San Jose Prepares for War with Wealthy Developers on Evergreen Senior Housing Ballot Measure

The most exciting measure on next year’s primary ballot in San Jose will not involve another push to legalize marijuana, or raise the minimum wage, or a countywide effort to eradicate homelessness. No, the most hotly contested item expected to go before voters next June revolves around—of all things—a billionaire-backed old-folks home in the Evergreen foothills.

On Sept. 8, the city of San Jose received a notice of intent to gather signatures and place a measure on the ballot that would change zoning restrictions for senior housing in one of the East Side’s more opulent neighborhoods. The Evergreen Senior Homes Initiative, which would build 910 units across 200 acres of land currently designated for industrial use, is expected to receive a title and summary from the city attorney no later than Monday. Those documents will then be used to gather the autographs of 22,277 city residents. If successful, a measure will be placed on next summer’s ballot.

The initiative—billed as a way to create more affordable housing for seniors and veterans in one of the country’s most expensive areas—is being pushed by real estate billionaire Carl Berg and deep-pocketed developer Chop Keenan. It has the endorsed support of some once-heavy hitters in South Bay politics: Judy Chirco, who served as vice mayor of San Jose; Pat Sausedo, once the vice president of the organization formerly known as the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce; and Eddie Garcia, a Comcast lobbyist who went on to become a life coach after working as chief of staff for George Shirakawa Jr., the ex-county supervisor who landed in jail for stealing money from taxpayers and campaign donors.

Those last names might be recognizable to some voters, but it’s the real estate magnates, Berg and Keenan, who are driving the effort to bypass planning commissioners and the City Council in favor of the electorate, leaving elected officials such as Mayor Sam Liccardo to cry foul.

“This proposal purports to be about affordable housing and senior housing,” he says, “but really it’s a proposal for billionaire developers to build housing for millionaires.”

Here is a map of the area under consideration for new senior housing development in the Evergreen area. (Image courtesy of

Here is a map of the area under consideration for new senior housing development in the Evergreen area. (Courtesy of the Evergreen Senior Homes Initiative)

The proposal would add language to the city’s Envision San José 2040 general plan and create a “senior housing overlay” that amends the Evergreen-East Hills Development Policy, which affects an area of land that has been in Berg’s cross hairs for decades, as well as other underutilized industrial parcels in San Jose, such as Coyote Valley, which Keenan and others have pushed to develop for quite some time, over the objections of environmentalists and balanced growth advocates.

Together, the two men have a reputation for bringing cities to their knees. Keenan once won a $36.8 million judgment against Half Moon Bay that threatened to drive the sleepy beach town into insolvency.

Meanwhile, Berg once sued San Jose over a development in Evergreen that included the site now in question, leading a jury to award him $6 million.

“Carl has been around a long time,” says real estate attorney Chuck Reed, San Jose’s former mayor, who like his successor opposes the proposed development. “He’s one of the big land developers of Silicon Valley, and he’s made a boatload of money being a developer. He’s creative, innovative, persistent, stubborn—I think all of those things apply to him. You don’t succeed without a lot of effort, and he’s done that.”

Efforts to reach Berg and Keenan were unsuccessful.

But the plan’s scope and tactics represents a disingenuous pledge, Reed says. The city has consistently opposed changing land use from industrial to residential, as San Jose deals with an ongoing jobs-to-housing imbalance.

“I think all of this is a smokescreen for an expansive, expensive development for seniors,” Reed says. “I’m a senior. I’m a veteran. Hopefully, they’re going to sell me a $2 million home for $100,000, but I doubt it. They’re going to have to build affordable housing anywhere they build. That’s not exactly a change from standing policies.”

Liccardo notes that San Jose already has 7,000 new apartments in the pipeline for development, and a general plan that allows for 50,000 new units without any amendment, as well as “another 70,000 within the general framework.” If fully built, the city would grow by more than a third.

The Evergreen Senior Homes Initiative—if it ever makes it to voters and meets approval—would put the city on the hook to build out infrastructure for traffic, water and electricity in areas currently considered too remote to service cost effectively. Liccardo, who admits to unsuccessfully attempting to convince Berg to sell some of the land, also suggests that the plan has a poison pill in the “small print.” When it comes to a traffic mitigation plan, the initiative notes that all funding will have to come from “new development beyond existing development capacity (excluding projects pursuant to the Senior Housing Overlay).” Essentially, the city suspects, the new development would be off the hook for roads while adding thousands of new drivers to the region’s roads.

Liccardo thinks the city “shouldn’t have a different set of rules for billionaires than everyone else,” adding that the initiative bypasses the planning department and council’s normal public processes.

“To not even give us an opportunity to evaluate the proposal, this tells me they believe they’re above the rules,” Liccardo says, adding that 910 new units with an average cost of roughly $1 million dollars allows for some pretty “straightforward math” on the scope of the project.

