Through a grassroots effort, Santa Clara is looking to revitalize its downtown.
Through a grassroots effort, Santa Clara is looking to revitalize its downtown. Photo by Jason Torres Iraheta.

Every 49ers game last October, CBS cut away to a “location of interest” in Santa Clara.

On Oct. 9, they showed Mission Santa Clara. During the Oct. 29 game, CBS’s satellite truck searched for anything resembling a downtown. The Domino’s commercial faded into an aerial shot of what appeared to be a downtown. Sportscaster Jim Nantz awkwardly said, “Look at Santana Row in San Jose… (awkward pause) …Fun area, it’s only about eight miles from here to… (another awkward pause) …downtown.”

As someone born and raised in Santa Clara, I felt embarrassed.

Santa Clara has spent $1,347,706 in taxpayer dollars on the Santa Clara Downtown Plan since 2018, according to city staff. That does not include the cost of the thousands of staff hours invested in this effort. Citizens have dedicated thousands of volunteer hours to its return. And it’s paid off. Just two months after Jim Nantz’s sad comment, the Downtown Santa Clara Plan was completed, approved by the City Council, and is now ready to be built.

However, City Hall may have once again reversed itself during February’s priority sessions.

Months after approving the downtown plan, some councilmembers are now saying downtown might not be a priority for 2024-25. This reversal is based on a “surprise” survey in which City Hall polled 600 citizens — out of a population of 137,000 — via text message. The survey asked citizens: “What do you feel is the single most important issue facing the City of Santa Clara?” The top answers were homelessness, affordable housing and drug abuse.

While all are extremely important concerns, City Hall must have the common sense to focus on what it can actually address within the budget. Santa Clara does not have a “Department of Homelessness,” but it does have a “Planning Department.” Incredibly, the February survey omitted the one question that the city and its planning department have the power to address:

“What current city project is most important to you?”

This very question was asked in a survey conducted by Reclaiming Our Downtown of 1,400 citizens in 2018. Citizens were polled in person at multiple events and locations, including people from all districts in the city. This survey revealed more than 80% of Santa Clarans wanted their downtown over several other projects. Some of these projects may be important to the mayor or specific councilmembers, but none were more important than returning the heart to this city.

Many citizens voiced their embarrassment at being the only Bay Area city without a downtown and their fatigue at having to spend their dollars dining in other downtowns. In the 2024 survey, housing was the top concern, as well as transportation and the lack of a central place to congregate. All these issues would be addressed by the rebuilding of downtown Santa Clara.

Before prioritizing any city project, the mayor, city council, city management and staff must all know what project is most important to their citizens. Until city officials have the courage to ask the correct question of the citizens they serve, Santa Clara will be one of the only cities in California without a downtown.

In 2026, Santa Clara will be on both the national and global stage as it hosts Super Bowl 60 and the World Cup. There will be multiple satellite trucks parked at Levi’s Stadium. Those television location directors could show other cities’ gathering places and downtowns: San Francisco, San Jose, Palo Alto. But I ask you all: Wouldn’t it be wonderful to finally show the nation and the world that Santa Clara is now rebuilding its downtown after its complete destruction?

After 60 years, it would finally be a proud moment for this great city.

Dan Ondrasek is co-chair of Reclaiming Our Downtown.

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