San Jose mayoral candidate wants to upend state housing law
A San Jose home going through renovations is pictured in this file photo.

A San Jose mayoral candidate is campaigning against a controversial state law to alter zoning in single-family neighborhoods.

Councilmember Dev Davis has repeatedly hammered SB 9 on social media and in a recent op-ed for opening residential neighborhoods to higher-density development. She became the first person in the state to sign an initiative for a 2022 ballot measure to amend the state constitution to give local land use laws precedence over those passed by the state.

“The state making land-use decisions without giving us additional money for our infrastructure is frankly unfair. By essentially nullifying that document it silences our community voices,” Davis told San José Spotlight, referring to the city’s general plan.

SB 9, which goes into effect in January 2022, allows homeowners to divide properties into two lots that must be at least 1,200 square feet each and build up to four units per lot. Davis, who announced her mayoral candidacy this summer, argues the law is detrimental to neighborhoods because it has no provision for affordable housing and will add massive stress to local infrastructure, such as sewers and roads.

“It’s just really important for San Jose to build the density where we have planned for it, and with public input,” she said.

Davis’ comments have drawn swift condemnation from proponents of the law, who say it’s imperative San Jose densify housing and use the law as a stepping-stone toward building up the affordable housing stock.

Zoning power

San Jose is struggling to meets its housing goals in a booming but unaffordable residential market. San Jose officials promised to build 25,000 new homes—10,000 affordable—by 2023, but the city is well below that threshold.

Alex Shoor, executive director of Catalyze SV who was speaking in his capacity as a housing advocate, noted roughly 94% of San Jose residential land is zoned only for single-family homes, which restricts where taller buildings can be located.

“Any councilmember who wants to solve the housing crisis needs to look at the developers, needs to look at their colleagues and constituents and say, ‘we have to build taller buildings, and we have to build them all over the city,’” he told San José Spotlight.

He noted multiplex buildings are already well represented throughout the South Bay and integrate well in the housing landscape.

Kiyomi Yamamoto, staff attorney with the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, said opponents of SB 9 mischaracterize how it will affect cities. The foundation is part of a coalition in support of SB 9 and a similar local initiative called Opportunity Housing.

“Local jurisdictions still have zoning power,” said Yamamoto. She added she’s disappointed to see misinformation spreading about SB 9, including assertions that it will negatively impact tree canopy and infrastructure.

“Hopefully we can have a fact-based conversation and at least a realistic view of what this actually means for our neighborhoods,” Yamamoto told San José Spotlight.

Davis argues SB 9 will ramp up congestion in neighborhoods, which won’t further the city’s climate goals. She also objected to the idea that she’s trying to obstruct housing for other people.

“I have supported and advocated for every affordable housing project that has come before me and advocated for the ones in my district as well,” she said.

Inclusion, not exclusion

Roberta Moore, a broker associate who serves on San Jose’s 2040 General Plan Task Force, says Davis’ detractors are ignoring valid concerns, including the possibility that SB 9 won’t create more affordable housing opportunities.

Moore says high development fees will deter people from using the law to build more homes. Instead, she claims SB 9 will be used to build more rental units in residential family neighborhoods.

“That does not create equity—sorry, it doesn’t,” she told San José Spotlight.

Sandy Perry, president of the Affordable Housing Network of Santa Clara County, says he’s in favor of SB 9, even though he believes it won’t create many affordable homes in the long run. But he takes issue with Davis’ stance against a policy designed to expand housing opportunities.

“We have to practice inclusion, not exclusion, if we’re going to survive as a community,” Perry said. “As long as we continue to push people out, try to exclude people and not let certain people live in certain neighborhoods… our city is going to continue to be torn apart.”

Contact Eli Wolfe at [email protected] or @EliWolfe4 on Twitter.

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