Milpitas city council sitting at the council dias during a meeting where Mayor Carmen Montano was absent.
The Milpitas City Council is pictured at a meeting in October 2023. Photo by B. Sakura Cannestra.

This year, Milpitas banned natural gas in all new buildings, enhanced its rideshare program and looked for new ways to increase its housing.

Looking ahead into the new year, the city has plans for a unique workplace housing project and an expansion to its Innovation Campus in the pipeline.

Here’s what happened in 2023 and what to watch out for in 2024:

Banning natural gas

Milpitas joined San Jose in banning natural gas in all new buildings, approving two environmentally friendly policies earlier this year. The Milpitas City Council approved a policy requiring more electric vehicle charging stations around the city and a plan to impose an all-electric mandate on new construction for homes and commercial spaces.

Officials had concerns about the potential increases in cost to housing, especially multi-family homes, and the potential effects from the ban on the regional power grid. PG&E officials said the new requirement won’t affect the grid. According to the city’s analysis, building an all-electric home costs roughly $6,000 less than constructing a mixed-fuel home, with most of the savings stemming from not having to install gas infrastructure.

Citywide rideshare program

Milpitas’ rideshare program drives residents around the city for a low cost and is growing in ridership. Photo courtesy of Charmaine Angelo.

The city’s Simple Mobile Access to Reliable Transit (SMART) program operates a fleet of six vehicles that take residents across the city at a maximum cost of $2.50 per ride. When the program launched, it only took riders to and from four hub locations—now, it provides personalized pickups and stops, and ridership is on the rise.

The city has been struggling to keep the program alive, since the lion’s share of funding comes from a VTA grant and state dollars which could dry up. Milpitas received an infusion of $1.6 million from the state earlier this year after successful lobbying efforts. These funds and remaining VTA grant funding will carry the program through 2025.

Milpitas Unified School District’s Innovation Campus

Two people walking down the stairs in the courtyard of a school with construction fencing in the background.
Blach Construction Project Manager Ryan Holman and spokesperson Kate Blocker descend the steps at one of the Milpitas Unified School District Innovation Campus’ new buildings. Photo by B. Sakura Cannestra.

In August, the Milpitas Unified School District Innovation Campus opened the first phase of a project designed to provide business development and hands-on learning opportunities to students of all ages. The new campus is expected to cost more than $100 million, the bulk of which is funded through Measure AA, a $284 million bond passed in 2018 to upgrade school facilities.

The first phase included the district’s offices and the adult education program. Construction has already started on phase two, which includes new buildings for Calaveras Hills High School. The district hopes to open the buildings by August 2024.

1355 California Circle 

A one-floor industrial building and parking lot surrounded by a chain link fence at 1355 California Circle.
This one-floor industrial building has sat vacant for about eight years and will be demolished to make way for a complex of apartments and townhomes. Photo by B. Sakura Cannestra.

A development at 1355 California Circle will break ground in 2024 on 206 homes, 75 of which will be affordable apartments. A large portion of the apartments is being set aside for Milpitas Unified School District workers. Teachers have been leaving the Bay Area because of the region’s rising cost of living, and this development could help keep teachers and district employees in Milpitas.

The Milpitas City Council approved the development in November and construction is expected to take more than two years to finish. The school district has an attrition rate between 10% to 15% for its more than 1,000 employees, and Chris Norwood, school board president, said the district’s goal is to slash that in half.

Rezoning for more affordable housing 

Crescent Square commercial space sign with local Walgreens in background
One of the sites considered for new housing in Milpitas is near the intersection of Dixon Landing Road and Milpitas Boulevard, which includes the Crescent Square shopping center. Photo by B. Sakura Cannestra.

The state is requiring Milpitas to build 6,713 homes by 2031, more than half of which must be affordable, and the city has been looking for ways to reach that goal.

The city has identified five privately owned commercial sites, referred to as Housing Opportunity Districts, which it’s looking to rezone for residential and retail uses. Housing has increased near the Milpitas Transit Center, but new regulations could bring more housing to other parts of the city.

The city has heard from some property owners who are eager to move in this direction.

Mayoral race

The Milpitas mayoral race has three candidates vying for the job. file photo.

While next year’s November election encompasses races throughout Santa Clara County, the Milpitas mayoral race will be one to watch.

The filing deadline is August, but so far there are three candidates—former mayor Rich Tran, current Mayor Carmen Montano and Councilmember Hon Lien.

Tran served as mayor from 2017 to 2023. Now, he’s vying for his old seat amid allegations of intimidating colleagues, along with other controversies from his time in office. When Montano ran in 2022, she had Tran’s endorsement, and the last time they ran against each other for mayor was 2016. Lien, a first-term councilmember, is the only candidate so far who has filed papers to run.

Third city manager axed in six years

Former City Manager Steve McHarris sued the city in December for wrongful termination and breach of contract, building on past accusations of intimidation from various members of city government, including Tran and Montano.

Milpitas has seen more than its share of city managers come and go in recent years under controversial or cloudy circumstances. McHarris was let go in June and is the third city manager to be let go in Milpitas since 2017—yet another loss in leadership that has shocked residents and left them wondering when the tumultuous string of turnovers will finally be over.

Learn more about how to be engaged as these topics see progress next year.

Contact B. Sakura Cannestra at [email protected] or @SakuCannestra on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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