Op-Ed: On Housing, San Jose Councilwoman Dev Davis and President Trump Agree

Incumbent San Jose Councilwoman Dev Davis left the Republican Party in 2018 in light of the Trump Administration’s purposefully cruel separations of immigrant families.

“I could not bear to see or even think about the unnecessary and traumatizing separation of children from their parents,” she said of the foreseeable implementation of the president’s ethnic-cleansing campaign platform.

But on the most important local issue—housing—Davis and President Trump share the same conservative position against zoning reform.

Elected Republicans are now extinct in San Jose—and more California voters are registered as no party preference than GOP—but “get off my lawn” conservatism continues to suffocate state and local housing policy. California’s supposedly blue legislature couldn’t even legalize duplexes statewide, a naturally affordable housing type, while the seasonal, record-breaking fires turned the skies red.

As California’s legislature dithered, the president fear-mongered with tweets declaring “people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream ... will no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in your neighborhood” and “[t]he suburban housewife will be voting for me. They want safety & are thrilled that I ended a long running program where low income housing would invade their neighborhood.”

Davis claims to be a “wonk” and a “data nerd.” Rumored to have mayoral ambitions, Davis was featured in a Content Magazine profile with the subhead “Transforming from suburban sprawl into a modern metropolis.” Davis’ diagnosis of The Problems splashed across an entire page: “We don’t have discrete problems in the Bay Area. We have a constellation of problems that are all related to each other.”

Every wonk knows the Bay Area’s constellation of problems—housing in-affordability, the homelessness catastrophe, traffic gridlock—is largely due to the imbalance between prolific job creation and the failure to legalize and build housing.

In her first term, Davis worsened the problems constellation. She supported Google’s proposed downtown campus to create over 20,000 new jobs inside and adjacent to her District 6, but opposed zoning reform to legalize more housing.

In August, San Jose's General Plan Task Force voted 22-12 to recommend the council legalize fourplexes in every neighborhood. Davis voted against it.

Davis’ campaign site highlights her “accomplishment” to “protect single-family home zoning”—protect from whom?—and lists the following second-term housing goals:

  • Continue to fight to protect single-family home neighborhoods
  • Fight homelessness and its impact
  • Provide more affordable housing
  • Provide housing the average person can afford

What, exactly, is the difference between “affordable housing” and “housing the average person can afford?” Davis’ unserious housing platform, as farcical as her wonk performance, is an exercise in triangulation between her Republican base, and voters who value compassion and inclusivity.

When a debate moderator at a recent event asked how to promote racial justice and social equity, Davis talked that talk, saying: “We have to first constantly educate ourselves, especially those of us who are white and make sure that people with lived-experience of racial inequalities are not the only ones doing the work. We also have to unravel centuries of institutional inequities.”

Perhaps Davis should educate herself about the racist origins of single-family home zoning or read this recent report finding it remains a “key driver of racial segregation in the Bay Area.” The report’s interactive map shows the “high” segregation of many census tracts in Davis’ District 6. Legalizing fourplexes would help unravel housing inequities in her own district, but Councilwoman Davis apparently only pretends to care about racial justice, just like she pretends to be a wonk.

Davis’ ally and District 6 predecessor, Pierluigi Oliverio, echoed the president’s suburb tweets in recent editorials predicting “chaos and conflict” because fourplex legalization might make street parking scarcer—heaven forfend!—and “housing units at a lower per-unit cost [would] denigrate the character of single-family home neighborhoods.”

Therefore, he goes on to state, such grievances amount to “flipping the bird to approximately 180,000 San Jose homeowners.” Unsurprisingly, Davis voted to appoint Oliverio to the Planning Commission where he flips the bird at affordable housing options and the desegregation they would bring.

At least Oliverio concedes that “profit-motivated buyers ... would make significantly more money with four or six units than with a single-family house.”

Translation: property values would increase in San Jose, already home to the country’s most equity-rich homeowners.

Trump, Oliverio, and Davis all know that white grievance has been, and remains, a potent political force throughout America. Their conservative base, full of gun-toting lunatics like the McCloskeys, feel disrespected when those people approach their lawn.

Behold the comments section below any perceptive housing editorial to find reply-guys like “Greg” blasting this “idiotic article” that supports fourplexes, which “shows zero consideration or respect for current homeowners and residents.” If only a brave wonk could enlighten conservatives that homeowners own their land, not the General Plan.

San Jose homeowners have begun to reckon with the dissonance between their oppositions to the white supremacist president and zoning reform. One homeowner admitted his fourplex concern—that denser housing would “degrade” his neighborhood—is a “very embarrassing and disturbing parallel” with the president’s racist demagoguery about suburb invasions.

Davis may oppose the displacement of Mexican immigrants from America’s lawn. But on the most important policy over which she has power, she supports aggrieved homeowners in their quest to maintain lawns unsullied by fourplex tenants, just like fellow housing conservative President Trump.

Both “protect” the suburbs from racial integration.

Jake Tonkel is challenging Davis in District 6. He surely isn’t a conservative, and, thus, can offer serious ideas to address the “unnecessary and traumatizing” conditions of the housing insecure and homeless. I am confident a critical mass of District 6 homeowners will reject Davis’ conservatism this November just as they will certainly reject our President. It doesn’t take a data nerd to see the obvious: if San Jose is going to allow new corporate campuses like Google’s, it must also legalize new housing nearby.

Tom Skinner is an attorney who lives and works in downtown San Jose. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to [email protected].


