The Mercury News
Ambitious Measure A deserves a yes
Measure A is a Hail Mary pass.
The game is no less than ending the crisis of homelessness in Santa Clara County – a place where, amid stratospheric wealth, 6,500 people sleep on the streets or along creeks on any given night.
We can do this. We can end, if not homelessness itself, surely the crisis whose magnitude costs this valley far more – in tax dollars and human misery – than it would take to house the homeless in modest apartments and provide basic services they need to stay there. Vote yes on Measure A. The $950 million bond is ambitious, but the investment is justifiable: Independent research completed in 2015 found that the county spends $520 million
every year on emergency room care, public safety and other services for the homeless population.
The spending plan includes housing for very low income families, some help for moderate income households and for firsttime homebuyers, so your kids have a shot at staying here. But the lion’s share, $700 million, will go toward extremely low income housing, including permanent supportive housing, for the homeless or those on the verge.
The “housing first” strategy of placing people in homes with the care they need is far less costly — but in today’s market, there is no place for affordable supportive housing. The state eliminated redevelopment agencies, which once helped finance most affordable housing. Developer fees and other strategies can help, but not enough to house the lowest of low-income folks.
The bond will raise property taxes between $10.76 to $12.66 a year per $100,000 of assessed valuation, which is generally much lower than market value. The tax will apply to business as well as residential property.
The main concern about Measure A is Santa Clara County’s track record on the last significant tax voters passed for Valley Medical Center. The construction project is on track now but will be finished years late and $175 million over budget.
So the Board of Supervisors has taken accountability very seriously this time. Measure A’s oversight system would have caught the VMC problems early and prevented some if not all of the overruns.
The bond committee will be proactive, not just looking at spending after the fact, and include people with specific skills, such as experience in the affordable housing business. It will have an independent auditor at its disposal, and everything it does will be public.
Measure A requires a two-thirds vote. That might have been easier if the county had aimed lower. But the magnitude of the problem requires an initiative that matches its scale. This bond can turn a county with one of the worst homeless problems in the nation into one with a model solution. Vote yes.