News

Palo Alto eyes former water treatment site for interim housing

City Council to consider applying for Project Homekey funding to support unhoused individuals

The former Los Altos Water Treatment Plant at 1237 San Antonio Road in Palo Alto is being considered as a site for a new homeless housing complex. Photo taken Sept. 5, 2019 by Magali Gauthier.

Inspired by Mountain View's example, Palo Alto may explore a new idea to assist the city's growing population of unhoused residents: a homeless shelter with more than 100 beds on a city-owned site on San Antonio Road.

The city is considering applying for funding in the state's Project Homekey grant program, which is administered by the state Department of Housing and Community Development and which allows cities to buy motels, hotels and apartment buildings to provide shelter for homeless individuals. Last fall, Mountain View received more than $14 million in Homekey funding to construct a development with 100 modular units at 2566 Leghorn St., which is able to accommodate up to 124 individuals. Constructed in just months, the development opened in May and was singled out by Gov. Gavin Newsom as a creative solution to addressing the state's homeless problem.

Now, Palo Alto is considering advancing a similar project at the Los Altos Water Treatment Plant, a site at 1237 San Antonio Road that, despite its name, is neither in Los Altos nor is a water treatment plant. For years, the 14.4-acre lot has accommodated various industrial uses on its southern portion. The northernmost 4 acres of the site are in a wetlands conservation area and are effectively off limits for development, while the 6.6 acres just south of the conservation area had once accommodated the treatment plant, though its former treatment ponds have subsequently been reclassified as wetlands.

The area where the homeless shelter could potentially be built is directly south of the 6.6-acre portion. It currently serves as a contractor staging area for the city's new bike bridge over U.S. Highway 101 and as a storage yard for GreenWaste, the city's refuse collector.

The proposal by city staff to pursue a Mountain View-style homeless shelter on San Antonio Road is one of several strategies that the council will consider on Aug. 9 to address homelessness. The council also plans to consider creating a Special Enforcement Team in the Palo Alto Police Department, a two-person team that would patrol downtown and other prominent commercial areas and help link unhoused residents with needed services, according to a new staff report. The city has employed such teams since the mid-1990s but eliminated it last year because of funding shortages.

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The idea of using the San Antonio Road site to assist the unhoused population isn't exactly new. In recent years, city leaders had explored of using the Los Altos Water Treatment Plant site as a possible location for a "safe parking" program where vehicle dwellers can park overnight. The City Council ultimately chose the site at 2000 Geng Road, which is also near the Baylands, for the city's first safe parking program.

Mayor Tom DuBois and council member Lydia Kou have been leading the charge, urging their colleagues in a 2019 memo to explore more safe parking programs. In April, the council agreed to devote more city resources to addressing homelessness, including increasing its grant allocation to LifeMoves, the nonprofit that operates the Opportunity Center on Encina Avenue and that partnered with Mountain View to develop the Leghorn project. Council member Greer Stone, a former member of the Human Relations Commission, said that he had been disappointed for a long time with the amount of money that the city spends on unhoused services.

"We're so fortunate to have so many nonprofit organizations in this community, where we're getting pennies on the dollar for our little investment to the amount that our community gets back from them. ... I think we need to increase our commitment to those organizations by increasing our funding." Stone said.

The interior of a family unit at LifeMoves Mountain View, an interim 100-unit housing complex that can accommodate about 124 unhoused individuals, on May 25, 2021. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

In rolling out the new programs, the city will lean heavily on partnerships with Santa Clara County and nonprofit partners. Both the county and the nonprofit Move Mountain View, which operates safe parking programs, played critical roles in establishing the Geng Road program. The county also offered a $2.4 million contribution to Mountain View for the Leghorn development.

During Palo Alto's study session on homelessness, Kathryn Kaminski, deputy director for the county's Office of Supportive Housing, said that between 2015 and 2019, the county has doubled the number of supportive housing units, temporary housing spaces and its emergency shelter capacity. Despite the progress, the number of homeless populations has continued to grow.

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"What we've seen over the last several years is that for every one person that we house, another two or three become homeless," Kaminski said.

According to the county's Homeless Census and Survey Comprehensive Report, the number of people in north Santa Clara County who experienced homelessness went up from 1,102 in 2017 to 1,621 in 2019, a 62% increase.

'What we've seen over the last several years is that for every one person that we house, another two or three become homeless.'

-Kathryn Kaminski, deputy director, Santa Clara County Office of Supportive Housing

The county's 2019 point-of-time count also identified 313 unhoused individuals in Palo Alto, of whom 292 slept in vehicles, tents or on the street.

