Land Banking Without Public Money

Last week, at the Council meeting, there was a contentious land use item. A housing developer is asking the council to approve a rezoning of land to allow a 117-unit affordable Shared Room Occupancy (SRO).

Currently, there are business owners, adjacent property owners, and residents who do not support this project. I have been a councilmember for more than two years and I have never seen each of these groups on the same page. Ninety-five percent of the adjacent property owners are against the rezoning. They took the time to file and get their signatures notarized for a zoning protest application and therefore it requires eight council votes to approve the project instead of six.

Ninety-five percent is unheard of—thus showing a high level of opposition. One of the adjacent industrial property owners said, “where will people work in San Jose if the Council continues to change land for jobs to land for housing?”  Industrial uses are becoming harder to locate in this City since residents do not want noise or truck traffic.

All of the speakers spoke against the rezoning at the council meeting. I had already heard these comments, because I attended the community meeting in my district for this project and watched the entire planning commission discussion. Furthermore, they have e-mailed the council and mayor regarding their concerns. For many of the residents, this was their first experience with the City of San Jose since their neighborhood is being annexed.

I am a member of the General Plan 2040 Task force (GP2040). This makes me think of the best long-term uses of land citywide. In the past the council has made decisions based on the short-term rather then the long-term view. GP2040 is about learning from historical mistakes, being strategic with land use and planning our future.

The council spent over $100 million being strategic by «land banking» to provide development sites which have led to economic development. However, we also have the power to land bank without spending a dime … by simply voting no on projects that do not have the best long term interest for the City.

I believe that saying “just say no” to conversion of commercial/industrial land equals more land for jobs and a tax base to pay for neighborhood services.

The location is a gateway parcel on San Carlos between Sunol and McEvoy linking Downtown to Santana Row. The current proposal divides two other parcels (Sam’s Downtown Feed & Pizza Jacks) which does not allow for a development that is more focused on economic development. This odd shaped parcel does not allow for proper parking to be built out underneath since it divides two other properties. Otherwise the proposed parking is problematic for the neighborhood since it only provides 65 parking spaces for maximum occupancy of 234 people.

Shasta-Hanchett neighborhood board members have said, “If we are going to get a baseball stadium, wouldn’t this land would become more valuable?” I agree with them. This parcel should have an economic development aspect that could also have housing (affordable or market rate) on the top of significant retail by developing the entire parcel and not a divided one.

The current affordable housing proposal does not pay park fees or construction tax fees in a neighborhood that is identified as park deficient. We spoke about this deficiency Sept. 8 at the council study session for the Greenprint, and this rezoning would exacerbate the problem. San Jose has lost out on as much $60-90 million in park fees alone.

There is some concern about the concentration of affordable housing in this area. There is an affordable housing project right down street at the old Fiesta Lanes Bowl (another commercial-to-residential land conversion). 1,000 feet away we have eight stories of affordable housing on Bird and San Carlos and 300 feet from that another affordable project called Esperanza. A 100-percent affordable project on Lenzen, affordable senior housing next to MidTown Safeway. 400 feet the other direction 777 Park Ave. will be another 100 percent affordable project of 200 units.  The Council just approved 42 affordable units on San Carlos and Meridian this Spring.

In December of this year, the Council will get another proposal on a mixed use project of 160 affordable units right across the street however that parcel is already zoned residential. Unlike the 1,500 additional housing units where housing was not planned, like DelMonte Cannery (600 units), Lou’s Village (100 units) and Sobrato office park (800 units).

Based on annexation zoning rules we can look at this parcel in two years when we know if there will be a future ballpark or not. Construction on this development was not going to occur for 2-3 years anyway so now is not the time to rezone. Due to the 2-3 year out construction schedule, there is no viable argument that this will spur construction jobs.

The proposed SRO would be in the vicinity of a proposed light rail station that other developers have given money towards; however, the VTA has not given a firm commitment to fund the station. (By the way, a light rail station does not need to be art, just give me an ADA compliant concrete slab and then in the future if we have the money we can do something fancy.)

I made a motion to deny the rezoning and was seconded by the mayor. The developer asked for another week to try and work with the adjacent property owners to make the project better. The council gave the developer a week to make it work. It’s not about the project; its about the loss of employment land and the loss of infrastructure fees for the City.

Saying no to bad proposals is cheaper then land banking with public funds.


