San Jose Councilmember Matt Mahan rejects idea of single-family zoning rules

As the debate heats up over whether to eliminate traditional single-family zoning in San Jose, a decision that will shape the city’s housing for decades to come, Councilmember Matt Mahan is proposing an alternative plan.

Instead of making residential neighborhoods across the city denser to accommodate growth, Councilmember Mahan has proposed that planners focus on making it easier to upzone and develop areas around transit lines and places that already have the infrastructure to support dense neighborhoods.

His proposal, which is known as Smart Growth San Jose, calls for pre-approval of design guidelines and environmental impact mitigation measures in all 68 designated urban villages. Mahan hopes that this will help fast-track the issuance of permits so developers can build projects in a much shorter period of time.

Additionally, Mahan is asking the city’s planning department to set and publish goals for issuing permits and making inspections in a timely manner to keep the developments on track.

Mahan’s proposal is an alternative to a concept that San Jose refers to as “opportunity housing”, which would allow up to four dwelling units on lots designated for single-family homes. Paired with the new state law that allows three additional granny units on multi-unit properties, it could potentially turn a lot with a single home into one with as many as seven housing units.

Residents have voiced support for both Mahan’s proposal and the opportunity housing plan. Those who support Mahan’s proposal believe that it will provide both market-rate and affordable housing in a reasonable and planned manner. They also believe that increasing density across the board will encourage developers to buy up cheap single-family homes in low income neighborhoods, and convert them into (higher-priced) fourplexes which could result in displaced residents, according to reports.  

Supporters of expanding the opportunity housing concept see it as a promising way to boost the city’s housing stock for moderate-income earners and open up the schools and resources in high-opportunity areas. The concept aims to bring diverse options for housing in all parts of the city, unlike what Mahan has proposed, which according to housing advocate Silicon Valley At Home ‘misrepresents’ what opportunity housing stands for.

Opponents assert that opportunity housing will change the very character that gives single family neighborhoods their value; that they will make parking more difficult, increase taxes and cause more traffic.

In October, the City Council is set to consider the Opportunity Housing plan, exploring community outreach initiatives and measures to prevent the displacement of residents.