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City Delays Action on Temporary Housing Development

After hours of listening to public comment, the Santa Clara City Council did not vote on a proposal to turn a vacant lot at the southwest corner of Benton Street and Lawrence Expressway into temporary housing.

Dozens of people turned out for the public comment session at the special City Council meeting. Even more submitted written comments to the Council and City prior to the start of the meeting. Mayor Lisa Gillmor said in her long time serving in Santa Clara, this is possibly the largest response she’s seen to a single item.

Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President and local supervisor Susan Ellenberg attended the meeting to urge the Council to approve the project.

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The Council was asked to vote on three items. First, to authorize the City Manager to negotiate a three-party agreement between the City of Santa Clara, County of Santa Clara and Life Moves for the management of the project.

Second, to allow the City Manager to apply for state funding for the project through California’s Homekey program.

Third, to approve City funding of up to $5.5 million to help manage the location for the next seven years.

Changes to Benton Street & Lawrence Expressway Proposal

The project is much different than it was when it was initially presented to Santa Clara residents at a Feb. 13 public meeting.

During that meeting, the temporary housing project was designed to fit up to 124 units for unhoused singles and couples. It was supposed to be a four-story project.

Since that initial meeting, Santa Clara County and the City have held multiple outreach meetings and have adapted the plan.

Now, the proposal is for 30 units, all designated for families. All the units would have kitchenettes and bathrooms. There would be a single point of access to the site with 52 parking spaces on site. It would have a maximum height of three stories.

Additionally, LifeMoves would provide 24/7 staffing and a Community Advisory Committee would be formed.

Questions Surrounding the Project

Council members had several questions for City and County staff about everything from safety to funding to what happens in the future.

The project will only happen if state Homekey funds can be secured. The land is currently owned by Santa Clara County and will stay in the County’s possession. Ultimately, it will be the County’s responsibility to cover overruns for construction and what happens to the site after seven years.

To help receive the maximum Homekey funding, the City must present secured funding for the site for at least seven years. Some of that funding would have to come from the City.

The County has promised that any changes to the site’s usage would happen only after input from the community and City Council.

Safety was another big concern. The County says because the site is designated for families, registered sex offenders will not qualify for housing on the property.

LifeMoves will be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the site. The agency has committed to at least three fulltime employees on site at any given time. Cameras can be accessed remotely.

Some council members had concerns about similar properties in other cities, specifically Milpitas. The County says it has made changes and calls for service from police have gone down.

While the County has investigated similar potential sites for temporary housing, Santa Clara is the furthest along in the process and therefore first to reach this stage of development.

Public Outcry and Support for Temporary Housing Proposal

Dozens and dozens of people spoke at the meeting to convey their opinions.

Wilma recognized that homelessness is a “daunting” issue but said there are too many unanswered questions with this project.

Kimmy pointed out that the money does not make sense. She says the cost in relation to the size of the project equals about $1.3 million per unit for construction alone. Moving forward, Kimmy points out that the City and County would have to pay almost five times more than someone would pay in rent annually just to support each unit.

Kate C. was concerned about LifeMoves as a management company, calling it “unqualified” and “not reliable.” She used the agency’s management of a site in Mountain View as an example.

Homeless advocates also spoke. Dontae Lartigue said he is a product of public systems, and he has come a long way since then.

“I am a living testament to what public systems can do. I was homeless because of the foster care system. I emancipated and became homeless due to emancipating,” said Lartigue. “I have four children. I’m 32 years old. I have a business. I am a college graduate. This is what happens when people get housing. So, when we oppose housing, we should be saying, ‘Is that the ethic and moral thing to do?’”

Cleo Cole, who also spent time homeless, said she was disappointed in the lack of humanity at the meeting.

“The lives of the children that are in these families are just as important as the lives of the children who live here who are housed in happy homes and they deserve just as much security as any other child,” said Cole.

The council did not have a chance to vote on the item prior to midnight. Instead, it voted to continue it to a reconvened session on May 2 at 5 p.m.

