Last week’s Benton Street homeless development reared its head again at the Santa Clara City Council’s meeting. Tuesday night, reconsideration of a contentious project to house 30 families failed to gain traction despite seven public members imploring the Council to reconsider.
State tax money would fund a large portion of the development as part of Project Homekey, a state initiative to build housing for the poor. Slated to manage the housing project is LifeMoves, which recently came under heavy fire for its management of a similar project in Mountain View.
To avoid having the April 25 meeting run past midnight, the Council opted to push further discussion to last week’s meeting. However, because the Council had already heard public testimony, those in attendance were unable to comment last week.
Many commented Tuesday that City employees, LifeMoves and Santa Clara County officials — with whom the City is partnering on the project — presented new information last week, but robbed the public of the ability to respond to that information.
“My soul was a bit crushed that day. It felt like the loss of democracy knowing that we would have fiduciary issues we still went ahead with the issue,” said Ashish Verma.
Verma challenged several of the Council assertions, saying it is not looking at the data presented in its entirety and seeking information that confirms its position. The main issue is safety, he said. Naturally, if you talk to homeless people and the organizations that are set to manage such a development you will get one story, but the Council isn’t listening to the residents.
“If you talked to us, the tax paying residents who are funding all this, you would hear a different answer. The answer is actually not ‘no.’ The answer actually is we should do things that help families thrive here, and they will thrive when they do not have a fear hanging on their necks,” he said. “So, it is your moral obligation now that you have committed that you make sure that this remains a safe place for everyone that you put in that shelter, especially the kids.”
Others echoed Verma’s sentiments, saying giving the project the go-ahead was based on faulty information — information about how much Homekey money the project is likely to get based on the rooms it is providing, information about crime statistics, a false correlation between other LifeMoves shelters reducing homelessness, to name just a few.
Many said the process “silenced” the public even though City Attorney Glen Googins said everything was on the up-and-up legally.
Guatam Kulkari called the situation “extremely concerning and distressing” before telling the Council that such a move is a sticking point for many residents.
“Voters have taken notice of this. Voters will not forget, and we will respond appropriately at the ballot box next time around,” he said.
Vice Mayor Kevin Park, who voted in the minority, implored his fellow council members to reconsider. In order for an item to be reconsidered, someone who voted for the motion — Council Members Anthony Becker, Karen Hardy, Suds Jain and Kathy Watanabe — must move for reconsideration.
Park said the information was “sloppily presented.” He agreed that the public should have had more opportunity to comment after new information was presented. Just because the Council followed legal procedure, doesn’t mean it did nothing wrong.
“Doing to the people what is legal is a far cry from what they need, what they want, what they are asking for,” he said.
But, Park’s Council colleagues didn’t budge. The reconsideration failed for lack of a motion.
HUD Plan Moves Forward
The Council also approved this year’s Housing and Urban Development action plan.
Adam Marcus, the City’s housing and community services division manager, told the Council that his department has unspent money from previous years.
Unspent money is due to programs not using all available money, causing the total to swell from $686,320 to just over $1 million. The Neighborhood Conservation and Community Improvement (NCIP) program decreased from $500,000 to $352,000.
Marcus told the Council that the program will ramp up again once the City is able to hire another inspector and secure contractors for NCIP projects, both of which have been a challenge.
In the meantime, he said, the City aims to use the spillover to fund needed capital improvement projects, most notably the replacement of two elevators at Liberty Towers, which is estimated to cost $850,000.
Council Waives Requirements for Two Energy Technologies
Finally, the Council changed the zoning code to allow photovoltaic panels and fuel cells to be exempt from the requirements of power plants.
Reena Brillot, assistant director of community development, told the Council that these two technologies meet the requirements for being considered a power plant, and thus require special use permits.
The state has deemed photovoltaic panels “clean energy,” and while no such designation has been made for fuel cells, removing the use permit satisfies a settlement agreement with Bloom Energy. Brillot said Bloom Energy has agreed to only use renewable energy to produce its fuel cells — and provide evidence — provided the Council removes the special use requirement.
The City’s climate action plan has made such measures necessary, Brillot said. In order to get to carbon neutral by 2045, the City has “aggressive goals”, she added.
State mandates require the City to have 100% renewable energy by 2045.
Those requirements can be met by purchasing credits, Brillot said.
Because of the California Environmental Quality Act, the Planning Commission recommended continuing requiring fuel cell production to have special use permits. City employees disagreed with that assessment.
Brillot said fuel cells are primarily back up, not primary, sources of power. Further, they do not alter the existing use of an already energy-producing area. They also require little to no soil excavation, limiting environmental impact. And while not a primary concern, they also do not produce noise like other, more traditional, electric-producing technology.
The motion passed unanimously.
Consent Calendar Spending
- A $1 million, five-year agreement with Cormatech, Inc. to replace two catalytic reduction nitrogen oxides catalysts and to provide ongoing testing, maintenance and sampling at Silicon Valley Power’s Don Von Raesfeld Power Plant.
- A $529,353 agreement with Noll and Tam Architects for services on the Patrick Henry Drive Specific Plan Community Art Center.
The next regularly scheduled meeting is Tuesday, May 23 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.