Inaugural San Jose Power Poll Shows Opposition to Increasing Housing Density

The San Jose Power Poll: A new type of civic dialogue

Starting this month, San Jose Inside is publishing the results of the San Jose Power Poll. This is not a public opinion poll, but an ongoing discussion with almost a thousand people from a wide range of viewpoints. Power Poll asks non-ideological questions about pressing issues to help advance informed dialogue about the City of San Jose.

Our panelists come from government, business, law, nonprofits, the arts, activism, and other sectors. Together, they help shape San Jose’s civic dialogue. So often in contemporary society, the loudest or shrillest voices prevail. At a time that too many journalists and politicians strive to break us into warring tribes, we’ll use this exercise to explore where we agree. Very few of the issues confronting society are truly binary, yes or no, up or down. But journalists often make them so. Never in our lifetime has that been more true than today. Countering that trend is one of our goals at San Jose Power Poll.

As we select the topics and shape the questions that members of our panel receive, we will strive to represent all viewpoints, and allow each of our participants to convey the nuanced and multihued opinions they undoubtedly possess. The San Jose Power Poll is part of a nationwide collection of 26 city-level surveys.You can review our polls and panelists here. 

The September San Jose Power Poll

Approximately two out of three respondents to the inaugural San Jose Power Poll oppose a city proposal to permit the construction of denser housing in neighborhoods now limited to single-family homes.

Yet panelists don’t oppose all housing construction. Almost as many respondents support a competing proposal to loosen housing development rules in 68 urban San Jose neighborhoods by pre-approving project locations, design guidelines, community and environmental mitigations, and other ways to reduce housing-approval timelines from years to weeks.

Respondents were roughly split on the question of whether the city should require developers to help alleviate problems such as homelessness and housing affordability in exchange for the right to develop.

Perhaps the most interesting result of our first-ever poll was the support of almost half of our respondents for Mayor Sam Liccardo’s thought-provoking suggestion that Bay Area governments study the feasibility of keeping rising tides from entering the Golden Gate, as a way to combat sea-level rise.

Here are the specific questions and responses to the September poll:

Question 1

Ninety-four percent of all residential land in San Jose is restricted to single-family homes. The city council will soon consider a proposal to permit denser housing in such neighborhoods. This so-called Opportunity Housing plan would permit the construction of duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes and accessory dwelling units in such neighborhoods. What are your thoughts about the city’s proposal?

New housing should be limited to neighborhoods well-served by transit — 53.3%

We need all the housing we can get; the Bay Area has a dire shortage — 31.7%

San Jose is big enough. We should not encourage more growth — 11.7%

The proposal doesn’t go far enough. We need even more housing density — 3.3%

No opinion/don’t care — 0%

Question 2

As part of his proposed alternative to that plan, Councilmember Matt Mahan suggests changing housing development rules in 68 urban neighborhoods across San Jose. He proposes that the city “pre-approve” project locations, design guidelines, community and environmental mitigations, and other elements to reduce housing-approval timelines from years to weeks. What are your thoughts about that?

That’s a great idea. Bureaucracy is partly to blame for this crisis — 62.1%

Not so fast. Every development should be calmly reviewed and critiqued — 36.2%

No opinion/don’t care — 1.7%

Question 3

Bay Area housing prices have soared in recent decades as job creation has vastly outpaced housing construction. Should the city require developers to help alleviate problems such as homelessness and housing affordability in exchange for the right to develop?

Yes. Office developers need to help pay for the problems they create — 42.4%

No. Let the market dictate when and where housing gets constructed — 47.5%

Yes, but no new offices should be built until housing catches up — 6.8%

No opinion/don’t care — 3.4%

Question 4

During a recent discussion about safeguarding the Bay Area from sea-level rise, Mayor Sam Liccardo pointed out the undeniable futility of counting on every regional government to independently solve the problem along its shores. He suggested a simple but radical solution — studying a way to keep rising tides from entering the Golden Gate.

It works in the Netherlands. Without a regional solution, we’re doomed — 47.5%

Dam the Golden Gate? Surely the good mayor is joking — 17%

We should just let the sea reclaim low-lying lands like Alviso — 15.3%

Why are we worrying about something we haven’t yet seen? — 11.9%

No opinion/don’t care — 8.5%

Question 5

Please provide any additional thoughts about housing construction or sea-level rise.

Analysis of the Housing Issue

Housing development has continually failed to keep pace with job growth across the Bay Area as the regional economy has boomed. Consequently, as evidenced by the high number of people who commented in our survey, housing and office construction now evoke strong passions for residents of the nation’s most expensive region.

