Los Gatos Residents Oppose 320 Units in Mixed-Use Development
Silicon Valley is seeing its crisis-level housing shortage spread far beyond its urban cores. Ten miles south of San Jose, the suburban residential community of Los Gatos is also struggling with high housing costs and the demand for new development.
A controversial mixed-use project proposed in the North 40 area of Los Gatos would provide 320 dwelling units on a 44-acre site, with commercial space taking up 21 of those acres. Eden Housing and SummerHill Homes will be working on the housing development, while Grosvenor Americas is the overall lead developer.
Neighbors appealing to the planning commission in March decried the loss of Los Gatos’ small-town aesthetic in favor of a more sterile built environment resembling San Jose’s Santana Row. “It's an experience based in a walled enclave, much like a medieval castle ... surrounded by a moat of congested roads and freeways,” said resident Ted Richards. Richards compared the plan to Disney’s Celebration Community in Orlando, which he had helped design.
While residents also expressed concern over the impacts on traffic congestion the development would bring, local resident Ed Morimoto, a relative of the Yuki family that owns most of the property, asserted the opposite. In his view, it was the construction of the very freeways residents feared further congesting, was more detrimental to small-town life. “Isn't it possible—just possible,” he said at a planning commission hearing, “that thoughtful, selective use of higher density over our traditional sprawling, car-centric approach just might give is a better chance of preserving our quality of life?"
A detailed analysis by Los Gatos Community Alliance showed that Santana Row allowed for 300% more residential and commercial development, despite being 1.5 acres smaller.
Last week, the Los Gatos Planning Commission recommended denying the project’s application, on what some observers described as largely subjective grounds. Attorneys representing the developers had previously sent a letter informing the commission that the project must be approved by right if it conformed to local land-use guidelines. Regardless, the majority of the commission did not find the project conforming to the North 40 General Plan. Commission vice-chair Michael Kaine cited the famous Supreme Court opinion on pornography, “I know it when I see it,” when dismissing the project’s architecture as incompatible with local character.
The North 40 project increased residential units from the 270 allowed by zoning to its current 320 by qualifying for the state density bonus law. Even so, the Planning Commission largely opined that it was still too dense, obstructed views of the natural surrounding hillsides, and did not meet local requirements to house senior citizens. Four of the six commissioners voted to deny.
Residents of the current property, which mostly consists of orchards, told the San Jose Mercury News that they could not find anywhere to rent with comparable affordability in the greater Bay Area. One tenant said he was looking into renting a $3,600/month unit for their family in Morgan Hill, 23 miles south of Los Gatos. Their current rents, set by leases established with the Yuki family, would see exponential increases under the proposed project. Legal experts told the Mercury News that there was reason to believe current tenants could be vulnerable to eviction under the Ellis Act.
Meanwhile, the town of Cupertino is connected by rail to urban cores both in San Jose and San Francisco. Apple, the world’s most profitable company, plans to expand its headquarters there with a second campus of over 16,000 offices. Yet local residents are opposed to a proportionally smaller growth of residential capacity, with an organized campaign seeking to block the construction 800 homes via a local ballot measure, on grounds unrelated to the costs for potential tenants.
Rather than balking at the increase in median rent, as in Los Gatos, Cupertino Citizens Sensible Growth Initiative cites concerns such as straining the capacity of their nationally-ranked public schools, traffic congestion, and buildings taller than current 45-foot limits.
Cupertino’s housing shortage has been especially harmful to its teachers, after the local school board’s plan to build 200 residential units was shut down by neighborhood opposition. Critics such as Cupertino native Kim-Mai Cutler considered it odd that opponents would cite schools as a reason to restrict residential growth, as recent data suggests that primarily younger workers provide the tax base funding public services in the South Bay.
Thanks to California’s Proposition 13 capping property tax assessments, Cutler notes, the duration of a property owner’s residence can often be inversely proportional to their fiscal benefit to local government.
The South Bay may soon see this boon of new workers dwindle: in one of many similar stories, an Apple employee recently announced to colleagues that they were considering returning to North Carolina due to the Bay Area’s high cost of living.
Los Gatos Town Council will be reviewing the project at hearings beginning on August 9th.