Disgruntled neighbors of the proposed Sobrato homeless apartment complex turned out to oppose the development during the first of several community outreach meetings.
City Manager Rajeev Batra, John Sobrato–billionaire CEO of the Cupertino-based development company and, according to Forbes, the 83rd wealthiest person in the U.S.–, Jennifer Loving, executive director of Destination Home, Vivian Wan, chief operating officer of Abode, and Councilmember Pat Kolstad hosted the meeting Feb. 2.
The Mayor and other Council members, Batra said, were unable to attend because they had “schedule conflicts” something that drew “boos” from the crowd, which filled the Council Chambers and an overflow room, amounting to roughly 250 people.
The proposed development, named Innovation Place, is located on a 2.47-acre plot of land on the southeast corner of San Tomas Expressway and Monroe Street. The property, purchased with redevelopment agency money, is earmarked for “affordable housing.” The 200 “micro” apartments in the development will be 160 to 240 square feet and made from metal shipping containers.
In the fall, the Council approved exclusive negotiating rights with Sobrato.
Kolstad said there was “a lot of misinformation and confusion” surrounding the project. He called what Sobrato is doing a “noble, wonderful thing.”
Batra had trouble controlling the crowd, which regularly spoke out of turn and shouted down speakers.
Santa Clara businessman and November City Council candidate Mario Bouza called for the Council to use the property for “affordable” housing for teachers, firefighters and police officers. The pushback is “snowballing, people are getting fed up,” he said. Several others in attendance shared Bouza’s thoughts about using the property to build housing for teachers and service workers.
The critical mass of public comments all dealt with a few topics. Many were concerned that having a development intended to give housing to the homeless would reduce property values.
“This action, if it goes through, will forever designate this area as a poor part of town,” said Chuck Brown, a neighbor to the property.
Loving said shelters do not help alleviate homelessness and that projects like this offer a solution as they are “the best strategy that has ever been used in the nation.”
The main concern was that those living in the complex would pose a safety risk to the neighbors.
Wan said that Abode would strictly enforce the lease terms and that the homeless services will only be available to residents. Sobrato added that security at the complex will be stringent and that no one can enter or leave the apartments without going through security.
Still, with minimal connectivity to public transit, many worried about what the residents would be doing when they weren’t in their homes.
“You can’t possibly keep us all safe. I don’t believe it,” said Kim Brown, a Santa Clara resident. “I don’t think everybody is looking at the whole picture as to what is going to happen outside … Somebody needs to tell me why this is the best location in the county.”
One man told the panel that he “has three small children, and if anything happens to them, I will personally come and find each one of you.”
Sobrato said his company is looking into having shuttles available for residents, but the idea drew jeers from the crowd as impractical considering how many residents will live in the development.
Several more community meetings will take place before the Council makes any decisions about the project. Many members of the public derided the Council’s absence from the meeting, saying that their absences show the Council’s priorities.
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