BY BRADEN CARTWRIGHT
Daily Post Staff Writer
Palo Alto City Council voted tonight (Sept. 27) to pursue funding for a $37 million homeless shelter with 88 rooms.
The shelter would be built on the parking lot of the former Los Altos Treatment Plant at the east end of San Antonio Road in partnership with LifeMoves, a nonprofit whose intention is to help the homeless find permanent homes. LifeMoves runs the city’s other homeless shelter at 33 Encina Way between Town & Country Village and the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.
The city will apply for a $14 million grant that would cover most construction costs. County and donor funds would cover most operations, and the city will have to promise about $7 million, with the hope that donations would cover the expense.
The price tag comes from building two stories, hiring 33 full-time equivalent workers and operating for five years, said Paul Simpson, the chief financial officer for LifeMoves.
Aubrey Merriman, the chief executive officer for LifeMoves, said the city would not have to foot a seven-figure bill though, because donations would come through.
“Our commitment is ensuring (it’s) not something that falls on the lap of the city of Palo Alto,” he said.
If the state grants the money, the city would be required to operate the shelter for five years and restrict the land from any other use for 15 years.
The city leases the potential shelter site to construction companies to stage their equipment for about $115,000 a year. Kiely Nose, the city’s chief financial officer, said the property could bring in as much as $500,000 if the city wanted to maximize its revenue there with a different lease, and potentially much more if the site were developed.
‘Emergency shelter crisis’
The council also declared an “emergency shelter crisis” for one year. The declaration lets the city to avoid analyzing the environmental impacts of leasing the property to LifeMoves. Any other homeless shelter project the city undertakes would also be fast-tracked.
Councilman Greg Tanaka pressed LifeMoves on how the shelter would impact the count of homeless people in Palo Alto.
The city had 276 homeless people in 2017 and 313 homeless people in 2019, the most recent year where they were counted.
Brian Greenberg, the vice president of programs and services for LifeMoves, said there would be a visible impact on University Avenue, California Avenue and the San Francisquito Creek soon after the shelter open. But specific numbers, and whether they would go up or now, would be impossible to know, and the homeless population is growing every year, he said.
Tanaka also asked for more information about how the funding gap would be resolved.
“We are being asked to approve a bunch of things tonight without actually knowing how much it costs and, especially given our financial situation, it makes me kind of worried,” he said.
City Council was encouraged to act fast: The application window opens on Oct. 1 and closes on Jan. 31, and grants are awarded on a first come, first service basis.
“This has been quite a sprint to put together,” City Manager Ed Shikada said.
Councilman Greer Stone wanted to see the project expand to three stories and 132 rooms, but only Councilwoman Alison Cormack sided with him. Lydia Kou said the project is in the Baylands, where the city’s Comprehensive Plan calls for “low and horizontal buildings.”