The poll showed robust support for Mahan’s proposal to streamline the housing approval process. “San Jose charges too much in fees, especially for affordable housing,” wrote one theoretically knowledgeable panelist. Another went further: “Build as much as possible and lower all fees. We need job growth to continue and we need way more homes.”

But most respondents were not prepared to go that far, sharing Mahan’s concern about quality of life issues likely to be exacerbated by a citywide housing-construction spree. “Allowing multi-family buildings in our R1 neighborhoods would destroy the serenity and sense of community, which San Jose has always been known for,” said one panelist. Or as succinctly put by another voter: “Leave the single-family zones alone!”

Several commenters touched on issues not directly addressed by our survey. “Opportunity Housing might bring in more housing but, for me, what is more important is ending exclusionary zoning in historically redlined areas, which has resulted in segregation throughout the city,” wrote one panelist.

Another response critiqued the efficacy of Santa Clara County’s Measure A Affordable Housing Bond. “Get rid of Measure A projects,” the panelist wrote. “They are too expensive and full of political pork. Build tiny homes instead.”

Parking also arose, as in any discussion of housing construction. “If additional growth such as duplexes and four-plexes is permitted, there needs to be a STRICT policy on off-street parking,” one voter said. “Garages and driveways need to be constructed to accommodate the additional vehicles in each household (average 2 but often more) or there will be a crisis.”

A few respondents faulted our survey’s linkage of housing affordability and homelessness. “The homeless crisis is not a result of a lack of affordable housing in most cases,” one panelist wrote. “That narrative is misleading and false. Mental health, drug use, and a breakdown in law enforcement are more to blame.”

Still another questioned whether requiring commercial developers to help pay for affordable housing would actually improve homelessness. “The vast majority of our current homeless will not be employed within the new commercial space nor be able to afford the associated builds by developers,” this voter wrote. “This type of agreement simply brings more people to the city, and creates greater congestion and concentration of the population.”

However, several voters supported the notion of requiring developers to help solve the problems that accompany their projects. “While developers should be required to assist with affordability and homelessness, what is exactly required depends on the size and scope of the project and feasibility,” wrote one. “More attention to ‘middle income’ housing is in order, to allow folks with a decent wage to live in our community.”

Still another didn’t trust City Hall to spend such money appropriately: “Funds raised by developer fees to help pay for affordable housing and homelessness must be deposited into restricted accounts specific to those purposes. Not the General Fund.”

And one panelist questioned Mahan’s motives. “Matt Mahan is wrong about density,” this voter commented. “He should be wanting to govern for the city, not a select few wealthy neighborhoods. Something to consider, as this poll definitely feels like a ‘Should I run for Mayor’ exercise.”

Analysis of the Mayor’s Sea-Level Proposal

Regarding the mayor’s trial balloon about studying a Bay Area-wide solution to the looming issue of sea-level rise, a surprising, at least to my mind, 47.5 percent of respondents supported such a study. “On climate, I'm mostly agreeing with a regional approach being necessary and studying the idea—and all ideas,” one panelist wrote. When the very same question was posed to voters last week in the simultaneous Oakland Power Poll, fully 73 percent of voters there supported the mayor’s idea.

Of course, some favored a more natural approach: “We need to invest in protecting and restoring the bay shoreline, avoiding development in areas that are predicted to be impacted by sea-level rise and groundwater rise.”

Still others viewed the mayor’s take as folly: “Careful on damming the Golden Gate; may seem too radical and take away from other ideas.” Quipped another voter: “The Sea Level rise issue is a joke to me. If the Obamas are buying on the seashore, they don’t seem to be worried about it either.” And one panelist connected the dots between housing and sea-level rise. “Homeless should be a priority for the good mayor, not worrying about issues that may be 50 years in the future.”

Surprisingly, more than 15 percent of San Jose voters are willing to let the sea overtake Alviso — vamoose, Vahls; so long, Zanker Recycling. Interestingly, no voters in Oakland are yet willing to surrender an inch of ‘The Town’ to the ocean.

Analysis of Comments about Power Poll

And what would an interactive community poll be without feedback about the quality of the survey itself? Most of our commenters took our exercise seriously enough. “Great poll,” wrote one. “Thanks.”

However, others expressed a desire to see more comprehensive treatment of the issues in comments that ranged from earnest to snarky. “You need more answer options. … This is a great idea but won’t capture real answers with the limited choices.” Plus: “The response selections in this survey are poorly drafted and don't span the range of opinions held on these questions.” And: “The supplied answers are simplistic and in some cases just plain stupid. Most of these questions require a better choice of answers … Shame on whoever put this together. It does not represent the intelligence level of my Eastside neighborhood.”

