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Last week, San Jose mayor Sam Liccardo and his team spoke to the ethnic media about Measure C that is on the ballot for San Jose voters on June 5, 2018. They were flanked by a chain of people holding placards reading “Yes for C” and “No for B”. Gently, the mayor explained in English—followed by his fellow council members in Spanish and Vietnamese—why Measure B is for “Builders” and C for “Community,” and why it was imperative to defeat the former and pass the latter. In other words, NO on Measure B and YES on Measure C.
But first what are these measures that reportedly have both the local Democrats and Republicans united and a host of organizations, including environmental and veterans groups, joining hands with the city council, while pitting them against “billionaire” developers.
Measure B, or the Evergreen Senior Housing Initiative is an attempt to open up currently undeveloped “employment” land to senior housing projects, launched by real estate developers Carl Berg and Chop Keenan. Measure C is a complimentary measure proposed by Mayor Sam Liccardo and approved by the city council to counter Measure B and restrict residential development in those areas.
The area in contention is 200 acres of undeveloped land in the Evergreen hills at the city’s eastern edge.
Opponents of Measure B claim that almost everything is wrong and disingenuous about the seemingly benevolent project aimed to help senior citizens, starting with its deceptive name. On paper, it proposes the development of 910 residential units in the Evergreen Campus Industrial Area off of Aborn road. Yet, there is more to it than meets the eye. It casts a much wider net by placing a senior housing overlay over all underutilized employment lands in San Jose. In simple terms, it means that all the land currently reserved for job creation can be used for housing development.
Additionally, it exempts the developers from paying standard fees for the impact of increased vehicular traffic. By bringing in the proposal as a citizens’ initiative, the builders are bypassing the city’s environmental, affordable housing, traffic impact and services fee regulations that they would need to adhere to otherwise.
Measure C, aims to counter that and enforces these regulations on the land development projects proposed in the outlying areas.
But isn’t the city facing a housing crisis, and the proposed housing development for seniors and veterans would actually be a good thing? That is another myth that the mayor and the Council aim to bust. The proposed development does little to address affordable housing, or to ensure that even a single veteran would stay in the units. In fact it reduces the requirement of affordable units for families earning less than $100,000 a year to six percent from the currently required twenty percent.
The Council agrees that part of the land would eventually be developed in some form. But the development ought to be according to the city’s plan, prepared with community leaders and keeping the community’s needs in mind. Unfortunately for the developers, building another conclave of luxury houses in the foothills is not part of that. It will stretch already strained city resources, taking them away from the existing areas to an outlying new development, create traffic gridlocks and sprawl, and destroy the environment of San Jose’s Coyote valley.
Megan Medeiros, the Executive Director of the Committee for Green Foothills, was one of the placard-holding activists during the briefing. She and her team have been actively fighting and campaigning for Measure C, hosting precinct walks to go door-to-door, and urging likely voters to vote “No” to urban sprawl and wildlife habitat destruction. “The builders literally conned the unsuspecting citizens in malls and public places to get the signatures needed to put the Measure on the ballot, thus gaining a backdoor entry bypassing the city regulations” said Medeiros, a claim that Liccardo referred to in his speech, “the developers should be made to play by the rules everybody else has to follow.”
In the end, it is up to voters to make an informed decision when voting on such measures. It is to be seen whether citizens will be taken in by the developers’ campaign against Measure C, or if they will read the “fine print” and vote against Measure B. At stake, as Mayor Liccardo puts it, is the future of our children and successive generations.
With less than two weeks to go for the June Primary and builder advertising in full swing, it appears to be an uphill battle for the city.
Jyoti Khera is a freelance writer based in San Jose. She writes on politics, food, and films.