San Jose council review: Billboards, cannabis
San Jose City Hall is pictured in this file photo.

Pot dispensaries expand. Digital billboards are approved. The new mayor’s term could be shorter and then extended. Here’s what went down at the Feb. 15 San Jose City Council meeting.

Mayoral election ballot measure

San Jose voters will soon decide if mayoral elections should take place in presidential election years.

The City Council voted 10-1 to put the decision before voters for the June 7 primary election. If the measure passes with a simple majority, it will shift the timing of the next mayoral election from 2026 to 2024—shortening the term of the next mayor to two years instead of four. This gives the 2022 elected mayor a chance to run for two additional terms.

Read more.

The Mineta San Jose International Airport. File photo by the 111th Group Aerial Photography.

Digital billboards

Despite years of public outcry, the city ban on digital billboards has been lifted—at least conditionally.

Councilmembers voted 9-2 to approve two digital billboards at Mineta San Jose International Airport, but changed the terms of the agreement. For plans to move forward, billboard developer Clear Channel must agree to take down at least a dozen dilapidated paper billboards in lower-income neighborhoods, have new billboards run on 100% renewable energy and replace each tree removed with five new plantings in areas with low canopy coverage.

Bob Schmitt, Clear Channel’s regional president, said he still needs to review the plans.

Councilmembers and mayoral candidates Matt Mahan and Raul Peralez voted against the billboard plans. Mahan said he couldn’t vote for something that had such strong community opposition.

“The city had banned billboards for (36) years to honor the community’s commitment to protecting our natural beauty, and I don’t want to see us move in the opposite direction,” Mahan told San José Spotlight.

Peralez said the plan should’ve gone out for competitive bids.

“I think we saw today based on all the concessions that my colleagues were asking for, if we were to do a request for proposal on this, we likely would end up with a better deal,” Peralez told San José Spotlight.

The council vote is contrary to what the Airport Commission recommended two weeks ago.

Cannabis in retail centers

San Jose approved a change in cannabis zoning laws that allows up to 21 new dispensaries to operate in certain retail locations around the city. Under the new policy, 37 cannabis retailers would exist citywide.

The vote passed 10-1, with Mahan dissenting. It excludes expansion of non-equity licenses into District 7 at Councilmember Maya Esparza’s request because there is already a high concentration of dispensaries there.

“We cannot continue to saturate the same communities with cannabis businesses when for decades, my neighborhoods have fought the stigma of cannabis and have suffered the most from the war on drugs,” said Esparza, who would not have voted in favor of this rezone change without the exemption.

The City Council approved additional recommendations from councilmembers relating to the cannabis equity program, but largely accepted the proposal approved by the Planning Commission.

The Carlysle, a 21-story tower, would include 290 apartments with retail space on the ground floor and office space across several lower floors. Image courtesy of San Jose.

Downtown high-rise fee waiver

The San Jose City Council unanimously approved waiving more than $4 million in fees for a developer proposing plans for a downtown high-rise.

Councilmembers decided to halve two construction taxes and waive the city’s Affordable Housing Impact Fee for The Carlysle—a mixed-use tower at 51 Notre Dame St. with 290 market-rate apartments and retail and office space.

Mayor Sam Liccardo said removing fees was a “no-brainer” because of revenue generated and the increased vitality the high-rise could bring to downtown.

“You take a parking lot where you get in virtually next to nothing from it, transform it into this asset that’s creating $2 million annually and that’s increasing every year,” Liccardo said.

However, the plan may upset affordable housing advocates because it waives the fees developers are required to pay to grow the city’s stock of affordable housing.

Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

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