Op-Ed: We Need Housing, Not Parking, at Old City Hall Annex

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]

12 Comments

  1. Wondering if the Board of Supervisors has a hidden agenda in view of them turning down such a generous and practical offer by Sobrato and Salata. I would bet that one or more of the Supervisors has a backroom deal with friends or associates.

    What do the readers think?

  2. “Housing cannot be built fast enough. Homelessness will continue increase over the next 10 years.”

    We should re-invent the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). This will solve the Homeless problem.

    David S. Wall

  3. The “Sobrato” area of San Jose near Race Street and 280 has been infested by homeless and addicts. There’s heaps of trash, tents, vagrants… it’s disgusting!

    If this is what they plan right next to the County buildings, then I support it 100%. The politicians give massive lip service for helping the homeless instead of advocating for their tax paying constituents. The politicians should have homeless all around their workplace, like I have to deal with when I go shopping throughout the County. Beggars at every major intersection and encampments at the supermarkets.

    My only other suggestion would be that every reporter that injects homeless support rhetoric into their stories should be required to personally house a hobo for month per article.

    • Glad to see sane people still exist. Reporters advocating feeding the pigeons are the worst. Just look at Seattle.

  4. > Salata and Sobrato would rather see it completely renovated for approximately 160 desperately needed housing units for the homeless.

    NO! NO! NO! AND HELL NO!

    No more subsidized housing for San Jose.

    The market place will work just fine to create a housing stock for San Jose that will be fully utilized. Developers will do an excellent job of building housing that will be fully occupied by productive, contributing members of the community.

    Relying on social workers with urban planning degrees to create a centrally planned housing “solution” will just create the Ukrainian famine all over again.

    Building subsidized housing for nomadic foragers (a.k.a “the homeless”) will just provide a sink for all the other towns and cities across the land seeking a convenient “sink” to offload their hobo problem.

    “If you build it, they will come.” In droves.

    And we won’t just be getting ordinary run of the mill hobos. We’ll be getting top quality San Francisco and LA hobos.

  5. Be respectful of hobos. People who are unhoused aren’t hobos. The hobo is an integral part of our culture which is celebrated by literature and music.

    The vast majority of our unhoused do not choose to be homeless like the proverbial hobo. And they don’t choose where to set down roots or want to cause you grief.

    Instead of buying into the economic purist thought that more supply will bring the cost of housing down support sanctioned encampments!

    • > support sanctioned encampments!

      “sanctioned encampments” = reservations

      We’re making progress here.

      So, WHO gets to decide WHERE the reservations will be located?

      The swell people who live in Pacific Heights and Nob Hill and in Los Altos Hills and Palo Alto?

      Or the white working class schlubs in San Jose who live next to the reservations and have to tiptoe around the poop piles and the used syringes?

      I vote for locating the reservations in North Dakota or on the Stanford Campus in Palo Alto.

  6. hronic 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.

  7. Great example of “Not in my back yard.” The only difference, it is the elected officials and staffers that work next door opposed to residence of a neighborhood.

  8. 160 housing units vs. 178 parking spaces. Only government can sit around and take months, maybe years, to make a choice. Process, process, process.

  9. Why are we giving housing to people who suck resources out of the public trough while they contribute nothing but more demands? How about some “middle class low income housing” for taxpayers who have to commute 60-70 miles, or more, from the Tracy, even Stockton and Modesto areas, to Silicon Valley, to their jobs because they can’t afford to live in the Bay Area.

    If the “homeless” need low income housing, put them on a bus or a train and send them to the Central Valley. There’s plenty of agricultural jobs out there as well, so they can find work, if they truly want to work.

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