Editorial: Unshackle Measure A to Create More Affordable Housing

In 2016, county voters overwhelmingly agreed to tax themselves and spend $950 million to address the housing crisis and shelter more than 5,000 homeless persons.

A year later, developers showed up for a November 2017 Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors meeting to receive project approvals but were mugged instead.

County officials surprised homebuilders with an 11th hour requirement that they sign over their properties. “Just, I think, about 45 minutes ago, I agreed to deed over the land to the county for Leigh Avenue,” First Community Housing CEO Geoffrey Morgan said to nervous laughter.

“We learned shortly before the meeting today of the county’s desire to purchase the land,” Cupertino planner Kerri Heusler told the board, adding that the city’s 19 affordable units were financed and on a “tight timeline.”

Somos Mayfair’s Gabriel Hernandez said he was “a little anxious in terms of the development of the Quetzal Gardens Housing Project. We were hoping to have this pass through today, and I’m just wondering why there’s going to be a delay in that. I’m going to have to go back to the families that we’ve been working with and try and explain to them that they’re working out some kind of thing around what we call security interest versus equity interest and ownership.”

Supervisor Cindy Chavez announced from the podium that she would vote down the housing unless the county held title to the lands.

That bullying move certainly wasn’t part of the Measure A language approved by voters. We’re pretty sure they wanted to get as many homeless and mentally ill people out of tents and off the streets—as quickly as possible.

Supervisors Joe Simitian and Mike Wasserman buckled to the political hardball and withdrew their doomed approval motion.

As the projects lurch forward and the housing crisis worsens, supervisors need to make sure the public gets its billion dollars’ worth and that our elected officials maximize the number of roofs over people’s heads. Do we need to wait until another local woman is raped by a tent dweller to realize that mental health and supportive services are needed now, not years in the future?

Attaching conditions to make it harder to build housing just complicates things. The county has already unnecessarily spent $12 million to buy the dirt underneath four projects, including Gilroy’s Gateway Senior Apartments and Morgan Hill’s The Crossings on Monterey, and lease it back for $1 a year. That’s not money well spent, and is inconsistent with the will of the voters.

The county needs to make more deals happen and gain as much leverage as possible on the voter-approved funds. That means forgoing socialist land ownership ideals and supporting inclusionary units in mixed housing projects, rather than just segregating people with severe social problems in homogenized projects that impact neighborhoods.

It also means allowing project-based vouchers to be applied to a broader range of affordable housing options, including housing for teachers, public safety workers and other vital members of the workforce.

With independent Susan Ellenberg now on the board, a back-scratching majority no longer dominates. It’s time for lone Republican Wasserman, the South Valley’s sole representative, to stand up and demand fiscal responsibility with marketplace competition to get the best deals for taxpayers instead of just going with the flow.

Ensuring that the next $700 million in Measure A money attracts as broad a pool of bidders as possible—by not creating too many restrictions—will be a good test. Micromanagement creates barriers to execution. The supes should focus instead on expanding the housing stock quickly and building as many affordable units as possible rather than getting hung up on who owns the land or gets the vouchers.

To listen to the comments by Supervisor Chavez and housing developers quoted in this article click here to watch the video, beginning at 2 hours, 53 minutes into the meeting.

This editorial was published in the Morgan Hill Times and Gilroy Dispatch on April 4.

25 Comments

  1. If you can’t afford to live here then MOVE.

    I just solved the problem at no taxpayer’s expense.

    You can say, Thank You.

    • Well hoapres, I have served on multiple HOA Boards, your perspective is not Unique. I have lived in San Jose for 71 years and always have concerns about developers looking for a Hand OUT.
      I want to know who the developers are who need Coddeling.

    • However….with an entry-level 1-bedroom apt. going or $2400/month….not a single minimum wage worker could afford to live here (unless they are living with someone who makes much more than them!) . So…we would have huge department stores, grocery stores, gas stations….and even banks….with no employees. Your distopian plan, would be to have a city full of greasy-haired, engineering ‘nerds’….with nobody around, to sell them shampoo, or to cut their hair!

      A better plan would be to use ‘rent control’. It works….in the real world. (just as it is working here, now!) I have talked to many landlords…..and not a single one of them can explain any ‘hidden costs’, that forces a land-lord, here, to charge $2400 for an apartment, here….which, the same apartment costs only $600 – $700/month, in cities only 100 miles way (Stockton, Modesto, Fresno, etc)!! There aren’t any such hidden costs! It is pure gouging and profit-taking, by greedy landlords!

