San Jose Leaders Aim to Convert Old City Hall Into Homeless Facility

City Council committee votes unanimously to fast track the county approval process, but county leader not on board

San Jose city leaders on Wednesday took a step toward converting the old City Hall building into Santa Clara County’s newest homeless facility, but not everyone is convinced it's a viable move.

The City Council's Rules Committee voted unanimously to begin proceedings to fast track the usual red tape that the county would normally have to wade through. The only problem was the county's top executive is not on board.

Wednesday's decision seemed to only escalate the debate over whether the old City Hall annex should become a homeless facility. Santa Clara County Executive Jeff Smith says he thinks it’s a bad idea, and he went inside the building to try to prove it.

"Hopefully it doesn’t fall apart while we’re inside," Smith said before touring the vacant building.

Smith did not hide his contempt for the idea of converting the old City Hall building and isn’t impressed with proposals that call for a major overhaul, even if it’s funded with private money.

During the tour, Smith showed NBC Bay Area the mechanical room, where the water filler for the building's water supply, which uses Freon, a technology that was out of date 20-25 years ago, he said.

He also pointed to the dated elevators that aren't up to code or ADA requirements, he said.

"It’s not designed as a residential building at all," Smith said. "It’s got big open spaces, vermin, pests, water damage."

Mayor Sam Liccardo, however, is not deterred by naysayers since much of the funding obligation and pressure is on donors.

"I think there’s a way to figure that out, which is put the risk on those who want to try," Liccardo said.

Homeless advocate Shaunn Cartwright said the city has been at a "crisis point" for some time with unhoused people.

"We need to think outside the box. We can’t keep telling people to wait," Cartwright said.

The county Board of Supervisors will vote Sept. 25 on whether to demolish the building, and Smith says he hopes at that time the board will get some direction on building a more appropriate homeless facility.

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