For decades, San Jose has done the region’s heavy lifting by building most of its housing. Neighboring cities enjoyed the benefits of this imbalance and offered little in return.
Because of the resulting inequity in tax dollars per resident between San Jose and other cities, San Jose struggles to provide basic services for its residents while neighboring cities can provide superior services.
San Jose’s growth blueprint for the future—San Jose General Plan 2040 (GP2040)—ambitiously targets financial solvency for the city by balancing job growth with housing growth. The current general plan’s smart growth strategy locates new infill housing adjacent to transit and along major boulevards.
San Jose consistently approves thousands of housing units, both market-rate and low-income, designated for these strategic parcels.
While GP2040 allows higher density development in strategic locations, it also pledges to protect single-family home neighborhoods.
When I served on the GP2040 task force for five years, I advocated for protecting established neighborhoods so higher density housing would be created where it made sense—namely, along densely populated transit corridors. This policy was supported by former planning director Joe Horwedel.
The current GP2040 task force has reneged on this pledge, however.
It voted on Aug. 2, that would start the process of converting single-family houses into four-plexes “by right,” meaning, no community meetings or hearings would be required. A house could simply be demolished and a four-plex constructed in its place.
This proposal would be citywide, in all San Jose neighborhoods.
Taken a step further, allowing a four-unit complex to replace a single-family home could have an even broader impact on neighborhoods, as the same property may also have two accessory dwelling units on site, creating six homes instead of one.
Access to these units will be car dependent, since the bus system will never reach far-flung cul-de-sacs. State law does not allow cities to limit the number of cars per dwelling, thus automobiles associated with these six units would be competing for available street parking. Density where it was not planned creates chaos and conflict.
Once implemented, how would we fix it? Answer: the impact would be irreversible.
When a family saves up to buy a single-family home, city zoning promises that their block will remain intact, even if San Jose continues to grow around them.
This policy would result in families being outbid by profit-motivated buyers who would make significantly more money with four or six units than with a single-family house.
Instead of flipping the bird to approximately 180,000 San Jose homeowners, we should stick with the existing GP2040, which will produce housing units at a lower per-unit cost and not denigrate the unique character of single-family-home neighborhoods.
If proponents are confident that this is truly beneficial for a majority of San Jose residents, then the issue should appear on a future ballot for a citywide vote.
Pierluigi Oliverio is member of the San Jose Planning Commission and a former councilman in District 6. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to [email protected].