UPDATE (Oct. 26): The Milpitas City Council will move forward with its suit and use a “specialized law firm,” due to a conflict of interest within the city attorney’s office, according to City Attorney Chris Diaz. Mayor Rich Tran called another special city council meeting for Wednesday at 6 p.m.
In a special meeting Thursday, the Milpitas City Council voted unanimously to sue in prevention of a Milpitas Extended Stay America hotel becoming a permanent supportive housing development for local homeless people.
The proposed project is part of Governor Gavin Newsom’s Project Homekey, which was devised to provide apartment units to homeless individuals on an accelerated timeline during the COVID-19 pandemic. For the sake of quick turnaround, projects under Homekey are granted special approval by the state and county, overriding any local zoning ordinances.
The litigation is the latest in an escalating series of moves by the Milpitas City Council to oppose the homeless housing development after the project was first revealed to the public in an August 25 memo.
City Attorney Chris Diaz said the city will “pursue litigation against any and all parties involved in the Homekey project located at Extended Stay America.”
After the vote, Mayor Rich Tran called for another special council meeting for Monday at 6 p.m. to “reconvene and bring forward another discussion with more information.”
“We need to do what’s right and to involve our own community,” said Tran in an interview with The Beat on Thursday. “That’s why we’re doing everything we can to represent the voices of Milpitas and Santa Clara County residents. And that’s through litigation because that’s what we’re left with.”
Formally called 1000 Hillview Court, the project garnered opposition from residents of the Hillview neighborhood, the residential area immediately surrounding the Extended Stay America. Those residents have complained of the potential for higher crime rates, reduced public safety, reduced property values and mentally ill individuals in their neighborhoods should the project get the green light.
Both the council and residents argued the project lacked a sense of transparency between Santa Clara County and the City, and that the City needed more input before any plans were to move forward. The council and residents were also concerned about the fact that Milpitas homeless residents are not guaranteed units at the motel, and instead would be placed in a countywide queue for those awaiting apartments.
It was the opposition from residents that caused Tran and Vice Mayor Bob Nuñez to reverse course on the project after initially supporting it last month. Prior to changing his position, Nuñez was quoted in a September 22 joint press release with the County saying he “could not be more proud of how staff has represented the City of Milpitas.”
“We are part of a multi-agency partnership and the Homekey program that will transform lives. This is truly a unique opportunity to address critical housing needs,” Nuñez went on to say in that early press release.
The litigation is expected to target parties involved in the development, including the County and Jamboree Housing Corporation, the affordable housing developer leading the project. The County’s attorney, James Williams, has not yet commented on the lawsuit.
It is meanwhile unclear whether or not Milpitas will sue the State of California.
“It’s really easy to see that a majority of Santa Clara County residents in this part of the valley oppose this project,” said Tran. “At the same time, we want to hear every voice in every position both against and for this project. We’re just lacking that transparency completely. And it’s really a travesty and a violation of our freedom.”
In a community meeting just hours after the council’s vote, representatives from Jamboree presented several studies that showed no evidence of the project negatively impacting property values or spurring a significant increase in crime. The claims have been backed by a 10-year study conducted by the County on a similar housing development.
“Supportive housing is a proven solution to end homelessness. There is a myriad of research articles out there showing this,” said Danielle Laterri, the director of services at Jamboree and a licensed clinician. “I think we have a traditional idea and concept of what supportive housing is…row after row of housing that all looks the same, the barbed wire fences, the trash everywhere, the broken-down cars,” she continued. “Nowadays that’s not what supportive housing is. It’s building nice apartment homes that look just like market-rate [homes] and becoming a neighborhood asset.”
Toward that end, Jamboree plans to turn the 144-room Extended Stay America motel on Hillview Drive into 132 fully-furnished apartments for formerly homeless residents, along with onsite services for residents.
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 Laterri.
“We’re doing a criminal background check and we are screening for violent crime,” she said. “That can be domestic violence, that could be assault, that could be a myriad of different things that is considered a violent crime. That’s an automatic flag for a person to not get accepted.”
Laterri said the same process will be applied to anyone showing a history of sex-related crimes. Potential residents can appeal rejected applications; each application will be handled on a case-by-case basis.
The homeless housing project is estimated to cost $80 million, including a $29.2 million grant from the state, $21.9 million from the 2016 Measure A bond supporting affordable housing, and roughly $30 million from Jamboree itself.
Thursday’s vote comes after another unanimous city council vote that formally opposed the project on Oct. 15. As a result of that vote, City Manager Steve McHarris sent a letter on Oct. 16 to County Manager Jeffrey Smith asking developers to stop the project.
Smith responded early Thursday morning, writing that the city council’s “recent change in perspective represents a local policy change that staff cannot address.”
“The Homekey Project has been an example of the county’s and city’s collaborative relationship and commitment to address the monumental problem of homelessness,” Smith also wrote.
Should the project continue as scheduled, 1000 Hillview Court will open to applicants starting in early 2021. It is still unclear what action the County or State will take should Milpitas take up its intended lawsuit against them.
Tran said he hopes to resolve the issue and explore more “transparent” solutions for housing homeless Milpitas residents.
“Our priority is not to look at shooting down housing for those who are on the street,” said Tran. “I think the community’s main concern right now is to have a voice. And that’s the fundamental issue at hand.”