It wasn't long after the city of Mountain View announced its intent to convert a hotel into homeless housing that the petitions started circulating.
One garnering 432 signatures called for an immediate halt to the proposal, rallying together "concerned homeowners" and local businesses worried about an increase in crime. The other, now up to 650 signatures, gave a full-throated endorsement to the city's proposal amid a local surge in homelessness.
The dueling petitions are both led by neighbors of the Crestview Hotel, a 67-room hotel along El Camino Real, straddling the city of Sunnyvale. The owner of the hotel offered in October to sell the property for use as a transitional housing project for the homeless, unstably housed and recently displaced. The idea won unanimous support from the City Council last month.
Though virtually no details exist about the proposal -- the council's vote was largely a first step -- the news has since created a rift in the community. Numerous letters to the council raised concerns of sinking property values, criminal activity and businesses fleeing the area, and warn of a half-baked plan that lacks the needed details and outreach.
With opposition swelling, nearby resident Dori Myer launched her own petition in support of moving forward with homeless housing. She argues that there is no evidence to link supportive housing to reduced property values, and that it would be in a prime location to serve those who rely on public transit. She added that the project is feet away from the city's border, and that Sunnyvale residents should push to have their voices heard.
On the other side of town, city officials are already in the process of building transitional housing for homeless families and seniors. The key difference is that the project is in an industrial area of town, neighboring auto repair shops rather than condos and apartments.
Efforts to build a homeless shelter in Sunnyvale near Central Expressway fizzled in 2015 after intense opposition from residents in a nearby single-family residential neighborhood, forcing county housing officials to instead look north toward an industrial site sandwiched between two highways.
But putting a homeless shelter near existing residents doesn't have to be a nonstarter. In 2017, Santa Clara County proposed putting a cold-weather shelter in downtown Mountain View in the heart of Old Mountain View, right next door to single-family homes. After widespread community outreach championed by county Supervisor Joe Simitian, the shelter was approved with no opposition at a public hearing that lasted only seven minutes.
Simitian told the Voice he does not know whether he plans to lead a similar effort with the Crestview Hotel, noting that there has yet to be a solid proposal. He said it's unusual that so many people have lined up in support and in opposition to an idea with no concrete details, and worries that people are already too entrenched to keep an open mind.
"I think the fact that people are already choosing sides is an unfortunate indicator of just how polarizing it can be," Simitian said. "Before you can be for or against something, you have to know what it is. And I think we're a long way from that."
Tentatively, Mountain View is seeking to have Santa Clara County buy the Crestview Hotel property, while the city would foot the bill for $3.7 million in renovations. The plan is to house those who are homeless or who are at risk of being homeless as well as tenants recently displaced from their homes. There are still no concrete plans for how to vet future tenants.
If the plans do proceed, Simitian said they would require strong community engagement and answer all of the questions and concerns of nearby residents.
"It's absolutely something that the community should expect," Simitian said. "It's also essential to delivering the best possible project -- if you choose to go forward."