San Jose May Revise Urban Village Policy to Advance Affordable Housing Projects

When San Jose revised its blueprint for future growth, the idea was to concentrate new development into urban villages—clusters of apartments and shops along walkable streets linked by public transit. But six years after adopting the plan, not a single urban village has been built.

The City Council on Tuesday will consider relaxing requirements that have stymied exactly the type of development prescribed by the General Plan 2040. In a memo signed by council members Dev Davis, Chappie Jones and Magdalena Carrasco, Mayor Sam Liccardo calls for a more streamlined approach.

“Urban villages have become a source of consternation in San Jose since the release of our General Plan,” Liccardo wrote. “Some residents have mistakenly imagined the term to invite a parade of bulldozers to their single-family neighborhoods. Developers, meanwhile, have worried the concept would invite a morass of unworkable bureaucratic process. To date, the developers’ fears appear to have been more accurate, as six years have passed since the introduction of the concept without the implementation of any urban village financing framework that would enable the realization of our ambitions for vibrant, mixed-use development.”

San Jose mapped out 70 sites for urban villages to promote infill over sprawl. The first two lie in Little Portugal and the Roosevelt Park neighborhood, close to future BART stations. Because the city has fewer jobs than employed residents, the General Plan prioritizes commercial and industrial development. But a requirement to build 75 percent of planned commercial capacity in each urban village has had the unintended consequence of preventing new housing construction.

City officials are looking to drop that requirement, among others, so that two affordable housing proposals could move forward. One of the projects would bring 71 apartment units and 11,400 square feet of commercial space to Alum Rock Avenue—the main corridor through Little Portugal. The second would build 80 units on North 21st Street in the Roosevelt Park community.

SPUR, a nonprofit that researches urban planning, has called the city’s urban village unnecessarily restrictive.

“Putting jobs first does not mean putting housing last,” Teresa Alvarado, SPUR’s San Jose director, wrote in a letter to the city last December. “Adding high quality housing in the right places is a critical part of the city’s economic development strategy. With the too-high requirements for jobs and construction of development set out in the plan, both commercial and mixed-use residential will be constrained.”

Another obstacle to urban village development, Liccardo says, is the confusing fee structure. The mayor wants city staff to come back to the council in May with a simplified financing plan for urban village amenities.

“[T]he city must avoid the temptation of building a long, winding, and uncertain road for developers seeking to invest in urban villages,” Liccardo wrote. “Mandating extensive economic or financial studies prior to setting fees in every urban village, for example, creates considerable uncertainty for any property owner that can deter the investment. It also appears to be a wholly speculative exercise, because even if we can accurately predict the economic returns of various forms of development in a specific geographic area, accurately assessing the share of the cost of a particular amenity to any project depends on assumptions about what other projects will get built within a reasonable time frame.”

More from the San Jose City Council agenda for April 11, 2017:

  • San Jose’s Office of Equality Assurance, which enforces the city’s wage policies, has been overwhelmed by an ever-expanding workload. A new audit suggests making things more efficient by automating wage calculations with software. Currently, city staff checks for compliance by manually reviewing payroll records for city-funded construction projects.

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 the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. Oh boy, here we go… Sam and his minions want to build yet more housing, specifically, “urban village” housing. Our benighted politicians seem not to remember that housing doesn’t pay – it costs more to support new housing than the taxes that such housing generates for the city. What we need is more commercial and industrial projects — they pay for themselves via sales and property taxes. Let some of the other cities and towns in the South Bay build more housing… they’re the laggards!

    • The minion is that incompetent joke of a planning director and Sam’s yes man, Harry Freitas. He used to oversee public works and was always asleep at the wheel. He is one of the reasons for coyote creek flooding. He was incompetent so they moved him to planning. What a joke.

  2. I just love the terms the gray class of government bureaucrats can come up with to tell a lie about what they really want to do at our expense.
    “Urban Sprawl” = “Suburban undertaxed single family homes with a yard”, “The American Dream”.
    “Urban Village”= “Built on the the under funded Light Rail tracks that nobody is using”
    “Affordable Housing”= Section 8 housing and a place to put the overflow of homeless, inhabiting easy town that private enterprise is supposed to get screwed into building at their expense”.
    “Mixed Use” anding Starbucks, 7-11 and a variety of “Stop and Robs” for the inhabitants to live off of.
    “High Quality Housing” some place government employees would live in during the week so they don’t have to commute in from Tracy every day”.
    “Accurately assessing the share of cost to any particular amenity”= Pass the cost to the taxpayer or other developers to keep the cost of our stupid ideas manageable”. There I have given you some “Definition” of General Plan 2040.

  3. We should absolutely not be spending $1 Million to find homeless housing and jobs. That is the job of charities and why donations to charities are tax deductible. Besides, the County just got $1 Billion for housing vets and homeless… Not only is the San Jose money wasteful, but is duplicitious.

  4. > that would enable the realization of our ambitions for vibrant, mixed-use development.”

    Don’t you people ever listen? I SPECIFICALLY banned the use of the word “vibrant”. It’s just empty do-gooder-speak for “it makes us feel really good about ourselves to spend somebody else’s money on this stupid idea”.

    If we eradicate the use of the word “vibrant” we delegitimize a bunch of stupid fuzzy-headed ill-justified do-gooder ideas at the same time.

    > SPUR, a nonprofit that researches urban planning, has called the city’s urban village unnecessarily restrictive.

