Homeless in San Jose
May 26, 2018

Silicon Valley Business Journal: Where county supervisor candidates stand on rent control, NIMBYs and taxing tech to fund housing


Silicon Valley Business Journal reporter Jody Meacham attended the District 4 supervisorial candidates’ forum organized by Silicon Valley at Home (SV@Home) and Destination: Home, where the six candidates vying to replace Ken Yeager as Santa Clara County supervisor answered questions about homelessness and housing as part of Affordable Housing Week 2018.

This is part two of Meacham’s coverage.

See the original story at the Silicon Valley Business Journal.

Where county supervisor candidates stand on rent control, NIMBYs and taxing tech to fund housing

By Jody Meacham

Housing nonprofits SV@Home and Destination: Home hosted a forum last week for the six candidates still in the race for District 4 Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager’s seat.

This is the second of a two-part series in which the candidates – business owner Mike Alvarado, Campbell City Councilmember Jason Baker, San Jose Unified School District President Susan Ellenberg, marketing and public relations executive Maria Hernandez, former San Jose City Councilmember Pierluigi Oliverio and current City Councilmember Don Rocha – took questions from the nonprofits’ leaders and from the public. You can read the first part here.

What is your view on rent control?

Alvarado: I like the idea of rent control in spirit. I think the problem is though, what we have is that you end up discouraging land owners if you have too much rent control. I think the real problem with affordable housing is it’s really economics 101. It’s supply and demand. So what I would rather do is really – and this has been mentioned in some of the other forums – we really need a (Metropolitan Transportation Commission)-type agency that covers building more affordable housing. Some communities don’t want any affordable housing. Some do. But I think we really have to get together, and we have to reach a consensus and bring landowners together with developers with the financing, and we actually have to build that dense housing.

Hernandez: It is really hard to keep up with rent costs during. I was speaking with a chef at Tomato Thyme (restaurant) and he told me that he works close to 80 hours a week and he can barely afford his rent. So that is unacceptable. I do support rent control. However, I see the other side of the spectrum too. So, I need to learn more about the issue but generally speaking, I do support that.

Oliverio: Ninety-seven percent of scientists believe in global warming. Ninety-three percent of economists believe that rent control is bad. The legislative analyst’s office in Sacramento, disagrees with rent control. I don’t support it. I think it reduces the potential of return for someone to build housing, and the investment return, because frankly, I don’t know anybody that’s living in a structure that they paid for or rent that was built by themselves. Someone always builds it for them. If you look at what Berkeley does, they have a rent control board. That city spends $5.5 million administering that board, which has a lot of city staff. Yet again, more people pushing paper versus people providing services. I think the ultimate enemy of all the housing production in California is CEQA (the California Environmental Quality Act). Until CEQA is waived for all affordable housing projects, or something done differently, we’re going to have the same conversation year after year or decade after decade.

Ellenburg: I disagree with a couple of my colleagues. We are in a crisis now where it has become clear that the supply-and-demand economic model is not working. The market simply can’t provide enough housing when the job growth continues to outpace housing by about four to one, and we’re already so far behind the eight ball by having under-built for the last 10-plus years. We’ve lost federal and state dollars that were earmarked for affordable housing, high-income jobs are outpacing lower-income jobs, an unprecedented number of people want to live here. Rent and home prices are sky-rocketing. To me, it feels clear that the system is broken, so we need systemic change. I do support reasonable rent-control measures, I support the repeal of Costa Hawkins, just-cause evictions. And, as I mentioned earlier, a more equitable legal process that focuses much more on being able to preserve residency as opposed to making it the primary goal of eviction of that time.

