The Milpitas City Council voted unanimously Thursday to draft a letter opposing a plan that would turn a local hotel into housing for Santa Clara County’s homeless population.
“After receipt of oral and written public comment, it was clear to the Council that the proposed Homekey Project, under the strict timelines and lack of transparency measures due to AB 83, has left the City with no meaningful way to communicate or work with the County on the project design, project programming, or meaningful community outreach,” read the letter, sent Friday.
It is unclear what action the county will take once it receives the letter.
The decision came after a special Thursday afternoon meeting of the city council, during which dozens of nearby Milpitas residents in the city’s Hillview neighborhood objected to the homeless development.
In rejecting the project, the council cited the county’s neglect to seek “community input,” from Milpitas residents, a lack of guarantee to house Milpitas homeless residents and homeless Milpitas students and the council’s desire to directly house Milpitas families.
The project, which is slated to be managed by affordable housing developer Jamboree, planned to turn the 144-room hotel into 132 fully-furnished apartments for formerly homeless residents. The plan also includes two managers’ units and onsite services for residents, according to an August 25 memo from Milpitas Building Safety and Housing Director Sharon Goei.
Homeless individuals seeking to apply for one of the units are required to pass a background check, a sexual predator check, and a credit check both with the county and the developer, according to a Jamboree spokesperson.
Milpitas Mayor Rich Tran, who told The Beat last week he was initially supportive of the project, changed direction at the council’s October 6 meeting, threatening to sue the county and state to halt it. Tran was concerned about “a lack of transparency” from the county, alleging that neither the city nor Milpitas residents had been sufficiently informed of the county’s decision to push the project within the city’s limits.
Tran called Thursday’s meeting in the hopes of resolving the issue before proposing litigation.
“I’m a little disappointed that both [the state and county] couldn’t be a little more proactive,” said Tran. “This is clearly a recurring issue across our state and county. It would have been proactive for meetings to have taken place immediately after September 21, here in our community for such a project of this magnitude,” he added, alluding to the date the state and county reached an agreement with Jamboree to build at the Extended Stay America.
“Our feelings are mutual,” Tran added. “We do want to help those in need.”
Tran’s opposition to the project comes approximately a week after news of the soon-to-be-renovated hotel, a branch of the Extended Stay America chain, caused an uproar among hundreds of Milpitas residents. Many of the residents currently live in the single-family homes located just across the street from the hotel.
The letter requested that the county pull Milpitas’s involvement in the $29.2 million Project HomeKey grant for the Extended Stay project. California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Project HomeKey in September in an effort to turn former hotels, motels, vacant apartments and residential care facilities across the state into 1,800 permanent housing units for the homeless.
According to Milpitas Housing Director Ned Thomas, the city first received a call from Jamboree in late 2019, more than nine months before Newsom announced Project HomeKey. Jamboree wanted to develop the same Extended Stay America site into apartment units. Jamboree had already been in talks with the county to establish a project. The project was to use funds from Measure A, a $950 million affordable housing bond approved by Santa Clara County voters in 2016.
A city zoning ordinance, along with a general plan ordinance both passed in 2016 prohibited the site from being rezoned from a commercial area to a residential area, stalling negotiations. When Jamboree couldn’t get the motel rezoned to allow apartments to be built, it withdrew its proposal in April.
Project HomeKey revived talks of a project at the Extended Stay, this time using state funds as part of a $590 million statewide project to establish permanent housing.
“It’s not a temporary shelter,” said Thomas.
HomeKey allocated approximately $29.2 million toward a new Extended Stay project, requiring all funds in the grant to be used by December 2020. The HomeKey project would also be supplemented by $21.9 million from Measure A and “additional funding from other sources,” according to Thomas.
Project HomeKey was established as part of Assembly Bill 83, which Newsom signed into law in June. As part of a rapid need to house homeless people due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the bill sought to streamline the approval process to quickly build units. Under the project’s guidelines, HomeKey establishes apartment units with county approval in mere months, not years. All units built under the project would be granted special approval by the state and county, overriding any local zoning ordinances.
