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Old SJ City Hall Annex Sparks Debate About City's Homeless Crisis

SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) -- There is debate in San Jose over a plan to re-purpose the old city hall building into a homeless shelter. Santa Clara County wants to demolish it to build a parking lot but homeless advocates and the mayor of San Jose want to save it, to re-purpose it as a shelter.

The old city hall annex building, situated north of north of downtown San Jose, has been practically unused since the city moved out of the building in 2005. It was bought a few years later by Santa Clara County.

Homeless advocates, including San Jose city councilman Johnny Khamis, are accusing the city of not taking the homeless crisis seriously enough. "I'm hoping they consider this as an option to provide housing for the homeless," said Khamis.

Advocates said that the plan to build a homeless center at the old city hall, which is close to VTA Light Rail and other county services, is a no-brainer.

"Everybody agrees now; the problem is out of control. People are dying in record numbers on the streets. Everybody agrees--the city, the county, and the non profits. So anything that can be converted into housing quickly should be done, even if its on an interim basis," said Pastor Scott Wafers of the CHAM Deliverance Ministry. 

On August 13th, San Jose mayor Sam Liccardo sent a letter to Joe Simitian, president of the county's Board of Supervisors. In the letter, he asked if there was any interest in reusing the building for low-income housing. Liccardo pledged the city's support to make it happen.

Now, an ad hoc group of developers and philanthropists has stepped forward, led by Jim Salata, the president of Garden City Construction. Salata told KPIX that he has secured $20 million for the project and can house up to 150 people in the old city hall building.

However, Santa Clara County officials say that it's not that easy. The county's chief operating officer Miguel Marquez said a consultant's report from 2015 showed the annex was too run down, that it was not suitable for re-use and that it would need at least $50 million in rehab work just to make it inhabitable again.

"So while the county is very supportive and a leader when it comes to housing and helping folks who are homeless, we just don't think the annex--due to its very, very, very poor condition--is the right vehicle," said Marquez.

Santa Clara County staff are recommending that the building be demolished, but the city of San Jose says "not so fast!"

"I think it's important because we are in a crisis. We need to look at what the developers are saying and get their take," said Johnny Khamis.

County officials said that the master plan for the area around the annex--near the Civic Center--does include plans for permanent low-income housing. The issue will be discussed at a Board of Supervisors meeting on August 28th.

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