1976-2009: Same Problem

In 1976, San Jose city leaders emerged from a retreat at the Asilomar Conference Center and declared that their number-one priority was to fix the jobs and housing imbalance in San Jose.  Since then San Jose has provided the most affordable housing in the state of California, and tens of thousands of market-rate dwellings; however, San Jose has not shared in the job growth. So while other cities have a “jobs surplus,” San Jose still has a “jobs deficit.” 

San Jose has grown faster then planned.  For example, in 1970, our population was 459,000, growing to 629,000 in 1980 and then 894,000 in 1990, with up to almost a million in 2009.

The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) numbers would have San Jose grow by another 471,000 residents by the year 2040. I serve on the General Plan 2040 Task Force, which has met once a month for more than a year, and will conclude in June 2011. The Task Force is charged with deciding how San Jose will grow by 2040.

This jobs-housing imbalance is one of the reasons San Jose has difficulties in paying for neighborhood services. The tax base for housing is lower in comparison to commercial and industrial uses. Commercial and industrial land produces more revenue and demands fewer city services. Housing produces less revenue and demands more city services, like libraries, parks, code enforcement and the list goes on.

There are vocal paid housing activists that believe San Jose has not done enough for housing. These folks would like to see every parcel paved over and housing put in its place. They don’t seem to care if land is zoned for commercial and retail uses; in their point of view, San Jose should just change the zoning and allow more housing instead of industry.

I do not believe San Jose should be the housing hub for the state of California.  I support putting housing where the land is zoned for housing, however, I do not support allowing ABAG to have free reign over San Jose. We could build housing on every last parcel, but our housing would still be more expensive then other parts of the country because of our great climate. Start-up companies continue to grow in more expensive housing areas like San Francisco, Menlo Park, Palo Alto, Redwood City and Mountain View. So to say high housing costs deter new business is an odd statement. San Jose is the patron saint of building both affordable and market rate housing in the state of California.

The 2040 Task Force will be moving forward soon with an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), which will take about one year to complete, regarding different scenarios. The scenarios range from 179,000 new housing units to 105,000. As for jobs it ranges from 181,000 to 479,000 which is a BIG “what if” scenario.

You see, the city of San Jose does not make jobs; jobs are created by the private sector.  What San Jose can do is provide great services that make San Jose attractive to start and grow a business.  Personally, I advocate leaving more land for job expansion and less for housing.

“If” we get more jobs then expected (this hasn’t happened in the history of San Jose, but there is a first for everything) we can quickly rezone land to accommodate more housing.  However, you cannot rezone housing back to industrial unless you’re in China.

My ultimate preference is a staged “gate” approach, where we approve an overall total of housing but it is dependent on job growth. So, for example, for every 10,000 units of housing that is entitled, we then wait for 15,000 jobs. Then, and only then, do we move forward with more housing. Otherwise, San Jose will be destined to follow its historical past of providing all the housing and none of the jobs, and get little revenue to pay for city services.

Prior to 2040, we will be able to leverage new areas for housing with high- speed rail so San Jose can be a job center. From Fresno to Downtown San Jose will be one hour with high speed rail.

If you would like to do some reading then take a peek at the General Plan website. The next General Plan Task Force meeting is Monday March 9th at 6:30pm at City Hall.



  1. The fundamental problem is the “Smart Growth” strategy employed by the planning department and the city council.  A better approach is known as “Wise Growth” and starts at the neighborhood level, not at the citywide level.


    Until we get this planning down to the neighborhood level, we may as well face the fact that the city is simply approving the slums of 2015 and 2020, never mind 2040.

  2. We should seek stimulus money to repair sprawl with smart urban design. Jobs should be located at the center of the valley with transit spokes reaching out to the suburbs. New federal administration has shown great interest in proper planning of our cities, so proposals would not fall on deaf ears. This is a vague approach and somewhat of a pipe dream, but it has to start somewhere. We don’t need more office park and ten-lane boulevards in Sunnyvale with cheap McMansions in Edenvale.