  1. Pierluigi,

    I like your position on this issue.  Our infrastructure continues to crumble under the weight of more residential projects at the expense of projects that will pay for the basics – safety, schools, transit, etc.

  2. Way to go PO. I have never understood why housing is so important if you don’t have a job to go to in first place. If you don’t have businesses then you don’t have jobs. Simple right?

  3. What is “Shared Room Occupancy”?

    Is this another name for apartments?  Or is it something new where people live like they do in some East San Jose homes; 5 to a garage, 3 to a backyard shed, 7 to a living room, etc.

  4. I agree with your position to wait.

    With all the housing going in in that area, that parcel would probably find better use eventually as retail.

    A whole street full of nothing but high-density housing is pretty grim.

    The industrial users have a point too. Conversion of the cannery into housing changed the character of the San Carlos neighborhood. Industry is getting edged out of there. The city needs to develop alternative areas for them to go to.

    The decision to convert a large tract of industrial land at Monterey Rd. and Curtner into s shopping center was a bad idea, I think.

    The portion of San Carlos between Bird and Delmas is just about perfect the way it is. The mixture of auto shops and tattoo parlors demonstrates a balance between commerce and culture rare in our city. Please leave it alone.

  5. Agreed.  You hear talk from regional planning agencies like the Metropolitan Transportation Commission ( on the need for people to live closer to work and shopping.  Yet, what happens when you build housing on sites where jobs are or used to be?  When combined with further service reductions proposed by our favorite transit authority, more of those residents will end up driving solo for a longer period along our already crumbling, crowded roads and bridges. 

    Let’s not forget that we are in the middle of a drought.  Sounds to me like no thought was given as to where the water, sewage, power, bus/light rail service, and nearby emergency services needed to support the new housing will come from.  Precisely the same planning mistakes this “General Plan 2040” plan was supposed to learn from.

    While telecommuting for work is a worthy option, from my experience, not all employers support it.  This is particularly true if you work as an IT contractor where you are typically not given remote access for security reasons.  Retail and service jobs, like customer service, often require live, face-to-face interaction with customers. 

    Having grown up in and around real cities, I always felt tall buildings in a city like San Jose for residents and businesses come with being a city of (over) 1 million people.  However, when such land use proposals sacrifice one for the other, the only people I see prospering from these kinds of land use proposals are moneyed developers and construction workers.

    Balanced, smart growth by every area within a region will ensure that all living here will benefit. Otherwise, you will have employers and employees clamoring to work and live in a certain southern state who’s advertising on this very site how friendly to business they are.

  6. Mr Oliverio,

    I heard about your blog and started reading it this year and have gone back and read many of your writings in the past.  I am not an expert on San Jose laws and rules however your blog is easy to understand and to the point.  I would not typically be interested in local government but you have made it more relevant to me.
    Thank You.

        • Two people MAY occupy the units, not must or will, but MAY.  Shared Room Occupancy plays toward fears some have with regard to this type of housing; Flop houses where many unsavory people can crash for the night in a small room. 

          The original post was well written and researched, my compliments to your staff.  The phrase Shared Room Occupancy skews your well written and researched post and is unnecessary.

        • What is your agenda?  Certainly not to have a cogent discussion of this issue, attack, attack, attack is not a reasoned argument for or against SRO’s.  Howe silly of you to think everyone has an agenda to post on SJI. 

          In anticipation of your well thought out and coherent reply: Neener neener neener.  Now, don’t go away mad, just go away.

        • Oh my goodness!  Do you have to be insulting to feel important?  As well, must you hide your sorry arse behind a pseudonym?  Ahhh, just another angry coward, probably employed as a gum scraper at WalMart and under the complete control of his domineering wife.  If she finds out you’re being a bipolar pest here on SJI, she’ll probably tan your hide.

        • Please see the last paragraph of my previous post.
          And stop hiding behind the pseudonym Greg Howe, howe do we know who you are?  Now take your big red shoes off and pull off that red nose, lay down the three balls your juggling and get off the tricycle and get back out to pre-school, freak!

        • Were you not a wimpy, little coward living in your mom’s basement, your feeble-minded attempt at being humorous would be amusing.  Readers can do no more than pity your deviant existence.

