Buyer Beware

One of the most important responsibilities a councilmember has is working on constituent issues. So far, my office has managed 4,675 constituent issues, which I refer to as “cases.” I set up a web database that allows constituents to track our case work in real time online.

In most cases we are successful in resolving the issue or concern. In other cases, constituents just want to share their comments on a particular matter. Some of the cases are comments on federal or state policy or other requests that are above and beyond what the city budget can provide, like, “please spend millions of dollars on a certain project” or “we want vintage street lights” when others streets do not even have street lights.

Recently, I had a request that came from a constituent who is a professional in the commercial real estate industry and is a veteran at purchasing property. He contacted my office a few months ago after purchasing a piece of property on Meridian Avenue. Unfortunately, this person did not contact the San Jose Planning Department before he bought the property to check how the property was zoned. He wanted me to tell the Planning Department to change the zoning to fit what he thought should be there instead of what the zoning has been for the past 30 years.
This request reminds me of the old adage: “buyer beware.” For example, someone may buy a home near a bar, school or church and then complain about the noise and parking. Well, it is the due diligence of the buyer to research the area, check zoning as well as any inspections a home or property may need. To choose to complain instead of taking responsibility for the purchase lacks credibility.

There are two things to remember when purchasing property; one, when you buy property, check out the zoning first so you know what you’re getting into—and if you do not like the zoning do not buy it.  Second, if you buy a property and want to change the zoning, be prepared to invest time and money to do so, and figure that into the cost you pay for the property. Councilmembers cannot snap their fingers to change the zoning in the General Plan or at the whim of a real estate professional who thinks that their opinion should override the General Plan process.

I feel sorry for this person since he put himself into a predicament. However, blaming government for your own lack of due diligence is probably not going to help matters. In this particular case, I have met with the planning department and even asked the planning director to get involved to see how we might be able to help this person even though he is the one that did not take responsibility. The director is pursuing possibilities on how we might be able to help, but the real estate professional is still not pleased.

I remember from the private sector that sometimes there was the client who was never happy no matter how much you gave of yourself to help them, even when they made the mistake. So, in those cases sometimes you parted ways with the customer, since mutual respect was absent. Sometimes working on constituent issues is like working with private-sector clients, and we try to help, but have to admit that we cannot please everyone every time.


  1. This is one of the most thoughtful columns I have read on San Jose Inside. The whole purpose of the planning process is take council members out of the process until the final step.  It is unfortunate that the buyer did not check out the zoning for the property beforehand.  The information is readily available, and often available online in most cities.

    1.  There are only certain number of rezonings allowed per year.

    2.  Planning consulants often are contacted by real estate agents to advise clients on the best step possible.

    3.  In a council/manager form of government, a council member cannot really get immersed in individual planning applications.

    4.  Not all zoning issues have to result in a rezoning.  Often use permits and variances can be explored with the right professional help.

  2. Good grief!  I would hope that this fellow’s incompetence wouldn’t harm his clients.  It was quite magnanimous of you to refer to him as a real estate “professional.”

  3. This always frustrated me at Bellarmine. Here we were attending the oldest high school in the state and the neighbors (none of them 150 years old) were complaining about us simply parking on their streets. The sense of entitlement some people bear is unreal.

  4. Maybe we can just buy him out of his loan, like the city council just did with the former police auditor, Barbara Attard, when she defaulted on the $350,000 house loan the city made to her.

  5. As a planner, I have a hard time believing that a “professional in the commercial real estate industry” didn’t verify the zoning of a property that he purchased. The use (zoning) of a property is essential to its value. How is it possible to purchase a property with the intent of developing it without verifying and understanding its zoning?

    In any case, it sounds like this is a gambit to garner the City’s help to facilitate a rezoning of a private property.

    Who knows, it might work; this person won a councilman’s sympathy and convinced him to intervene. Now the Planning Director is lending a hand. That’s some customer service for a department that suffered a round of layoffs and had to reduce service availability to the general public (you know, those people who play by the rules).

  6. Pierluigi,
    What is your stance regarding the proposed plastic bag law? Do you think San Jose should pass a law prohibiting grocery stores from using plastic bags?

  7. I think this this 25 cent bag tax is a terrible idea. I am surprised you and the other council members are for it. You state it will cost each consumer an extra $75 a year. Don’t you guys realized how many people are barely hanging on in this economy, or are you that out of touch? You say this $75 will be used for “enforcement” of this new plastic bag law. You really want to grow the government when the city is supposedly nearly broke? Who will be enforcing these new bag laws, the same people who make sure you are not buring a fire in your fireplace. This is all too much. Please reconsider your position on this.

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