  3. Pier,

    Given the sorry state of affairs in terms of local finances, I can offer one suggestion only: invoke Mello-Roos action such that the financial impact of new housing will be ameliorated.  Municipalities in the Central Valley have been doing it for years.

  4. The fastest growing sectors in terms of job growth are low paying service sector jobs, not the white collar startups. Low paid workers need more affordable housing regardless of which dead-end low paying job(s) they try to squeeze american dreams out of.

    I don’t think someone making less than $30,000 per year and trying to make it in the South Bay would say “San Jose is the patron saint of building both affordable and market rate housing in the state of California.” I think that is a function of Mr. Oliverio’s affluence. People looking at between $1200 and $1500 for a 1-bedroom making less than $12.00 per hour, even with another comparable income housemate would be paying 40% of their income in rent.

    People follow jobs, so by zoning for more business space, more people will follow. Is the current mix of jobs-to-housing acceptable, so that a “no-new-housing-without-new-jobs” policy makes sense for the community? I don’t think so. Building high density green housing instead of single-family homes will prevent sprawl and meet the needs of the people who already live here, as well as those who flock to the service-sector jobs that are being created.

  5. Are we absolutely certain that our problem is a “jobs deficit?” Perhaps it’s something more fundamental. And perhaps we are not in a unique position.

    According to last week’s Business Week article on Vallejo (Vallejo: Portrait of a Broke Town), “Vallejo isn’t alone: Plunging receipts have made it difficult for some 92% of U.S. cities to pay for basic services such as utilities, infrastructure, and public safety, according to a survey by the National League of Cities (NLC).”

  6. Pat, it is very true that we’ve lagged far behind other cities in Santa Clara Valley in terms of jobs as related to housing.

    Nonetheless, our politicians will cry too little money simply because they spend every dime of revenue and more each year.

  7. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    #1 Dale
    Nice website.

    #2 Nam Turk
    You would have enjoyed the neighborhood general plan meeting where residents could put legos on a map showing how they wanted the city to grow.

    #3 Greg,
    We have done this prior in Evergreen:



    #4 Downtowner
    I agree with you that San Jose should not grow by sprawl.

    #5 Pat
    Yes however our neighboring cities have the same business/service model as we do but are able to pay the tab since they have less housing then San Jose.

    #7 Phil
    Thanks. I must thank David Fadness for the oral history and the VEP Community Association newsletter from 1977

    #8 Michelle
    Thanks. I cannot speak for them.

  8. #1, I liked the website and it’s messages.

    I am interested in understanding more about one component: Parking, where it says “Smart Growth deliberately plans for inadequate parking as a way to push residents into public transit whereas Wise Growth supports full parking facilities for residents and guests.”

    Can you say more about the above statement please? Specifically, how are people encouraged/incentived or whatever to get out of their cars and use public transit (where feasible) when more accommodations for cars are planned and built? It seems counterintuitive. Please know my question is not to challenge, but to seek understanding and engage in productive dialog.

    Thank you,


  9. Pier,

    I have attended several neighborhood meetings and have been very vocal against more housing in SJ. However, the SJ Planning Dept just seems hell bent on cramming more housing in my neighborhood and rezoning business parcels into residential-Fiesta Lanes, Lou’s Village, Meyer Appliance. Who’s signing off on the building permits?
    I agree, SJ needs more jobs, but unless you can change the mindset at Planning, and stop influential real estate developers from grabbing up our land, SJ will become LA.(I believe SJ passed the 1 mil mark already.)
    So far, I haven’t heard of any neighborhood organization that has been able to stop a housing development in SJ. I applaud your effort, but I’m not optimistic.

  10. Pier,

    Thanks for the info on Mello-Roos in Evergreen.  Seems like the way to go in the future if we want to ensure funding for residential infrastructure.  I guess my question is why did we do this just once???

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