LGARC’s Guide to the General Plan
(And Why You Should Support It!)
Rob Moore, Dec. 6, 2021
For the Los Gatos Anti-Racism Coalition (LGARC), we feel that access to affordable housing is deeply connected to our mission of anti-racism. If this connection is not yet clear that is completely understood; we plan on publishing additional articles on this topic. Suffice to say, our country and our community have a long history of racial housing discrimination, and affordable housing helps to rectify that troubling past.
Why LGARC Supports the Draft General Plan
The Draft 2040 General Plan, while imperfect, is a strong guiding document that will help move our community in the right direction. For this reason, the LGARC supports the Draft 2040 General Plan.
The General Plan has a few really important elements, but perhaps the most important is the Land Use Element. We feel that the Land Use Element does three really key things.
First, it allows for a substantial number of affordable units to be built. It does this both through creating more designated low-income housing, and through encouraging the development of more dense, naturally affordable housing like duplexes and fourplexes. Both sides of this equation are integral. Housing developers can only afford to build so many deed-restricted, below-market rate units, so we must also build more affordable units that will be prime for renting or young families entering the real estate market.
The Land Use Element also takes a creative approach to where Los Gatos should be building housing. The plan does this through Community Place Districts, which are regions of town that have been designated as especially good candidates for development of different kinds. These are areas of town that may allow for mixed-use or medium density development and are great spots to build larger shares of affordable housing in Town.
Last, the Land Use Element helps make our Town more walkable and improves our transportation infrastructure. The Land Use Element creates the potential for Los Gatos to build out a more usable public transportation infrastructure than currently exists. This portion of the plan also takes measures to make Los Gatos more bike-friendly. A more walkable, bikeable town allows our children to more safely walk to school while we as adults lower our carbon footprint and get access to all of the community-centric benefits of a more connected town.
There are also other Elements of the General Plan we find to be important. This includes the Racial, Social, and Environmental Justice Element which pushes for more diversity and equity in town, and also discusses the importance of affordability. There is the Mobility Element which will reduce Vehicle Miles Traveled and encourage building more connected, more complete streets. And there is also the Environment and Sustainability Element which takes important steps for Los Gatos to do it’s part to address climate change and encourage plant-based eating.
For all of these reasons and more, the Los Gatos Anti-Racism Coalition is strongly in favor of the Draft 2040 General Plan.
Understanding the Controversy Behind the General Plan
There is a lot of controversy surrounding the Draft 2040 General Plan. So far, the letters and public comments provided to the Town of Los Gatos indicate two main reasons for opposition.
The first is opposition to the General Plan’s explicit emphasis on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). Opposition to this comes in the form of relatively unorganized and bigoted individuals who believe that acknowledging DEI will lead to some prophesized communist purge. Even though they make up a substantial proportion of public comments, we aren’t concerned with the town not passing the General Plan due to opposition to DEI. Nobody in the town government takes this opposition seriously.
The second reason for opposition is the General Plan’s Land Use Element. The majority of the opposition to the 2040 General Plan revolves around a single figure: 3,738 new housing units will be planned for development in the next 20 years (a technically incorrect figure, but we’ll revisit that). It is difficult to understate the degree of disdain people have for this number.
Why the disdain? First, residents feel betrayed that the town didn’t fight its responsibilities under the state government. Los Gatos is obligated to develop roughly 2,000 units of housing under the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) in California. Some other areas have decided to challenge this number, or “appeal.” However, due to community pressure (LGARC), the Town of Los Gatos decided not to submit an appeal. It decided to accept its share of the responsibility. Some residents feel betrayed that our town didn’t bother submitting an appeal. On the other hand, we are pleasantly surprised, considering Los Gatos’ history as a NIMBY stronghold. We fully support this decision.
Second, the Town of Los Gatos plans for almost double the units than what is required under the RHNA. In other words, the opposition claims that the Town of Los Gatos plans to develop 3,738 units, overshooting the RHNA obligation of around 2,000 units. This claim is incorrect.
975 of these units are actually not planned under the General Plan, 500 of them being ADUs and 475 of them already planned from the previous General Plan. This leaves 2,763 units.
Now, here’s why these 2,763 units shouldn’t be a concern. These units are planned and are not guaranteed to be developed by any means. For instance, our current General Plan planned for 900 housing units in 20 years, only about 300 of which have actually been developed. If anything, overshooting our RHNA is probably for the best, since we will realistically build only a fraction of the units we plan.
Another important point is that our RHNA is on an 8 year timeline while our General Plan is 20 years— more than twice the time. After this RHNA cycle is finished, we will be assigned another RHNA number where the “leftover” units in our General Plan will be relevant. So this fear of overdevelopment has been overblown to epic proportions.
We’ll write another article in the future about the misconceptions regarding housing development in Los Gatos regarding water/energy infrastructure, traffic, and small-town feel. But for now, Kylie Clark’s article on misconceptions on affordable housing is a good place to start.
The Story of Brian Oden
After a long day of work, Brian had begun his drive home. It was dark. As he moved toward the freeway onramp, he proceeded as usual— the light turned green. But as he moved past the light, he heard a noise. It happened so fast and didn’t make an impact that jarred his car. The next thing he realized was that he was in the middle of the freeway and pulled over. On the side of the freeway he realized his car was damaged pretty badly and felt immediate danger from incoming traffic. This moment is when a thought entered his mind: what if he had just hit a person? But could hitting a person be that quiet? He doesn’t know what hitting a person sounds like. He hyperventilated in his car, panicked and scared. He arrived home and called his police, while notifying his family — half an hour after the incident including driving time. He soon found afterward that he grazed a person on the side of his vehicle.
