Rico: Senate Bill 50 is good for San Jose
San Francisco Sen. Scott Wiener discusses his landmark housing legislation during an exclusive fireside chat hosted by San José Spotlight. Photo by Ramona Giwargis.

In Sept. 2019, the San Jose City Council unanimously declared a climate emergency in the face of worsening weather conditions and growing concerns about climate change’s effects on the city. Before this declaration, the city instituted Climate Smart San Jose, a climate plan that made San Jose one of the first U.S. cities to align with the international Paris Agreement.

SB 50, state Sen. Scott Wiener’s More HOMES Act, can help make San Jose’s goals a reality. SB 50 provides tools for cities like San Jose to increase housing options near high-quality transit lines and in job-rich areas, and allows communities to develop their own local housing plans (within two years) that align with the goals of increasing housing density in a way that reduces driving and affirmatively advances fair housing. Sensitive communities at risk of gentrification and displacement are given five years to develop and adopt their own land use policies.

Earlier in 2019, The New York Times published zoning maps of 10 major American cities, including San Jose. That map showed that 94% of San Jose — the third largest city in California and the tenth largest city in America — is zoned for single-family detached homes only.

In a city of 180.52 square miles, only 6% of buildable land is zoned for denser housing.

It’s clear that San Jose is trying to correct the poor planning decisions of the past through general plan updates and building dense housing developments where it can. Key strategies in Climate Smart San Jose include densifying housing and integrated, accessible public transit; the Envision San Jose 2040 general plan update aligns with those goals in what the city has identified as “planned growth areas,” which include urban villages and transit employment centers.

By increasing housing and job density along well-used transit like light rail and rapid bus lines, the city can work toward its climate goals of reducing overall vehicle miles traveled.

Encouraging and allowing growth near jobs and transit will let families live closer to where they work. Mayor Sam Liccardo said it best when he endorsed the bill last year: “Too many children go to bed at night without seeing parents who are stuck in crippling commutes — a reality that is both heartbreaking and unacceptable. SB 50 will spur more affordable housing near transit and job centers so that people can live close to where they work.”

Building more jobs and homes near transit will encourage more people to get out of their cars, onto public transit, and into their neighborhoods. San Jose is already planning for this growth, and SB 50 will only help the city more.

Alli Rico lives in downtown San Jose and is a volunteer with the housing advocacy group South Bay YIMBY.

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