Guest Column: Six-Plexes Coming to a Neighborhood Near You

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].

17 Comments

  1. So we should give the finger instead to the approximately 920,000 other residents of San Jose instead? People being pushed out, people stuck in the rental market because there isn’t enough housing stock?

    PLO is a joke who couldn’t stay in office with these NIMBY trash ideas.

  2. BERNADETTE

    I think it is better things are stated in this direct way.

    Others who obfuscate their NIMBYism in “Progressive Values” are just giving themselves cover to wag their fingers at the “greedy” and pretend they are still pure.

  3. As a decades long single family home owner I appreciate and agree with everything the author has thoughtfully and accurately put forth in this article.

    However, if a developer were to offer double or triple my current property’s worth I would accept the offer and be able to move anywhere in the world and have much more land and house in an area that I could live out my years. I would no longer be affected by San Jose’s unbridled growth and lack of services. So why not sell out?

    However, my neighbors would be stuck with the aftermath and their quality of life would suck looking at a high rise building with no setbacks looking over their backyard. We have building codes and land use zoning for a reason. To dismantle that without regard to the consequences would be catastrophic.

    We expect our planning department to take into consideration all aspects of their actions and not to cave to a few that use NIMBYISM as their first and most over used word in their vocabulary.

    I am a NIMBY and proud of it, because I am protecting my neighborhood and looking out for my neighbors. Something I hoped the City would do but can no longer trust that it will.

  4. The developers that build these 6 unit buildings
    will not be living in the neighborhoods that they are destroying.

  5. Thank you Bruce Sullivan. Very well stated.
    And thank you Mr. Oliverio for continuing to understand what it means to advocate for the interests of the PEOPLE of San Jose. Even though PLO represented a different district than the one in which I reside (my guy at the time was Don “Pretty Boy” Rocha) I always felt that Pierluigi had my back as a resident of this city, and I always felt as though he was the only council member who seemed to comprehend the distinction between “special interests” and the “public interest”.
    This current fanatical fad to sacrifice everything in the name of “affordable housing” is definitely being driven by selfish and self righteous SPECIAL interests and is not in the PUBLIC interest and we must recognize that if we are to preserve the character, beauty, and livability of San Jose.

  6. Bernadette, get a clue. Most people are “stuck in the rental market” because they could never qualify for a home mortgage because they make too little money. They don’t make enough money because they don’t have the skill sets to do so in this area. The best of them are HS graduates. The rest are HS drop outs. We all rely on their honest work, and should honor it. However, their dream of home ownership is a dream most of them do not have; only educated white liberals unreasonably hold that out for them.
    You must be a university graduate, because no HS graduate with a blue collar job would ever be deluded enough to think that he/she could afford a house in this area with the low paying and necessary jobs they work hard at. They just want a rent they can afford, and have no delusions about home ownership. Only young liberal collegians who haven’t a clue about how non-collegians think could hold your view. On the other hand, were they to move to the CA Central Valley, or most areas in NE CA, they could find lower rents. Move to Kansas, and life would be a piece of cake with their necessary but non-high tech skills.

  7. Sorry.

    Some of us don’t want to live with apartment complexes in a single family home neighborhood.

    If you can’t afford to live here the move.

  8. If you are paying $3K a month in rent then you might be better off living in a homeless shelter.

  9. Housing policy is demographic policy.

    Central planners CHOOSE who lives in San Jose and where they live.

    The current fad among San Jose’s demographic planners is to have MORE of some people and fewer of OTHER people.

    I suspect that I’m in the demographic that the central planners just want to “go away”.

    I don’t want to go away. I would like the central planners to “just go away”.

    How do we resolve this impasse?

  10. Where does the author of this article live, and how is he affected by the upcoming and proposed changes?

  11. It’s all bourgeois talk! Someone in Nashville who never completed High School, could own her own home before she reaches 25. Why not here? Always the same mindset, “not in my backyard.” Well, get used to it, laws are made to change and the people in San Jose are clamoring for change. If you don’t like the changes that are coming, move elsewhere!

  12. In general I appreciate how Pierluigi Oliverio explains his reasoning, and oftentimes I do find him very reasonable.

    I majorly disagree with him on this, just about as strongly as one can. He is right that SJ is doing more than the surrounding cities (shame on them), but everyone, SJ included, needs to do more. We are in a housing crisis, and the worst case scenario of turning 1 home into 6 does not scare me – it is the kind of dramatic change we need. Sticking with a plan that isn’t working isn’t the right strategy.

  13. Apartment complexes certainly limit the nimber of automobiles. There is no unlimited parking spaces mandate
    Mixed neughborhoods make a lot of sense in a diverse community
    Every new apartment dies not have to.be a luxury rental

  14. It’s nothing new that houses are expensive here. They were expensive in the 80s and 90s and there were a whole bunch of people who couldn’t afford to buy one. But it wasn’t a crisis. You wanna know why I wasn’t a crisis? It wasn’t a crisis because it wasn’t labeled a crisis.
    You can call this a “housing crisis” all you want but that doesn’t make it one. But it IS a pretty good indication that there’s a Gimme A House Because I Want One crisis.

  15. According to the op-ed, if you add an ADU to a single family residence you have not increased the number of residences, but you have increased the number if you added an ADU to say a duplex. That appears to be what “six homes instead of one” seems to mean.