Santa Clara officials vote on affordable housing, massage parlor rules
The Santa Clara City Council meets on June 26 for its twice-monthly meeting. Credit: Janice Bitters

Santa Clara elected leaders Tuesday night faced a full agenda, voting on issues around affordable housing, 2020 voting centers and the future of massage parlors in the city.

The meeting was a relatively tame one following last week’s council meeting, where officials ridiculed the San Francisco 49ers for alleged mismanagement of Levi’s Stadium and voted to remove the team from overseeing non-NFL events at the facility. The team ended the week by filing a lawsuit against the city.

Overseeing affordable housing

Santa Clara is bracing for new developments with affordable housing to rise, while at the same time wondering how to manage a slew of fairly new policies and procedures as part of its Affordable Housing Ordinance.

The city’s Affordable Housing Ordinance requires 15 percent of rental developments with 10 or more homes to be considered affordable for 55 years.

But Santa Clara doesn’t have the manpower to consistently make sure all of its affordable homes stay in compliance with those rules, according to public documents.

Enter HouseKeys, Inc, a Morgan Hill-based organization that administers similar affordable rental programs in Morgan Hill, Campbell, Burlingame and Gilroy.

The group was picked by city officials after a monthlong competitive bidding process, according to city records, to manage the city’s affordable housing program on a daily basis, create new materials and an online platform for officials, property owners and tenants to communicate. City officials expect to pay $211,000 for the first year of HouseKey’s day-to-day services, including a $55,000 one-time onboarding fee.

Much of that money was already set aside for such a service in the city’s two-year budget, but councilmembers voted to move $61,000 from its affordable housing and housing successor agency funds to pay for the rest of the contract this year.

More affordable housing or more-affordable housing?

City officials continued an item to a future meeting, when councilmembers will vote on an agreement for three mixed-use projects in which the number of affordable homes would be slashed, but those that are built would be more affordable in a three-part proposed development by ZAEN Partners, a limited liability company associated with Ensemble Development.

Mayor Lisa Gillmor asked city staff members to bring the matter back to the council with more analysis on the impacts of making such an exception.

“This project is located in Tasman East and it is going to be one of many high-density residential projects that are going to happen,” Gillmor said. “If we do this for this project, are we prepared to do it when the other developers come forward and ask for other projects, how does that affect our RHNA numbers?”

If approved down the road, the agreement would mean 50 fewer affordable homes than generally required. But the 30 affordable units out of more than 900 total units in the project would be targeted for lower income residents than before.

Between the three developments along Calle Del Sol and Calle Del Mundo, Ensemble is proposing 969 rental homes, up to 30,000 square feet of retail and 55,000 square feet of “amenity space.”

The city’s Tasman East Specific Plan would typically require 80 of those homes be affordable to people making 100 percent of the Area Median Income. That equates to rents at about $2,627 per month, according to city documents. But if Ensemble is allowed to offer just 30 affordable residential units, it has promised to price them at a rate that would be affordable to people making 50 percent of the area median income, or at about $1,463 monthly.

City officials view the agreement “as an opportunity to diversify its affordable housing pipeline and produce very low-income units, which are typically one of the hardest levels to create,” public documents state.

If approved, all 30 of the very low-income residential units would be built on one of the three sites, at 2310 Calle Del Mundo. The developer would also pay an estimated $77,000 in affordable housing “in-lieu” fees.

An overhead view shows where ZAEN Partners, associated with Ensemble Development, is planning three developments. Image courtesy of Santa Clara city documents
A breakdown of the three developments proposed by ZAEN Partners shows how many residential units (noted as DU in the chart) and how much retail is proposed for the three Santa Clara sites. Image courtesy of Santa Clara city documents

What’s next for massage parlors?

Santa Clara is rethinking its rules around massage parlors, an issue other South Bay cities have grappled with in recent years due to the industry’s reputation for human trafficking and paid sexual services.

Officials in Santa Clara have taken a new approach that would make getting a permit a bit more arduous and penalties for noncompliance greater, but may increase the locations where new massage parlors can sprout.

Previously, massage parlors couldn’t sit within 500 feet of any other massage businesses, schools, daycare centers, hotels, single-family homes or facilities with games, like bowling or pool halls.

As a result, “a large area of the city is prohibited from massage establishments being permitted,” Planning Manager Reena Brilliot told councilmember Tuesday. “Industrial areas aren’t the most ideal areas for massage to occur.”

Under the new proposed guidelines, massage parlors would be allowed to operate in established commercial areas with shared parking and at least a 10-acre lot size, an effort that focuses “the use on areas that would have more visibility and pedestrian activity,” according to Brilliot.

For instance, many strip malls would fit the bill. The proposed change also allows for massage parlors in a “wellness center” of a large office development with at least 500 employees, if the massage parlor is only be open to those workers.

Planning commissioners also advocated in May to allow massage businesses in hotels with at least 100 rooms “to facilitate resort-type amenities expected in larger hotels,” according to city documents. Vice Mayor Patricia Mahan also asked that the city consider allowing gyms to have massage facilities, an ask that will likely be incorporated in the next reading of the proposed changes before they become law.

Existing licensed massage parlors would be allowed to stay where they are, under the new rules.

Today, Santa Clara has 15 legally operating massage businesses, down from 51 in 2015, according to city documents. Since fall 2017, the Santa Clara Police Department has done compliance checks on each, issuing warnings and citations for non-compliance. Those tickets come to $39,250 in fines for issues ranging from prostitution to not having the correct certificates displayed.

Where to vote in 2020

The County of Santa Clara Registrar of Voters is asking the city to open three Santa Clara libraries for the primary and general elections on March 3 and Nov. 3 in 2020.

The three libraries include:

  • Central Park Library, at 2635 Homestead Road
  • Northside Branch, at 695 Moreland Way
  • Mission Branch, at 1098 Lexington St.

Each would open to voters from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on designated voting days, and have slightly extended hours on Election Day. Next year’s election will be the first time Santa Clara County voters can cast a ballot at any “vote center” as opposed to assigned polling places, a change ushered by the Voter’s Choice Act. The county will also switch to an all-mail election.

Under the changes, the Central Park Library would be one of 25 in the county that will be open for 11 days leading up to the elections, while Northside Branch and Mission Branch would be open for four days.

Contact Janice Bitters at janice@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @JaniceBitters on Twitter.

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