South Bay residents worry Opportunity Housing will worsen parking and traffic
Opportunity Housing would allow up to four units to be built on single parcels in single-family neighborhoods. File photo.

South San Jose residents voiced fears about parking, traffic and development during a Monday night community meeting on Opportunity Housing, a controversial initiative to increase the number of homes that can be built in single-family neighborhoods.

“I don’t care who lives in my neighborhood,” resident Christina Ferrigno said. “What I do mind is if a developer gets involved, or an opportunistic individual, who destroys an old home to turn a profit.”

Opportunity Housing arose from a series of San Jose General Plan review meetings last year and would allow building duplexes, triplexes or fourplexes on land designated for single-family homes. About 94% of the city’s residential land is limited to single-family structures. Supporters say it will boost the city’s housing supply and alleviate astronomical rents.

The initiative is controversial, with two San Jose Planning Commissioners—Rolando Bonilla and Pierluigi Oliverio—being particularly vocal of their opinions. Supporters say it will boost the city’s housing supply and alleviate astronomical rents, while opponents worry about exacerbating parking and traffic woes.

Few San Jose councilmembers—save for Sylvia Arenas, Dev Davis and Pam Foley who served on the General Plan Review Task Force last year— have a firm position on the initiative. Arenas supported the initiative, while Davis and Foley opposed.

City officials originally looked at “upzoning” single-family neighborhoods located near public transit to reduce the added strain on parking and traffic. But the task force voted Aug. 20 to study the initiative citywide to spread development across the city rather than concentrate it in low-income areas.

Following the task force vote,  the city began analyzing the cost-effectiveness of the initiative and creating a five-step process to draft an ordinance for City Council to vote on next year—but only if they receive the go-ahead from the council this summer to study the initiative further. The five-step process includes community engagement, studying an affordable housing incentive, a displacement risk analysis, creating rules for historic preservation and creating the design standards and zoning codes for the ordinance.

Planning Division Manager Jared Hart and Planner Jessica Setiawan said the council is not voting on whether to implement Opportunity Housing this summer. Rather, they will vote on whether to direct staff to complete these five steps.

San Jose planning staff had originally recommended studying Opportunity Housing in areas close to transit stops. Image courtesy of City of San Jose.
San Jose planning staff had originally recommended studying Opportunity Housing in areas close to transit stops. Image courtesy of City of San Jose.

Hart and Setiawan kicked off Monday night’s meeting with a brief presentation on Opportunity Housing, sharing background information and lesser-known details, such as a requirement that new homes would be designed to fit with existing homes in terms of height limits and architectural styles. Setiawan also said developers would cover some of the added burden on infrastructure by paying park impact and school fees.

Justin Wang, advocacy manager for urban planning nonprofit Greenbelt Alliance, spoke in favor of Opportunity Housing, while real estate broker and District 1 resident David Eisbach spoke against.

Wang described the history of San Jose, explaining how its population exploded since the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe first flourished. The high demand and low supply of homes puts upward pressure on prices. Wang noted that about 80,000 cars commute daily between San Joaquin County and the Bay Area, adding a burden to families and the environment.

“San Joseans are getting priced out,” Wang said. “San Jose must be proactive in addressing these past missteps.”

Wang said that nearby Mountain View only reserves 50% of its residential land for single-family homes, and that areas across San Jose already embrace duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes.

“A variety of housing choices can fit within a neighborhood’s character,” he said. “Opportunity Housing has the opportunity to be so many things for so many different people.”

Eisbach described San Jose’s history on housing policy and said the city’s woes are not the fault of specific individuals or groups. He noted that upzoning—in combination with the city’s accessory dwelling unit, or “granny unit” ordinance—could result in seven times the number of homes in a single lot, and questioned whether the initiative would actually result in affordable housing.

“A duplex becomes five, a triplex becomes six, and a fourplex becomes seven,” Eisbach said. “What form are these houses going to be? Will these units fall under rent control?”

Eisbach said the “nuisance” of new homes being built across the city would impede traffic and diminish the peace and quiet of San Jose neighborhoods.

“If you’ve ever been in a site where it’s developing a number of homes, you’ll know that the street is always dug up,” Eisbach said. “What is the price of peace of mind and privacy in your own backyard?”

Monday’s meeting is the first of three organized by San Jose United, founded by Juan Estrada, president of the community group District 5 United. Estrada and other District 5 organizers solicited a citywide survey earlier this year, which found opposition to Opportunity Housing. Supporters say the poll was unfairly targeted toward opponents.

Future meetings are scheduled for East San Jose, downtown and West San Jose. A meeting this Thursday will focus on Districts 5, 7 and 8, while next Thursday’s meeting will focus on Districts 1, 3, 4 and 6. Readers can learn more about the meetings here.

Contact Sonya Herrera at [email protected] or follow @SMHsoftware on Twitter.