Such critiques point out the obvious limitations of our intentionally succinct poll format and are thus a fitting place to end our inaugural survey. Pick an issue worthy of scrutiny and we can all agree that it can’t really be boiled down to a handful of multiple-choice questions. So that’s where we will rely upon the thoughtful comments of participants to advance each discussion beyond the limits of our brief survey.

Think of each poll as just the start of a conversation.

San Jose Power Poll is not a scientific poll. Rather, we ask questions of influential people from a wide range of viewpoints to help advance informed dialogue about the city. Power Poll is studiously non-partisan.

12 Comments

  1. Forced Denser single-family zoned neighborhoods is an unwarranted governmental ‘taking’ of a property’s values without fair and adequate compensation to the entire affected neighborhood.
    This policy would cause the diminution of all property values for what-Housing for more people?

    Why didn’t the ‘power poll’ ask the question;
    “Do you support a sewer hook-up moratorium?”

    Why didn’t the ‘power poll’ ask the question;
    Where is our potable water to support unbridled population growth?

    Why didn’t the ‘power poll’ ask the question;
    Recall Newsom with extreme prejudice?

    The ‘power poll’ is as disingenuous as the authors and the city council members who support it.

    Non-property owners will vote to drive property owners out of single-family zoned neighborhoods.

    New cities in California need to be created and not the wholesale destruction of the Bay area.

    David S. Wall

  2. How many people on this panel are renters? Eyeballing, looks like they’re mostly homeowners. No one should pay attention to this biased group of homeowners saying they want to keep yucky tenants out of their neighborhoods.

  3. Rubbish, balderdash, poppycock. This “poll” is good for one thing only: measuring the level of stupidity and detachment from any interest in fact-based analysis of the respondents.

    This is a warm and fuzzy push-poll.

    It does make one other interesting subliminal point: Sam could actually get elected to higher office riding some ridiculous wave of climate hysteria coupled with his very weak attempt to channel Elon. Between the forelock tuggers, thumb suckers, and voters who mis-mark their ballots, Sam might be electable.😱 Of course, that was actually the purpose of the article. 😎 Did Sam the Sham finance this poll?💰😂

  4. The first question of the poll is based on inaccurate information and makes the entire poll invalid. “Ninety-four percent of all residential land in San Jose is restricted to single-family homes.” The city has not done a reconciliation of the General Plan with what has been actually built or what exists on the ground and is baseless. No one at the city knows what percentage of San Jose is accurately allocated to single-family homes until they do the work. This number continues to be published as fact in San Jose Spotlight and now in this publication. Do some fact checking! This is extremely misleading both to the readers and those answering poll questions with inaccurate data. Where did you get this information, reference your source for the data!

    Question 3 is also baseless, we all know that San Jose has a jobs to housing imbalance, we have way more housing than jobs and have already done the heavy lifting. Everyone knows San Jose needs more business development, more jobs and more business taxes. San Jose has become a bedroom community for the jobs rich areas north of San Jose. San Jose needs more business taxes, right now the city is over dependent on residents for tax revenues to operate the city.

    San Jose Inside is on the outside and should cease polling and publishing this immediately. It’s nonscientific. Take it down. The questions are too misleading, appears too political, based on inaccurate information.

  5. Ooooh, look at all the hostility expressed by residents here at SJI.

    Face it, the poll was conducted for members of a club you are not part of.

    Polls generally reflect whatever those who paid for said poll to show.

  6. Useless drivel from a useless “publication”. And you can’t even line your birdcage with it.

  7. >Several commenters touched on issues not directly addressed by our survey. “Opportunity Housing might bring in more housing but, for me, what is more important is ending exclusionary zoning in historically redlined areas, which has resulted in segregation throughout the city,” wrote one panelist.

    Is this not directly related to question 1? Opposition to exclusionary housing is directly related to an attempt by homeowners to protect the benefits they received as a result of redlining.

    Redlining, driven by whites sometimes expressing explicit racism and sometimes citing concerns around neighborhood character and “sense of community” similar to those expressed here by opponents of exclusionary housing, made it easier for whites than non-whites to become suburban homeowners. Home ownership brought economic prosperity to these new white suburban communities, and that prosperity translated into well-funded school districts and high property values that helped afford even greater opportunities to the next generation of suburbanites.

    This is what many people refer to when they talk about “systemic racism” in America – even after redlining was prohibited, the damage was already done. Being granted the economic benefits of home ownership only made it easier for some, and being pushed into the ghettoes only made it harder for others.

