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Tuesday, June 22, 2021
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City Council Milpitas residents hire law firm to push back against homeless housing project

Milpitas residents hire law firm to push back against homeless housing project

A group of Milpitas residents have banded together to hire a law firm to fight back against Project Homekey in Milpitas.  

When news of plans to convert the Extended Stay America on Hillview Drive into apartments for the homeless got out in September, some in the community expressed their disapproval during Public Comment at City Council meetings. Among commenters’ concerns were the hotel’s proximity to residential areas, a lack of transparency surrounding the project, and also the possibility of individuals with drug issues and mental illness walking around the nearby neighborhoods. 

Last month, the Milpitas City Council voted to litigate against all parties involved in the project. However, as far as some residents are concerned, they haven’t moved quickly enough. After listening to two hours of public comments at a special meeting on October 28, Council went into a closed session to further discuss litigation. After the meeting, Mayor Rich Tran went on Nextdoor and announced that no law firm had yet been selected. 

In the meantime, over 100 Milpitas residents decided to take matters into their own hands by putting together $20,000 to be used as a retainer to employ the services of Downey Brand, the very same law firm representing developers in a lawsuit against the City of Sacramento surrounding another Homekey project. 

Suraj Viswanathan, a candidate for Milpitas City Council who has been heading up the litigation effort, was frustrated by the lack of action by the City: “The council has flip-flopped a lot,” said Viswanathan. “I think they’re not doing justice for being in elected office. They’re not doing the right things. Fight for the people because they’re the ones who elected you. And if you’re not able to fight for the people, you don’t deserve to be in office.” 

Last month, Governor Gavin Newsom was in San Jose, where he implored the Milpitas City Council to “do the right thing” regarding the homeless housing project. The Law Foundation of Silicon Valley also wrote a letter to the Council asking that they not take legal action against Santa Clara County. The Foundation even stated in the letter that it would potentially intervene “on behalf of the unhoused community” should Milpitas not back down from litigation.  

Viswanathan has been researching the project and talking to residents about their concerns. He also sent a mailer to homes within a one-mile radius of the hotel, to inform residents of Project Homekey and ask that they sign a petition he’d started to express their disapproval of the project. So far, that petition has garnered almost 4,000 signatures. 

Along with spreading the word about the project, Viswanathan and others in the community have held a couple of meetings on the issue.

“And we raised a significant amount of money, upper $20k, in just two hours,” said Viswanathan of the legal retainer funds. “So these are serious people with serious concerns.” 

Andre Krammer, a resident of Milpitas for nearly a decade, felt compelled to contribute money toward the lawsuit because he feels that the project is being rushed through and not handled in the right way:

“I felt that we as citizens of this town didn’t get any voice in this process. There was no transparency,” said Krammer in an interview with The Beat. “The project is lacking any kind of vetting process. That’s just very undemocratic. I feel we should have a voice. And that the county is not providing the city or residents any kind of input. It will affect the entire community. We’re very compassionate about our homeless, but they’re not getting any place in this facility.”

He also added: “Without any vetting, oversight, or real analysis of what this entails, it defies logic and reason and common sense. And for the governor to come here and call us out to do the right thing, to basically shame us into doing the right thing…well, we are doing the right thing.” 

Krammer feels that there is compassion in the Milpitas community for the homeless; however, he also feels a well-thought-out solution must be in place to make a positive impact in the lives of homeless families in need of support. 

Despite the vocal community opposition to the project, others in the Milpitas have also spoken up in favor of it. Another petition was started last week in support of bringing Project Homekey to Milpitas. So far, that petition has gotten over 600 signatures. 

The group of residents in opposition plan on officially filing their lawsuit this week. At the moment, they are still trying to determine which entity or entities — be it the State, Santa Clara County, etc. — they will file against. Currently, they are looking to raise $30,000 more through a GoFundMe campaign. On the GoFundMe page, the organizer of the fundraising campaign is cited as Voices of Milpitas LLC, a new entity formed by ex-Milpitas Mayor Jose Esteves, one of Viswanathan’s noteworthy supporters, on October 22 of this year.

 

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Rhoda Shapiro
Rhoda Shapiro works as a journalist and media consultant in the Bay Area. She has written for both the Tri-City Voice and the Mercury News, and is the founder of Chi Media Company, which works with nonprofit organizations and educational entities to elevate their marketing and communication platforms. Rhoda is also the author of Fierce Woman: Wake up your Badass Self. Her YouTube channel, which features practices in yoga, meditation, and women’s empowerment, has amassed thousands of subscribers. Rhoda is The Milpitas Beat’s founder.

8 COMMENTS

  1. I’m so glad the city is fighting back. We already have the dump, the jail and the sewage treatment plant. At this point it’s abuse for the state to try to put a homeless shelter here too and right next to a residential neighborhood. It’s time for another city to do its share.

  2. Joe Rodriguez
    As far as I’m concerned Suraj Viswanathan is a hypocrite. This guy has been sued in the court of law numerous of times for unscrupulous business practices. It is of public record that Suraj Viswanathan has conducted himself as a unethical businessman. This guy wants to represent this city as a council member.. give me a damm break!
    Suraj Viswanathan is just playing to the crowd for votes. This is exactly what ones does when he knows the crowd is helpless in their plight for answers. In recent months gone by the group “ Voice of Milpitas” pushed back and eventually stopped a proposal of a nice hotel from being built at the corner of Jacklin Road and Hillview.
    With the La Quinta hotel project gone, now these people on Hillview Drive are stuck with a homeless supportive facility in the area.
    In my opinion, this group,Voice of Milpitas which Suraj Viswanathan is part of , hinders this city of Milpitas from progressing. NIMBY, which stands for NOT IN MY BACKYARD are slowly interfering in city growth.
    Milpitas has a homeless population of about 130 people and some of them stay under bridges and near the Hillview area now. I say what is wrong about bringing them inside for shelter?
    These Nimby residents are primarily located in the Hillview area.
    Fortunately the majority of Milpitas residents recognize that there is a homeless problem and we must do our part as a city to help the homeless situation.
    I’m asking residents that have compassion in their heart to recognize that giving shelter to the homeless along with food and medical attention to show that compassion now. There is not one damm thing wrong with helping the poor. Rise above this foolishness and set yourself apart from the NIMBYS, and that includes not voting for Suraj Viswanathan, who represents this group of heartless individuals.

    • Thank you Joe. I agree with you 100%. So many people say we need to help the homeless but NIMBY. The fact is they are in our back yards! They are not all alcoholic or drug addicts. Some are veterans who were willing to give up their lives in service to our country. Others have mental health issues that need to be addressed. Still others have faced unfortunate circumstances that lead to their situation. When I see an older lady sleeping on a bus stop bench every night I feel ashamed that our city leaders turn a blind eye to the problem.

  3. Thousands of California families are homeless because their homes burned down in wildfires. They need our help not insults and rumors of drug addictions.

    • What do the victims of wildfires have to do with the homeless population of Milpitas? These ex-hippies turned rednecks ran off to the woods so they could be with other white folks.

  4. Can the promoters of this mini-slum guarantee that no drunks, addicts, ex-cons, mental patients, or other undesirables will be housed there? Is it legal for them to keep such people out without infringing on their Constitutional rights? Since no one has ever answered these questions I can’t blame the homeowners for their concern. I just can’t see beyond the fact that it will devalue the $1 million-plus homes in that neighborhood. There are ways to help these unfortunates that keep them away from the general public.

  5. This lawsuit will cost way more that 20,000k. It’ll cost more than any possible reduction in value to your homes from this shelter. It will put you in debt for years. And you have zero chance of winning. Have fun.

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