Editorial: Growing within is better choice for Milpitas than reaching out to hillsides

The five-year review of the Housing Element of the Milpitas Master Plan, a requirement of the state planning laws, is underway. The city’s principal housing planner, Felix Reliford, trotted out a draft for the city council last month. It now goes to the state which puts in its 2 cents and then comes back for further scrutiny from the Milpitas Planning Commission before an expected city council OK some time in the fall. Like many of the complex mandates from the state, this one works its way in agonizingly slow bureaucratic twists and turns.

Part of the state’s input is a requirement that every city must bear its proportionate share of expected growth in its housing stock, which is supposed to adequately supply the various kinds of homes and apartments to take care of those of moderate income along with the wealthy. Milpitas has kept its part of this compact that the plan certified by the state in 2002 called for.

According to Reliford, the community is already well on the road toward identifying where an estimated 2,487 units will be built. The surge of projects in the Midtown corridor stretching from the GreatMall back toward the new library on North Main Street is one of the major providers to meet the plan.

Making a plan and then seeing the fulfillment in actual condos and homes might turn out to be two different things. The city can’t guarantee when the economy will turn sufficiently to encourage resumption of these huge projects.

Market conditions, in other words getting financing and then securing the buyers, both seem a bit problematic right now.

The raising of housing plans also hits the hot button of those who would like to see the hillsides blossom with more luxury housing. A recurring idea that has hovered over Milpitas City Hall, ever since there was one back in 1955, is that hillside luxury homes will attract chief executive officers who will then bring in their companies. The mantra, alas, has very little evidence to back it up.

Mr. Reliford argues that there will be luxury offerings on top of high-rise apartments and condos if and when they get built.

Meanwhile a recent study completed by the Greenbelt Alliance suggests there is plenty of room to satisfy the growth demands without extending out the already urbanized areas. The report is called “Grow Smart Bay Area” and it points out logically that better lifestyles can come about with neighborhoods that are within walking distance of schools, shopping and public transportation. At the same time there is much greater awareness of the wider national goals to reduce sprawl, gain energy independence (drive less), reduce the costlier extensions of city services, and conserve rather than expand utility infrastructure saving water and power.

In the final analysis, the recession may provide a pause in new growth that allows Milpitas and other Bay Area cities to really evaluate the numbers which aggressive growth-oriented statewide forces have imposed through this allocation of housing units concept. Maybe, in league with other communities, the constant pressure for more growth all the time can be reconsidered. Smart growth isn’t really just about building bigger and denser stacks of condos in one (soon to be blighted) part of town.

Unfortunately, Milpitas seems to be headed that way unless some serious rethinking takes place.

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