Rocha: On the Campbell City Council, we have been fighting this issue out for a couple years now, and I am proud of some of my colleagues who have stood next to me, or I stood next to them on this particular issue. So I have supported rent control. But I think it’s a great question in the sense of reminding us that there are other issues in this housing crisis. And I’ll point to a couple other ones whether it’s, you know, just cause, whether it’s commercial linkage fee, whether it’s inclusionary zoning, whether it’s a housing impact fee, whether it’s incorporating duplexes into rent control and also on just cause protections. It’s really all of these issues that are going to make a difference, it’s not one. We can’t squeeze one particular inventory and hope that they’re going to solve this crisis. That’s why I think it’s very important when you choose your next supervisor [to choose] someone who’s actually done this work, somebody who’s stood up to the pressure, somebody who’s stood before crowds demanding that they oppose something, and I’ve taken the heat, and I’ve supported it.

Baker: Yeah, that’s right, and I have too. Former Mayor Gibbons and I brought up trying to get some reasonable rent control in Campbell. We couldn’t even get a discussion on the ballot and that was unfortunate. I believe that the housing market is out of whack, we are in crisis, and that market is not working how it should be working. So until we can develop a sufficient supply, until we can develop all the other regional resources to subsidize housing, to subsidize rent, do all the things that we can do to get the market back to where it needs to be, we do have to have reasonable rent control. Because the people are having spikes of $800 or more in rent is something that’s happening in Campbell, it makes the entire community unstable. It displaces people, it increases homelessness which causes a whole lot of other problems for cities and the county. So, we need to stop the bleeding by putting on rent control now.

What is your plan with to connect with and change the mind of NIMBYs?

Baker: NIMBYs are people, right? They’re our community members, and there are some of them who live in Campbell, and some of them who’ve supported my first campaign. And I’ll tell you, I think part of it is framing the question as, the growth is coming. There’s going to be a whole lot of growth, and there’s a lot of reasons for that that we can’t avoid or stop. It’s just a matter of where to put it. And you put it near transit so that the growth and density is not in the historic neighborhoods. You put it in downtown where people could then walk to the [shopping center], walk to downtown, do their shopping, so there isn’t traffic, there isn’t greenhouse gas pollution, and there aren’t parking problems for us.

Rocha: A key here is how you go about it, and it really takes education and also the explanation of the public benefit and the public good. Over 66 percent of the public here in Santa Clara County supported Measure A. They taxed themselves to house other people. That’s impressive. So there is hope. In my particular district, the Cambrian Park Plaza is being redeveloped. And they’re looking at a mixed use. With that comes housing, whether it’s rental or for sale, and there’s going to be density. I have stood in front of a crowd of folks calling out for me to oppose this, demanding that I oppose it. They have threatened me, I have been called names, they have told me, we are going to make sure you don’t win your supervisor election. And I have stood strong telling them there is a need for housing, and we haven’t even got to the question whether they’ll support it or not.

Ellenburg: I’ve taught civics education and classes on civil discourse. And one of the things that I think is so crucially important is being able to have conversations with people that fundamentally disagree on a particular issue. The key is the building of the relationship so that you don’t see that person just in terms of that single issue. And I think that a lot of people who support smart growth and high-density development go into these conversations assuming that the people we’re defining as NIMBYs are somehow bad or wrong. I think that it’s in all of our interest to understand where that fear and where that hesitation comes from, and to be able to have and facilitate conversations not when there’s a development proposal on the table, but long before that so that by the time there’s a project on the table, ideally there’s some common ground or language that’s been reached.

Oliverio: My predecessor on the city council, Ken Yeager, enabled NIMBYs. Whenever projects came before him on the city council, he got them lower density because that was the least amount of friction. And I came in, and I was all about density because I understood that the existing population in San Jose is having children, and some of those kids are going to want to stay here. And so when we had the Ohlone Project for example, I was in favor of the project, and Ken was out in front against it, making it really difficult to get a high density project done that had been planned since 1991 in the Midtown Specific Plan along with transit. But I took the lumps, and we got it passed, and it’s under construction. That’s one of the things you have to do. I’ve pledged to go to community meetings when housing development’s proposed, to sit in that audience and take the questions and relieve some of the heat of the city official. Because remember, it’s the cities that are going do this, and it’s up to us to get their back.

