Plans to convert a Mountain View hotel into housing for the homeless and unstably housed were met Tuesday with heavy skepticism and concerns from nearby residents, several of whom suggested the project would present a danger in the community.
Multiple residents demanded to know what will be done to keep the children safe at a nearby elementary school. Others asked if drug users, those with mental illnesses and even pedophiles would be allowed to live on the property, and wondered whether the converted hotel would have a special security or police presence.
Housing officials with Mountain View and Santa Clara County fielded the tough questions at a March 30 virtual meeting, the first outreach meeting for the proposal. But many of the questions -- like who, specifically, would be allowed to live there -- simply had no good answers. The conversion plans are still in their infancy, and most details are still in flux.
In January, the city announced that the owner of Crestview Hotel is seeking to sell the property and work with the city to convert it into housing for the unhoused. Doing so would follow a statewide $600 million effort to turn hotels and motels into rooms for homeless and unstably housed residents and families.
The state's so-called Homekey program is out of cash, however, so city officials are looking to Santa Clara County to help pay for the acquisition of the 67-room hotel at 901 E. El Camino Real, near the Sunnyvale border. The cost of buying the property has yet to be determined, but the City Council agreed to earmark $3.7 million to renovate and rehabilitate the property.
The decision drew both widespread support and opposition, including two online petitions -- one for the project and one against -- that each garnered hundreds of digital signatures. Some called it badly needed housing for the least fortunate, while others claimed it would worsen property values and pose safety concerns.
Though city staff suggested in January that the hotel be used for housing homeless people and those recently displaced from their homes, the language has changed over time. In the lead-up to the March 30 meeting, city officials described the proposal as a way to house "low-income or unstably housed individuals or families."
When asked about safety, Eloiza Murillo-Garcia, program manager for the county's Office of Supportive Housing, urged attendees to remember that this would be an affordable housing project and not a homeless shelter. Affordable housing projects typically do not have around-the-clock security guards like homeless shelters.
"The residents living at the Crestview apartments will have a lease," Murillo-Garcia said. "There will be property management on site to maintain the property and to ensure the safety of the residents within the property."
One resident asked if drug users would be allowed to live on the property or be allowed to smoke marijuana, and whether drug tests will be administered as part of the housing proposal. Consuelo Hernandez, acting director for the county's office of supportive housing, said there will be due diligence in screening tenants, but it won't include a hard-nosed approach involving drug or sobriety tests. If anything, there would be a policy focused on addiction treatment and critical services to manage the problem.
"There is no drug testing that happens in the same way that any one of us renting an apartment doesn't expect our landlord to test us for alcohol or drug use," she said.
Another resident asked if neighbors will be allowed to interview and background check those who apply to live at the converted hotel. Hernandez said they can not, and that applications are vetted and approved by the property manager.
Some attendees at the meeting struck a positive note, giving props to city and county officials for moving the hotel conversion proposal forward. One said turning the hotel into housing is "needed" in the community.
Renovations and other improvements to the property would take between three and six months, compared to the yearslong construction cycle of other affordable housing projects in the city, said Wayne Chen, Mountain View's assistant community development director. It's also considered prime real estate, making it a rare opportunity for the city.
"We feel that this location is really prime because it is near transit and it is near existing services and amenities along El Camino Real."
But hotel rooms aren't exactly ideal for permanent residential use, particularly for larger families that need more space than a standard suite. Chen said larger units could be accommodated by tearing down walls and combining suites, and it's possible that each unit could have kitchens. Crestview previously had individual kitchenettes for the rooms that were removed by the hotel owner, but it appears the plumbing is still there to bring them back.
A hodgepodge of questions about who will live at the Crestview Hotel, and whether it will include a preference for Mountain View residents or those who are living in vehicles, were simply deferred. City and county staff said those details have yet to be determined, and that the community meeting is being held long before anything is set in stone.
"We are not trying to be evasive," Hernandez said, responding to comments from the public. "We are early on in the process."
If all goes according to plan, the county will acquire the hotel property over the course of six months and work with the city to pick a developer for the hotel conversion. The hope is to have residents move in sometime between 18 and 24 months. Anyone interested in updates on the project can go to mountainview.gov/Crestview.