There’s no denying the stigma that surrounds affordable housing projects, even in seemingly progressive areas like Silicon Valley. Just the word “projects” conjures visions of bland concrete structures, cookie cutter buildings built to pack low-income people in like sardines. This image is one of the drivers of NIMBYism for sure.

But take a look at Second Street Studios on Keyes Street, just on the edge of downtown San Jose. The five-story, 135-unit affordable housing building just won the American Institute of Architects Silicon Valley Design Award for its architect, Rob Wellington Quigley. It has a colorful, quirky design that would catch the eye of many apartment-shopping millennials.

The building was developed by San Jose-based First Community Housing, which brought Palo Alto-based RWQ on to design the complex, which provides housing and support services to the formerly homeless. Quigley said the award was the culmination of a 12-year journey that illustrated the resilience and creativity needed to produce affordable housing. “The end result is a project that supports a community, helping to lift the marginalized into a stable home,” he said.

Jurors said they were impressed by the LEED Platinum-certified project’s efficiency and affordability, as well as its features like the public facing exterior and public space for residents. It includes a micro-farm on site and drought-tolerant landscaping, and residents are provided with free transit passes.

Of course, having a good-looking building doesn’t solve the homeless problem or the difficulties people who were formerly homeless face. But it’s a step in the right direction in helping people overcome their fears about bringing these supportive projects and their residents into their neighborhoods.

“We believe that excellent design provides for healthy thriving communities who can take pride in where they live and provide benefits for health and the life cycle of our communities that far outweigh the costs,”  and First Communities Housing Executive Director Geoffrey Morgan.

And that’s worth even more than a design award.

STEPPING UP: Republic Urban Properties is a regular sponsor of the Catholic Charities Bocce Ball Tournament — an event that raises $150,000 annually for the nonprofit’s battle against poverty. Republic’s West Coast President Michael Van Every was chair of the event last year. This year, as we all know, is much different, and the bocce tournament was called off because of COVID-19.

So Republic stepped in to sponsor six drive-through food distribution sites for Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County throughout the month.

“I recognized the hole that was left from this important fundraiser,” Van Every said. “It’s easy to write a check to charities and say, ‘Do what you want with it.’ My thought was not only to fund the sites but also educate our previous bocce ball sponsors and help them understand the needs of our community members who depend on this food week in and week out.”

Those sponsors include LPMD Architects, Swenson, HMH, Largo Concrete, Bozzuto Insurance Services, Voler Strategic Advisors, and Blach Construction. Republic’s funding will help Catholic Charities serve about 3,000 households a week at the six sites, and Van Every says he encourages other companies to follow Republic’s example.

IT’S NOT JUST SILICON VALLEY: We always talk about the big agriculture-to-tech shift that transformed the Valley of the Heart’s Delight to Silicon Valley like a switch that was flipped. But agriculture sure hasn’t gone away, as shown by this year’s crop report from Santa Clara County. Ag production was valued at $305 million, up 3.1% from 2018.

In a statement that would have made John Steinbeck proud, Santa Clara County Supervisor Mike Wasserman, whose district includes the more rural South County areas, said the report tells the tale of farming in our county. “It is the story of our farmers and ranchers drawing on their experience, their history and their faith in the earth, the weather and the markets to align for them to provide food, crops and jobs year after year,” he said, most likely while holding a mound of soil before him in his hands.

The report itself is pretty interesting. Did you know we have 775 registered beehives? Or that only 143 acres of apricots remain in the county, compared to more than 18,000 acres in 1940 (according to a typewritten report that is still available)?

Other factoids: Nursery crops — the ornamental trees and shrubs we put in our yards, plus Christmas trees — bring in the most money at $81 million. Other top crops include mushrooms, lettuce, bell peppers, tomatoes and wine grapes. Urban agriculture — the catchall term for including 35 community gardens and 51 other non-rural sites ranging from a quarter-acre to 11 acres — continues its rise. Those locations, from Veggielution in San Jose to the rooftop garden at Levi’s Stadium, produced more than 5,000 pounds of food, about a third of which was donated to the hungry, and provided educational experiences for youth and adults alike.

THE BOOZE NEWS: There’s something good brewing, er, distilling at San Jose’s 10th Street Distillery, which has bottled its first blended product, California Coast Whiskey. The blend marries the distillery’s STR and Distiller’s Cut single malts with two pot-still distilled light whiskies sourced from the old Seagram’s plant in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. “We wanted this whisky to be a representation of what California means to us, as well as have a certain style that is new to the 10th Street lineup,” said 10th street owner and distiller Virag Saksena.

And raise a glass to Clandestine Brewing of San Jose, which won a gold medal last month at the Great American Beer Festival in the German-style Doppelbock category with its Agent Provocateur. It’s not currently on the brewery’s tap list for to-go orders, but I look forward to its stealthy return and will enjoy the Great Pumpkin Porter in the meantime.


By Richard Moran

Richard Moran loves to write about sports with the Golden State Online. Before that, he worked as a senior writer at ESPN. Richard grew up in San Diego and graduated from the University of San Diego in 2004, after which he worked as an editor for five years.

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