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12 Comments
  1. John Haggerty 1 year ago
    Reply

    The County/Live Moves last-minute switcheroo last night from their original 120 single/couples proposal three months ago to their new 30 “family” units proposal last night does not appear to have been very well thought out at all. Each of the proposed “family” units for 2-4 family members would be smaller than 400 square feet. What family could live in such a sardine can? In addition, one speaker last night indicated that a another “interim housing” facility which currently houses “families” in Sunnyvale may be transformed into a singles/couples facility to accommodate this last-minute switcheroo in the Benton site proposal (taking from Peter to pay for Paul). It was also suggested at the meeting last night that individual ex-criminals might still be allowed to reside at the proposed Benton site if enough “families” are not found.

    Furthermore, the new cost figures released by City staff last night indicate that the construction costs for this proposed Benton facility would be $34 million PLUS operating costs for the first seven years of about $28 million ($4 million per year) PLUS these figures apparently do not include the free County land at that site. In other words, this proposal is a ridiculously costly boondoggle. With this money, you could give each of the 30 “families” a $2+ million house, free and clear! Plus, with the operating costs alone, you could give each of these “families” about $133,000 a year for rent. RIDICULOUS!!

    • Buchser Alum 1 year ago
      Reply

      John,
      .
      Many neighbors who were against the housing development stated that they were all for helping the homeless but did not want single occupancy units and said they wanted housing for families. So Lifemoves changed it to a family housing project in response to requests from neighbors but you think this is a “switcharoo”?
      .
      Do you always think that responsiveness to criticism and requests is pulling a “switcharoo”?
      .
      You pretend to care about families not having to live in a “sardine can” because if you really cared you would recognize that the alternative to living in a “sardine can” is living on the street or in a vehicle or in a group shelter with beds in a huge mixed open room.
      .
      They changed the plan to accommodate requests made by the critics and now the critics are criticizing the accommodations.
      .
      I wish that the critics would just be honest and argue what they truly believe. Which is that they do not care about the homeless or only want them housed in someone else’s neighborhood. And that they think that somehow the problem of people living on our streets and in creeks and in vehicles all over will magically go away without more purpose built housing to help people get off the streets.
      .
      All the fiscal issues raised are legitimate questions however and they need to be worked out and answered.

      • Maria 1 year ago
        Reply

        First of all, we live in a Democracy! If 80 to 90 percent of our community doesn’t want a housing project for homeless where there will be no criminal background checks, the city and county should listen. Safety is a serious concern and we have the right to feel safe!

        We don’t live in a mental hospital where emotions run people’s lives. We need to make decisions based on all kinds of information including data that is objective ( success of LifeMoves past projects, cost of operations and of building, funding etc etc etc). Any serious citizen in this valley knows that! It is not good enough to have the intention of helping people, you have to prove you can do it and in the best possible way. Life moves has not proven that, quiet the opposite!

        My last point ( and there are many more) is that there is an trust issue with LifeMoves. They changed the project last minute claiming it would now be homes for families. The thing is , they left a clause there for few to see that gives them the right to change the project to individual with criminal records. Bait and switch!

        This article could have done a better job sharing the data offered in our meeting! The press should not be biased!

      • Birdland 1 year ago
        Reply

        What I find interesting is the ‘Project Opponents’ (the neighborhood, the taxpayers, the homeowners) focus on challenging the proposal details and facts coming out of existing LifeMoves and other similar shelters or interim housing. While the ‘Supporters’ simply attack the ‘Opponents’ with the ‘you’re so horrible and insensitive to the needs of the homeless’. They fall for the nonprofit marketing machine’s fluff.

  2. r c n 1 year ago
    Reply

    In response to Kate C.’s concern about LifeMoves. calling it “unqualified” and “not reliable,” its CharityNavigator 4-star (highest) rating suggests otherwise. See: https://www.charitynavigator.org/ein/770160469 LifeMoves is rated 94% in the Accountability & Finance beacon, which “provides an assessment of a charity’s financial health (financial efficiency, sustainability, and trustworthiness) and its commitment to governance practices and policies.” It is also rated 93% for the Culture & Community beacon, which “provides an assessment of the organization’s culture and connectedness to the community it serves.” This rating from a highly qualified and reliable source is impressive.