      So…the question we should all be asking is….who profits, from this insanely high cost of living?? When engineers can’t afford to live here, any more…..why should we allow landlords to rake in all of those unearned profits? In my mind….engineers are the sector….that ‘drives’ the economy, in this area. And land lords contribute the least to our economic growth!

      So…..lets make sure the economy rewards the engineers, and others, who contribute the most to our economy….rather than land-lords who simply suck up the profits while contributing the least, to the community!

      • I have sympathy for your position; “rent-seekers” (in this case, landlords) don’t add multiplicative value into the economy, and have little interest in innovation, they want to squeeze every penny out. It’s easy to despise them. But let’s do a little homework.

        Picture you are an engineer, even at the lower end of the scale, making, say $50/hour (= ~100K/yr). Let’s say you are sick of your 3 hour a day commute to Tracy (where you pay $500/mo in rent), so you decide to move to San Jose. What’s it worth to you?
        3 hours a day * 21 workdays per month = 63 hours * $50/hr = $3150/mo + $500/mo you already pay in rent.

        So, for $2400 in rent in SJ, you can save yourself the stress and time of a commute AND save $1250 a month. This part is painful, but true: now you can see why many engineers are **begging** to pay $2400 a month. Not to mention, many SW engineers are pulling down twice what I mentioned as an example. If people are begging to pay more, why not let them? It doesn’t take an unusual degree of avarice to simply accept the highest bid.

        If you want to help fix the real problems, one thing we could do is to make the Prop 13 situation fairer. At the moment, newly constructed rental units must factor in extremely high property taxes (due to high property values). This while there are multi-million dollar mansions in Saratoga paying just a couple hundred a month in property taxes. Instead we could limit aggregate p-tax increases to 2% a year (or inflation) instead of creating little hereditary tax-free fiefdoms to pass to baby boomers when their parents pass on.

    • Hoapres, it 100% applies to SJ too. Alex Sanchez, former Director of Housing, makes over $250k a year running “non-profit” affordable housing projects. SJ’s current HD director makes over $400k/year in salary & benefits, #2 @ housing makes almost $300k/year.

      Would also like to see someone do an analysis of the Prop 47 (2014) and Prop 57 (2016) effect on homelessness. How could we dump 10’s of thousands of prisoners out of jail and onto the streets without expecting a boom in homelessness and crime?

    • Truly ignorant blather….by people who don’t want to take responsibility, for the problems landlords create. Donald Trump, would love this video! At no time does it even mention that the underlying cause of homelessness in the Bay Area…is the gentrification….causing phenomenally high costs of living. The person who made this video…complains about drug use among the homeless….but, totally ignores the high alcohol use by Trump’s supporters..as a way of totally ignoring responsibility for the problems we face. How many chugs does it take….before you forget about the record high cost of living, in this area? Probably quite a few!! Anything to avoid accountability and responsibility!! Please go back to Alabama!

      • What you are calling gentrification is what most other people call H1-B. You can thank your bought and paid for politicians (most of all: Zoe Lofgren) for allowing gaming of the rules of this visa by big tech companies.

  2. EVERYONE who knows Supervisor Cindy Chávez knows she is the Mega bully of all the supervisors. Those working close to her including women from the women’s policy office and south county eventually learn to be bullies as well. This is quite dysfunctional behavior when attempting to unite women in the county and follow your cause. However, dysfunctional behavior can be quite functional in specific taks such us Cindy Chavez standing up to the DEVELOPERS who are just about to get a “universal fee” from Liccardo. It is true we approved measure A. I do welcome on this occasion Cindy’s bulliness, micro management authoritarian supervisory style, and power and control behavioral traits when it comes on how our taxes are spent. DEVELOPERS should engage in tempting offers like those of Kohl’s in order to win the Competition! Measure A funding should not pay for vanity salaries of incompetent county employees and the like…ACCOUNTABILITY NOW!

    • > Measure A funding should not pay for vanity salaries of incompetent county employees and the like…

      One of the good voices inside your head, Fexxy.

      But the voice needs a lot more testosterone. There’s a LOT MORE STUFF that Measure A funding should NOT pay for. LIke “homeless housing”, for example.

      • Thank you bubble. You see different voices inside my head have very complex thinking and knowledge. I balance and control their input! They ROCK!