Philip Dah, director of the Opportunity Center, told the council that demand for shelter space and mortgage assistance has only increased over the pandemic. Dah noted that the only emergency shelters in Palo Alto are Hotel de Zink and the Heart and Home Collaborative, both of which are rotating shelter programs organized by local churches. The Opportunity Center, he said, has a 20-bed shelter that had to reduce its capacity to 10 during the pandemic because of social distancing requirements.

Dah recommended that the city consider a Project Homekey project similar to the one that had since been completed up in Mountain View. In addition to providing shelters with basic needs — most notably, bathrooms — the Leghorn facility connects clients to health care, supportive services and job placement resources. According to the city's announcement, clients are anticipated to stay for between 90 and 120 days, while they "get stabilized and begin on the path to more permanent housing."

"We think that if we move to a more permanent location or something with a longer-term stay, it will address some of the systemic issues that we see in Palo Alto," Dah said.

If the council goes along with the staff proposal, the city would partner with LifeMoves and potentially the Santa Clara County Housing Authority and submit a grant application once the next round of Project Homekey funding becomes available (city staff expect this will happen in September). The city would then move ahead with making the necessary zoning changes to convert the site and further pin down the program's costs and potential funding sources. Under the current estimate, operating the program would cost the city between $2.5 million and $4 million.

While the council has yet to discuss the staff proposal for the San Antonio site, DuBois called the Project Homekey proposal "really exciting" in a recent interview.

"Encampments in parking garages aren't the answer," DuBois said, citing the recent trend of unhoused individuals stationing their tents in a public garage on Bryant Street. "I think there is a gap that Homekey provides an answer to."

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Palo Alto eyes former water treatment site for interim housing

City Council to consider applying for Project Homekey funding to support unhoused individuals

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Wed, Aug 4, 2021, 9:17 am

Inspired by Mountain View's example, Palo Alto may explore a new idea to assist the city's growing population of unhoused residents: a homeless shelter with more than 100 beds on a city-owned site on San Antonio Road.

The city is considering applying for funding in the state's Project Homekey grant program, which is administered by the state Department of Housing and Community Development and which allows cities to buy motels, hotels and apartment buildings to provide shelter for homeless individuals. Last fall, Mountain View received more than $14 million in Homekey funding to construct a development with 100 modular units at 2566 Leghorn St., which is able to accommodate up to 124 individuals. Constructed in just months, the development opened in May and was singled out by Gov. Gavin Newsom as a creative solution to addressing the state's homeless problem.

Now, Palo Alto is considering advancing a similar project at the Los Altos Water Treatment Plant, a site at 1237 San Antonio Road that, despite its name, is neither in Los Altos nor is a water treatment plant. For years, the 14.4-acre lot has accommodated various industrial uses on its southern portion. The northernmost 4 acres of the site are in a wetlands conservation area and are effectively off limits for development, while the 6.6 acres just south of the conservation area had once accommodated the treatment plant, though its former treatment ponds have subsequently been reclassified as wetlands.

The area where the homeless shelter could potentially be built is directly south of the 6.6-acre portion. It currently serves as a contractor staging area for the city's new bike bridge over U.S. Highway 101 and as a storage yard for GreenWaste, the city's refuse collector.

The proposal by city staff to pursue a Mountain View-style homeless shelter on San Antonio Road is one of several strategies that the council will consider on Aug. 9 to address homelessness. The council also plans to consider creating a Special Enforcement Team in the Palo Alto Police Department, a two-person team that would patrol downtown and other prominent commercial areas and help link unhoused residents with needed services, according to a new staff report. The city has employed such teams since the mid-1990s but eliminated it last year because of funding shortages.

The idea of using the San Antonio Road site to assist the unhoused population isn't exactly new. In recent years, city leaders had explored of using the Los Altos Water Treatment Plant site as a possible location for a "safe parking" program where vehicle dwellers can park overnight. The City Council ultimately chose the site at 2000 Geng Road, which is also near the Baylands, for the city's first safe parking program.

Mayor Tom DuBois and council member Lydia Kou have been leading the charge, urging their colleagues in a 2019 memo to explore more safe parking programs. In April, the council agreed to devote more city resources to addressing homelessness, including increasing its grant allocation to LifeMoves, the nonprofit that operates the Opportunity Center on Encina Avenue and that partnered with Mountain View to develop the Leghorn project. Council member Greer Stone, a former member of the Human Relations Commission, said that he had been disappointed for a long time with the amount of money that the city spends on unhoused services.

"We're so fortunate to have so many nonprofit organizations in this community, where we're getting pennies on the dollar for our little investment to the amount that our community gets back from them. ... I think we need to increase our commitment to those organizations by increasing our funding." Stone said.

