The Four-Plex Plan?
There is a proposal coming to the City Council called "Opportunity Housing," which would allow developers to, without public input, build four-plexes in all single-family neighborhoods. While well intentioned, I am urging my colleagues to reject it.
So, what's wrong with the four-plex plan?
Densifying neighborhoods on the periphery of the city without proper transit infrastructure will undoubtedly increase traffic gridlock. People will have to commute by car to virtually everywhere.
Over 60% of San Jose’s greenhouse gas emissions are generated by transportation. The increase in cars on the road will significantly increase air pollution, affect our health, and accelerate climate change.
Poorer, working class single-family home neighborhoods where houses are cheaper will be the first to be developed into four-plexes. This will result in gentrification and displacement.
What is Smart Growth?
In order to address the housing crisis, we do need to build a lot more housing, but in places where it makes sense: near transit, jobs, and infrastructure -- not indiscriminately in the suburbs.
City Hall must focus on our urban village strategy, which designates 68 locations with appropriate infrastructure to support dense housing development. These urban villages are meant to be walkable communities connected to public transportation, retail, and commercial spaces.
The City's General Plan 2040 (the City Council-approved plan to support population growth in the coming decades) is built around these urban villages and plans to add 120,000 new housing units. Nevertheless, of our 68 proposed urban village sites, only 13 have been approved and virtually none have begun development.
What can we do to get back on track, and accelerate our urban village development?
Pre-approve urban village master plans
Approval should take weeks, not years.
Once the community has weighed in and City Council has approved an urban village plan, individual project permits should be approved in weeks, not years. Instead of making individual projects jump through numerous hoops that can take years and cost millions — we should “pre-approve” project locations, design guidelines, traffic and environmental mitigations, and other project elements within all 68 designated urban villages.
Establish a money-back guarantee on permits and inspections
If City Hall takes too long to process a permit or schedule an inspection, the fees should be on us.
Our Planning Department should set and publish their customer service goals, such as response times for permits applications and inspections. When they are late, as is far too often the case these days, the fees should be discounted or even waived entirely for the applicant. San Joseans work hard to earn their paycheck; their government should do the same.
Train more construction workers
Invest in people to address the housing crisis.
Local government can help — now — by offering training at our community colleges so workers can spend a year learning the skills they need to enter the construction trades. The return on investment of such a program will be profound — it will lower the cost of housing, put people to work, and make our city more equitable by employing marginalized groups historically excluded from the trades.
Invest in innovative, low-cost construction methods
Incentivize modular units and 3-D printing to build the housing of the future.
Researchers estimate that modular or factory-made units, produced off-site, can save up to 20% on the cost of building a standard multifamily development while shortening construction timelines by up to 50%. The City should leverage its considerable annual investment in publicly subsidized, affordable housing to facilitate the transition to more innovative construction methods.