San Jose city officials rejected plans to build affordable housing for teachers on a private parcel in Willow Glen because it would use up valuable land zoned for jobs
Sarah Chaffin, a Los Gatos mortgage adviser, asked to build up to 16 units of low-income housing for teachers on her own plot off of Lincoln Avenue using her own money with no public subsidies. Her proposal garnered support from teachers and housing advocates, who spoke at Tuesday’s City Council meeting about how the region’s affordability crisis is forcing educators to shack up with roommates or decamp to the Central Valley.
But the council denied Chaffin’s application in an 8-3 vote. Council members who came out against the proposal said they worried that approving her project would set a risky precedent and prompt other developers to ask for similar rezoning.
Kim Walesh, the city’s economic development chief, said only 15 percent of San Jose’s land is pegged for employment use. Of that, only 2 percent is zoned commercial, which provides most of the tax revenue that funds public safety and core city services.
“We have very few commercial corridors for a city our size,” Walesh said during a presentation on Tuesday.
Unlike other cities in Silicon Valley, San Jose has more housing than jobs. State law—specifically Proposition 13, which limits tax hikes on properties unless they’re sold—pressures cities to prioritize commercial development, which rakes in sales tax revenue.
Mayor Sam Liccardo urged colleagues to “hold the line.” San Jose has one of the most thinly staffed city halls of any major city in the nation, he said, calling it a direct result of the jobs shortage.
“What I would suggest is, if you’re going to make decisions to convert employment lands, that it would be a reasonable decision,” he said from the dais. “But let’s not make it for 14 units. If we’re going to do it, let’s do it for 114 units … Let’s do it in a principled way.”
The city gets about seven to 12 cents of each property tax dollar, Liccardo said. And that revenue falls short of covering the added cost of city services that new housing requires. Meanwhile, he added, the city expects to see tens of millions of dollars in budget deficits in the coming few years.
“When you find yourselves in a hole, you have to stop digging,” the mayor said.
Council members Raul Peralez, Sergio Jimenez and Tam Nguyen voted against the motion to deny Chaffin’s housing project.
A memo from Councilman Don Rocha to green light the project as long as it includes a commercial element failed in a 6-4 vote with Councilwoman Sylvia Arenas abstaining.