Recently, advocates for South Bay YIMBY wrote an op-ed titled, “Correcting Councilmember Matt Mahan” without correcting any errors in his statements.
About citywide upzoning of single-family housing, they wrote, “There have been countless arguments levied against the idea: the city’s tree canopy is at risk; local control is under attack; urban villages need to be prioritized. Similar cries are being heard about statewide bills SB 9 and SB 10, which would both allow for small increases in housing units in residential neighborhoods.” But the authors did not respond to those concerns because those concerns are valid.
And the statement that these bills would allow for “small increases in housing units” is false. They would allow by law—without review from residents or city councils—for quadrupling the number of units over existing single-family units.
However, it is true that their impact on our regional housing shortage will likely be small compared to the urban village model because, realistically, conversions may be slow and limited as our existing infrastructure is insufficient. As they begin to create increased traffic congestion, air pollution, noise and loss of tree canopy due to their auto-dependency and larger building footprints, they would create gridlock and shadeless heat islands.
We also face a climate crisis. The solution must be transit villages.
Here in San Jose, automobiles are our primary source of greenhouse gas production and other noxious pollutants. So while we must produce more housing, we cannot rely on last century’s solutions. Without access to transit, with citywide Opportunity Housing we will find ourselves locked into another century of worsening auto-dependent gridlock and pollution.
San Jose must leap forward with diverse and integrated communities in transit-oriented villages. We can do this. Google’s Downtown West project next to the Diridon train station will add 4000 housing units, retail, parks, restore our imperiled Los Gatos Creek and provide the budget bolstering office development this city needs to maintain our parks and police force—all integrated with walkable, bikeable, transit accessible pathways. And Google “will not only set aside 1,000 units of affordable housing but create a $150 million community fund for anti-displacement, homelessness and affordable housing efforts.”
Unfortunately, the citywide Opportunity Housing proposal would have none of these benefits.
We need transit solutions to get autos off the road and reduce building footprints so we can increase shared open space, tree canopy and the natural cooling and health benefits from trees and access to nature. We need to convert roadways to green streets to improve stormwater runoff.
We need to reduce the burden of car expenses on low-income families and its hindrance to the financial independence needed to rise into the middle class.
San Jose can bring Silicon Valley innovation and leadership on climate and housing. We can be the “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” needed to prevent the worst effects of climate change that the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says we need.
Dave Poeschel is the Open Space Committee chair for the Sierra Club Loma Prieta Chapter. He represents the Sierra Club here only in regards to San Jose’s planning efforts.