Milpitas City Councilmembers all expressed concern at last Tuesday’s August 16 Council meeting when they heard reports that calls to the Milpitas Police and Fire Departments have been on the increase at the Hillview Ct. Apartments…
Formerly an Extended Stay America, the Hillview Ct. Apartments are part of Project Homekey, by which $846 million in funding was put toward purchasing and converting buildings across California into long-term housing for people experiencing homelessness.
In January of 2021, 50 unhoused residents moved into the building. The Beat reported that as of March of 2021, there had been no significant changes in crime rates in the area.
However, about a year and a half later, the Milpitas Police Department is reporting an increase in calls for service to the apartment building. At present, the building is almost fully occupied, with 120 of its 132 units filled.
In 2020, when the building was still the Extended Stay America, 121 calls for service to the Milpitas Police Department had been made from there. In 2021, after the property was converted to apartments and occupants began moving in, the number of calls rose to 206. So far, in 2022, that number has gone up to 269.
In 2021, Milpitas Police Officers spent a total of 169 hours and 51 minutes addressing issues at the Hillview Ct. Apartments site. But from January through August 8 of this year, that number is already at 253 hours and 30 minutes.
Events that officers find themselves responding to include family neglect/abuse, DUI, trespass, animal noise, and vandalism. They’ve also responded to calls about suspicious activity, and have conducted welfare checks. The vast majority of the calls have been initiated by residents of the apartment building. Last year, a transgender woman was murdered by her partner at the Hillview site.
The Milpitas Fire Department has seen a parallel increase in calls for service. In 2020, when the building was still a hotel, they got 30 calls. In 2022, through July 31, there have been 87, initiated due to things like smoke detector or alarm system activation, building/cooking fires, and emergency medical service requests.
Upon hearing the reports last Tuesday, Mayor Rich Tran was not shy about expressing his disapproval, oftentimes raising his voice, making questionable requests, and accusing Councilmember Anthony Phan of saying that the apartment building was a “safe place”…
“The statistics that we’re looking at are clear indicators of a failure on our part,” said Mayor Tran during the meeting.
He went on to suggest measures such as having K-9s periodically do routine checks throughout the property.
“I’m just not sure how we would permit that at Hillview,” said Consuelo Hernandez, the Director of the Office of Supportive Housing for the County of Santa Clara. Hernandez mentioned that Fair Housing Rules had to be followed and that they’d need to discuss it more “offline.”
The mayor went on to ask if it was possible to put up fencing between the apartment building and the Hillview Business Park located nearby. He also issued reminders about how he’d “opposed” the project initially, before its transition from an Extended Stay to the Hillview Ct. Apartments.
However, the City of Milpitas was never given a choice when it came to having the Homekey Project in the community. In 2020, when Milpitas got word that the County of Santa Clara was planning to open the Project Homekey site in Milpitas, some residents who lived near the site expressed opposition to the project. All five Councilmembers – at the time Mayor Tran, former Vice Mayor Bob Nuñez, and Councilmembers Phan, Karina Dominguez, and Carmen Montano – initially voted to write a letter to the County saying that they opposed the Homekey project. Mayor Tran also threatened to sue California and the County, but on November 4, 2020 the majority of the Council (Nuñez, Dominguez, and Phan) ultimately voted not to move forward with the lawsuit.
Amid his remarks at last Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Tran had an angry outburst, accusing Councilmember Phan of saying that the Hillview Ct. Apartments were a safe place for residents. When Phan tried to respond, Tran loudly stated, “You’re out of order! I didn’t call upon you, okay?”
Tran then went back to a slide of the types of crimes that Milpitas Police Officers often respond to, and spent almost four minutes reading the entire list, even though the slide hadn’t been created to list things that had actually happened at the Hillview Ct. apartments.
“To say people are living in peace is not true. They are calling 911,” said Tran during the meeting.
The Beat watched the meeting but could find no instance of Councilmember Phan referring to the apartment complex as a “safe place” or saying that residents there “are living in peace.”
“In November of 2020, [Councilmember Phan] made a decision, believing it would be a safe place for people. That’s not true,” said Mayor Tran in an interview with The Beat. “I’m still sick to my stomach at Councilmember Phan, Councilmember Karina Dominguez, and former Councilmember Bob Nuñez for opposing the Homekey Project prior to the election, and then immediately after the election voting to support the project going forward.”
Speaking with The Beat, Councilmember Phan said of Tran’s conduct at the meeting: “He was putting words in my mouth. Words I never said. He’s done this before.”
Councilmember Phan also mentioned a well-documented pattern of aggressive outbursts from Mayor Tran toward his colleagues in public meetings. In the past, for example, Tran has raised his voice and had similar outbursts when addressing Councilmember Dominguez.
“I’m very concerned about his behavior. I don’t think he’s well,” shared Phan. “His behavior is unusual, it’s strange, he speaks incoherently. We the council, staff, and community members have had to endure his delusions of grandeur for the longest time.”
The day after last Tuesday’s Council meeting, Mayor Tran withdrew from this year’s City Council race.
Councilmember Phan said he’s supported the Homekey Project from the beginning, and although he has concerns about the increase in calls for public safety services, he remains hopeful. He feels there needs to be better collaboration between the stakeholders amongst all Milpitas’ public safety departments. He also feels that the resident screening process should be made more selective.
“The project is not perfect. It’s far from perfect,” said Phan. “We’re doing this here [in Milpitas] at least for the first time. And while there are a lot of issues that I think can be worked out and have to be worked out, I wouldn’t let ‘perfect’ get in the way of all the good happening.”
George Searcy, Chief Impact Officer from Jamboree Housing, the company that partnered with the County to convert the building, was also present at the Council meeting. He mentioned that a round of improvements will start on the property in 2023, which will include extra security features. He also stated that Jamboree has added over 50 video cameras to the site since they purchased the property and began to operate there.
“I’m not sure if we have enough [security cameras] or if they’re in the right place,” said Searcy, who mentioned that discussions would be held with the Milpitas Police Department to determine next steps toward improving safety.
Meanwhile, Vice Mayor Carmen Montano suggested writing a letter to County Supervisor Otto Lee, requesting funding for a full-time police officer at the Homekey site. Councilmember Evelyn Chua likewise suggested asking for funds for a supportive housing specialist, who would be able to help with issues pertaining to mental health, drug use, and alcoholism, which some of the Hillview Ct. residents struggle with.
Councilmember Karina Dominguez was absent from the meeting.
The Beat will continue following this story.