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.
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.