San Jose to tackle anti-displacement amid concerns of developers on panel

Amid the region’s housing crunch and an increasing homeless population, San Jose is searching for solutions to temper the ongoing crisis, as more families and communities of color are subject to displacement.

In response, the City Council on Tuesday will discuss anti-displacement strategies to curb the adverse effects of Silicon Valley’s economic boom.

“The City Council’s study session on displacement in San Jose will provide a venue for councilmembers to learn more about the issue of displacement and about anti-displacement strategies that cities can employ,” said Housing Director Jacky Morales-Ferrand. “The project uses community-centered and data driven research to understand gentrification, displacement, and to help identify policy interventions that support equitable development.”

The city will discuss strategies that are rooted in the “three P’s” of housing policy — production, protection and preservation. Currently San Jose has a few policies to mitigate displacement, including an inclusionary housing ordinance that requires developers to set aside affordable units or pay a fee, long-term ground leases for affordable developments and tenant protections.

Still, 40 percent of the city’s population is at risk of being displaced, according to housing officials, the majority of whom are Latino, African American and Vietnamese.

According to the city’s study on urban displacement, nearly half of San Jose households are considered low-income, while only 23 percent of homes in the city are considered “affordable” or “rent stabilized.” A whopping 77 percent of the city’s housing stock is market rate, making displacement among some communities challenging to avoid. The city reports that displaced residents are more likely to become homeless, couch-surf or have new, long commutes.

To combat these alarming rates of displacement, city officials recommend acquiring private land and building affordable, high-density housing near transit, securing new funding for affordable housing projects and encouraging community land trusts in susceptible neighborhoods. They also suggested education on and enforcement of existing policies, and establishing a local living wage to provide long-term stability for those most at risk.

Matt King, a community organizer with Sacred Heart, said protections such as a right to legal counsel for tenants, reducing the current 5 percent rent cap on rent controlled units and expanding rent control to duplexes are important steps to curb displacement.

Criticism over landlord interests

Housing officials who will present the anti-displacement study Tuesday will be joined by representatives from top business organizations, such as the silicon valley organization and the California Apartment Association, a point of contention for many housing advocates.

They claim the landlords and business lobbies were added to the panel at the eleventh hour after a council committee chaired by Mayor Sam Liccardo twice voted to delay the anti-displacement study session.

Some of those developer and landlord representatives who will speak on displacement Tuesday include Jeff Zell, a property manager, and Shawn Milligan of KT Urban, a real estate development firm.

“Inviting developers and a landlord… makes it hard to believe this study session is an act of good faith,” King said. “We can only hope the mayor and councilmembers care more about the people they represent than the people who fill their campaign coffers. In November, the mayor wants to dismantle our Ellis Act policy and make it easier to bulldoze affordable housing for luxury apartments. That is a failure of leadership. With political courage and a bold agenda we can keep people in their homes.”

As a landlord in Mountain View, Zell had refused to comply with rent control after it was approved by voters in 2016 in an act of “civil disobedience,” instead sending a letter to his tenants claiming that he planned on increasing the rent and evicting tenants who didn’t pay up. Housing advocates say developer KT Urban has been heavily involved in lobbying against the Ellis Act, a protection that many housing advocates say is crucial to preventing displacement.

Housing officials on Tuesday will also discuss displacement strategies adopted by other cities and discuss whether those strategies would be feasible in San Jose. The city will publish its report on anti-displacement in November.

Planning Commission appointment

Also on Tuesday, the City Council will appoint two new commissioners to the city’s Planning Commission.

For the last few months, the city’s East Side community has been up in arms over the appointment of a new commissioner –former Councilmember Pierluigi Oliverio — after he was chosen to replace Ada Marquez, making him the fourth member on the 7-panel commission from affluent District 6.

When the second vacancy opened after John Leyba’s departure, City Clerk Toni Taber said no new applicants would be considered. A week later, a fourth entrant was added to the mix of applicants.

The four contenders include Mariel Caballero, a Santa Clara County deputy director at the probation department; Louis Barocio, vice principal at a East Side Union High School District; business owner Rolando Bonilla; and attorney George Casey.

The drawn out saga has attracted intense scrutiny from both sides of the political aisle, especially raising red flags from minority groups who are demanding more representation on the powerful commission.

Last week, SOMOS Mayfair and Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco held a news conference decrying the lack of transparency over the fourth entrant — Casey — and highlighting concerns over racial representation on the influential panel ahead of Tuesday’s decision.

“Our job is making sure that we do what we can to represent our districts,” Carrasco said during the news conference. “At the end of the day, we have to have a bigger, much broader, diverse and well represented vision, which is an inclusive vision.”

Fireworks ordinance

City leaders are brainstorming new strategies to curb the use of illegal fireworks and displays, following years of complaints from San Jose residents fed up with the dangerous sparklers.

On Tuesday, city officials will receive an update on the city’s fireworks ordinance, which intends to provide stronger solutions for enforcement of the city’s ban.

The city in recent years has beefed up enforcement for illegal fireworks by using a new reporting system for the public to report illegal activity through a phone line and online tool. Yet, the city is still experiencing problems with the system and its reliability.

As of this year, only 42 percent of the tool’s users reported that it was easy to use, according to a city report. This past year, a total of 1,946 online reports were received, but only 161 were considered “actionable.” During Fourth of July, a total of 787 calls were made, but only 68 were answered.

While the city struggles to deploy additional police officers to handle fireworks complaints, the department seized 300 pounds of illegal fireworks this past July and has increased its presence in neighborhoods where fireworks are reported the most.

A total of 464 calls were received during the Fourth of July period last year.

“The city has made major progress on all components of the program, however, there continues to be blatant illegal use of fireworks within the city limits,” said San Jose Fire Chief Robert Sapien. “The team continues to develop methods to define, gather, normalize and track data that can be used to make program adjustments and/or develop policy changes.”

Sapien said improving the online tool so that users can accurately report a complaint with a potential tutorial video may help make the process more efficient, in addition to increasing the number of public safety officers when suspected fireworks use might be high. The chief also suggested continuous education and outreach to help curb the use and sale of illegal fireworks.

The City Council will meet 1:30 p.m. Tuesday inside the council chamber at City Hall, 200 East Santa Clara Street in San Jose.

Contact Nadia Lopez at nadia@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.

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