    LifeMoves states its vision as: “a community where all our neighbors have a home. To achieve this, our mission is to provide interim housing and supportive services for homeless families and individuals in Silicon Valley to help them rapidly return to stable housing and achieve long-term self-sufficiency.” The charitable organization is doing great work.

    Neighbors who previously argued against individual units should applaud the change in plan to family units. Those who argued against the size of the facility should welcome the change from 124 to 30 units and the height from 4 to 3 stories. Of course all should be grateful that registered sex offenders cannot be residents. Although there are still issues like the very busy traffic intersection and loss of open space, homeless families and couples need and deserve to live off the streets, out of their vehicles and in safe facilities that will enable them to find permanent housing.

    • Birdland 1 year ago
      Reply

      Please look at the facts which are available through public records requests, not the ‘yelp’ reviews. Seriously. Do you not know that social media reviews, in general, are BS?

  3. Megan Katz 1 year ago
    Reply

    If LifeMoves are reliable, how to explain they plan to move families from Sunnyvale shelter to Benton shelter and turn Sunnyvale Shelter into a shelter for single? Did they notice the Sunnyvale community? How to explain they plan to cut 24/7 security and on site service in Palo Alto shelter to save their expenses? The Palo Alto shelter will cost more than $34M and their clients cannot get the service promised in the original proposal! Why we should believe LifeMoces can keep their promise this time?
    It is really weird that LifeMoves has such a high ranking. Seems they was not affected by their bad performance in recent shelter projects at all. That means the oversight is absent. They didn’t get any consequences from doing wrong. However, their clients are losing service and our government are losing money. LifeMoves is the only one who gained in this “game”.

  4. Alex Wang 1 year ago
    Reply

    Look at what livemoves had achieved in the palto, mountain view, and Milpitas homeless shelter program: low occupancy rate (26%), increased crimes & drugs (3X or 4X), even homeless don’t want to live in the shelter because they don’t feel safe! I am not convinced when they want to run another homeless shelter in Santa Clara.

    City should think this through what this shelter means for the city and the residents of Santa Clara: the same bad results would very likely to happen: a hub for crime & drugs, an infinity funding required.

    And think about who is gonna pay for the consequences? Our safety and our tax money since it is going to there for the next three to five decades, just think about the cost (tens of millions anuually needed to run this site).

    I attended this Tuesday’s meeting in person. This is what I observed: more than a dozens of students rushed in to make a support speech one by one, in the next second, they rushed out and disappear. They don’t even want to stay for one second to listen what local residents are trying to say. Apparently they don’t live in Santa Clara, they don’t know the community, and they don’t care about the community. Then why would they come here and do this in a very very very very organized way? I can’t help questioning their motivations? Who is behind them? are they paid to do it? is there any connection to the city or livemoves? Who knows!

    The city could only lose not matter what the outcome is. They not only lose money on this project and they would certainly lose faith from the residents! It is time to rethink about it.

  5. Buchser Alum 1 year ago
    Reply

    Alex,
    .
    Nothing in your comment includes any suggestions for improving the development or any proposals for using the site better in reducing our homelessness crisis.
    .
    It is clear that you and many other opponents simply do not want any sort of temporary housing on the lot even housing that is meant to house families. Just be honest and state that even if this site can help children have a stable and clean and safe home you do not want it built because it is not a perfect solution.
    .
    Your speculation about the pro development speakers is just silly. “Very very very very organized way” describes people on both sides of the issue.
    .
    I do not blame them for not wanting to sit around and watch hours of the same complaints that have been stated over and over again in prior meeting. And some new complaints which are complaining about how Lifemoves changed the nature of the proposal in response to prior complaints and how that is somehow a bad thing rather than being responsive to the complaints and suggestions of neighbors.

    • Dan 1 year ago
      Reply

      I am curious to know how many interim housing or homeless shelters are currently at full occupancy. I am aware that Mountain View Lifemoves and San Jose Montgomery Shelter are not fully occupied. Additionally, I am wondering if building new homeless shelters would be an effective solution to the homelessness crisis.

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