    The assertion by Matt Mahan that the community’s housing needs can be best met by maintaining exclusionary zoning in single-family neighborhoods and putting the responsibility of bearing the city’s housing on “urban neighborhoods” perpetuates this legacy of segregation and inequality. It perpetuates a way of life many homeowners want – they want a certain degree of economic status among their neighbors, among the other students their child goes to school with. The problem is that the sense of entitlement felt toward this way of life means that many of these suburbanites both refuse to acknowledge its racist origins and the social inequality they force onto future generations by perpetuating it with policies such as exclusionary zoning.

    Concerns about traffic and transit are disingenuous. The suburbs of Santa Clara County are not choked with traffic, and sprinkling duplexes/triplexes/fourplexes around is not going to change that. If this is the sort of “quality of life” concern Mahan is worried about, I think he should better acquaint himself with the consequences of our housing crisis – maybe try commuting from Hollister for a month, like several of the SJ workers I know who work full-time salaried jobs and still can’t afford to live here.

  8. The way you asked these questions is problematic — sounded like a group of anti-media/anti-elected/anti-development home owners who try to defend existing home values.

  9. The land that is zoned for denser development immediately becomes more valuable. The state legislature has recently passed SB9 which allows 4 units per parcel anyway. If San Jose duplicates this it just increases the effect of making the land in SFH areas rise in value. All existing homes will rise as a result. Homeowners will benefit financially from this change, but it won’t equalize housing. The bottom line is simply that people with more income can spend more on housing. The housing in SFH areas that is in fourplexes will still cost more than that in apartments. How is that equal?

  10. Matt Mahan just sent an email crowing about the results of this poll, as though a collection of opinions among a small group of people should mean something to his constituents. Was your intent with this “poll” to give him PR tools? How does this help anyone?

    It’s pretty gross. But I am finding some dark amusement in the line he included in his email, “As usual, the collective wisdom of the crowd is right.” I don’t think the term “crowd” actually applies to the results of this halfhearted quasi-survey at all. But it’s a heck of a statement to make regardless, absolutely astounding in how deeply incorrect it is. My husband has ancestors who perished in the Holocaust; there are few things less terrifying than a crowd that is convinced it’s right.

  11. PART I: Usual Suspects; Repeat Offenders

    There are 951 panelists/members in the San Jose Power Poll branch (https://www.powerpoll.com/sanjose/members). Search queries for the following titles generated the following frequencies: President (including Vice President), 299; Chief, 231; CEO, 173; Executive, 161; Director, 107; Founder, 58; Chairman, 42; Manager, 39; Owner, 22; Partner, 21; CFO, 18; COO, 13; VP, 11; Professor, 6. There are a number of members whose titles include more than one of the above designations (e.g. Founder and CEO; Executive Director, etc.)

    The vast bulk of members are private sector actors who own, command or manage substantial economic resources including land, real property, businesses and business assets, and financial resources, as well as those who provide legal and accounting advisory to those actors. In addition, the list includes about 20 City employees including about a dozen current or former City Council members, about 15 County employees including 5 Supervisors, some judges, district attorneys officials and Board of Education officials and several others in official public capacities such as police and fire departments. Very few are academics, fewer still activists (in any meaningful sense of the word) and only 5 are associated with a labor union (SEIU Local 521).

    Anyone who reviews the list cannot but note that Power Poll members a drawn mainly from the very highest echelons of the propertied and moneyed classes in our county and combined with a hefty slice of the professional managerial class. It would not be a stretch to say that a super-majority of these members are perched in the Valley’s top income and wealth percentiles and in neighborhoods that are at least 150 feet above sea level. It’s enough to make your eyes pop and your nose bleed.

    They may have wildly different views on which private school to which to send their children, on the best mid-winter vacation spots, on which Michelin-rated restaurant to go to for dinner or who serves the best Sunday brunch. But we should definitely not expect this group to a have “a wide range of viewpoints” on “pressing issues”–as the Power Poll organizers assert. If by pressing issues we mean the most consequential issues–i.e. those that impinge directly on economic and financial matters.

    On the contrary, we should expect these elites’ opinions to be highly correlated with the positions of the principal real estate, business, corporate and financial lobbying organizations such as the the San Jose Downtown Association, San Jose Chamber of Commerce (formerly the Silicon Valley Organization), the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and Joint Venture Silicon Valley. Likewise, their opinions will be “aligned” with the many non-profits that they fund and which propagate their neoliberal outlook on private sector hegemony.

