San Jose fact-check: Opportunity Housing and single-family homes
Opportunity Housing would allow up to four units to be built on single parcels in single-family neighborhoods. File photo.

Planning Commissioner Pierluigi Oliverio is talking a lot about San Jose’s proposal to densify its single-family neighborhoods, but some residents say he isn’t educating the public as much as spreading misinformation.

Faced with a housing crisis, San Jose leaders are devising a plan to allow more density in signature suburban neighborhoods. So-called Opportunity Housing allows duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes and granny units — which are also known as Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) — in neighborhoods exclusively zoned for single-family homes today.

Oliverio, who sat on San Jose’s 2040 General Plan Task Force for five years, supports maintaining existing single-family home zoning citywide and supports adding more density near transit centers. Some have since criticized him for his outspoken views on preserving single-family neighborhoods. Now his accuracy is being called into question.

San Jose resident Michael Young caught a speech by Oliverio earlier this month. His ears perked up when the commissioner began his presentation by saying Opportunity Housing would “eliminate all single-family home zoning in the city.”

“This, I believe, is factually incorrect, as I have never heard any city staff member or elected official say this,” Young said. “I asked Mr. Oliveiro to verify this information, and he referred to some notes from a General Plan meeting earlier this year.”

Oliveiro told San José Spotlight he didn’t say anything inaccurate, calling it a matter of phrasing.

“Proponents will say, ‘we’re providing an opportunity for a property owner to build higher density, where it was never done before,’” Oliveiro said. “On the other side, we say, ‘this proposal amends the general plan and eliminates single-family home zoning, so the property owner can build higher density.’ So it’s just a matter of how you say it.”

We decided to double-check his statements.

Does Opportunity Housing “eliminate single-family home zoning?”

Planning Deputy Director Michael Brilliot confirmed that statement is not accurate.

“No, it doesn’t eliminate single-family home zoning,” Brilliot said. “As a matter of fact, those zoning districts would still remain in the city on the properties that have them.”

Single-family neighborhoods will still have single-family homes, Brilliot said. But homeowners will now have the choice to convert their existing home into a duplex, triplex or fourplex. The homeowner can also build up to three ADUs, depending on the number of units in their home.

“I think we just want to get the facts straight because we are hearing people say that, ‘the city is proposing eliminating single-family zoning, which means a developer could build a six-story apartment building next to my house,’ Brilliot said. “Which is not being proposed.”

Single-family neighborhoods have certain restrictions on home heights and the space between houses, so developers cannot suddenly build a multi-family high-rise in the area. Brilliot said guidelines for height and spacing wouldn’t change, but the new proposal would modify land-use rules to allow similar-sized duplexes and triplexes.

Fact check: “Your house could be surrounded by three fourplexes and six ADU’s.”

Young said Oliverio presented a “very negative view” of Opportunity Housing that “bordered on scare tactics.”

Oliverio said he is just matter of fact.

“It provides the opportunity for you to be surrounded by development on all three sides,” Oliveiro said. “Looking at a normal single-family house block, you have someone on your left, someone on your right and a backyard. So, in theory, you could have that type of development surrounding you. Or you’d have the opportunity for that to happen.”

In this case, Oliverio’s statement is correct: San Jose’s new plan would allow residents to convert their homes to fourplexes and add ADUs. Oliverio asserts this could harm the “aesthetic character” that homeowners bought into when they moved to their neighborhood.

Two other San Jose residents said his views were a “serious mischaracterization” of the plan in a recent op-ed for San José Spotlight.

Brilliot said the underlying fear of change might make some residents concerned, but he said residents don’t have to worry about immediate demolition and change.

“We’re not anticipating that Opportunity Housing is going to pop up all over the place,” Brilliot said. “There would be development that would happen slowly over time.”

Oliverio’s main gripe is that Opportunity Housing eliminates a resident’s choice to live in an exclusively single-family home neighborhood.

The plan isn’t set in stone. San Jose’s City Council still needs to review it and can make changes.

In the end, Young said both proponents and opponents of the proposal have valid arguments.

“What I don’t like is that Mr. Oliverio is using questionable facts, extreme cases and other language to create fear amongst residents around this issue,” Young said.

Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.

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