In rolling out the new programs, the city will lean heavily on partnerships with Santa Clara County and nonprofit partners. Both the county and the nonprofit Move Mountain View, which operates safe parking programs, played critical roles in establishing the Geng Road program. The county also offered a $2.4 million contribution to Mountain View for the Leghorn development.

During Palo Alto's study session on homelessness, Kathryn Kaminski, deputy director for the county's Office of Supportive Housing, said that between 2015 and 2019, the county has doubled the number of supportive housing units, temporary housing spaces and its emergency shelter capacity. Despite the progress, the number of homeless populations has continued to grow.

"What we've seen over the last several years is that for every one person that we house, another two or three become homeless," Kaminski said.

According to the county's Homeless Census and Survey Comprehensive Report, the number of people in north Santa Clara County who experienced homelessness went up from 1,102 in 2017 to 1,621 in 2019, a 62% increase.

The county's 2019 point-of-time count also identified 313 unhoused individuals in Palo Alto, of whom 292 slept in vehicles, tents or on the street.

Philip Dah, director of the Opportunity Center, told the council that demand for shelter space and mortgage assistance has only increased over the pandemic. Dah noted that the only emergency shelters in Palo Alto are Hotel de Zink and the Heart and Home Collaborative, both of which are rotating shelter programs organized by local churches. The Opportunity Center, he said, has a 20-bed shelter that had to reduce its capacity to 10 during the pandemic because of social distancing requirements.

Dah recommended that the city consider a Project Homekey project similar to the one that had since been completed up in Mountain View. In addition to providing shelters with basic needs — most notably, bathrooms — the Leghorn facility connects clients to health care, supportive services and job placement resources. According to the city's announcement, clients are anticipated to stay for between 90 and 120 days, while they "get stabilized and begin on the path to more permanent housing."

"We think that if we move to a more permanent location or something with a longer-term stay, it will address some of the systemic issues that we see in Palo Alto," Dah said.

If the council goes along with the staff proposal, the city would partner with LifeMoves and potentially the Santa Clara County Housing Authority and submit a grant application once the next round of Project Homekey funding becomes available (city staff expect this will happen in September). The city would then move ahead with making the necessary zoning changes to convert the site and further pin down the program's costs and potential funding sources. Under the current estimate, operating the program would cost the city between $2.5 million and $4 million.

While the council has yet to discuss the staff proposal for the San Antonio site, DuBois called the Project Homekey proposal "really exciting" in a recent interview.

"Encampments in parking garages aren't the answer," DuBois said, citing the recent trend of unhoused individuals stationing their tents in a public garage on Bryant Street. "I think there is a gap that Homekey provides an answer to."

Comments

Megan Swezey Fogarty
Registered user
Midtown
on Aug 4, 2021 at 9:18 pm
Megan Swezey Fogarty, Midtown
Registered user
on Aug 4, 2021 at 9:18 pm

I visited the Mountain View site and was incredibly impressed. Thank you LifeMoves for your leadership.


Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 5, 2021 at 8:25 am
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Aug 5, 2021 at 8:25 am

This does sound a good site for this.


Rebecca Eisenberg
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Aug 5, 2021 at 4:09 pm
Rebecca Eisenberg, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Aug 5, 2021 at 4:09 pm

This site is FAR from ideal given that the homeless population is best served by access to public transit and city services. Homeless shelters actually lower crime rates rather than raise them. Moving homeless people to the outskirts is counterproductive and based on ignorant assumptions.

That said, it's about TIME that Palo Alto finally agreed to speak with LifeMoves. LifeMoves has been actively seeking out a public official in Palo Alto for six months, but until now, Palo Alto Staff & City Council refused to take a meeting. I know this because I had been trying to help set up this meeting for months, and every City Council member and every City Staff members refused to respond to my emails and calls. It was shameful. *Every single city official & staff refused.*

If LifeMoves is still willing to work with Palo Alto, we all should be grateful to that exceptional organization for their patience and tolerance for Palo Alto's indifference -- on top of all of the other reasons to be grateful to LifeMoves for all of the essential, life-changing services it provides.

But why again does the City continue to try to involve the County? All parties who know about temporary shelter and HomeKey (including Santa Clara County and LifeMoves) have made it clear that CITIES not counties are the appropriate applicant for HomeKey funding.

Sometimes I wonder if all this is just lip service (again) by the City Council; that they intentionally are disregarding the advice they have been given for almost 2 years in order to sabotage the project that finally would provide at least ONE shelter bed for PA's large and growing unhoused population. Or, can it be that Palo Alto staff and elected officials truly are too incompetent to get things done correctly? I'm guessing we never will know.

