Staedler: Where is the city’s state-required housing plan?
An aerial view of downtown San Jose. Photo courtesy of The 111th Photography.

    San Jose has missed the state’s Jan. 31 deadline for an approved 2023-2031 Housing Element.

    The Housing Element is a plan to map out future housing in San Jose and help the city meet its goal of planning for 62,200 homes by 2031. According to the city, the Housing element addresses a range of housing issues such as affordability, design, housing types, density, and location. It also establishes goals, policies and programs to address existing and projected housing needs. State law does not require that jurisdictions build or finance new housing, but they must plan for it.

    City officials blame the delay on the new requirements required by state Assembly Bill 686, which made the plan more technical in nature. They claim that this requires various levels of staff from multiple departments, including housing and planning. The state issued a response to the city’s first draft, and it shows the inherit weaknesses of San Jose’s housing policies crafted over the last decade under the the Liccardo mayoral administration. The plan needs structural changes to address how San Jose plans to meet the 62,200 housing units.  The old way of stating unobtainable goals without a path forward to achieve it will no longer be accepted by the state.

    How those changes are made need to be discussed by the City Council.

    The process is complex and will require policies that drastically change how and where housing units are developed throughout the entire city (even development in Almaden). Instead of having a March council study session, city officials want to punt it to June. Historically, city officials have brought complicated policy work to packed June council meetings that often run into the night to limit the bandwidth and dialogue from councilmembers.

    The item will be heard around 8 p.m., which will include a lengthy staff presentation, several hours of public comment and then council discussion under a time limit.

    That is not acceptable. Where is the council leadership? City officials are negotiating with the state on their own. If they don’t get council input on modifications to the plan, it could become a ‘take it or leave it’ approach in June because city officials will say any changes will result in lost time. There are new councilmembers who will have questions, very reasonable policy trade-off questions.  The staff gaslighting will back the city into an undesirable position to approve a potentially flawed Housing Element.

    The delay in getting the plan approved has opened a pandora’s box of the Builder’s Remedy.  That allows for developers to avoid local zoning requirements. It is as simple as this — if a locality has a noncompliant housing element, then the housing development project must be approved by the city or county regardless of the local zoning. That’s where San Jose stands today: No approved Housing Element and staff overruling the City Council on having a meeting to discuss the status of the negotiations.

    It is time for council to step up and demand answers during a standalone study session. Council meetings in the last several months have been very light, and they could discussed the plan then. Common sense should prevail here.

    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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