Staedler: A San Jose housing study session to nowhere
San Jose City Hall is pictured in this file photo.

    San Jose held a study session on Nov. 1 during the regularly scheduled city council meeting. It was the fourth they’ve held over the last several years.

    The city hired Century Urban LLC to perform a conceptual feasibility analysis and then brought several Urban Land Institute members to give their perspective on the difficulty of building housing in the Bay Area.

    Here are my main takeaways from this study session.

    City staff and their experts claim housing is completely infeasible throughout the entire city. They went on and on about negative residual land value and how nothing the city does in its fee structure will help. However, they did put this disclaimer at the end of their report summary: “The analyses conclusions are not intended to imply that every residential development is equally challenged in San Jose. Actual projects may differ from the prototype assumptions and may be less challenged.”

    So what is it, challenged for all, challenged when convenient to discuss fee reductions or not as challenging as sold?

    The city’s consultant sent a report on Aug. 19 marked “Confidential and Privileged.” Why in the world would a conceptual feasibility analysis be marked that? Does it mean if the report didn’t turn out the way the mayor and staff wanted, they would bury it and not release it due to some made up attorney-client privilege? This makes no sense whatsoever, look at the report for yourself.

    Councilmember David Cohen asked whether or not it would make sense to wait before making any decisions on housing policy. A reasonable and rational idea, but staff seemed rather anxious about the possibility of waiting until next year. Staff replied that “there are outliers that may want to take a big action.” Who is the outlier? Why not disclose who that is? Obviously, staff is talking to a developer that seems to need the fee adjustment. Just another reason for the public to lose faith in the city and its inability to be transparent.

    The clearest sign this study session wasn’t worth the time was that market rate and affordable housing developers did not show up to comment on it. In Exhibit E of the report, they shared developer and stakeholder feedback. My favorite comment listed is this one: “Is this exercise useful for any type of policy making?” No, it is not useful, and thank you to the person that made this comment. Shockingly enough, the consultant included that comment which mocks this ridiculous endeavor.

    The mayor asked the question as to whether or not the city has directed staff to eliminate parking minimums. Staff replied that they are coming back to council on Nov. 29 to do that. Let’s see if they keep that date or kick the can a bit further.

    I want to end this column with this simple fact: the architect of San Jose’s failed housing policy is Mayor Sam Liccardo. He has been in power for the last 16 years and has controlled through political manipulation the city’s housing policy and thus the city’s residents and business owners cope with the aftermath of his incomprehensibly bad housing production failure.

    He can make all of the excuses in the world, and I’ll be waiting for his response, but his inability to deliver on those 25,000 homes will be a huge stain on his legacy.

    San José Spotlight columnist Bob Staedler is a principal at Silicon Valley Synergy, a San Jose-based land use and development consulting firm. His columns appear every first Monday of the month. Contact Bob at [email protected] or follow @BobStaedler on Twitter.

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