San José fails to meet housing construction targets, according to Liccardo

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In a broad interview, San José Mayor Sam Liccardo discussed the city’s struggle to meet its housing construction goals, suggested replacing the VTA tram system with a fleet of electric buses, and urged the state to allow the pumping of purified recycled water into the system amid persistent droughts.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo speaks with Stanford graduate students about housing and homelessness in San Jose and the larger Santa Clara County.

In the grip of skyrocketing costs, COVID-19 supply delays and funding challenges, San José is struggling to meet its housing construction targets, Mayor Sam Liccardo said in an interview on November 4.

“We have huge challenges in getting projects that we’ve approved under construction,” Liccardo told Peninsula Press.

“Frankly, we are not achieving a lot of our goals,” he added.

In September, Liccardo announcement plans to create 2,300 new transitional and permanent housing units by the end of next year to help tackle the problem of homelessness in the city.

Liccardo’s comments came during a broad interview in which he also criticized suburban towns for fighting the construction of affordable housing and argued for the replacement of the VTA tram system which has “failed to keep up. “its promise to be a public transport solution. He also urged the state to allow the pumping of purified recycled water into the system in the event of a persistent drought.

Regarding housing, Liccardo highlighted the complications caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disrupted supply chains and increased construction costs in an already expensive market.

“We are the most expensive construction market in the country,” he said. “Building a typical apartment building costs between $ 700,000 and $ 800,000 per unit.”

Liccardo said that in addition to housing projects, the city is investing in faster and more affordable housing solutions such as motel conversions and prefabricated and modular housing units which, at $ 100,000 per unit, are significantly less expensive.

San Jose also plans to use $ 113 million from the state’s Project Homekey to purchase four hotels – the Arena Hotel, Pacific Motor Inn, Pavilion Inn and Residence Inn – and convert them into permanent accommodation.

As tourists return to hotels, communities cite the economic income from these buildings as the reason for stopping government purchases. And community reluctance for homeless housing projects overall is high.

“My job as mayor is to stand in a room with 300 really disgruntled neighbors,” Liccardo said.

“The hope is that if you have a council that doesn’t have shaky knees and you have a local council member who has bone structure, you can still get projects built,” he added. .

More pressure to meet San Jose’s housing goals could also come from the state. On November 2, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announcement creating a “strike force” to penalize local governments that do not respect state housing laws.

Liccardo said he supported the state’s measures. But he added that the state could better encourage cities to build housing by reforming its own municipal finance system, which creates “fundamental incentives that tell city councils that they are fiscally better off by saying ‘no’ to government. housing and “yes” to a car dealership or a large tech campus.

“By reforming the municipal finance law, the state of California could do a lot more to build affordable housing than any task force the attorney general and governor want to imagine,” Liccardo added.

When San Jose was able to create units, Liccardo said, they were sometimes allocated to people from other cities because Santa Clara County allocates available housing from a nationwide waiting list. county.

“So we can build a new affordable project for 250 homeless residents and find out what we’re really doing is housing people from Palo Alto or Gilroy,” Liccardo said. “Communities like Palo Alto don’t want to build affordable housing, but we still house their homeless. “

The city was recently able to establish a geographic prioritization process with the county, Liccardo said, so that shelters and housing estates in San Jose are first used to house the homeless in San Jose.

This will be crucial for San Jose’s immediate challenges, including the clean-up of a large homeless encampment a few blocks from Mineta San Jose International Airport. San José has pledged to clear the camp by spring 2022 after pressure from the Federal Aviation Authority, which will displace around 300 people. Liccardo acknowledged that many of them are unlikely to agree to be referred to collective shelters.

A photo of a park with an airplane above it.
An airliner flies over a homeless encampment at Columbus Park in North San Jose, Calif. On Monday, September 27, 2021. The Federal Aviation Association has ordered San Jose to clear the encampment, which is less than a mile from San Jose International Airport. (Daniel Wu / Peninsula Press)

“We know that homeless residents are much less resilient when you can get them to a place where they have their own space with a door, a lock and their own key,” Liccardo said.

“We have to house people properly, and that will take time,” he added.

VTA tram failure

Liccardo said Santa Clara County needed an alternative public transport option to the VTA tram. A member of VTA’s board of directors, he suggested removing the railway line and replacing it with a fleet of electric buses.

“I think [our light rail system] has largely failed to deliver on its promise of two or three decades ago to truly be a transit solution in our region, ”said Liccardo. In 2019, the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury found that the VTA tram is “one of the most expensive and least efficient public transport systems in the country”.

As the county celebrates progress on ATVs BART Silicon Valley Project, which extended service northeast of San Jose last summer and plans to expand into downtown San Jose by 2030, Liccardo wants to increase the number of protected bike lanes and expand micro options. -mobility like scooters, provided it can be done safely.

“It’s just hard to renovate a city that was built for automobiles and make a city built for people,” Liccardo said. “And this is the work of a generation, something that I have put a lot of emphasis on as we invest in public transport, invest in bicycles, invest in a multitude of other solutions because we are going to need many solutions. “

State should allow greater use of recycled water

Liccardo, while welcoming the recent rains, said the state needs to do more to tackle the droughts that will persist with climate change. Governor Gavin Newsom declared the drought a statewide emergency on October 21. California recorded the driest year in a century, according to the Western Regional Climate Center.

South Bay is also home to one of the state’s largest recycled water plants. The San José-Santa Clara Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant currently purifies more than 8 million gallons of water per day.

The state has yet to approve drinking water certification, but Liccardo said he has tried a drink or two himself. “I can assure you it’s definitely safer than a lot of things I drank in college,” Liccardo said.

The hope is to continue increasing production so that the city can replenish its underground aquifers and limit water imports from other regions, Liccardo said.

He said local utilities will start rolling out smart water meters this year to help residents understand when they have leaks. And Liccardo said there could be more progress in residential water cuts, as half of the city’s water goes to outdoor vegetation.

When asked if he still installed a rain barrel to catch rainwater, Liccardo said all he had right now was “a bucket in my shower”.

This story was reported by: Tasnim Ahmed, Cricket Bidleman, Irene Casado Sánchez, Ross Ewald, Caroline Ghisolfi, Christopher Giles, Chasity Hale, Jennah Haque, Kavish Harjai, Natasha Maki Jessen-Petersen, Elissa Miolene, Misato Nakayama, Melissa Newcomb, Leily Rezvani, Elena Shao and Daniel Wu


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