Policy to build dense housing in San Jose neighborhoods delayed
A committee member voices concern over co-chair David Pandori's leadership of the committee's next meeting in August.

Amid public pressure, San Jose’s General Plan review committee postponed a vote on whether to study “opportunity housing,” a controversial initiative to build more homes in single-family neighborhoods.

“Not all of our neighbors are on social media or can Zoom in order to be heard,” said resident Tim Clauson said during the public comment period. “Please postpone any vote tonight.”

Teresa Alvarado, an executive at urban planning think tank SPUR and co-chair of the committee, said a vote on the issue would be held at the very beginning of the next meeting on Aug. 20.

“This is going to require significant task force commentary,” Alvarado said.

An Opportunity Housing policy would allow developers to build up to four homes on a single parcel in neighborhoods limited to single-family homes. City officials are mulling such a policy for properties within a half-mile of transit corridors, which number roughly 30,000 parcels across the city.

Several people, including committee co-chair and former San Jose Councilmember David Pandori, said that they received little notice and information on the topic.

“I was pretty shocked to find out that staff had not sent maps out to any of the groups affected by this,” Pandori said, adding that the task force should not make a decision affecting tens of thousands of properties so hastily.

Alvarado clarified that the task force was voting only on whether to direct city leaders to study the issue further, rather than on a specific proposal to recommend to City Council.

If the committee approves such a motion at its next meeting, city officials would conduct public outreach, analyze the environmental impacts and displacement risks before crafting a policy recommendation to council. According to Michael Brilliot, San Jose’s deputy planning director, these general plan amendments and ordinances would be brought to the City Council in 2022.

Several committee members questioned the intentions behind the policy. District 8 Councilmember Sylvia Arenas asked whether the change in zoning could increase segregation in the city.

Brilliot said the upzoning could allow lower-income people to live in higher-resource areas. However, Arenas worried that development focused around transit corridors and “urban villages” could result in increased gentrification and displacement.

“We all know that ‘urban’ means people of color… if you’re developing around ‘urban’ areas, you’re (building) around people of color,” Arenas, a member of the committee, said at the meeting. She suggested conducting a displacement analysis as soon as possible.

San Jose resident Smita Patel questioned whether the drive for more housing near transit corridors was based on an overestimation of public transit use. She asked whether city leaders considered the drop in public transit use amid the pandemic, particularly since many workers are forced to work from home.

Brilliot said that’s why the city reviews the general plan and its policies every four years. “You need to adapt and change to the circumstances around you,” he said.

More than 20 people “raised their hand” to speak out about the plan during the Zoom call Thursday. Alvarado limited comment to one minute per person.

Sherri Taylor, who lives in the Naglee Park area, said allowing more density would negatively impact her neighborhood.

“Increasing density by itself does not improve the community,” said Taylor, adding that improving parks and schools should be prioritized over increasing the number of homes.

But Barbara Goldstein, who also lives in the Naglee Park area, said she support upzoning and that multifamily homes add to the vibrancy of a neighborhood.

A map presented during last night’s General Plan review meeting, showing the current housing density conditions on the east end of The Alameda.

Resident Judith Hurley said residents weren’t notified about the proposal and urged the committee to defer the discussion.

“I think you need a much more extensive process for public access and input,” Hurley said.

Mitch Mankin, a downtown resident, said he would prefer the changes be made citywide, rather than just near transit corridors.

Lynne Stephenson and Carissa Clark, two more public speakers, questioned where all the new residents would park their cars.

“The environmental impact is huge,” Stephenson said

Matthew Jumamoy, a Stanford student studying urban planning, said that if the rezoning is not done right, it could exacerbate segregation and gentrification in San Jose.

At the end of the meeting, committee member Erik Schoennauer made a motion to direct city officials to study the issue, saying that postponing the vote would delay discussion on other, more important topics. That motion, however, failed.

Alvarado said the next meeting would be lead by Pandori, the committee co-chair. Shiloh Ballard, committee member and executive director of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, voiced concern with that arrangement, saying that Pandori appeared to have a personal stake in the issue.

“The meeting would go better if we all just played by the rules,” committee member Juan Estrada said, referring to Pandori.

The next General Plan review meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Aug. 20. Readers can learn more about the task force and topics by clicking here.

Contact Sonya Herrera at [email protected] or follow @SMHsoftware on Twitter.

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