Ev­er­green Se­nior Homes ini­tia­tive bat­tle heat­ing up

The Mercury News Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Emily DeRuy ederuy@ba­yare­anews­group.com

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.

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