Coordinated campaign kills interim housing proposal in Santa Clara
An aerial image of a part of the city of Santa Clara. Photo courtesy of The 111th Group.

    A coordinated effort by hundreds of Santa Clara residents successfully killed a proposal to build interim housing for unhoused families.

    In a unanimous vote, the Santa Clara City Council rejected a proposal to build 60 units of transitional housing at 2035 White Oak Lane. Councilmembers directed city employees to search for alternative sites.

    The proposal drew a record amount of correspondence and scores of residents who spoke out, according to Mayor Lisa Gillmor. She acknowledged the topic was difficult to address, and resulted in bitter and heated comments

    “I’m sorry that people portray others as not caring about the homeless,” she said. “I do believe people care about people, I honestly do believe that.”

    Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor holds up correspondence from the public about a controversial housing proposal the City Council rejected on Nov. 9.

    Councilmembers expressed support for the unhoused, but cited the strong opposition to the proposal for not approving the project. Vice Mayor Raj Chahal was not present for the vote.

    Numerous residents who spoke are associated with Safe Santa Clara County, a group that has fought against similar proposals for interim housing projects in Santa Clara, Sunnyvale and Mountain View. All of these projects are associated with Project Homekey, a state program to build rapid housing for unhoused people.

    Santa Clara County and San Jose are moving forward on several proposals to increase the region’s stock of emergency housing. The county recently approved a multi-million dollar contract with LifeMoves to create 10 prefabricated shelter sites. San Jose built more than 300 interim homes at three different sites during the pandemic, and San Jose wants to use Project HomeKey funds to convert several hotels into housing.

    Members of the group and White Oak residents—many of whom used talking points distributed in a Discord channel—claim the project site is too close to the Lawrence Expressway and poses a danger to the children of homeless families. Others doubt LifeMoves, the organization selected to manage the housing project, can find long-term financing for the project.

    Some say the site is too close to another Project HomeKey building, the Bella Vista Inn on El Camino Real. Santa Clara County, which is applying for state funds to run this site, approved it earlier this month.

    Speakers repeatedly cited a petition signed by more than 2,000 residents who oppose building interim homes.

    A screenshot of the proposed project. Photo courtesy of city of Santa Clara.

    Think of the children

    Dozens of residents said they fear for their safety if unhoused residents are allowed to live in the neighborhood. Many characterize the homeless as drug addicts, alcoholics, mentally unsound and violent and suggest placing them in the neighborhood poses a serious threat to their families.

    “I want to ask the supporters one simple question: You want to save 60 kids through this housing—how about the 600 kids in the neighborhood you’re putting at risk?” said Megha Sarathy, a Sunnyvale resident.

    A woman who only identified herself as Nimish claimed the project would destroy the neighborhood and suggested the decision makers would not consider raising their children near a homeless shelter.

    “Go to neighborhoods that have had homeless shelters for several years,” she said. “Are they still the neighborhoods they used to be years back? Are the property prices still the same?”

    Several residents referred to rapes, assaults and a murder at an interim housing project in Milpitas. Santa Clara County Supportive Housing Director Consuelo Hernandez said there was a domestic violence incident at the Milpitas HomeKey location. She noted that gender-based violence occurs all over the county, not just in interim housing.

    Proponents of the White Oak project expressed shock and anger with the language used by residents opposed to the site.

    “It’s been deeply disturbing tonight to hear the incredible amount of fear mongering, of just inaccurate information and really dehumanizing comments about our unhoused neighbors,” said Jordan Grimes, member of a local grassroots housing advocacy group.

    Santa Clara resident Allen Liou said he supports the project and finds it shameful how opponents portray the unhoused.

    “You guys are really characterizing them as monsters when these are just people in need of help,” he said.

    Online planning

    In a Discord channel, a group of residents dismissed the project supporters as communists, lobbyists and non-residents. Several users emphasized the project should be treated as an election issue to force councilmembers to take it more seriously.

    “I want them to fear. Their next election. Their legal expenses. And public shaming,” said one user.

    Several expressed disgust with Councilmember Suds Jain, who unsuccessfully tried to preserve the White Oaks site as an option while the city searches for other possible housing sites. He is the only councilmember the Safe Santa Clara County group did not urge its members to thank after the meeting. One user suggested the victory in Santa Clara can be exported to other cities.

    “This success can be (a) template to help other communities under threat of mindless projects,” they said. “This should be replicated elsewhere.”

    As of Wednesday, members on the Discord channel are discussing various ideas for how to develop the White Oak site.

    Contact Eli Wolfe at [email protected] or @EliWolfe4 on Twitter.

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