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:
- The city plans to spend $1 million on a contract with the Health Trust and Destination: Home to help homeless people find jobs and housing.
- 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.
- The San Jose Police Department got a state grant totaling close to $300,000 to fund community outreach and crime prevention.
WHAT: City Council meets
WHEN: 1:30pm Tuesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260