Taking Aim at Blight, San Jose City Council Considers Creation of Empty Storefront Registry

San Jose officials may create a vacant storefront registry to spur property owners to clean up or lease out blighted buildings in downtown. The City Council on Tuesday will discuss the proposal, which would assess a quarterly fee to landlords whose storefronts remain empty for at least a month.

Downtown Manager Blage Zelalich noted in a memo that empty storefronts stifle neighborhood vitality and hurt surrounding businesses, which is why many other cities throughout the country have a program to monitor them.

“Vacant or neglected buildings can lead to neighborhood decline and discourage economic development,” Zelalich wrote. “The presence of vacant storefronts severely degrades the public’s perception of an area, stifles neighborhood growth and vitality and creates an uninviting atmosphere. While ground floor vacancies are inevitable in the normal lifecycle of a commercial district, we can minimize the negative impact of these vacancies on the surrounding environment.”

San Jose’s vacant building monitoring program focuses on neglected and abandoned properties, but not storefronts specifically. Under the current rules, building owners don’t have to enroll in any kind of registry when their property becomes vacant.

To make the proposed registry manageable for city staff, Zelalich suggested focusing it on downtown, from Julian Street and I-280 (from north to south) and Highway 87 to I-280 (west to east).

San Jose’s code enforcement division would manage the program, which would charge property owners $202 every three months a building remains empty. Code enforcement would inspect the property on a quarterly basis to make sure the landlord keeps the building well lit and free from graffiti and weeds.

If a property owner violates the ordinance, the city would bump up the cost to $606 for monthly inspections in addition to fines. To revert back to the lower rate, landlords have to make it through six consecutive violation-free months. There would be an appeals process for building owners who want to challenge a fine.

To withdraw from the registry, property owners would have to show the city documentary proof that they leased, sold or started construction on the space.

Meanwhile, the city will offer a number of initiatives to encourage property owners to activate their buildings in downtown. Economic development staff will promote the idea of turning empty storefronts into temporary art galleries or pop-up shops, like the ones that occupy the former Ross department store in downtown. The city will also list available spaces online at www.sjeconomy.com with the landlord’s contact information.

While the pilot program will focus on downtown, the hope is to eventually expand it citywide. Councilman Raul Peralez, who initially proposed the idea two years ago, said the goal is to clean up commercial corridors and to incentivize property owners to explore creative temporary uses.

“We acknowledge that the market may occasionally not be in the favor of property owners and the need to wait for a suitable tenant is warranted,” Peralez wrote in a memo co-signed by Vice Mayor Magdalena Carrasco and Councilman Chappie Jones. “However, what we will not tolerate is the negligence of a minority of storefront property owners, many absentee, who allow their properties to be consumed by blight, creating harmful effects on the community. The staff recommendations clearly make the distinction as to who would qualify for this expansion of the city’s pre-existing vacant building program.”

More from the San Jose City Council agenda for November 7, 2017:

  • The city needs to strengthen oversight of its retirement plans, according a new audit up for review by the council. Both the $2.2 billion federated and $3.4 billion police and fire pension plans performed well below their peers in recent years, City Auditor Sharon Erickson found. In addition, the Retirement Services division lacks a well-defined budget, per the audit, and should improve its communication with the city’s elected officials. Because of the growing burden of unfunded pension liabilities ($4 billion as of June 30), Erickson suggested that the city schedule a joint annual study session between the council and the retirement services department.

WHAT: City Council meets
WHEN: 1:30pm Tuesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260

Jennifer Wadsworth is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper. Email tips to [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

15 Comments

  1. If the city council wants to bring business back to downtown, it needs to rip out every parking meter and putting up free parking garages. I will not visit businesses in a parking meter zone period ! And I won’t use your choo choo train either !

    • short story here.

      Gary Singh wrote about Punjab Cafe. Now I love me some good indian buffet. Parked my truck, put 2 quarters in the meter (1/2 hour) and walked in.

      Was less than A MINUTE late coming back to my truck, which was basically 2 storefronts down from Punjab Cafe. $40 ticket. Never again.

    • Yup. Palo Alto, Campbell, Santa Clara, Mt. View, Willow Glen, etc. credit their downtown economic vitality to free parking. Inexcusable that the new “smart” parking meters won’t accept merchant parking validations or refund credit card charges.

