San Jose plan that limits development could be eliminated
A view of San Jose from the East-Evergreen side of the city. File photo.

A San Jose commission says it has the latest solution to traffic jams in the city’s east side: Stop development in the hills.

The San Jose Planning Commission voted 9-1 this week to recommend eliminating an early-2000s era plan that limited homes and businesses in the city’s Evergreen and East Hills neighborhoods. Instead, future development would be based on access to mass transit.

Commissioner Pierluigi Oliverio cast the lone dissenting vote, saying the area could use more commercial development.

“A community like Evergreen is pretty auto-centric and doesn’t really have a lot of nearby jobs,” Oliverio told San José Spotlight. “But ultimately, there’s land available to provide that, I think (vehicle miles traveled) provides an obstacle to providing jobs in that area.”

The City Council will vote on the commission’s recommendation at a later date.

“(Evergreen and East Hills) is basically your classic suburban conundrum,” said Michael Brilliot, deputy director of city planning. “All these people pile into the few roads out, and they become congested.”

Much more congested, Brilliot says, than more packed together areas like downtown.

Because of that congestion, the city tied development of residential and commercial buildings in the Evergreen area to better transportation infrastructure.

A 2008 plan for the Evergreen neighborhood and East Hills set caps on residential and retail development in the area due to its density. The plan called for up to 500 additional housing units, 500,000 square feet of commercial retail and 75,000 square feet of office space to be built in the district, which has long grappled with traffic.

The plan’s footprint stretches from Story Road to the Diablo Mountain range along Highway 101.

Developers would pay fees to cover road improvements that would ease the additional cars their projects would bring.

But the transportation policy of 13 years ago isn’t that of today, thanks to new legislation that changes the way the state looks at environmental impacts. No longer do cities such as San Francisco and Oakland have development policy built around easing car congestion.

Some District 8 leaders worry about phasing out the plan. Instead, they hope residents and developers can come together in a more collaborative process.

“If this policy closes out without a clear path forward for community engagement and bringing everyone together, you have a greater likelihood for less quality development,” Robert Reese told San José Spotlight. Reese chairs the land use committee of the District 8 Community Round Table. “We’re not doing a good job producing larger developments for families. That’s the kind of thing that can be in the discussion if we have a community-based process.”

In the almost decade-and-a-half since the plan was approved, the state has moved to a new metric to reduce its carbon footprint, called vehicle miles traveled, or VMT. VMT measures the distance a person travels from their home to their destination. The more miles driven, the more greenhouse gas is released into the air.

San Jose is trying to keep up with the new measurement, becoming one of the first cities in the state to adopt the new policy. Wednesday’s vote could transition the Evergreen and East Hills neighborhoods out of the previous plan and into a VMT-based plan.

New requirements for developers would be calculated based on VMT measures. The city hopes policies like VMT will encourage developers to build less around the city’s edges and more around denser, more transit-heavy locations.

By adopting the new measurement, city officials hope to stop the spread of commercial and housing development into the East Hills and redirect it to transit-rich areas in the city. Developments that encourage more transit and biking or walking could see less red tape for approval.

“I believe that so many of these updates and changes are making growth smarter and more efficient in the city,” said Commissioner Deborah Torrens.

The city has looked to numerous policy changes to help reduce its carbon emissions. On Monday, it became the largest U.S. city to pledge carbon neutrality by 2030. San Jose officials want to nix the city’s minimum parking requirements to wean residents off excessive car trips.

Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.

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