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.