That meant Jamboree, which hit a snag with Milpitas’s zoning rules in April, could move forward with a project at Extended Stay without the city’s approval.
Despite not needing approval from the city, Thomas encouraged the developers to hold several community meetings and a press release to inform Milpitas residents of the decision, which Jamboree agreed to.
“All along the way, we insisted … they [Jamboree] conduct a robust public information outreach, and we wanted to help them with that,” said Thomas.
Thursday’s meeting sought to end the city’s involvement with the new project.
Dozens spoke during the meeting, accusing the county of not taking the immediate neighborhood into account when choosing the Hillview site. Others were concerned crime would go up in the neighborhood if homeless people were allowed to live nearby, and mentally ill people would roam the streets, becoming a nuisance to residents. Residents also wanted to give priority to homeless individuals in Milpitas — something the county couldn’t guarantee, as the project is open to applicants across the county.
“What about Milpitas families?” asked one resident during the meeting. “What deal do we get?”
The comments from residents reflected those made in a Change.org petition started by Milpitas business owner and city council candidate Suraj Viswanathan to oppose the project.
As of Thursday night, the petition has garnered more than 2,700 signatures.
“This project is being imposed on the people of Milpitas without their input and without public participation,” reads the petition. “While we all sympathize with the needs of our homeless brothers and sisters, we have grave concerns about the impact of this project on the local community and adjacent neighborhoods and think it requires more study.”
Candidates for housing would be assessed by the county for issues such as criminal records, housing needs, mental health issues, and case circumstances, and be placed on an eligibility queue per state and federal guidelines, according to Acting Director of the county’s Office of Supportive Housing Consuelo Hernandez.
Tran — a former county medical social worker — questioned how the county would handle potential residents with mental illness, saying he was concerned about the “safety of the community.” He asked whether individuals with “psychosis or sexual behavior disorders” would be allowed to be placed at the site.
“If our officers show up at that possibly frequent level for service calls, I have great concerns about our police officers showing up knowing that the 911 call may be due to a person with mental health issues,” said Tran.
Hernandez said the county provides services to a “range” of populations, including those with serious mental health considerations, and that certain populations would not be eligible.
“Those with a serious mental health illness — they are connected to our behavior health services department and they’re provided with the critical services they need to stay housed,” Hernandez said.
Tran later made a post-meeting remark on Facebook noting that the Extended Stay America is across the street from a BevMo.
“The proposed homeless housing project is right across the street from the biggest liquor store in Milpitas — BevMo!. No disrespect,” Tran wrote.
Despite assurance from Hernandez that the project would not significantly increase crime in the area, and offers from the county to “work with” the city, the council agreed to forge ahead with the withdrawal letter. Councilmembers — including Karina Dominguez and Anthony Phan — did however denounce any purported connection between homelessness, mental disorders and increased crime.
“I would like to ask my colleagues and the community to be considerate when speaking about people with mental health needs,” said Phan. “This is something very personal for me.”
He added, “I was also temporarily homeless back in college. My diagnosis had very little to do with that,” referring to his struggles with ADHD, anxiety and depression. “We should acknowledge that a lot of the people with mental health needs are everyday people. People who exist among us, our family, our friends and colleagues. And we should take efforts to stop perpetuating these stigmas, and recognize people as human beings.”
The council also passed two other motions related to homelessness. Vice Mayor Bob Nuñez asked city staff to craft a “Milpitas-centered plan” to help deal with the city’s homeless population. City staff is expected to bring Nuñez’s suggestion to Tuesday’s city council meeting. The second, proposed by Councilwoman Carmen Montano, asks the county to give local jurisdictions more power in housing project decisions.
“I want to take this moment to reaffirm our commitment to the county, in all the ways that we have, in all the ways that we will,” Tran said. “I hope the county will make a decision for us, the residents of Santa Clara County, so that we can have some peace as we move forward with our housing advocacy.”