At this past Tuesday’s Milpitas City Council meeting, over 100 community members were present — both in-person and over Zoom — to speak on a proposal for low and moderate income housing at the Turing Apartments, located at 1355 McCandless Drive.
However, roughly two hours after the meeting started, Mayor Rich Tran made a motion to postpone the item to a future date. His concern was that with 100 people in the queue, the conversation would go on past 2am.
The Mayor’s motion passed, with both Vice Mayor Carmen Montano and Councilmember Evelyn Chua voting in favor of the postponement. But Councilmembers Anthony Phan and Karina Dominguez were opposed to pushing the item to a later date.
Expressing her disapproval over the vote, Councilmember Dominguez told Mayor Tran that this wasn’t an issue that could keep getting pushed back.
“The politics in this chamber is disgusting. There’s working class people living paycheck to paycheck and you have the audacity to cut off this conversation because you can’t handle 100 people in your chamber,” said Councilmember Dominguez.
This past June, Council had directed staff to look into the possibility of converting the Turing Apartments into moderate income housing via a program run by the California Statewide Communities Development Authority (CSCDA), which is a Joint Powers Authority. The property would be sold to the CSCDA; property tax abatement would allow for the lowering of monthly rates.
After doing some research and analysis, staff came back to a September 21 Council meeting with their findings and recommendations. The CSCDA team was directed by Council to put together a revised proposal to address some staff recommendations, and to come back in October.
A City Staff report notes that all income eligible residents would have their rent brought down by about 10% a month for a period of 34 years. The average monthly savings would be $323 per unit. The report also states that “over a 30-year period, it is estimated that the City would forego a total of $15.4 million.”
Dozens of residents of the Turing Apartments, along with other members of the community, were present to speak on the issue for Tuesday’s meeting, and many expressed disappointment over the postponement.
“I actually had to take some time off work for that. That’s how much it’s important to me,” said Haim Avizov during Public Comment. “My wife and I work very hard and we were looking forward to getting something done. It keeps getting postponed again and again, and I don’t feel like this is serving our community well.”
Even former Milpitas Mayor Bob Livengood and former Councilmember Armando Gomez, who are both consultants on the project, approached the microphone to express their disappointment in the decision to postpone.
Mayor Tran repeatedly made efforts to assure everyone that the postponement was the right decision, stating that if the meeting did go until 2am, Council would be too tired to make a decision.
“I’m actually glad it’s postponed so we can get people home at a decent time,” Tran told the disappointed community members.
After listening to nearly an hour of public commenters expressing their disappointment, Councilmember Anthony Phan apologized to the crowd and said that there was nothing he could do to reverse the postponement: “If it were up to me, I’d stay here ‘til 2. I’d stay here until as long as it needs to [go]. At the end of the day, we have a constitutional responsibility to represent and listen to the community voice on this,” said Phan.
Councilmember Dominguez asked for a Special Meeting to be called for next Monday, but the Mayor said he couldn’t set the time for the Monday meeting, and that he’d first have to convene with the Vice Mayor and City Manager.
The exchange between Dominguez and Tran was tense; at one point, Tran began to slam his gavel down, saying, “Point of order,” over and over.
In an interview with The Beat, Councilmember Dominguez said, “I want people to be clear that I was extremely frustrated with the Mayor. Not because of the item itself but because he silenced so many people who lost wages to come for the first time to express their voice. And he just shut them down.”
Dominguez also said that leading up to the motion, the Mayor ignored her requests in the queue system to speak, instead opting to call on Vice Mayor Carmen Montano, even when Dominguez had requested to speak first:
“He wouldn’t turn my microphone on. There’s something happening on this dais that is blocking democracy when it’s our turn to speak,” said Dominguez to The Beat. “The order that a microphone is called influences where the meeting could go.”
She mentioned that was why she had to raise her hands during the meeting, and eventually, get up out of her chair.
When The Beat spoke to Mayor Tran, he stated that Councilmember Dominguez’s claims were untrue.
“It seems like the councilmember has a list of 100 complaints, and every meeting there’s just one complaint after another. I’m just going to keep doing my best,” said Mayor Tran.
On Thursday, Mayor Tran took to Facebook to mention the Turing Apartments item, writing:
“To some, it’s not fair that the rent can be over $5,000/month. This proposal will drop the rent a few hundred bucks, the City can just not collect the property taxes from that building to subsidize the proposal. During a recession, maybe our City doesn’t need the property tax revenue to pay for police, fire, and public works.”
According to the Turing Apartments’ website, the market-rate project features studios, along with 1-bedroom, 2-bedroom, and 3-bedroom apartments. Studios on the site start at $2,495, and 3-bedrooms can go as high as $5,795. Of the 371 units, only 9 of them are 3-bedroom units. And since residents would have to meet certain income limits, not everyone living there would qualify.
In an email exchange with The Beat, Assistant City Manager Ashwini Kantak shared that the Turing Apartments currently have the highest rents in Milpitas.
A Special Meeting on this item has been set for Monday, November 1, at 6PM.