Hernandez: It is really hard to force people to do something that they don’t want to do. The best way that you can get someone to do it – to be in the same opinion that you are – is showing them. So many of those people don’t know what it is to have that urgency to have housing, they cannot understand, because many of those people have lived here forever, and it’s really hard to see how the development is happening overnight. But empathy is a really powerful tool. If you are in a person’s shoes, you will be able to understand things even when you don’t want to do them.

Alvarado: First you identify the problem. We all know the problem is there is not enough affordable housing. So why do we have that? I think we have to create a discussion and then try to build consensus. I do think that the idea of having a regional commission where you can get planning, planning commissioners and city council members from the entire Bay area together to work on this [is good], because it’s really a regional problem. If you think back 200 years ago, there was a community of Ohlone Native Americans here. What if they had said, hey, 200 people here, that’s it. No more growth. So, it’s just an effect of progress, and the nature of history. The county’s got two million people now. It will have four million. So we’ve got to do more, we have to build up. High density housing is the way to go.

Seattle just passed a head tax. Mountain View’s looking at putting it on the November ballot. What do you think the role of high-tech companies is in responding to the housing and homeless crisis?

Alvarado: They haven’t done enough. It’s been proven that the corporations are not paying their fair share of taxes, and it’s why we have the debt crisis in this country. We have to ask corporate entities to pay more, and certainly they should be paying for affordable housing because they’re part of the problem. You’ve got Apple and Google paying people $250,000, $350,000 a year, and then every community says, well, we don’t want to build any more housing. We have to say, hey, you guys have to pay your fair share. We, the citizens, are not going to pay your taxes.

Hernandez: I think it’s the cost of doing business. If you’re receiving the benefit, which certainly they are, they have the obligation to give back to the community. And sometimes, the giving spirit is not that good, so local officials, the local government has the power to enforce that either through a tax, or to compromise. With the Google development, they (city government) has a lot of leverage. I hope that they’re using that to citizens’ advantage.

Oliverio: Cisco’s a fantastic example, donating $50 million — $10 million a year for five years. And Cisco’s the type of company that’s big, but it doesn’t have the actual margins of profit that Apple and Google does, so I think that there’s much more that those two companies can do specifically, but I would not support a tax at this time. I believe getting them to give more money voluntarily would be good, but also, I realize that eventually we will hit a recession. We’ll be crying about other stuff when that happens. But I think we put Cisco on a high pedestal and say that’s the best company in Silicon Valley right now.

Ellenburg: I think a lot of companies realize that it is in their best interest to make sure that their talent can live close by. And some of the companies are starting to build housing for their employees. Unfortunately, they’re mostly building it for their high-end employees and not for the force support workers that are needed to support every engineering job. Self-interest is probably the strongest way to motivate companies. Secondarily, virtually all of the large companies in this area have corporate social responsibility departments. All of their philanthropy is going overseas, and I think it’s part of our job to make the case that the philanthropy should stay local.

Rocha: I think they should play a larger role than they currently are, and what it takes really is political leadership and I’m part of that. So, let me tell you what I’ve been doing on the council. I have been pushing almost single-handedly trying to get a commercial linkage fee across the goal line. That’s where we charge corporations for office, commercial and industrial development, a fee to help with the affordable housing. And in a chamber-dominated council, I have not been able to get it across the goal line. I am this close, and I could use your help. This is the type of leadership that we need at the county. I have stood up on this issue. I was the lone vote against Google. I am not afraid of challenging folks on this. The affordable housing issue is important.

Baker: Councilmember Gibbons and I brought up commercial linkage fee in Campbell. We lost that vote too. I think that’s definitely a way to do it. Google did the right thing in putting its campus where it is, because putting the campus near transit instead of where Apple put their campus not only helps transit and greenhouse gases and all those sorts of things, it also helps housing affordability because the cost of transportation is serious for folks on lowest end of the spectrums. So if you can put a bunch of jobs that that will need services near transit, that helps with affordability as well.