When asked to confirm the project’s value, Marissa Currie, a spokeswoman for the Evergreen initiative, declined to confirm a ballpark figure of $910 million. “I’m not comfortable speculating on that at this time, and I don't know if the mayor should be either,” she says.

Currie, who works for the celebrated San Francisco PR firm Singer Associates, went on to say that the focus is combating the affordable housing crisis while taking advantage of land that has sat “fallow.”

“We’re implementing a comprehensive traffic plan,” she adds. “Generally, a senior housing development will feature a lot less traffic than a traditional housing development or a commercial retail development.”

Another dispute regarding the project is how veterans will play into the election campaign, as city officials believe the initiative will use senior veterans as a pawn in drawing public sympathy at the polls.

“There is no legal requirement [to house veterans],” Currie acknowledges, “but there is a public commitment to do so.”

Josh Koehn is the managing editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @Josh_Koehn.

13 Comments

  1. This is a terrible plan that will enrich a billionaire developer while leaving the city of San Jose on the hook for millions of dollars of infrastructure and services. The “senior housing” gambit is a red herring designed to garner public support (who doesn’t want to help seniors)? Make no mistake, this is not about affordable housing, it’s about making big bucks for a rich developer who doesn’t really give a crap about the people of San Jose.

  2. “I think all of this is a smokescreen for an expansive, expensive development for seniors,” Reed says. “I’m a senior. I’m a veteran. Hopefully, they’re going to sell me a $2 million home for $100,000, but I doubt it……why sell you a $100,000 home? Your protected life-time pensions are worth more than $100,000…You moved to Los Gatos after you fleeced the city of San Jose; It pays to be the mayor of San Jose. I guess the former/current mayor are opposed, because Berg/Keenan won’t give them money…Off the top of my head, there are 650 million reasons nobody should listen to Reed or Liccardo

  3. gReed and Lie-har-doh backing each other up… with this publication shilling for them. Well, I’ll be… that never (always) happens in San Jose politics.

    Look how well gReed did with Measure B and Sham’s unwavering support. San Jose has developed countless residential units in the decades Rufus and Saratoga Sam have been on the City Counsel and Mayors… the public safety maps are practically useless due to development.

    Not that I support the proposed development or the involved rich white guys… it’s simply hypocritical of the (rich white) politicians to rally against the same behavior.

    Maybe it’s quid pro quo thing? gReed and Lie-har-doh couldn’t get enough development when it was DeMattai or whoever Figone is associated to…

    Anyhow, interesting how SJI never mentions how the current Mayor has not accomplished a single campaign promise. He literally wrote a book about it, so it’s not difficult to see the unchecked boxes… although they did write one article about his super awesome flood response.

    I mean, given their records we should totally trust Rufus, the Murky Gnus, this newspaper of course and in conclusion, re-elect Slimy Sham!

  4. Is there anything to prevent the city from passing a tax (based on projected costs for services and lost business tax revenues) on land rezoned from industrial to commercial or residential? If the effect of this rezoning is fiscally detrimental to the city’s ability to provide adequate services, it seems a tax would be in order, no matter if the rezoning is done by wealthy carpetbaggers or spineless politicians.

  5. Here’s a possible fly in the ointment. by calling it a “senior housing” development Berg/Keenan may be up to something. There are some pretty strict Federal laws pertaining to discrimination against the elderly. By labeling as such the developers may hold be holding an ace in the hole to pull out by the time any trial starts. Now if you consider senior housing located way outside of needed services – medical care and a host of elder services. Old folks homes are usually located closer to such needed services.

  6. I wonder if Mello-Roos could apply in this instance? Per Wikipedia” A Mello-Roos District is a geographic area where a special property tax on real estate (a parcel tax), in addition to the regular property tax subject to Proposition 13, is imposed on taxable real property within a Community Facilities District. These districts seek public financing through the sale of bonds for the purpose of financing public improvements and some public services.[3] These public services may include streets, water, sewage and drainage, electricity, infrastructure, schools, parks and police protection to newly developing areas. The tax paid is used to make the payments of principal and interest on the bonds.

  7. I hope it passes, I hope it gets built, i hope these guys make TONS of money. If Reed and Liccardo are against it, I’m all for it. These two have screwed (with the willing support of the residents of San Jose) the public safety in this city for years….how does it feel San Jose? Live with it…….you made it.

  8. So all the city would get from this is 900 new homes with a value of around $2M, thus generating another $20M in property taxes, plus perhaps the jobs that arise to service this newer community, the jobs created by building this…but the mayor has to say yes to a guy who has been judged by a jury to have been wronged by the city of San Jose? Yeah, all the math says something all right.

  9. Better that than the 220 units an out-of-state developer proposes to put on a 17 acre historic shopping center site, less than a mile from my house. This is not counting the 100,000 square feet of assisted living space they also plan to build there. They also propose a hotel and some retail.

  10. A gaggle of homes in the foothills with an average cost of only $1million is hardly an enclave for billionaires.

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