    Who in the hell is “SPUR” anyway, but a bunch of gaseous, theorizing, social opinion mongers. Their opinions on urban planning matters are no more legitimate and no more valid the the opinions of your average hobo.

  5. When someone has a Cholesterol reading of over 200, and a bp of 200/100, you don’t tell them, “Eat more bacon and sweets!” Much like the arteries in our bodies, our freeways are a canary in a coal mine for how healthy our city planning and overall economy is. When it takes 2+ hours to drive from SJ to PA, it’s an allegory to clogged arteries. It’s only a matter of time before the city has a heart attack or stroke.

    Sadly the building consortium wants to keep feeding this city bacon.

    We could fix this, but not with “Urban Villages” that at best, only provide low end retail jobs. We can’t fix this by bulldozing the IBM cottle facility, and building a 4000 unit apartment complex. Rather, the site should have been developed into new office space. Same goes for the “Almaden Ranch” development in D9. Sadly, D9 will see this happen again at “Cambrian Village”

  6. The City has, in theory anyway, high ideals and pretty good plans to smartly guide San José’s growth and development. Unfortunately though, the interests of poor immigrants have taken priority with our pandering politicians and so those ideals and plans are routinely abandoned in a futile effort to solve the crisis du jour- the so called Affordable Housing Crisis.

    • > the interests of poor immigrants have taken priority with our pandering politicians , , ,

      “our pandering politicians” are trying to make “affordable (i.e. free) housing” a right.

      Question: If Santa Clara County ignores borders and offers free housing to all comers, how many free houses will Santa Clara County need to provide?

      Question 2: Should Santa Clara County make all public spaces (schools, parks, public buildings, parking lots, side walks, etc.) available for public housing?

      • 1. Santa Clara County does not ignore border and does not offer free housing to all comers, so I’m not sure answering your question is useful.

        2. No

  7. I think you trolls forget that the average workers (like me and everyone else in my machine shop) can’t afford $1.3M for a 2-bedroom house in this ’60s suburbia you still fantasize about. If San Jose doesn’t allow urban villages to be built, then eventually the only ones who can afford to live here are the ancient geezers like you who already own, or the Google execs. And none of us will drive in 2 hrs from Morgan Hill, so you’ll continue to kill the last vestiges of manufacturing here.

    Incidentally these developments don’t represent a net cost to taxpayers–look at a city budget. If you want to talk about sparing us taxpayers, go after all those gold-plated pension plans.

    • Are you suggesting that there is some sort of “manufacturing privilege” where manufacturers have the right to manufacture wherever they damn well please? And you can have your machine shop wherever you damn will please?

      Try having your machine shop in Newport Beach or Beverly Hills or Pacific Heights.

      If you can’t afford $16.5 Million for a house in Pacific Heights, don’t live in Pacific Heights. If you can’t afford $1.3 million for a house in San Jose, don’t live in San Jose.

      Somehow, we’ll find a way to manage without you or your machine shop,

    • Mr 1971,
      40 years ago I paid the outrageous price of $89,000 for my 1630 sq ft house at 11% interest the highest in the neighborhood. People said I was crazy as only a few years before those houses were going for $35,000. Then the market crashed and for 5 years my home was worth less than I payed for it and I was still paying 11+ % as it was a variable loan. I worked 60 to 80 hours a week, I could not afford new cars and I had ramen soup most nights and cold sandwiches for lunch. I did not date as I had no money to take women out. I took on a roommate to make ends meet. I never made as much money as trainy cops make working for the citys around here and I made about 1/3rd of what the skilled trades people working for those same cities paid. Today that cheap little house with no insulation in the walls and single pane windows goes for about a million bucks on the east side of San Jose but you can get a loan for literally no interest. The same millionaires that lived there 40 years ago are still there, they work in machine shops like I did some of them are cops that work for the city, city councilmen, nurses, and school teachers. A 5 bedroom 3100 sq ft house just sold down the street for 1.3 M Get some soup and some roommates.

    • Its bad enough that you have some kind of jealousy towards the educated, the wise, and the frugal. But to berate those who chose a pension over a large paycheck is just ridiculous. Show me those “gold-plated” pensions you are lamenting about. Some of the Firefighters and Police Officers are very well educated, and took the time and did the research to decide whether a six-figure income or a steady paycheck after retirement was more beneficial; and you have some deep-rooted hostility and distain for them. Well boo-hoo.
      Find a better paying job, or move. Most of them have.

      • could Jenn do a little research here. I understand that we have 4 former police captains that SJ pays out (collectively) a million bucks a year. Is that correct? also I recall many years ago a high ranking officer had to take early retirement due to disability (hearing loss from shooting his service weapon) he retired early w/ nice pension, moved to Santa Cruz and then assumed the PD captain position in Capitola while still drawing pension from SJ.

        a few years back the McNews reported on the highest compensated public officials in the bay area – one of which was a former board member of the water district – who pension health plan was so expensive because of his “children” – – – at the time his children were nearly 40 y/o.

        This is just like the old USSR – where party members are set for life – – – is that OK?

  8. A major reason that SJ has been in such a poor fiscal position is the jobs-housing imbalance. Too few tax generating businesses and too many tax using residents who work elsewhere. The solution of our Mayor and Council is to build more housing, which will further increase the imbalance. A little advice for the Mayor and Council—when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.

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