Some months ago, Jim Salata, a well-respected, long-time San Jose businessman and owner of Garden City Construction, and John A. Sobrato, a well-known philanthropist, started a movement to oppose the proposed demolition of the Old City Hall Annex.
Santa Clara County, which owns the property, wants it demolished to make way for 178 parking spaces. Salata and Sobrato would rather see it completely renovated for approximately 160 desperately needed housing units for the homeless. They are asking for a 10-year lease while the county designs and commences the master plan for the site.
Yet the county has resisted the concept, and has challenged Salata by placing every possible obstacle they can put in his path. Salata has spent countless hours of his time to research and budget the concept and has committed to fund at least half the project, which would come in at half the county’s estimate of $70 million to $100 million.
Sobrato and Salata’s preliminary proposal of $32 million, would include all union trades at prevailing wages and be completed in one-fourth of the time it would normally take the county to build. The proposal would demonstrate that public-private projects can work.
The county, however, still wants no part of it.
This is an opportunity for the county to be bold, to think out of the box, to save a viable building from demolition and, most of all, to provide desperately-needed housing for the homeless in a timely manner. But the county is saying “not in my back yard.”
How many homeless people over the 10-year proposed plan would benefit from this opportunity? It can be a win-win for everyone involved—as well as the broader community. Yet, our county Board of Supervisors is turning its back on this unique offer.
Housing cannot be built fast enough. Homelessness will continue increase over the next 10 years. Why not embrace this project? Salata has been met with resistance from county staff for every request he has made for records, and to tour the building with the appropriate trades to complete his bid. Despite every obstacle, Salata has persisted and come up with a comprehensive preliminary budget to meet accessibility requirements and environmental codes.
Salata knows his stuff; he is the expert, even though he would recuse himself from actually taking on the project. He is also passionate about making this happen and has gained the support from the city of San Jose, homeless advocates, business leaders and a host of residents.
Chronic homelessness in our county is not going away anytime soon. Our leaders need to do something about it and do it sooner rather than later. A 10-year lease on the building would still provide the county the opportunity to develop their long-term master plan for the area, even though there is no established timeline.
The county claims that the City Hall Annex has outlived its useful life and is not suitable for re-use as transitional housing, which is simply not true. Sobrato and Salata’s proposal includes complete renovation of the entire building; they can start turning the building around in a matter of months. This would be a wasted opportunity if the county fails to act on it. The location is perfect; close to services and transportation while not encroaching on schools or residents in the area.
The public puts confidence in our elected supervisors as the steward for public properties. This should be a guideline for similar projects to follow. Yet, when a rare opportunity has presented itself, the county is ready to waste its shot for the sake of creating unnecessary parking spaces.
Where is the leadership we so desperately need?
Julie Matsushima is a native of Silicon Valley and the fourth generation of a long-time San Jose orchardist family in addition to being a successful businesswoman, published author, community volunteer. Opinions in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to [email protected].