This month, San Jose’s General Plan Task Force will vote on a recommendation regarding an “Opportunity Housing” policy. If the Envision San Jose 2040 Task Force would like to increase housing supply and help end inequities that we have had in San Jose for generations, it should recommend the City Council implement Opportunity Housing city-wide.
If Opportunity Housing becomes policy, it could allow for up to four homes to be built on properties currently limited to single-family homes. On the surface, this might be seen as a possibly viable strategy for a community concerned about affordable housing.
However, what makes this policy consideration problematic is that city officials are considering implementing the policy only on properties that are within a half-mile of transit corridors and urban villages. This essentially means the policy would be rolled out in only in specific areas, including properties located in East San Jose.
The fundamental problem with the city’s consideration is that it will likely do more to perpetuate the same inequities that we have had in San Jose for generations that continue dividing our city — one where single-family residence designations are honored, and another where communities are overcrowded with limited support and resources. Is it realistic to believe that this policy would ever be implemented in Willow Glen? Of course not.
That point leads us to the second issue we have with East San Jose being ground zero for the implementation of Opportunity Housing. We already know what it is like to be a San Jose experiment when it comes to land use policy. As we have seen with Form Based Zoning, this policy continues to be one that has only been implemented in East San Jose.
Under this policy, buildings get expedited approval based on the appearance of the building, and not land use. The result of that policy is that buildings are built in East San Jose with no opportunity for our community to provide input, or even appeal decisions to the San Jose City Council. This experiment that has not truly benefitted East San Jose is still in place and is not being considered city-wide, as originally discussed.
As major proponents for the construction of much needed housing in our city, our issue is not with the policy itself. Our issue is that, if the city ultimately decides to implement Opportunity Housing, it must do so city-wide, or not done at all.
East San Jose has been here before, and we do not want a policy that is disguised as seeking to correct a problem, when in reality it is intended to manage a problem into limited specific geographic areas.
We applaud the task force members for their service to the city but we ask them to dig deeper on this issue and have an honest conversation about how implementing a policy in one part of our city will have detrimental impacts for generations.
In the Silicon Valley, we are proud of our tradition of disrupting. Let’s honor that tradition by disrupting the tradition of policies that red line our city. San Jose will never reach its true potential until East San Jose residents are given an equal opportunity to thrive and succeed.
Rolando Bonilla is vice chair of the San Jose Planning Commission and Juan Estrada is a member of the Envision San Jose 2040 General Plan 4-Year Review Task Force.