San Jose sends revised housing plan to state after setbacks
An aerial view of San Jose. Photo courtesy of San Jose.

Now nearly a year late, San Jose is hoping its mandated housing plan is no longer a dollar short in the eyes of state officials.

City officials submitted a revised version of San Jose’s housing element to California’s Department of Housing and Community Development for review on Nov. 29, hoping for a thus-far elusive stamp of approval. The housing element is a detailed planning document laying out how San Jose intends to accommodate and encourage tens of thousands of homes to be built over the coming years to meet state mandated goals. San Jose’s target for the 2023-2031 cycle is 62,200 additional homes.

California’s deadline for adoption of plans that comply with state law was Jan. 31, 2023. San Jose, after working with the state to revise a draft plan from late 2022 through mid-2023, submitted a San Jose City Council-approved plan in late June. The state handed it back in August, declining to certify it until San Jose made further revisions.

“We’ve all been waiting in the dark to see what is going to happen,” Bob Staedler, a San Jose land use consultant, told San José Spotlight. “This is the crossroads for the future of San Jose housing, because if they don’t get it right this time, I don’t know what the path forward looks like.”

City officials say they have been communicating frequently with the state and are confident their latest submission will pass muster.

Housing needs

On rolling eight-year cycles, California assesses housing needs and allocates goals for different regions around the state, after which it requires cities and counties to submit housing plans to hit those targets. The overarching hope is to alleviate a crushing housing and affordability crisis across much of the state.

While public agencies are not responsible for building homes, they must illustrate in plans where and how new homes could be put up, and explain how policies will help achieve housing goals.

In recent years, Gov. Gavin Newsom and his administration have sought more accountability from cities and counties up and down the state that have long fallen well short of meeting housing goals, but previously faced little to no consequences.

Local officials say the learning curve to achieve state approval has been steep this year, coupled with the added pressures of more public scrutiny and interest in the plans.

“This cycle housing element is more than double the work of previous housing elements, given added requirements because of the state’s concern with and desire to address the housing crises,” Michael Brilliot, San Jose’s deputy director of planning, told San José Spotlight.

With a certification of its housing element from the state, San Jose officials could avoid possibly losing out on opportunities for millions in grant funding. The lack of an approval could also further open the door to so-called “builder’s remedy” projects that might allow developers to ram through housing projects in the city.

Brilliot said this year, the city already has applications for roughly 30 builder’s remedy projects across San Jose, but noted the state law on the subject is vague, and the courts may need to weigh in on the matter to decide if those projects have a path forward.

A late September city report said officials feel their previous submission was largely in line with state law, and should be enough to shut down rogue development projects.

While a late August letter from the state to San Jose about its housing plan said the city’s work indeed addressed many requirements, it still didn’t “substantially comply” with housing element law. The letter suggests that without further remedies, the city will once again face rejection from the state.

Improved engagement

The state said the city’s plan needed to better show and tell how sites around the city that currently have businesses, churches or schools on them would eventually be able to convert to housing areas. The state also emphasized San Jose needed to engage more with various community groups who raised concerns about lack of public outreach, housing opportunity and equity and displacement.

Brilliot said the city has reviewed every portion of concern with the state, and has taken further feedback from community organizations to improve the plan, receiving letters of support in the process.

Robert Chapman Wood, a professor at San Jose State University and chair of the local chapter of the California Faculty Association’s housing committee, said he thinks the new draft the city has submitted still isn’t up to snuff.

“It feels to me that San Jose has been playing with the state since 2011 and not taking the core state rules seriously,” he told San José Spotlight.

Wood said his chapter of the California Faculty Association thinks the city needs to zone at least six square miles more of land for possible future medium-density housing, on top of the nearly five miles it has now, to meet the state targets.

Tthe city has long-term plans for more medium density housing it in this next cycle of the element document, Brilliot said. But he pushed back against the idea of rapidly rezoning six square miles with just a pen stroke in a largely built out city.

“We have almost no land,” Brilliot said. “We’re not talking about (rezoning) orchards anymore, we’re talking about people’s houses, or businesses, or commercial areas.”

San Jose is hoping to hear back from the state soon. If the plan is not certified by Dec. 31, the city could be at risk of forgoing $59 million in One Bay Area Grant funding it is set to receive from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

Because the state has up to 60 days from Nov. 29 to respond, however, Brilliot said the commission may offer a grace period for the grant deadline to San Jose and other cities in similar situations.

Staedler said because of the funding and the builder’s remedy projects, many others in the city are holding their breath waiting for the certification.

“I really hope they can get it done this time,” he said, “because there is a lot at stake.”

Contact Joseph Geha at [email protected] or @josephgeha16 on Twitter.

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