What we do know is that MV got it done in 3 months, as Palo Alto delays and falters. We also know that California is offering $1 billion for housing, so Palo Alto should be doing much more.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 5, 2021 at 8:02 pm
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Aug 5, 2021 at 8:02 pm

The MV site is in an industrial location removed from the center of the city. It was funded by the state. The MV site is in a location that was programmed for upgrade. It is next to industrial equipment for rental. PA has a location next to T&C - the Navigation Center. PA does not have a commercial district except the PA Business park at 101 and San Antonio - east side. That is a good location for some housing. Problem is that area has a potential flooding problem.


Rebecca Eisenberg
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Aug 6, 2021 at 2:50 am
Rebecca Eisenberg, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Aug 6, 2021 at 2:50 am

Commercial and industrial districts are NOT good locations for transitional housing. As I said above, per LifeMoves and all other homeless transitional service providers, transitional homeless are far more likely to get back on their feet if shelters are located close to public transit and city services.

Mountain View admits that its site location is not ideal, but Mountain View had far fewer choices than Palo Alto in terms of sites.

I'm not sure if the article clarified this, but Mountain View actually used HomeKey funds to purchase the site it used for the shelters. Palo Alto easily could do the same with HomeKey funds.

It is illogical and misleading for the Palo Alto City Council -- and this publication in turn -- to cite the cost of creating and running these shelters. The entire point of HomeKey -- which again, to repeat, is giving away A BILLION DOLLARS in funding -- is to provide the money to fund these programs.

Accordingly, with a HomeKey grant, the cost to acquire a suitable site and to place temporary shelters on said suitable site is close to zero. Given that providing shelter for transitional homeless is virtually cost-free to Palo Alto, why hasn't our City done so? Because our leadership is not interested in providing shelter for the homeless. It's that simple .


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 6, 2021 at 8:03 am
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Aug 6, 2021 at 8:03 am

We obviously have representatives of special interest groups whose job is to sell a concept that may fit a different city and use the different city qualfications as a point in argument. The city of Mountain View - end to end has demographics, tax base, and development issues which are totally different than PA. Google is busy remaking MV and San Jose and is busy trying to move the homeless out of their city to reduce their number count. This was an accusation concerning San Diegeo in the recall debate. Please quit trying to sell MV - they are politiking with the state regarding San Jose and making deals. I find it irrationale to try and manhandle PA given that it is border to border residential properties. The commercial section on San Antonio and Fabian is not negotiable. That leaves the Caltrain route which at this time it being totally built out and under discussion with builders.
In this irrational debate possibly the protagonist can point out where specifically they are looking for their golden opportunity. School system properties are not a qualifier for homeless encampments. Quit selling MV - that is irrationale. There is no comparison to PA regarding any relevent issues regarding available land, tax base, political outlook, and governmental issues.


Anonymous
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 6, 2021 at 3:21 pm
Anonymous, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Aug 6, 2021 at 3:21 pm

I oppose housing the homeless in the Baylands. Fires have been set over by Facebook by homeless/transients; this location is adjacent the MV Baylands and PA Baylands Nature Preserve. Low elevation and NATURE.
No police or work nearby; will someone try to walk across 101 on San Antonio? Not a safe idea.
Major downtowns such as San Jose and SF are far more suited to providing the 24 hour services this population needs.
PA already offers the Opportunity Center and MV has the day worker center; these are sufficient to offer this locality.
Attractiing more vehicles to PA/MV border seems silly: it doesn’t help them, really, or us in nearby residential and commercial and JCC. What it will need is a lot of police being sent out there.
Btw, the city’s “growing population of homeless residents!?”
- there are jobs on offer everywhere; perhaps a cheaper locale makes sense; moving into PA is a high hurdle for most people and perhaps this isn’t the time, if one is a transient. Or have PA factories shut down, throwing hundreds out of employment!?
What’s more, the idiotic idea that one is entitled to live right near where one works….most people change jobs!


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 7, 2021 at 11:04 am
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Aug 7, 2021 at 11:04 am

People keep making a point that this city is doing something wrong concerning housing. Please note that:
1. Alma and the Caltrain tracks are next to apartments from end to end.
2. ECR has multi-unit buildings from end to end, exclusive of SU property.
3. Downtown PA has multi-unit apartments in the vicinity of University and Hamilton.
4. THe city has "planned residential zones" from end to end in the city.
5. Market areas - downtown, mid-town, Charleston have multi-unit apartments in the direct vicinity.

From where I am sitting this city has met all of the planning requirements being discussed - and has been before PAF and other advocates ever started talking - trying to sell what is already there. And they get paid to do that - amazing.
Then they go down and get articles in the paper about how they are going to save the city from itself. They are all getting paid to do that.


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