A divisive housing development for the poor ignited a firestorm of public comments at the Santa Clara City Council meeting Tuesday night.
The Council heard nearly two hours’ worth of public testimony from proponents and opponents alike. The two camps were divided on whether the proposed 108-apartment complex, set to be located at 1601 Civic Center Drive, is a boon for the City.
After backlash from neighbors in September, the Council delayed the item, hoping to reach an agreement with owner Charities Housing to put a park on the 1.4-acre site in lieu of the complex. However, the Council was unwilling to concede to Charities Housing’s stipulations for sale of the property, which it purchased in 2020 for $12 million.
Members of adjacent homeowners associations turned out in droves to stridently oppose the development. Among their concerns were the unavailability of parking, infringement on their privacy due to building height, shadows cast by looming buildings and crime.
The proposed project would convert the two-story office building into a five-story development housing those earning between 30% and 60% area median income. It would feature a community room, 82 parking spaces and 17,000 square feet of open space.
Keyhan Sinai, a spokesperson for the Civic Center Village Homeowners Association, called attention to how the area fails to meet the City’s minimum density for parkland.
“This alone means we cannot tolerate more density,” he said. “We have to live with your decision for the next 50 years. Our quality of life will decline more if we keep adding density blindly.”
Charities Housing agreed to several changes for the project, including increasing its distance from neighboring homes, a rideshare pickup spot, as well as reducing the building height by a story.
However, Sinai and others said Charities Housing has not budged on several big points of contention, namely the setback distance and building height. Further, he added, representatives from Charities Housing have repeatedly made “misleading” statements about the project.
For instance, he said it took Charities Housing 13 months to put up a fence near the construction site, something Kathy Robinson, director of housing development for Charities Housing, described as “immediate.”
“Why continue to rub this into our wound?” Sinai said. “How can we continue to trust that future problems will be addressed ‘immediately?’”
Andrew Crabtree, Santa Clara’s director of community development, said the City’s back is against the wall with adding housing for the poor. The City failed to reach even half of the roughly 700 state-mandated housing units for those designated “very low income” last cycle, he said.
With that number escalating and the state’s now-increased enforcement arm “watching this project,” the City is in a precarious position. Additionally, recent state legislation could mandate the project move forward, cutting the City out of the decision entirely, Crabtree added.
While many others joined the chorus of naysayers, not everyone opposed the project.
Chris Sanders, pastor at Santa Clara United Methodist Church, said he has been impressed with the work Charities Housing has done with its other projects. He said its members “care for their residents; they care for people in need,” adding that the proposed project “gives people dignity.”
Ingrid Granados, with Destination: Home, said the development is needed with “urgency” to help protect “vulnerable families.” She refuted claims made by opponents.
“Contrary to popular myths, we know that affordable housing developments make neighborhoods safer and will not impact property values,” she said.
Council Member Anthony Becker, who rents a residence in Santa Clara, said wages have stalled while rents have soared, saying Bay Area residents are “a slave to rent.”
“Opportunities like these only come around so often,” Becker said. “When I hear many words that say ‘I am not against affordable housing, just not here. Or there. Or over there. Or on that side of the street.’ It just creates another dilemma that we continue to repeat ourselves over and over and over again.”
The Council approved the development in a 5-2 vote. Council Members Kevin Park and Raj Chahal voted “no.”
Consent Calendar Spending
- A one-year, $560,000 purchase order with Guerra Construction Group for concrete services and $10,000 for asphalt services.
- A one-year, $90,000 purchase order with Spencon Construction for asphalt cement pavement services and $7,500 for “other work.”
- A one-year, $42,500 purchase order with Valley Concrete for “other work” and $140,000 for concrete services.
- A $668,184 agreement with Design Professional Services with CSG Consultants, Inc. for street maintenance and rehabilitation.
- A $350,000 renewal of an agreement with the County of Santa Clara for case management and homeless prevention.
- A $600,000, three-year agreement with Safe Moves, Inc. to provide safe routes to school.
- A $3 million increase to a loan to Monroe Street Housing Partners for construction of below-market housing at 2330 Monroe St.
- A $17.5 million agreement with California and Power System Professionals, Inc. for a power systems plan for Silicon Valley Power.
The next regularly scheduled meeting is Tuesday, Dec. 6 in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 1500 Warburton Ave. in Santa Clara.
Members of the public can participate in the City Council meetings on Zoom at https://santaclaraca.zoom.us/j/99706759306; Meeting ID: 997-0675-9306 or call 1(669) 900-6833, via the City’s eComment (available during the meeting) or by email to PublicComment@santaclaraca.gov.