San Jose denies contract extension for Chick-fil-A, invests in housing for poor
San Jose City Councilors review the city's affordable housing investment plan. They ultimately ended up voting to allocate more funds to extremely low-income units. Photo by Grace Hase.

A year after awarding a contract to a concessions group that would place Chick-fil-A in the Mineta San Jose International Airport, councilors hit the brakes on letting the controversial eatery operate an additional two years.

Last year, the City Council approved a six-year contract with Host International to license concessions at the airport. But those plans included the fast-food joint Chick-fil-A, which has been accused of donating funds to anti-LGBTQ+ groups.

“My heart just sank when I saw the construction wall (at the airport),” said former County Supervisor Ken Yeager. “I’ve been doing LGBTQ rights activities for 35 years. I remember when this city was not welcoming and we’ve come a long way. I feel like this is a throwback to those times.”

Prior to the City Council meeting, LGBTQ advocates and allies gathered to protest Chick-fil-A opening at the airport. Photo by Grace Hase.

Many of the councilors voiced similar concerns as Yeager, especially Councilmember Pam Foley whose gay brother died of AIDS more than two decades ago.

“When I hear of an injustice specifically to the LGBTQ community, I take it to heart,” she said. “Going forward, I hope that we are very sensitive as it relates to all of our diverse populations.”

But not everyone agrees. Some say the government shouldn’t make decisions for consumers who ultimately decide which businesses to support.

Shane Patrick Connolly, chief of staff for Councilmember Johnny Khamis, voiced his concern on Twitter this week over the controversy.

“They do not discriminate against LGBTQ in serving their customers,” he tweeted. “If we disapprove of owners’ views, we may vote with our dollars: eat elsewhere.”

City Attorney Rick Doyle cautioned the council on rejecting the contract extension on the grounds of religious or political beliefs, which could be considered a First Amendment violation. Instead, they opted to reject the extension since Chick-Fil-A is not open on Sundays – one of the airport’s busiest travel days.

At the suggestion of Yeager and Councilmember Dev Davis, the council also decided to put up LGBTQ flags in the airport. Councilmember Raul Peralez said he wanted to make the San Jose airport’s Chick-Fil-A the, “gayest Chick-Fil-A in the country,” adorning the flags outside of the business.

He also advocated for working with the Billy DeFrank LGBTQ Community Center in hiring LGBTQ individuals to work at the business.

Chick-fil-A is slated to open at the airport in 35 days, according to city officials, and will operate through 2026.

New investments in affordable housing

San Jose city lawmakers on Tuesday voted to allocate 45 percent of new housing funds to build extremely low-income units and invest $10 million to flip market-rate apartments into affordable ones.

The decision came as councilors reviewed San Jose’s investment plan that sets out to increase the city’s housing stock. A look at housing production numbers for extremely low-income households in 2018 shows that the city only permitted 62 of the 525 state-mandated units.

“We know that it is important for us to solve homelessness and this is actually a way for us to prevent homelessness,” said Councilmember Dev Davis, who along with Councilmember Maya Esparza, proposed pegging 45 percent of new funding for extremely low-income units. “We know that when we have a shortage, it’s the neediest people that go out.”

“We need to think about the type of community we want in the future,” Esparza added.

Jennifer Loving, CEO of Destination: Home, praised the council’s vote to invest more into extremely low-income housing. Loving has been a fierce advocate for the policy.

“I am so grateful for the leadership of Councilmembers Esparza and Davis as well as the entire City Council for recognizing the suffering of our lowest income families,” Loving told San José Spotlight.

She added that the commitment was a sign of recognition that the city must do more to “prevent and end homelessness.”

Pierluigi Oliverio back in public office 

After a contentious battle for an open Planning Commission seat, councilors selected former Councilmember Pierluigi Oliverio for the spot.

The process has been filled with contention as Norm Kline’s application was accidentally omitted from a packet forwarded to the council to rank the candidates. Kline withdrew from the running on March 30.

Oliverio, who termed out in 2016, told San José Spotlight that he was happy to be selected by the council.

“I continued to stay involved by writing and attending community meetings regarding proposed developments in multiple council districts,” he said.

Aimee Escobar, a county planning commissioner and former City Hall staffer Rolando Bonilla were the other finalists.

A look at the votes:

Oliverio: Mayor Sam Liccardo, Vice Mayor Chappie Jones and Councilmembers Dev Davis, Johnny Khamis, Lan Diep and Pam Foley

Escobar: Councilmember Raul Peralez

Bonilla: Councilmembers Sylvia Arenas, Sergio Jimenez, Maya Esparza and Magdalena Carrasco

Contact Grace Hase at grace@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @grace_hase on Twitter.

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