SJ Mulls Ways to Offset Cost of Upping Downtown Height Limits

As part of its quest to raise downtown building heights, the San Jose City Council will consider a unique funding proposal to make up for the potential financial cost to airlines.

Studies show that raising the height caps in downtown would require planes flying to and from the the Mineta San Jose International Airport to cut into revenue by reducing cargo and passenger loads to avoid flying into tall buildings. To make up for the potential loss, the San Jose Community and Economic Development Committee recommended creating a Community Air Support Service Fund. Under the proposal up for consideration at the Tuesday council meeting, airlines would submit claims to qualify for refunds should the new height rules impact the bottom line.

The offset fund garnered support from Mayor Sam Liccardo, Vice Mayor Chappie Jones and council members Magdalena Carrasco and Raul Peralez in addition to the local chamber of commerce known as the Silicon Valley Organization (SVO) and the San Jose Downtown Association.

“In San Jose, the city and the private sector have a history of working together to recruit and retain airlines at SJC,” reads a memo from San Jose Aviation Director John Aitken. “Steering Committee members, including the Silicon Valley Organization (SVO) and San Jose Downtown Association, believe the idea of an air service support fund should be explored and could be feasible.”

The SVO will hold a press conference on Tuesday to advocate for the airline fund, which will feature a host of guest speakers, including KT Urban Principal Mark Tersini, Santa Clara and San Benito Counties Building and Construction Trades Council Executive Director David Bini and San Jose SPUR Director Teresa Alvarado.

Should the fund be approved, the program would not be needed until at least 2024, the earliest any buildings would be constructed, according to the Aitken memo. The fund would hold up to to an estimated $1.5 million, which would be raised from airline stakeholders and property owners occupying the taller buildings.

Plans for taller towers, however, have their fair share of public detractors.

Higher office views downtown could cause headaches for Sunnyvale and Cupertino residents, according to letters submitted for public comments. Should buildings become too high, planes will have to redirect their approaches and takeoffs from SJC further south, which means more noise for residents in nearby cities, including Mountain View and Sunnyvale. Longer flight paths could also tack on an additional 50 miles, lengthening flights and their time spent over the peninsula.

“The cities of Sunnyvale and Cupertino are now heavily impacted by airplane noise,” reads a public letter to the council from Save My Sunny Skies Airplane Noise Group, an local advocacy coalition. “What is not clear is whether these taller buildings could indirectly impact the frequency of south flow operations over our cities. In other words, resulting in more south flow operations.”

Over 60 pages of public comment have been considered since January. The council will weigh the economic costs along with public comment in Tuesday’s meeting.

More from the San Jose City Council agenda for March 12, 2019:

  • The council will accept the results from a study considering a new strategy to expand retail opportunities downtown. The report proposes creating more walkable streets, ramping up small business support and urbanizing development around the Diridon Station.
  • Mitchell Ellerd, a UPS driver who was kidnapped and forced to drive a company truck which resulted in a standoff on First Street in North San Jose, will receive a commendation.
  • The council will consider the nomination of of the Fairglen Additions in the Willow Glen neighborhood for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • Councilors will discuss allocations for Measure B, a 2016 bond initiative to generate funds for road repair and public transportation upgrades.
  • The council will vote on a proposal to rebuild the San Jose Light Tower, or some other monument to Silicon Valley. The next phase will be to solicit proposals for what the landmark will look like.

WHAT: City Council meets
WHEN: 1:30pm Tuesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260


  1. Why does DTSJ have to be between San Pedro and 7th? Why can’t we just start building east of 7th and call it a day?

  2. I find it interesting that mountain View and Cupertino would be worried about slight increase in the noise from airplanes, those of us that live downtown have 100X the noise alreadt. I’m guessing that the height increase would have a very minor effect on noise in outlying towns

  3. I really think you already have enough monuments to greed and stupidity in the SJ airport flight path. I don’t often agree with Robert Corstese ,but building east or west of the flight path is much smarter idea if you want to go 50 stores. Lots of space over by the county rust building!

  4. Back in the ’70’s the McEnery family began to push for buildings higher than two storeys. (Remember: “San Jose Is Growing Up!” ?)

    San Jose was a real hick town before that. There was hardly a 3-storey building anywhere back then.

    But why stop now?

    San Francisco has dozens of high rise residential and office buildings. But we don’t hear about them impacting SFO flight paths.

    The only solution to high rents is more housing! Subsidies are nothing more than a lottery with a small handful of lucky winners, at the expense of taxpayers.

    Any other ‘solutions’ are just gimmicks, allowing city councils to parade around pretending they’re ‘doing something’ about the high cost of housing. They’re not.

    With the shortage of available land, how can the city add sufficient housing?

    Simples: high rise buildings can accommodate well over a hundred residential units per acre, and in many cases several hundred units per acre, depending on the number of storeys.

    By contrast, a single family home uses a quarter acre, and 2-storey apartment buildings aren’t a whole lot more efficient.

    Now a Chinese company wants to construct a 60 storey building, and there are plenty of property owners, construction firms, and developers who would line up for the opportunity to build more housing.

    But city councils are beholden to small activist groups that have no skin in the game: they never risk their own money, as they constantly run interference whenever someone wants to improve their own property.

    In the final analysis the blame must be laid at the feet of the local electeds and their bureaucrats. Despite their vague promises and assurances, nothing will relieve the scourge of rising rents — except more housing.

    And the housing stock is like the stock market: rents are set at the margin, so it doesn’t require a huge number of new housing units to stop the rise in rents.

    All that’s required is sufficient new housing to create a small vacancy factor. That is the only thing that will stop the rent increases.

    Tenants need to contact their local electeds and demand that they approve more housing — and high rise developments are the most efficient way to take the pressure off this insane rental market.

    These electeds need to get with the program! They are the reason for escalating rents, not “greedy landlords”, not developers, not property owners, etc. (And while you’re at it, tell ’em that rent control makes the problem even worse).

    Local electeds are the reason for high rents. They are at fault; no one else is.

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