        • I am sorry that I am unable to post in crayon or in comic book fashion and am unable to use dungeons and dragons lingo for you to understand anything other than attack those that you don’t agree with. 

          Herhold got it right in the paper today with regard to this project, both sides share blame…have someone read it to you between your cartoon watching time today.  Now stop washing your Mom’s hair, its icky, and go find work, I am sure there is a face painting gig for you somewhere.


  7. Bravo. I’ve never entirely understood the adjective-verb combination ‘affordable housing’ in the first place.

    The number one driver of house pricing is (in this area) supply-versus-demand. Of course making two houses for every one job makes housing more affordable, as we drive businesses and industry away. That leads you to the ‘ultimate’ affordable housing: Detroit-like blight.

    All of this effort to make ‘affordable housing’ just seems like driving down the quality of life for the labor force.

  8. Kenny:

    New York Post columnist Phil Mushnick likely has the best definition of affordable housing.  Affordable housing is built for and sold to people who cannot afford housing – so it should really be called “UNaffordable housing.”  Another example of an abused word or phrase in our society.

    Do not get me started on our society’s recent abuse on the word “socialism.”

    Your post also illustrates why balanced development of housing and jobs is needed.  When too much housing is built at the expense of job sites, it’s more stress on fire, ambulance, and police workers, as they must now cover more areas of their district with the same staff.  That’s another example on how such projects actually lower quality of life when poorly planned.

  9. Interesting goings on in Evergreen regarding the location of a new San Jose library branch. “Moderator” Matt Wahlin (aka Mr. Rose Herrera) is rallying support for placing a branch library in the moribund Evergreen Village Square. Does anybody believe that he doesn’t have the councilmember’s support? Is there any doubt which location the city will choose? Moreover, soes it make any sense that the city is spending money on another branch that it can’t keep open?

    ——-Forwarded Message——-
    From: matt_wahlin
    Sent: Sep 21, 2009 8:55 PM
    To: [email protected]
    Subject: [involvedevergreen] Library Meeting updates- how to email your preference, & carpooling

    Dear IE Members,

    First, a reminder:

    The Meeting to discuss the two finalist sites for the location of the new Southeast Branch Library will be held THIS THURSDAY, 9/24 at 7PM at the community room of the Evergreen branch library on Aborn road—this will be our chance to give our preferences on the two sites, one of which is at Evergreen Village (the other being on the South end of land currently belonging to St. Francis Church on San Felipe Rd.)…

    An Update:

    An announcement was printed in The Villager (the newsletter for residents at the Villages) which said you can EMAIL your opinions on a preferred site for the library to:

    [email protected]

    I would encourage everyone to take a minute to send an email supporting the location at the Square (especially if you think you might not be able to make the Thursday meeting). I still STRONGLY encourage everyone to attend if you can—this will be an important watershed for supporting the development of Evergreen Village and getting a new grocery store!!

    Another Update:

    A number of folks concerned about limited parking for Thursday’s meeting have suggested that we can meet early at the Square and carpool to the meeting—I think this is an EXCELLENT idea!

    If you are coming to the meeting and would like to carpool, PLEASE REPLY to this message. If you tell me your name and whether you can drive or will need a ride, I will compile a head count and let everyone know if we have sufficient mass to meet at the Square before the meeting.

    Let’s all show up for this important meeting!

    -Moderator Matt

  10. When will Council ever lean that conversion industrial land to housing only makes budget worst and services spread over more people as they commute to jobs and shop in other cites who get tax revenue making environment worst

    Probably after San Jose
    – goes to bankruptcy, 
    – resident revolt and put stop on new housing until jobs catch up since approving more housing without jobs is budget insanity
    – elects Council that does not talk out of both sides of their mouth about budget and more housing causing budget problems

  11. Yea – really stupid public policy to approve more houses and make budget and San Jose worst but guess they have to have political contributions to run for next musical Chair political job

  12. Update on the project.  Yesterday the Council voted by a slim margin to uphold the zoning protest filed by the adjacent property owners. 3 in favor 7 against and 1 absent.  Because the protest needed a super majority to deny the protest, 8 votes were required.  The combined efforts of the Neighborhood Associations, Property owners and local business owners resulted also in the property being annexed to the City and zoned Commercial, Light Industrial.  We consider this a victory for the integrity of the original intent of the Midtown Specific Plan.  Thank you Councilmember Oliverio for your leadership!

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