    Those organizations–and the organized interests of which they are an expression–are all about fostering capital accumulation in the context of elite rule above all else. That entails keeping a lid on working people and their struggles for livable wages, safe working conditions, social equity, collective representation by unions, affordable housing, universal and affordable health care, well-resourced public education, public health and environmental protection and convenient public transport. We should expect the members and their representatives to continue to dominate the social order through local, regional, state and national governments in the service of their wealth accumulation, not by “loud” or “shrill” speech but by the everyday, quiet, casual behind-closed-doors exercise of power via lobbyists and machers (https://sanjosespotlight.com/what-are-lobbyists-doing-at-san-jose-city-hall-thats-a-good-question/; https://sanjosespotlight.com/behind-closed-doors-these-are-san-joses-top-10-lobbyists/; https://sanjosespotlight.com/powerful-developers-lobbyist-helped-hire-san-jose-planning-director/; https://sanjosespotlight.com/the-podlight-how-carl-guardino-helped-bloom-energy-skirt-a-natural-gas-ban/).

    In short, these are the usual suspects and repeat offenders who are organized, as they have always been, into their own “warring tribe,” a tribe that sees itself as having irreconcilable cultural and material conflicts with the un-propertied and multi-racial working-class. This cabal is not shy about engaging in the confrontations, skirmishes and battles that are part of the one-sided class war necessary to maintain their dominance in the social order.

  12. PART II: Pathologies of the Rich and Famous

    Contrary to the prevailing wisdom and “common sense” consensus, human beings are actually physically wired to act in altruistic ways. As it turns out, giving–even when it burdens the giver–is built into the evolved architecture of the human brain and deeply embedded in human nature (https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/103/42/15623.full.pdf). This evolutionary result was necessary for a species engaged in hunting, gathering, foraging and confronting threats and risks in bands and groups over hundreds of millennia and across sometimes harsh geographies. With the advent of settled agricultural communities in the most recent ten millennia and the emergence of relatively well-off and relatively poor strata or classes, there emerged outlooks and behaviors that run counter to the instinctual, innate and hard-wired human sentiments and behaviors associated with altruism and solidarity.

    Researchers at UC Davis in 2015 sought to study the nature of altruism among preschool-aged children from middle and upper-middle income families. After being given tokens by researchers, 74 children were told about fictitious sick children who needed tokens to get well. As the children donated tokens to help, their physiological responses (vagal tone and flexibility) were measured. The more generous the child, the higher the vagal tone that produces elevated feelings of safety and calm. Such responses are associated with better physical health, behavior and social skills among young children. Children from wealthier families donated fewer tokens than children from less well-off families suggesting that altruism–even among children as young as four–may be limited by learned behaviors, particularly the increased self-focus and decreased social sensitivity observed among wealthier people (https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/kids-altruism-linked-with-better-physiological-regulation-less-family-wealth.html; https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797615578476).

    Significant research over the past two decades has also found that the poor, because they are more dependent on others, are both more attentive to other people’s needs and give greater shares of what they have for charity than do the wealthy. Wealth tends to insulate and isolate the wealthy from others, making them less empathetic and less considerate of other’s travails and feelings, especially those of the poor. Furthermore, the poor give to those close to home, suffering from similar problems, while the wealthy give mainly to cultural institutions frequented by wealthy people like themselves (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hidden-motives/201008/why-are-the-poor-more-generous; https://healthland.time.com/2010/11/24/the-rich-are-different-more-money-less-empathy/#ixzz2pM2m29N3; https://qz.com/816188/science-shows-the-richer-you-get-the-less-you-pay-attention-to-other-people/; https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_poor_give_more; https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-wealth-reduces-compassion/). A series of studies about 10 years ago showed upper-class individuals behave more unethically relative to lower-class individuals, including the breaking of driving laws, lying in negotiations, cheating in order to win, stealing from others and unethical decision-making and behavior at work (https://www.pnas.org/content/109/11/4086; https://www.businessinsider.com/rich-unethical-people-2014-12).

    Given the above, what does it mean to gather a presumably random group of nearly 1,000 mainly wealthy, upper-class County residents–i.e. the Power Poll panelists–to ask them their opinions about public policies of extreme importance to the welfare of 2 million other County residents? It’s like asking the fox guarding the chickens what he might have for dinner. Or asking owners of their own homes in neighborhoods consisting exclusively of single-family housing whether or not to allow multi-unit structures to be built in their neighborhoods to house renters? Wealthy narcissists, classists and sociopaths overwhelmingly agree that affordable housing for the non-wealthy is just one bridge too far. After all, they’ve got theirs and that’s the important thing. We should likewise expect selfish and anti-social perspectives regarding the proper role of the public sector and the use of public resources across any number of activities.

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