      Interesting that Scott Knies and the SJDA http://sjdowntown.com has been strangely silent. His recent speech pins downtown’s future on Google. See http://sjdowntown.com/wp_2016/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/State-of-the-Downtown-10-13-17-web.pdf

      While rainbows and unicorns are nice distractions, they don’t address fundamental issues.

  2. Mixed feelings – sort of like watching your mother-in-law drive off a cliff in your new car.

    Good intentions – find ways to make DNT more attractive and economically robust. But…penalizing property owners if they don’t keep the lights on and use the space for something arty seems like dangerously close to violating property rights. Better ideas: remove the vagrants that sleep in building entryways – counted 6 camped on the porch of the building next to the 3rd St Unitarian Church last night.

    No offer from SJ to pay for illumination, cleanup or other incentives. Raul Peralez mimics Venezuelan president Maduro’s thinking.

    I would be tempted to use the “art space” to display “Shop, Dine & Thrive in Santa Clara” or similar sentiments.

    • Pageone,
      That attitude really work well in downtown Detroit a few years back, now it’s a people’s utopia. Chicago is such a nice place these days too!

  3. Downtown is drab, insipid and boring. What is there that would induce people, shoppers to come to downtown and patronize a store they couldn’t find in a cleaner, safer suburban mall? Are there any unique landmarks or structures that give the area a sense of urban class or style? Bums using public streets/sidewalks as outdoor bathrooms does not evoke a feeling of urban chic. The “Capitol” of Silicon Valley is broke and worse it is bankrupt of any good planning, ideas or thinking.
    This is the council’s idea for fixing a crappy mess created by a city management style – penalize the building owners? Those people pissing/sleeping/defecating in doorways are not customers – they are the result of something wrong. Why not come up with a catchy phrase or slogan to fix everything – – how about declaring the entire downtown an urban village? that would fix it right up.

    • There are far more bums sleeping, urinating, defecating, and panhandling in SF than in SJ, yet people flock to SF anyway. The problem with SJ is its lack of effective leadership, and the people who keep re-electing the ineffectives.

      • > The problem with SJ is its lack of effective leadership, and the people who keep re-electing the ineffectives.

        Among the games progressives like to play is one I call “opposite-ism”. Whatever reality is, they will try to prove that it is the exact opposite of what you think it is.

        If you’re a kind hearted, meek Christian who lives by the Golden Rule, they will declare you a “mean-spirited racist”, and a “bitter clinger” to boot.

        Calling out Sam Liccardo for “lack of effective leadership” is just asking for a big dose of oppositeness to be smashed in your face.

        I expect that Sam’s campaign posters for the next election will feature the slogan “EFFECTIVE LEADERSHIP” in flashing neon letters.

  4. The city needs more revenue to throw at homeless abatement programs that have been proven not to work.

  5. JMC, Correction – Homeless Encouragement Programs.

    I was startled to see a large professionally crafted green and white sign today on the NW side of St. James Park listing various homeless resources. Nice graphics too. Meals, shelter, etc. are all detailed.

    Meanwhile others avoid the park and play lot’s needles plus mentally ill, high, or drunk denizens.

  6. The final solution,
    Convert all those empty businesses into tiny apartments for homeless, mentally missing, and undocumented democrats. You can send Chief Eddy out to collect the rent and pay off the owners. If we are lucky the whole downtown won’t burn down like Oakland, and it will be just like Detroit before long a little people utopia.

  7. Why is it that us mere morsels living down town for the last 10 years have been shouting and writing about the most basic of ides to vitalize down town most of which has fallen on deaf ears, for the last couple of years the City has been send councilors and city workers all over the world to see how other vibrant city’s are built and work. Alas as soon as they return the same old speel “O we are California that want work over her” and I should know I’ve been on those trips!!. Its time to sack Kim Walesh the Director of economic development at the city she has been there at least 5 years and nothing has changed.
    It takes leadership from the top I like Sam Liccardo but he needs to be braver and more focused, will the new St James’s park ever be built after all the effort went in to the design competition I fear not.

    • > It takes leadership from the top I like Sam Liccardo but he needs to be braver and more focused,. . .

      Ian:

      I suspect Sam Liccardo is listening.

      I expect that his campaign slogan for his reelection will be:

      “BRAVE, FOCUSED, EFFECTIVE LEADERSHIP!”

      Opposite-ism.

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