  1. This piece is so one sided. It’s an absolute hit piece trying to smear Dev before the election. Many homeowners don’t want the density in their neighborhoods. It has nothing to do with race. This race baiting article is a good example of what will happen is Jake is elected. He will use fear of inequality to push his agenda even if it’s unreasonable and unrealistic.

    This went too far. This is horrible fear based, race baiting crap and political pandering at it’s worst. Jake should push away from the person who wrote this Tom, but he probably pushed Tom to write it. This is just sad. Politics at its worst right here.

  2. This is a dishonest and poorly argued op-ed. SJ’s current General Plan, which Davis and Oliverio support, allows for all sorts of upzoning in urban villages and along transit corridors. So they are in favor of zoning reform which increases density. Skinner ignores this. What they opposed was *citywide upzoning* which would offer a one-size-fits-all upzoning strategy for every neighborhood in SJ. Skinner concludes, wildly, that opposing citywide upzoning means you oppose all zoning reform. That’s silly. And as a last gasp effort at smearing, Skinner tries to link opposition to citywide upzoning to Trump relaxing regulations regarding federal housing goals. The two are not the same. What Davis and Oliverio are supporting more closely resembles where the California legislature (hardly a Trump-supporting group) end the year on this issue. And Tom: yelling “racist” whenever somebody disagrees with you is a loser’s argument.

  3. Spot on. Many people in San Jose desperately need fourplexes and affordable housing. And more housing should go into all neighborhoods, not just lower income neighborhoods who already have the lion share of affordable housing and traffic. The Nimbyism is shameful.

  4. It’s usually not a good idea to call people “racist” when you’re asking them for your vote.
    It’s precisely this sort of hateful, bigoted rhetoric from lefties that led to Trump being elected.
    And every time I read or hear hate like this being directed at good Americans and evil motivations being assumed as the basis of their policy wishes, I’m more convinced than ever that it’s this growing radical wing of the Democrat party who are the real fascists in this country and that need to be opposed whenever and wherever possible.

  5. I agree with the author of this piece, and disagree with the fellow commenters (who I’ve noticed tend to run the gamut from conservative to reactionary on this site) – although I would probably still support Davis, given Tonkel’s overall lack of serious knowledge or qualification, this is an issue where I would like to see Davis self-reflect and do better.

    Specifically in response to Ellen Rosen’s comment, I would like to point out that while the entire council supports transit villages, Davis has opposed an opportunity housing ordinance that would allow single-family home lots to be rezoned for duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes. Davis has argued that such an idea should only be taken up after we have finished building out our urban villages, but I find the idea that we should be worried about building too much housing too quickly to be ridiculous, and not the kind of position that would be taken up by someone who is serious about ending the housing crisis.

    If you’d prefer to keep transforming the Bay Area into a place where only tech workers can afford to live, where teachers must live with their aging parents who were lucky enough to move into the valley at a time when there were no homeowners around to veto new housing from being built, where service workers must travel on supercommutes that choke the air with CO2, if you think all of that is a better world to live in than one where your neighborhood gets a few more units of housing, then I don’t think you value the lives of other people as much as you might assume you do.

  6. > Perhaps Davis should educate herself about the racist origins of single-family home zoning . . . .

    I didn’t realize the origin of the zoning was racist.

    If the origin was racist, then the zoning is likewise racist.

    And, since Critical Race Theory instructs us that ALL human interactions are conditioned by race, the house is surely racist as well as the occupant of the house.

    I recently learned about a single-family home in an area zoned for single-family homes.


    The racist house undoubtedly got what it deserved.

  7. I live in a neighborhood with a mix of SFHs, duplexes, 4-plexes, apartment complexes and condos. I’ve yet to see the streets being used anything close to capacity even at commute time. Fears of congestion over a handful of extra housing units in a SFH neighborhood are always overblown, as are fears that your property is going to be “devalued” in a market as hot as this.

    If you claim to want to solve the housing shortage, that’s all well and good. However when push comes to shove and you oppose measures that would go some way to addressing said shortage, then you cannot be taken seriously. Some D6 residents may have thought that electing a closet Republican to the council was worth a try, but Davis has had her chance and blown it. Time to give Tonkel a chance.

  8. There are rational objective arguments for not supporting Opportunity Housing (aka 4-plexes allowed anywhere).

    I would suggest that this kind of op-ed which injects social justice issues and Donald Trump in hit-piece style ultimately has a defocusing and potentially undermining effect – turning many who would otherwise support rational growth and affordable housing away from the higher level movement you purport to endorse.

    I think there is plenty of land to build on if you consider vacant or underdeveloped sites – including downtown SJ and along transit corridors.

    Policies that encourage or mandate development of these sites should be the priority. Start with the acres and acres owned by the County. Finding better ways to finance projects and especially affordable housing, so projects can move faster should be a priority. Seeing to the success of Urban Villages should be a priority. Keeping the City Planning Department, with limited resources, efficiently focused before taking on more studies and new initiatives is a reasonable idea.

    But once we get on the subject of Opportunity Housing and into the rectifying housing systemic social injustice universe, the debate intensifies about whether these are symbolic and ideological proposals or initiatives that will have a meaningful positive impact.

    If you want to create more housing, start by stopping the attacks on those who might have an alternate perspective and seek to create a tide of common ground support to buoy the mission. All this demonizing op-ed does is drive a wedge which is actually the same strategy Donald Trump likes to do – divide us rather than unite us.

  9. Mr. Skinner is a tenant lawyer. Bernie Sanders supporter who wants to defund the police by reducing the San Jose Police Department by half.

    Not sure if that matters. However, if he wants Tonkel then I think I might want to lean the other direction(Davis).

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