, which can accommodate up to 1,071 new homes and more than 700,000 square feet of commercial space.

Mary Grizzle, a leading member of Reclaiming Our Downtown, a grassroots group formed about three years ago, helped kick-start a community-led effort to remake Santa Clara’s downtown.

New city manager

In February, the city finally hired a new city manager, Jovan D. Grogan. The position was vacant for a year.

Prior to that, Santa Clara had fired City Manager Deanna Santana, who drew public scrutiny for having one of the largest compensation packages of any government worker in California.

The Super Bowl is returning to Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara in 2026. Photo courtesy of the 49ers.

Super Bowl will return

Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, home to the San Francisco 49ers, will host Super Bowl 60 in 2026, a decade after it hosted Super Bowl 50. In March, 49ers CEO Jed York bid for another chance to host the top NFL event less than a decade after bringing the championship game to Santa Clara in 2016.

The 2016 Super Bowl brought in approximately $240 million for the Bay Area, according to Team San Jose, which works to drive tourism in the South Bay. A report reveals more than 57% of revenue from the last local Super Bowl was generated in San Francisco, 12.3% in San Jose and 7.2% in Santa Clara.

The pair of Taylor Swift concerts in Santa Clara brought an estimated $33 million boost to the local economy, experts say. Photo by Terrell Lloyd.

Headliner bonanza

Swiftie or not, pop star Taylor Swift is undeniably a money magnet—and her two-day stop at Levi’s Stadium in July turned into a massive boost for Silicon Valley’s economy.

Dan Rascher, president of Sports Economics, LLC, who analyzes the business of sporting events and concerts, said 60,000 fans packed the stadium for Swift’s Eras Tour. Traveling Swifties spent $19 million on lodging, food and entertainment in Santa Clara County, he said, after already coughing up thousands of dollars for tickets.

“That leads to a total economic impact of around $33.5 million,” Rascher told San José Spotlight. “That money gets respent in town over time, and that usually takes a few months.”

Levi’s Stadium has become a money maker for Santa Clara. In addition to Taylor Swift’s mega millions, Beyoncé and Ed Sheeran were projected to rake in between $7 million to $10 million during their stadium stops earlier this year.

Santa Clara Councilmember Anthony Becker with his attorney, Santa Clara County Deputy Public Defender Chris Montoya, outside of the Hall of Justice in San Jose. Photo by Joseph Geha.

Embattled councilmember

Santa Clara Councilmember Anthony Becker went from losing a mayoral election in 2022 to being accused of perjury over a leaked grand jury report in 2023.

The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office charged Becker with perjury, a felony, for allegedly lying to a civil grand jury about leaking a report on relationships between the San Francisco 49ers and city policymakers last year. He also faces a misdemeanor charge for failing to uphold his public duty to keep the report private.

Hours before Becker appeared in court, agents raided his apartment, disconnected security cameras and took his phone. Becker appeared in court that day and pleaded not guilty to the charges.

“There are two sides to every story and before we commit ourselves to either, we must hear both,” Chris Montoya, deputy public defender and Becker’s attorney, told San José Spotlight at the time. “At this point it appears that the presumption of innocence has been forgotten by some.”

Becker’s supporters, including former Councilmember John McLemore who also testified to the grand jury, are demanding the DA’s office investigate other potential leaks involving Mayor Lisa Gillmor after the city’s police union—which supports her— put up an opposition website containing info on the report three days before it was publicly released.

As if Becker didn’t have enough, his colleagues debated whether to kick him off the city council. The attempt would have been toothless if passed, as Becker would need to be recalled by voters in order to be removed from council.

Toward the end of the year, Becker may have gotten a reprieve on another matter that had to do with a war of words.

Mayor Gillmor and Councilmember Kathy Watanabe publicly accused him last year of making hostile and threatening comments to them during a closed door meeting, including cursing at them and flipping them off.

An investigation of the allegations by a law firm hired by the city cleared Becker of nearly every allegation, according to a Dec. 9 2022 summary of the findings.

Santa Clara’s budget deficit has dropped sharply due to a faster than expected recovery from the pandemic. File photo.

Tackling the deficit

Santa Clara’s budget deficit has shrunk dramatically, but city officials warned new tax strategies are needed to build up long-suffering coffers. City officials told the Santa Clara City Council in December the $27 million deficit has dropped to about $9 million.

One way Santa Clara is looking to tackle its budget deficit is by increasing the transient occupancy tax from 11.5% to 12.5%, up to a maximum of 13.5% within the next two years. The tax collects revenue from people staying in hotels and temporary rentals such as Airbnbs. The change will take effect in January.

Councilmember Kevin Park said the occupancy tax is helped thanks to revenues from headliner events at Levi’s Stadium. But he added the city needs to develop the area around the stadium to keep visitors in Santa Clara when events end.

Santa Clara is the only city in California that elects rather than appoints its police chief. Voters elected Police Chief Pat Nikolai in 2020. File photo.

Electing a police chief

The Santa Clara Charter Review Committee voted unanimously this year to recommend putting two ballot measures before voters to make the police chief and city clerk appointed positions. Santa Clara is the only California city to elect its top cop, with voters electing Police Chief Pat Nikolai in an uncontested 2020 special election.

Patricia Mahan, second from left, cared about what was best for Santa Clara. She died at age 71. Photo courtesy of Patricia Mahan’s Facebook page.

Losing a city champion

The city lost one of its greatest champions this year. Former Santa Clara Mayor and Councilmember Patricia Mahan died at age 71.

A Santa Clara native, Mahan served as the second female mayor of the city. She was elected mayor in 2002 and re-elected in 2006. She had numerous stints as a city councilmember, serving from 1994 to 2000, and then again in 2010 and 2016.

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