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Steve Kelly has had a long and successful history in the Silicon Valley real estate industry, from his first stint at Imperial Thrift & Loan in the late ‘80s, to parlaying his expertise into launching Silicon Valley Home Loans in 1994 and Silicon Valley Properties in 2000. In addition, he created a Residential Real Estate Master’s Program for new agents and serves as a mentor to new and upcoming real estate agents.

Steve also served as the Chair of the Santa Clara Planning Commission for eight years, where he worked to review land development proposals and approve those that met the general plan and prioritized the needs of the community.

A long-time Santa Clara resident, Steve has been following the Mission Point project for several years, through its transformation as a site that was initially zoned for high-intensity office and R&D space, to the current vision of a dynamic, welcoming neighborhood that embodies a contemporary, “live-work-play” lifestyle.

We had the privilege of sitting down with Steve to learn more about how he got involved in real estate, the housing trends he’s seeing in Silicon Valley and his thoughts on Mission Point.


Q: Tell us about your background and how you got involved in real estate and eventually the Planning Commission.

A: My interest in real estate was piqued when I learned about the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI) deal in Fremont. That type of transaction appealed to me, and I’ve been in real estate full time since, and never looked back.

When I first entered the business, I noticed that most developers were concentrating on office space projects, rather than housing, and that cities, in general, weren’t as favorable to housing due to the financial obligation to provide services to newly developed housing projects.

Fortunately, there’s been an evolution over the past few years. The state has been more proactive in pushing cities and counties to commit to their fair share of housing, which is a very positive sign economically for the state because we need to balance job growth with housing availability.

This was one of the reasons I was interested in joining the Planning Commission, and I also wanted to help push forward deserving projects. For example, I had been a supporter of bringing what is now Levi’s Stadium to Santa Clara, due to the wide-ranging benefits I saw it would bring to the community. As a business owner, I strongly supported economic growth, while recognizing that it takes the right developer to mitigate practical concerns about traffic, water needs, pollution and more.

My time on the Planning Commission was an excellent learning experience, and I enjoyed it so much that I still think about potentially rejoining at some point. For now, I stay very involved with what’s happening in Santa Clara County and carefully monitor projects. I believe it’s a wise strategy to add density in the right areas to meet future needs because you stifle the economy if you don’t have the capacity to grow.


Q: Based on your experience as former Chair of the Santa Clara Planning Commission, how do you see the Mission Point project fitting into the City’s general plans and overall needs of the community?

A: I’ve always been a proponent of building higher and denser where it makes most sense.

For example, Mission Point’s location makes it a prime candidate, with easy access to light rail, Caltrans, Amtrak and the freeway. When Mission Point was in the planning stages, I strongly believed that the site supported having the buildings go as high as possible, which would in turn allow for more open space and larger plazas.

I realize that can be a point of contention—often community members and local elected officials want those amenities but don’t necessarily understand that means the buildings need to be taller. This is where communication from the developer is so important: to educate the community on these tradeoffs and what we can control and/or have the authority to regulate, which is something that the Kylli team has done so well.

A larger project like Mission Point can really be transformative for a community, especially given its mix of retail, housing and office, all of which is much needed in that part of Santa Clara. Mission Point is also an ideal place to host periodic community events or live music, as most of the buildings in the area have already upgraded to sound-proof windows due to the nearby airport.


Q: What are some housing trends you’re seeing in Santa Clara County?

A: We still have an undersupply of housing, and it’s a problem. Even though people are looking further and further away for more affordable housing, they don’t want to commute so the biggest need for housing is near job centers.

In Santa Clara, we have a lot of office space by Great America Parkway that’s now transitioning to mixed use, which is one of the best places to create projects like that for the utmost benefit to the community. There’s also the right infrastructure, so if someone were to change jobs for example, they could leverage different modes of public transit to get to the new destination. Hopefully eventually BART will come close to the area, as well.

In terms of housing mix, it’s critical that we add all types: from larger family homes to studios, and of course, affordable units to meet the needs of our service workers and others who currently can’t afford to live close to their job. Fortunately, I believe the community recognizes the severe need for moderate-, low- and very low-income housing. As I mentioned, this is where taller buildings are an advantage as they can support more of this mix of housing.


Q: What amenities do you like best about Mission Point?

A: The project has many desirable aspects, starting with the walkability/bikeability of this car-free community.

The size of the development will make it a focal point for the area, and I believe it will be a destination where people will spend time rather than just coming and going. They’ll stop to eat or get a cup of coffee or shop and take in the lively atmosphere. Live music, art installations or dance performances will add to the community experience and give us the opportunity to get out of our cars.

It will also nicely complement nearby projects that offer a mix of entertainment; for example, Mission College is now offering a music series. It’s an ideal location for residents to enjoy activities, with a welcoming ambiance and the chance to enjoy the fantastic weather we have in California.