  3. There are so many issues with how Measure A funds are being used — it really is negligence at this point. Everyone has great intentions, but no one is showing leadership — and it has resulted in so much $$ wasted. The Developers, County and City entities have no coordination mechanisms and are simply confused. Chavez, Ky Le and others with the City/County aren’t experts in development (no matter what they tell you in Power-points) — but pretend they are, and pretend they have that expertise, but it’s not true — and this is just the tip of the ice-berg. Literally, all parties involved in these developments are confused, and the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. Second Street Studios is delayed by months (was supposed to open in January 2019) and the future tenants have been staying in hotels, paid for by tax-payers. The tab for that? Over $10,000 per day that could’ve been more effectively used to support programs for the unhoused. Quetzal? Well, that is seven-figures or so over-budget and will be massively delayed — and the City/County don’t have the experts in place to move these projects forward efficiently. Developers think the County and City officials are a joke. Politicians in no way understand development, or many aspects of these projects, yet they are running the show. It’s sad. So much of the Measure A money is being mismanaged, not due to criminal activity, but the ignorance of those leading the way. Again, everyone is confused — from the government entities distributing the $$ to the developers trying to build to the supportive service programs that are supposed to help folks once they occupy the building. It’s time to sound the alarms and blow the whistle.

    • > Over $10,000 per day that could’ve been more effectively used to support programs for the unhoused.

      Bus tickets to South Dakota: $1000.00.
      Bottled water and peanut snacks for the trip: $100.00
      Tents and camping amenities: $8900.00.

      • I have been saying that for YEARS. Also send the foreign tech workers HOME. If the tech industry isn’t going to hire Americans then instead of bringing all the foreigners to San Jose then send the jobs overseas.

        Of course, the above is hyperbole but not by much.

    • > Again, everyone is confused —

      Big hearts, small brains.

      > It’s time to sound the alarms and blow the whistle.

      And shoot off some flares, fire some warning gunshots, start a few bonfires, and round up anyone in the County Office building and put them in a FEMA camp until they can prove their innocence.

    • Reality check.

      We don’t want to solve the homeless problem. If we did then it would have been solved a LONG time ago.

  4. El Buble’ may be right in one aspect, in that alarms need to start going off now. The money is coming from our property tax to fund the homeless housing. The thing which gets to me most, is not that Cindy Chavez has been the subject of many an expose’ from the Mercury News and others about misappropriation of funds, but that she is insisting on giving certain developers a windfall. Buying the land with our money is fine and dandy, but to then give out 99 year leases with options for another many years, and all for a dollar a year to the developer. This seems a little bit over the top even for her. I believe it is time for the FBI to take a look into all of these shenanigans, just like they did in El Paso County several years ago. Many went to jail including judges and County supervisors. We need a clean sweep here as well in Santa Clara County.

    • Oh please Lord Jesus, please allow my to see some of these judges and supervisors exposed and where they belong, JAIL!

  5. I have one word for Cindy Shovez. /u!uu.

    Housing for illegal drug user’s and drunks is called jail. Use it!
    Housing for crazies is called an institution. It’s not being kind to let them wonder around in the streets.
    Housing for illegal aliens is an ICE bus trip back to where they cam from.
    What’s left you can hire to clean up the mess and fill in pot holes, put them in a small tent town with an address, public restrooms, showers and a soup kitchen they will work their way out.

    Any others will find someplace else to be.

    • I only agree on the pot holes. When I am driving, I am paying more attention to skipping the pot holes than not crashing someone else!

  6. My (maybe) simplified view as Joe taxpayer and citizen…The County owns acres and acres of undeveloped or under-developed land. And they keep buying more. And it sits for years. Or it takes a development path at a glacial pace while keeping a small army of Planners and Staff busy. A lot of talk. Too little evidence of production. Highly inefficient. Lacking adequate oversight. One could argue that the County has greatest opportunity to help improve the plight of low income and homeless people but it is actually the greatest impediment to progress. I’d prefer a more balanced mix of private sector developers with tax incentives and some government collaboration vs. the County housing-industrial complex approach.

  7. Measure A was never intended to build ONLY housing for the homeless. First, zero neighborhoods want a 100% homeless housing development in their neighborhood. Second, how is this going to help the homeless get back on their feet? I am pretty sure you don’t need a BILLION dollars to build 5,000 micro units of 300 square feet to help the homeless. Provide them a real apartment and intermingle them with other successful low income families. More neighbors would support integrated housing for all levels of income. Plus, it wouldn’t hurt to have a few policemen living in the apartments with formally homeless. Stop spending money to buy the land from these developers and spend it on project based vouchers to help everyone live a better quality of life! The County staff and Cindy Chavez seem to be only interested in handing out bags full of money so they can own all the land in Santa Clara County. Something seems fishy to me….Cindy is probably getting kickbacks from her union construction contracts and that’s why they make the rules to using this money so difficult. Did you know to apply for the BILLION dollars, developers have to meet all the rules in a 70 page document!!?? If we want more affordable housing built remove the insane restrictions to use my taxpayer dollars and simplify the requirements.

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