According to Brian, he wasn’t sure how the man likely crossed the street without seeing the oncoming traffic. And in the black of night, Brian couldn’t see him and depended on the traffic lights instead. I can imagine myself in every step of Brian’s encounter. The confusion. The panic. The hesitation to call the police. Almost anyone who drives can imagine being in this nightmare scenario. But few can imagine themselves being charged with a felony and thrown into prison for what amounts to a traffic accident. To make matters worse, Brian has Crohn’s disease. In an overflowing prison system with strained medical resources and a COVID-19 outbreak, Brian can literally die if he goes to jail.
The legal proceedings against Brian began shortly after the accident with the victim wanting to press charges. Brian’s family lives on the brink of homelessness. He works long hours in multiple gig jobs to provide for his elderly and sick parents and helps to care for his brother’s children. While behind bars, he cannot provide for them. And right now, he cannot afford a private attorney. So, he had to depend on a public defender.
On paper, the role of a public defender is a noble one. They provide free legal defense to those who cannot afford it. But while some public defenders are skilled, they are often overworked, underpaid, unspecialized, and variable in their quality. There is an element of chance in being provided a good one who has the time, energy, and skill to advocate for their clients.
The system initially gave Brian a decent public defender. Brian’s attorney spent time understanding the details of Brian’s case and strategizing with him. But with the pandemic and new casework, Brian’s lawyer got reassigned and the system provided a substitute. With a looming court date, his new lawyer scheduled a meeting with him. Because this was his first time speaking with her, Brian believed this meeting would just be an introductory one to discuss details of his case. But the meeting was more like an ambush.
Without any prior conversation with him, his new lawyer had negotiated a plea deal. Instead of receiving 5 years in prison and 2 felonies for reckless driving and hit-and-run, he would receive 45 days in prison and the reckless driving felony instead. Brian rejected the deal. But she was stubborn. She continually pressured him for two hours, tunnel visioned on this outcome. Repeatedly, Brian rejected the deal. He believed that he could convince a jury that he was conforming to traffic laws to lessen his sentence. But she was relentless— she wasn’t taking no for an answer. To Brian, it seemed like she wanted to get this case done and over with— another task crossed out on her to-do list. And with some precise combination of pressure, anxiety, and guilt, Brian folded. He accepted the plea. And with that task crossed off her list, the system had decided to label Brian a violent criminal and throw him behind bars.
The facts of the case hadn’t even been determined yet, including where the victim was struck, how fast Brian was going, whether the crosswalk signal was given, and a slew of other details that matter. Brian’s plea deal parallels the experience of countless BIPOC and poorer folk in America. Trials are often messy and expensive. For many public defenders, it is more convenient to convince their clients to accept their criminal status than it is to actually fight for them.
A couple of members of LGARC called Matt Braker, the Deputy DA of Santa Clara. He claimed that there’s really not much more to be discussed because Brian already took the plea. To them, further information about the incident itself does not matter. Brian will be sentenced 45 days in prison with a felony on his record because he pleaded guilty; it’s simply too late… except when it isn’t.
Former San Jose City Council candidate Jennifer Higgins drove under the influence of benzodiazepine and fatally struck a 66-year-old pedestrian with her SUV. She pleaded no contest to felony vehicular manslaughter. But a judge later reduced this to a misdemeanor, which leaves her record after two years of good behavior. Along with this, she was given a relatively light punishment of 6 months in prison. But she never ended up serving her jail time at all. Instead she was under house arrest, permitted to leave her home only for necessary activities like work or medical appointments. She actually found partying in LA last month in October. In summary, the system was empathetic and lenient in her case.
The difference with Brian is that he is not a wealthy real estate agent nor does he have the same strings to pull within the community. The criminal justice system is far more empathetic and generous to people like Higgins because it is capable of empathizing with her. However, it will process people like Brian through a spreadsheet and spit him out in jail. Brian should not be regarded as a violent criminal. He does not have a prior criminal record. He is a valued member of our community here in Los Gatos, well-known to the residents and businesses here. He is known as a sincere, generous, and hard working man. He’s a kind person who encourages adults and youth alike to express who they are and to look out for each other.
So what do we do? We share this information. We try to spread it as wide and far as possible. Share this article on your account. The criminal justice system depends on the ignorance and silence of the public to regard people like Brian as violent criminals. The more noise we make, the harder it will be for them to finalize his sentence.
Sign this petition to demonstrate your support for Brian.
Share this. We got until the 29th of the month. Let’s make some noise.
Affordable Housing: Myths and Realities
Kylie Clark, West Valley Community Services Blog
Nov. 15, 2021
Talking about affordable housing in the Bay Area can be tricky, leading to heated conversations and often times, hurt feelings. But we need to talk about affordable housing, because the more we do, we begin to realize that many of our concerns are not founded in the realities of affordable housing, but on myths that have circulated for decades.
Los Gatos' Jeff Suzuki Leads Curriculum Reform In Home Town
Gideon Rubin, Patch Staff
Jun. 1, 2021
The ex-Fisher Middle School academic standout helped start the Los Gatos Anti-Racism Coalition, and the group has emerged as a force.
Local Leaders Work to Turn the Tide on Anti-Asian Hate Crimes
California News Times
Apr. 16, 2021
As someone who grew up immersed in Chinese culture and someone who loves dogs, it stung to read on social media in early January that “a young man was beaten, told to go back to China, called a communist and dog eater” during a protest in Los Gatos.
BLM Rally Inspires Los Gatos Grassroots Movement
Gideon Rubin, Patch Staff
Jul. 20, 2020
The Anti-Racism Coalition aims to address systemic racism and serve as a forum to discuss social justice issues and mobilize for action.