December 19, 2018

San Jose: Council Approves General Plan Amendments


On Tuesday night, the San Jose City Council approved a series of amendments to its 2040 General Plan, moving forward pieces of the Housing Crisis Workplan it passed in June.  The package included elements long sought after by affordable housing advocates.

One key action was an amendment to the City’s “1/5 Acre Rule”, a policy that allows affordable housing by right on certain non-residential sites if it meets specific criteria.  Under the prior rule, affordable housing developments were allowed on “underultilized” parcels under 1.5 acres in size that are zoned commercial and were bordered by residential areas on at least two sides.  In an effort to expand the number of eligible parcels, the Council acted to amend this change the requirement to allow development on sites bordered by residential on one side.  This action will expand the number of potentially eligible parcels from an estimated 300 to over 1000.  Left unresolved is the question of how to determine if a parcel is “underutilized.” Staff expressed concern that this determination may need to be different in different parts of the city, and said it intended to work with the Planning Department at San Jose State to develop appropriate standards.

The Council also approved staff’s recommendation to move up the development timelines for eight Urban Villages in future “horizons.”  These Urban Villages were unable to proceed because they were not in a current horizon, yet they were in areas where the market it now strong and development is desired. These Urban Villages are: North 1st Street (Horizon 2), Race Street Light Rail (Horizon 2), Southwest Expressway (Horizon 2), Alum Rock Avenue (East of 680) (Horizon 3), Stevens Creek Boulevard (Horizon 3), Santana Row/Valley Fair (Horizon 3), Winchester Boulevard (Horizon 3), and South Bascom Avenue (North) (Horizon 3).

The major item of the evening was the General Plan Update for the Downtown and Diridon Station Areas. The update shifted 4,000 units of housing capacity and 10,000 additional jobs to the Downtown – now expanded to include the area around Diridon Station – from other parts of the city.  This action was necessary to account for the additional jobs and homes expected in the Downtown and the cap on these uses in the 2040 General Plan. Were the City to exceed the growth numbers included in the General Plan, it would trigger the need for a new Environmental Impact Report.

While the Council was unanimous in its support for the Downtown Update, a number agreed with the concern raised by SV@Home that even with the additional capacity, the remaining housing allowance for  the Downtown and Station Areas — just over 7,000 homes between now and 2040 — is insufficient given the expectation that the redevelopment of the area, anchored by Google’s new campus, could bring as many as 30,000-40,000 new jobs.

City staff has indicated that it plans to come back next fall during the Four-Year review of the General Plan to resolve this concern. SV@Home will advocate for the additional capacity Downtown, but also for more housing opportunities throughout the city.   Stay tuned for opportunities to be part of these discussions.