New state law yields no housing projects in San Jose—yet
Single-family homes in San Jose's Willow Glen neighborhood are pictured in this file photo.

San Jose residents have yet to use a law that lets them build denser developments in single-family neighborhoods—at least for now.

On Jan. 1, Senate Bill 9 went into effect across California. The law allows residents to subdivide lots to create up to four housing units per parcel. The San Jose City Council approved implementing the law last December, following months of rancorous debate between proponents who believe it will help alleviate the South Bay’s housing crisis, and opponents who say it will destroy the character of single-family neighborhoods.

But after all the hullabaloo, it seems no one has applied to build one of these projects.

“No applications to build a duplex on a single-family lot under SB 9; no applications to create a subdivision under SB 9,” city spokesperson Cheryl Wessling told San José Spotlight.

The lack of applications is surprising, but not shocking to Councilmember Pam Foley, who noted SB 9 was a poorly written law that cities like San Jose had to implement in haste.

“Residents are not applying to build SB 9 projects because there’s too much uncertainty and too many unknowns with these kinds of projects right now,” Foley told San José Spotlight, adding it’s currently easier for people to construct an accessory dwelling unit (ADU). “Eventually, I do expect SB 9 project proposals to be submitted to the city of San Jose, but I do not expect a tidal wave of projects to come in all at once.”

Cory Wolbach, community engagement senior associate at housing advocacy organization [email protected], said it takes time for families to figure out how to apply for and build new types of housing, such as ADUs.

“There was a lot of debate last year about what the implications (of the law) would be,” Wolbach told San José Spotlight. “Those of us who saw it as a great opportunity were pretty skeptical we’d see a major wave of change to neighborhoods.”

One vocal opponent of the law is Councilmember Dev Davis, who has raised concerns it will disrupt neighborhoods with more traffic and strain infrastructure, such as sewage and water. She’s promoting a statewide initiative to restore zoning control to local jurisdictions, which some critics say could have severe unintended consequences. Davis believes there is a simple explanation for the lack of projects in the pipeline.

“A possible reason that no San Jose residents have applied for SB 9 lot splits is because it is nearly impossible to get an appointment with the permitting department,” Davis told San José Spotlight, adding it can take 60 to 90 days.

San Jose Planning Commissioner Pierluigi Oliverio, who also opposed SB 9 and a similar local initiative abandoned last year that would’ve allowed homeowners to build up to four new units on their land, said it’s only a matter of time before residents become aware of how to build such developments. He predicts SB 9 projects will cause an uproar whenever they start appearing, citing his past experience presiding over City Council meetings.

“When we had a subdivided lot come up in a neighborhood, or somebody wanted to put two to three houses on a really big lot, we’d get 30-plus people at the City Council meeting not only speaking against it, but very upset,” Oliverio told San José Spotlight.

He noted some communities may take significant steps to block SB 9 projects in their neighborhoods. Woodside, California recently announced the presence of endangered mountain lions prevents the city from complying with the law.

It’s unclear how many SB 9 projects have been applied for beyond San Jose. Santa Clara County did not immediately respond to a request for information about recent applications. At least one project was filed for an acre-sized lot in Palo Alto.

Catalyze SV Executive Director Alex Shoor told San José Spotlight applications are probably going to come in at a slow trickle. He said local government and residents need to get the word out about the law and how it works.

“The biggest problem we’re facing right now is the housing crisis,” Shoor said. “So hopefully our staff and city are standing ready to process anything that comes through.”

Contact Eli Wolfe at [email protected] or @EliWolfe4 on Twitter.

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