On Aug. 2, joined by my daughter, I spoke at the Santa Clara County LAFCO public hearing in support of LAFCO’s staff recommendation to deny an application to expand the city limits in order to build more single-family homes.
What has Gilroy been doing over the last 150 years and since 1963 when LAFCO was formed? We built out our city well beyond the currently available density around our downtown and transit corridors to allow only single-family homes, and now 75% of our land is zoned for single-family homes. We zoned our city where our own children can’t afford to buy a $1 million single-family home and have spaces to rent. We are decades behind in our housing production because of past constraints, lack of programs, policies and funding.
In the last 150 years we have built 56 farmworker housing units and 39 supportive housing units. This may have worked in the past, but now that these homes are out of reach for most families, we need to course correct and continue to create a diversified housing stock to meet the needs of our residents. Data from our Housing Element shows 21% of households are considered extremely low-income, making less than 30% of AMI. Thirty-eight percent of our population is 24 years old or younger and they live, play, go to school, and work in Gilroy.
Our current Draft Housing Element (Gilroy’s Eight-Year Housing Plan) that was approved by the Gilroy Planning Commission and Gilroy City Council will create programs to build missing middle housing (this translates to rental opportunities, duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes). This is in addition to staff’s efforts in developing an inclusionary housing ordinance requiring a percentage of affordable homes in each development. I commend Gilroy staff for making corrections and strengthening programs, while implementing them into our future work plan since our first Draft Housing Element was released last year.
We have 40 opportunity sites identified in our housing element that were approved by our Planning Commission and City Council, where we will build multi-family units. We have the current capacity to build over the next eight years, with more sites that were not listed in the site’s inventory, and the Wren Investors project is not listed in the housing element.
We are working on breaking down barriers and not adding to them, making it impossible for us to maintain our streets, and collect enough property taxes on single-family homes to fund basic public services and infrastructure. Having a Community Facilities District Fee added to the Wren Investors project property taxes because the city can’t afford to maintain them, will only further push out the natural affordability of these units.
Gilroy Fire Department’s average response times are well above the standards that the city has adopted. LAFCO’s Countywide Fire Service shows we have an average response time of 10 minutes and 54 seconds. It’s high because of staffing shortages and our three primary stations leapfrog calls across the city to cover portions of the city that we don’t have coverage for. That leaves gaps in coverage with extended response times because they are out of position. The temporary two-person fire unit often gets browned out of service to save money because we have to mandatory all ranks to fill our vacancies.
On July 15, the Gilroy Fire Department battled another multi-alarm fire that took all the resources of the department (nine firefighters covering three stations, plus thankfully the Santa Teresa Unit was in service and added an additional two firefighters) and South Santa Clara County Fire Department. That left the city with a gap of coverage for any Fire/EMS calls for service until San Jose Fire Department and Santa Clara County Fire units could provide city coverage. During the initial attack emergency traffic was called out for a “firefighter down” due to extreme heat exhaustion (the outside temperature in Gilroy was 97 degrees).
It took us decades to reach this imbalance of single-family to multi-family and it’s going to take us decades to balance that out, for the needs of our next generation, my daughter’s generation, the 38% of Gilroy’s population that is 24 years and younger. What we’ve promised our residents and State Housing & Community Development is that we will focus on maximizing our current land in Gilroy that’s not focused on expanding the city limits to build more single-family homes.
Zach Hilton is a Gilroy City Councilmember.