By Jana Kadah. San Jose Spotlight.
A controversial plan to house homeless people in San Jose on vacant VTA land up north could fail as officials consider other options.
The VTA Board of Directors, made up of 12 officials from across Santa Clara County, voted 10-1-1 Thursday night to bring back a draft agreement for San Jose to build 200 state-aided homes in Cerone's yard VTA in the northern part of the city. She will also consider looking at three other locations as alternative construction sites. Gilroy Mayor Marie Blankley was opposed and County Supervisor Otto Lee was absent.
The VTA board will support the construction of all the houses in Cerone or distribute them among several sites. It will be decided next month.
Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez supports pursuing other options because transportation workers represented by the union expressed safety concerns about homeless people living near where they work.
Chavez suggested putting Cerone on hold and looking for housing at other VTA sites. She was outnumbered by most board members who supported the housing plan.
“The urgency here is very high and I think there are complications with Cerone that are real and significant and have implications,” Chávez said. “That said, if other sites are available, all sites should be evaluated.”
San Jose will receive 200 tiny houses from the state at no cost to temporarily house homeless residents, as long as they find a place for them before the end of the year.
Tensions were high during the three-hour discussion when board members questioned delaying the Cerone site deal, which would lease five acres of land to San Jose for five years, in favor of considering the other sites, which include Cottle's VTA, Hostetter and Berryessa North Stations.
“The reason we haven't made faster progress toward ending homelessness, which is the number one concern, is that too often we find reasons to say no,” Mahan said. “There is no perfect place (and) if we keep looking for the perfect place, we will maintain the status quo.”
Mahan said Cerone is large enough to accommodate the 200 tiny homes. Chavez, along with VTA staff, wants to spread the houses out over several sites because of Cerone yard workers' concerns, but that would cost the city more.
In addition to safety concerns, VTA officials and union leaders are wary of building in Cerone because it could delay the transit agency's future plans to electrify its bus fleet, since the space needed would be taken up by housing. .
Leasing VTA land for housing, temporary or permanent, is not new. The Santa Teresa VTA light rail station has a secure parking spot and there are 1,600 temporary housing sites in the pipeline.
Sunnyvale Vice Mayor Omar Din, who works for San Jose Vice Mayor Rosemary Kamei, led efforts to reach a deal, emphasizing that the Cerone site cannot be left off the table while other sites are considered.
“We have to take into account all the concerns of the workers to ensure safety, but at the end of the day what matters most to me now is if we can accommodate 200 people, that we do not prevent them from housing them,” Din highlighted.
The public was divided on the idea. Labor and housing allies are typically aligned, but union representatives and housing nonprofits went head-to-head.
VTA workers are still recovering from a mass shooting in 2021 that left 10 employees dead, but some say the lack of support for the housing plan is political. Chavez, for example, has historically supported housing for the homeless and urged residents to welcome them into their neighborhoods.
Using VTA land to build San José's interim housing stock is a priority for Mahan, who is seeking re-election in 2024, and puts him at odds with Chavez, his 2022 mayoral opponent, who may challenge him again.
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