San Jose’s general plan task force announced, set to meet this fall

A task force to review San Jose’s general plan is gearing up to come back together again to assess the land-use bible, which will guide how and where the South Bay city will grow in the coming years.

Mayor Sam Liccardo announced last week a group of 42 community, business, city and nonprofit leaders that will review the general plan this fall to dissect the documents that guide development in San Jose.

The general plan, called Envision 2040, was initially adopted in 2011 with a focus on promoting job growth in San Jose, one of the few Bay Area cities where homes outnumber jobs. Since then, a task force has reconvened every four years to decide what, if anything, to tweak in the long-term vision for the city. The plan projects a population growth of more than 470,000 new residents and aspires to add 382,000 new jobs over the coming decades.

“I’m really thrilled that the mayor is putting me on this taskforce,” said San Jose Councilmember Pam Foley, who is joining the group this year for the first time. “This is one that should really be in my wheelhouse because of my background as a realtor and mortgage broker and someone who deals with land use issues all the time.”

Already, city officials have identified a handful of topics to dig into, including adding affordable housing in “urban villages” which are areas slated for high-density development. The group will also look into reducing “vehicle miles traveled” in the city and creating more housing in underutilized business corridors.

The timing for this round of reevaluation comes at an opportune moment in San Jose, when the city is on the precipice of unprecedented change and city leaders aim to harness the momentum before the next economic downturn.

One topic on the table this year will likely be Coyote Valley, where the city’s general plan has long envisioned growth in at least part of the 7,400-acre wildlife habitat sprawling between the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Diablo range. City officials in earlier general plan updates slotted 35,000 jobs to pop up in North Coyote Valley, but environmental advocates have since rallied to preserve all of the 7,400 acres of wildlife habitat.

Changes to the general plan, including how to reincorporate those jobs into the city’s overall vision, are likely to follow this fall.

But just as important as jobs, housing will be a major focus in the discussions as the city grapples with falling behind on Liccardo’s stated goal to get 25,000 new homes in the development pipeline by 2023.

“We have unprecedented growth as it relates to jobs,” Foley said. “We need to build more housing and we need to do so quickly … we want our children to live here. We don’t want our seniors displaced, we don’t want our hardworking residents moved out because they can’t afford to live here anymore.”

The big question will be how to get there.

“I think the most important thing that needs to be done is to amend the language in the urban village policies that will encourage and allow more housing production,” said Erik Schoennauer, a task force member and prominent land use consultant. “The implementation policies as proposed now create hurdles that have prevented a meaningful amount of development in the urban villages.”

San Jose has been reticent to rezone any existing land into residential land due to the city’s existing imbalance between jobs and homes. Currently only about 15 percent of the city’s land is set aside for jobs-creating real estate and, generally speaking, commercial developments tend to generate more taxes than residential projects.

“We have to maintain a sort of dual focus where we want to make sure we are building adequate housing units, but we also have to maintain our commercial lands — our employment lands — so that we have enough space for everyone who lives in San Jose to be able to work in San Jose,” said Councilmember Dev Davis, who is also a member of the task force. “That is a quality of life issue that is an environmental issue and it is easier on our infrastructure.”

Notably, one of the hot-button planning topics in San Jose is the city’s evolving plans for the area around Diridon Station on the west side of downtown, where Google is looking to build a massive new mixed-use campus and take advantage of newly approved building height changes.

But task force members said that discussion will not likely show up prominently in the general plan review this year. Instead, a city-appointed Station Area Advisory Group for the Diridon Station Area is already working to adjust the Diridon Station Area Specific plan, which will help inform future changes to the General Plan.

The Envision 2040 task force, co-chaired by Teresa Alvarado of land use thinktank SPUR and former councilmember and prosecutor David Pandori, will begin meeting this fall.

Contact Janice Bitters at janice@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @JaniceBitters on Twitter.

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