The Milpitas City Council voted unanimously Thursday to sue to prevent a hotel in the city from being converted into permanent supportive housing for homeless people.
The move ratchets up pressure on Santa Clara County, which is pursuing the project through Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Project Homekey, along with Jamboree Housing, a nonprofit developer.
At a special, closed-session meeting Thursday, the council decided to “pursue litigation against any and all parties involved in the Homekey project located at Extended Stay America,” Milpitas City Attorney Chris Diaz said.
The roughly $80 million proposal would cover the cost of purchasing the Extended Stay America at 1000 Hillview Court, and converting it from a 146-room hotel into 132 studio apartments for homeless people with supportive services on site.
Both the county and Jamboree could now be targets of a lawsuit over the proposal, which is on an expedited timeline allowed by new legislation signed into law signed by Newsom in June, AB 83.
Under AB 83, pandemic housing projects for homeless people would be allowed to skip local planning processes, which rankled some city leaders and residents.
It’s unclear if the state would be targeted for a suit by Milpitas.
“We obviously haven’t seen any lawsuit yet, so cannot comment on it,” James Williams, the county’s attorney, said in an email Thursday.
“But I can tell you that my office is always prepared to vigorously and effectively defend the county,” he said.
The county was awarded $29.2 million from the state last month through Homekey to fund the project, and the county plans to pitch in $21.9 million from the 2016 Measure A bond for affordable housing. Jamboree Housing would take on a roughly $30 million loan for the balance.
Though Milpitas city staff supported the project application in recent months, the council recently turned against the project after hearing from many residents who opposed it because it would make them feel unsafe to have formerly homeless people, possibly with mental health needs, living near them, they said.
Some also were upset the project wouldn’t guarantee spots in the hotel for those who are currently homeless in Milpitas. The city council echoed those concerns in recent meetings.
“This is a huge step for our city,” Mayor Rich Tran said Thursday afternoon in an interview after the closed session meeting.
“The voices of the community and residents all across town, we have to represent those voices,” he said.
At the direction of the council, Milpitas City Manager Steve McHarris sent a letter to Santa Clara County Executive Jeff Smith on Oct. 16, asking the county to withdraw its application and halt the project.
Smith wrote back on Thursday morning.
“The Homekey Project has been an example of the county’s and city’s collaborative relationship and commitment to address the monumental problem of homelessness,” Smith wrote to McHarris.
“The City Council’s recent change in perspective represents a local policy change that staff cannot address,” Smith said, according to a copy of the email viewed by this news organization.
Vice Mayor Bob Nuñez, in a joint press release issued Sept. 22 from the county, the city, and Jamboree, called the project a “unique opportunity to address critical housing needs” that would “transform lives.”
Nuñez switched his position after hearing concerns from residents that there wasn’t enough outreach from the county to the public about the project. The full council knew about the project since at least Aug. 25, however.
“If there’s going to be any type of homeless housing project, the city is going to have to have full control along with full public engagement. And the outcomes of those decisions are always up to people of our democracy,” Mayor Rich Tran said Thursday.
Asked if he was concerned about the public perception of the city working to shoot down housing for homeless people, Tran said he’s acting as a messenger for residents.
“I will continue to stand with the will of the people,” Tran said, “and that allows me to sleep easy at night.”