Evergreen Senior Homes initiative battle heating up
SANJOSE » Along the foothills east of downtown sits a quiet 200-acre plot that’s become one of the most hotly contested pieces of land in San Jose and the center of a bitter high-stakes political battle set to culminate at the ballot box in June.
Measure B asks voters to let developers build a 910-home senior community on vacant land off Aborn Road currently zoned for industrial use, with a promised focus on veterans. But a dueling Measure C, if passed, would override that and make it harder for other developers to do the same in the future.
Ultimately, the competing ballot questions may just end up leaving San Jose voters confused.
Known as the Evergreen Senior Homes initiative, Measure B is bankrolled largely by Ponderosa Homes II, a Pleasanton-based company that wants to turn the South San Jose property currently owned by local billionaire Carl Berg into homes for seniors. The company says about 20 percent of the homes would be affordable and that the development would provide badly needed housing
for aging veterans.
But Mayor Sam Liccardo, the San Jose City Council, both the local Democratic and Republican parties, and a bevy of environmental and veterans groups strongly oppose the idea, calling it a misleading attempt to circumvent the system.
The Measure B camp, however, has launched an expensive campaign to push the development, spending significantly more than its opponents. According to campaign financial disclosures, the Yes on B, No on C campaign raised $1.6million during the first fourmonths of 2018. By contrast, the No on B, Yes on C campaign raised less than $80,000 during that same period.
The Evergreen Senior Homes campaign pushed to put Measure B on the ballot, said Jeff Schroeder, a senior vice president with Ponderosa, because the city is failing tomeet its housing goals and the city’s current policy makes it difficult for developers to build homes. Even if the measure passes, he continued, the plans would still have to wind through what could be a two-year process with the city before construction.
“We still have a ton of risk and process with the city,” said Schroeder, who is listed as head of the group San Jose Residents for Evergreen Senior Homes but actually lives in Danville.
According to the city attorney’s impartial analysis, Measure B would create a “senior housing overlay” that would allow housing for people 55 or older on so-called underutilized employment land in the city, meaning land set aside for non-residential uses such as office space or retail.
City attorney Rick Doyle’s analysis found the measure could ultimately affect some 3,247 acres of vacant employment land currently expected to support nearly 130,000 jobs.
The measure, Liccardo said recently, amounts to “billionaires building houses for millionaires” on land that could be used to hold a business that could help bring badly needed jobs to San Jose. Right now, San Jose has more housing than jobs and the mayor has said he wants to reduce that imbalance.
Houses in the Evergreen area, a quiet neighborhood lined with manicured streets and well-kept homes, regularly sell for well over a million dollars, pricing most veterans out of the market, said Tito Cortez, a Vietnam War veteran. Cortez, who founded the San Josebased Veterans Supportive Services Agency and opposes Measure B, said the average annual income of his 1,600 or so clients is about $59,000.
Besides, Liccardo said, the fine print shows that the measure doesn’t actually require that a single house go to a veteran.
In otherwords, opponents argue, the glossy Measure B brochures featuring solemnly saluting veterans and the phrase “honoring their service” look nice, but aren’t realistic.
“We are being confused by this measure,” Cortez said. “Measure B is deceptive. It’s using me. How dare you!”
Liccardo is pushing a counterproposal, Measure C. According to the city attorney, it would limit the authority of the council to allow housing on land in a handful of areas, including Evergreen and Coyote, currently slated for business. To approve such a shift, Measure C would require that the city put together a study that looks at the fiscal, employment and housing impacts of potential development in those neighborhoods. It also would require that half of the units for sale go to low- and moderate-income families.
But some veterans think that would stymie efforts to increase housing in a city where rents and mortgages have skyrocketed to astronomical figures in recent years.
Ernest Kirk, who served in the U.S. Army for 3½ years from 1959-1962, sup- ports the proposed development and opposes the mayor’s idea. Even if he can’t swing it, Kirk said, maybe people moving into the new houses would vacate more affordable housing, opening the door to homeownership for others.
“A lot of people are being forced right out of this area,” said Kirk, who has lived in a rent- controlled studio in west San Jose for the last decade. “The average person just can’t afford to live here anymore.”
Megan Medeiros, executive director of the Palo Altobased Committee for Green Foothills, is also nervous that if Measure B is successful, it will allow developers to skirt environmental review and contribute to the suburban sprawl that has characterized much of San Jose’s history that she and others would like to halt. If the measure passes, the developers behind Measure B would be exempt from paying traffic impact fees that are required under the current system.
“These developers should play by the rules everybody else has to follow,” Medeiros said.
Yet, Schroeder pointed out, the current zoning doesn’t call for the land to remain open in perpetuity. If it were used for industrial or commercial purposes, he said, there would likely be construction and traffic and sprawl in an already largely residential area. Seniors on the other hand, he said, typically drive less than their younger peers.
The Evergreen senior homes development, he said, “completes and nestles in and fills out a neighborhood.”
There’s no reliable polling on which way voters will swing in June. Ultimately, San Jose residents will have to decide whether, as Kirk believes, making it easier for developers tobuild on previously off-limits land in San Jose is a good thing, or, as the mayor believes, it sets the city up to be taken advantage of.