Santa Clara Development Deal Has Future Election Implications

Perhaps no Santa Clara property—not even Levi’s Stadium—has a more contentious history than a coveted six-acre plot of dirt across from Westfield Valley Fair Mall. A decade after the city bought the land from the state, with a goal of building affordable housing, the City Council on Tuesday picked Core Companies from three bidders to develop the site. Core proposed building multi-income housing with a 1.5-acre urban agriculture space, but needs $4 million from the city to translate that vision to reality. While that wasn’t necessarily the most lucrative deal financially, to be fair, Core’s proposal, which is backed by labor and includes a community farm, had strong community support. But it was the all-in nature of one council member, Dominic Caserta, that drew some shaking heads in the process. Core CEO David Neale is known for throwing around campaign cash, and he contributed $500 to Caserta’s bloated 2014 piggy bank. That may not sound like much of a chip for a project worth up to $100 million, but according to one city haller, Caserta “fights really hard for his campaign supporters. He’s not very subtle about it.” Caserta’s support could also have something to do with the fact that he relied on labor’s support last year and he’ll need it again as he preps for a county supervisor run. But there could be a hiccup in that plan. Santa Clara Mayor Jamie Matthews and San Jose Councilman Don Rocha are also said to be options to run for Ken Yeager’s supervisor seat in 2018, and Rocha shares a lot of the same supporters as Caserta but has worked on a much bigger stage. As one political observer bluntly forecast Caserta's chances, “Rocha is smarter, more articulate and taller.”

Send a tip to The Fly

The Fly is the valley’s longest running political column, written by Metro Silicon Valley staff, to provide a behind-the-scenes look at local politics. Fly accepts anonymous tips.


  1. It seems preposterous that this very valuable land should be used as a “community farm”. There is one such public, city-owned farm near our house, and it has constant problems: people steal each others’ produce, more police protection is necessary, many plots are started but then neglected, and even in a drought, public water supplies are provided to the lucky few free of charge. I’ve seen hoses left running, unattended.

    This is a wealthy area. If anyone has a house, they already have much more growing space than the relatively few small plots that are given out. Renters rarely use them because most tenants are by nature transient. Most of the ‘city farmers’ in the commuity farm I see next to my wife’s school are in their 60’s and 70’s. But really, at most times no one is there.

    A ‘community farm’ would only benefit a very tiny fraction of 1% of the local population. How many plots will be put in? At the local ‘community farm’ I refer to, there are probably 30 plots at the very most, which take up a large area that should be used to generate taxes, not reward a handful of lucky ‘urban farmers’ who have rights to land that they never paid a dime for. At least a third of those plots are completely neglected. Water waste is profligate. And of course, those ‘farms’ will never pay a penny in property taxes, so the rest of us will have to make it up.

    There is one individual pushing this ‘community farm’ idea: Kirk Vartan, who got the yellow shirts for the city meetings, and who organizes people through neighborhood websites — and he owns two local restaurants. Mr. Vartan is obviously looking at a free source of what he can advertise as “locally grown, organic produce”.

    Finally, there are farmers’ markets everywhere. The one in downtown Campbell on Sundays is excellent, with dozens of vendors selling locally grown produce, vegetable, fruit, etc. But of course, it isn’t free.

    This idea is a waste of resources that will benefit a very few, at the expense of everyone else. Mr. Vartan has a big back yard in the house he owns. Taxpayers would be much better off if he farmed that, instead of trying to get freebies from the public’s wallet.

      • Speaking from experience… Yes and no.

        Once a system is up and running it’s just a matter of topping off water lost to evaporation. Otherwise the fish poop, the plants eat the poop and return non poopy water back to the fish. The system uses very little water in the long run, a smidgen compared to other methods of farming.

        Complicated in the sense that a lot of “experts” in agriculture have looked at my system (one even told me today), “How in the hell do you put this thing together without any plans?” It’s not complicated to me at all, but then again most things do not perplex me. I know how to read, I know how to apply what I read to action.

        Price though… That’s what gets you on this. Between the grow trays, the pump, the various bits of PVC, the IBC totes, this is a system that’s well over $1000… for 4′ x 16′ of grow space, or $1000 64sqft. (about $15 a sqft)

        Basically for what Kurt wants to do on 6 acres, he’s looking at a minimum of $4,083,750 just to develop the entire site into a modern urban agriculture/aquaponic farm.

        Could it be a success? Well.. an entire tray should produce about $7@week worth of lettuce, so 2 trays should do double that ($14) Let’s go back and figure this out to feet/acres, etc.

        At the rate I’m pulling, I’ll make about $0.21 per sqft a week. So 6 acres should pull $54,885.60 a week.

        52 weeks gives us. $2,854,051.20 per year.

        So it is within the realm of possibility that these 6 acres could be a profitable (in 3 years) venture, but I don’t even think I have all the associated costs right. Even on a small scale, I’ve screwed up a few times (2 weeks ago had a PH accident and killed about 50 fish) Couldn’t imagine how badly this would go with a bunch of rookies doing in on a scale 2000x larger than mine.

        • That lettuce looked awful—few leaves, and mostly a sickly yellowish color. I’ll stick to Lunardi’s. Their lettuce is better than Safeway’s, and cheaper, too. I’ve never understood how a small outfit like Lunardi’s can have better quality at a lower price than a powerhouse like Safeway.

          • You’re right John. Until a few weeks ago it looked worse. The leaves were wilting, and aphids and fungi was starting to take foot. I sprayed it with fungicide/pesticide and it snapped back.

            Truly “Organic” lettuce would have none of the things I sprayed on here.. Come to think of it, that adds to the costs as well, unless you want to hire a guys with tweezers to pick off the aphids one by one. Also the store bought stuff…. Lotta nutrients these days have green dyes in them. When you mix it with water, it takes on a fluorescent green color, sort of like antifreeze. Lots of commercial farms are using these nutrient mixes, so likely your stuff is just greener from the dyes.

          • RMC – Ladybugs eat aphids. You can buy ladybugs at a garden store. They are kept cool in a refrigerator so they will be slow moving and allow you to release them without flying away. They chase and eat the aphids. Eventually, they fly away. It’s a really nice organic way to get rid of aphids.

          • Thanks for the advice County Resident. I’ll get some this week. I just harvested enough lettuce off 3 plants to feed 10 people a nice Cesar salad for 10 co-workers today. Also I just got my germination down pat, so I should have 10-20x the amount of lettuce growing in the next few weeks.

  2. Voter beware. Do not elect either Dominic Caserta or Jamie Matthews to a county supe’s seat. They should not be allowed to wreak havoc on the County of Santa Clara as they have on the City of Santa Clara. They vote yes on whatever their campaign donors want – hence the number of massive developments being built in Santa Clara without regard for how those developments impact neighborhoods. They keep their own neighborhoods carefully protected from the massive developments. Either one of them would be a disaster as a county supe. They do not serve the people – they serve their campaign donors.

    Don Rocha would make a much better county supe.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *