This article has been updated.
During the Tuesday, October 6 Council meeting, at Mayor Rich Tran’s request, Council unanimously agreed to explore potential litigation against the State of California, Santa Clara County, and any other parties involved with moving forward on Project HomeKey in Milpitas.
The back story: Last month, it was discovered that Santa Clara County had been awarded $29.2 million from the state’s Project HomeKey to turn an Extended Stay America hotel near Interstate 680 along Jacklin Road and Hillview Court into permanent housing for homeless individuals.
The project, which will be managed by affordable housing developer Jamboree, will turn rooms inside the hotel into 132 fully-furnished apartments for formerly homeless residents. Each unit will be approximately 300 square feet, according to a Jamboree press release. Hillview Court will also have two managers’ units and onsite services for residents, according to a memo from Milpitas Building Safety and Housing Director Sharon Goei.
Project HomeKey, created by way of Assembly Bill 83, is part of an initiative from the California Department of Housing and Community Development. The department plans to shell out $550 million by the end of the year to help local governments turn former hotels, motels, vacant apartments, and residential care facilities into permanent housing units for homeless individuals and families. The latest round of funding, approximately $236 million, will help 12 local municipalities and one tribe secure an estimated 1,800 new units across the state.
However, community members — including Mayor Tran — have aired concerns over the fact that the project hasn’t been fully vetted by the City, and that no city officials were contacted before the State and the County entered into an agreement over the hotel conversion.
At the October 6 Council meeting, dozens of Milpitas residents called in through the City’s new live audio comment portal to express their concerns over the hotel conversion project.
“There hasn’t been really a public process in Milpitas for the residents to find out,” said a 15-year Milpitas resident. “There hasn’t been any available information. I heard it through the news. I think it’s a really unfair and undemocratic process.”
Others echoed the same sentiment, saying that the process lacked transparency. Some were concerned that a homeless housing project would bring more crime and vagrancy to the residential neighborhood just a block away from the hotel. Others simply wanted the city to have a bigger say in the process. A few residents showed their support, arguing that the project would help get homeless people back on their feet.
After listening to the overwhelming talk of resistance to the project, Mayor Tran asked to place an item for potential litigation against the State — and any other entities involved with the project — on the agenda for a closed session meeting in two weeks. Specifically, he would like to look at the City’s legal rights in the areas of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and permitting. CEQA requires that government entities reach out to the public and inform them of any environmental impacts of projects, and that they try their best to limit such impacts.
“I always make sure I’m able to hear the voice of our Milpitas longtime residents and community,” said Tran. “And there was no consensus against getting people off the streets, but there was a consensus for due process to include our city. Simply put, our city and community and our residents are not being included in this process that is driven by California Assembly Bill 83.”
Jamboree officials mentioned during a community meeting about the project held on October 5 they will run background checks, credit checks, state background checks, and sexual predator background checks before admitting any such residents, according to Jamboree representative Daniele Latteri.
The purchase of the property should be completed by November, Jamboree has said. Because of the hotel’s condition, repairs will be minor, and residents should be moving into the building come December.
Tran shared with The Beat that he did initially think the City would be awarded the funds through Project HomeKey:
“I was kind of happy because I know our City would do a fine job using these taxpayer funds to house our local homeless in Milpitas. And the more information I got, I realized that our city isn’t being awarded this money as advertised in media outlets,” said Tran.
Over these last couple weeks, Mayor Tran has been speaking with the City Manager and City Attorney to get more information and to determine their next steps.
“I’ve been brainstorming for the past couple weeks on how Milpitas can stand up for itself. And I believe, in this great nation, we would be able to do that in the court of law,” said Mayor Tran.
Concerns over the city’s perceived lack of input came to a head on October 6, when a Change.org petition was started to oppose the project. Petitioners are hoping to push the city into providing “public hearings and the full involvement of local residents who will be impacted by this project.”
“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,” read the petition, authored by local business executive and city council candidate Suraj Viswanathan. “We are concerned about relocating individuals from outside our city here. We are concerned about those with criminal records or drug use. We are concerned that homeless Milpitas families who work and study here are not getting any priority. We are concerned about the potential drain on public services and loss of hotel tax revenue at a time of falling city revenues.”
The project’s advocates, however, argue that the project will place more unhoused individuals in permanent homes within a matter of months, granting them more stable living environments. Jamboree says the homes, along with the project’s onsite services, could actually help to reduce crime and drug use.
Jamboree will hold another community meeting to answer questions from the public at 6 p.m. on Thursday, October 22, over Zoom.
“This movement is not about the issue of homeless that’s plaguing California. The issue at hand is giving our City, Milpitas residents, and cities across California, the right to freedom and liberty,” said Tran. “There’s nothing more I would like to see than to get people off the streets, but not at the cost of our city’s freedom and liberty.”
The Milpitas City Council will be meeting in closed session on Tuesday, October 20, to discuss the possibility of litigation on the part of Milpitas against the County and State.
Update: Councilmember Anthony Phan has released a statement on the project: “I for one, deeply value the community partners and agencies working to actually address the housing crisis. During these times, we should be proactively building bridges, not recklessly burning them down. I’m committed towards continued collaboration with the many stakeholders involved to address homelessness in Milpitas.”