Mercury News: Commentary: SB 9 takes away California’s neighborhood voices

By: Dev Davis

This article originally appeared in the Mercury News

Housing law signals Sacramento politicians think they know better than you about your community’s needs

It’s time to stop the centralizing and rigid state land-use rules that harm our ability to have a voice in the way our community grows.

Senate Bill 9, which was recently passed by the state Legislature, is the ultimate override of local land-use control. This new state mandate means a developer can demolish the house right next door to you and build a multi-unit and multi-story complex — and you have no say in the matter. Your local city officials have no say in the matter. These laws are blank checks to developers. Taking away our neighborhood’s voices is not the way to build a community. It’s the way to tell a community, “Sit down and be quiet” because Sacramento politicians know better than you do about what your community needs.

I was honored to be the first in the state to sign the initiative to restore what Sacramento politicians have taken away.

Nearly everyone agrees we need more housing. In particular, we need housing that more people can afford. That is why as a San Jose City Councilwoman, I have voted for every affordable housing project that has come before the City Council. Unfortunately, SB 9 is not a good answer to our housing crisis. This new law requires no affordable housing.

SB 9 does not require new projects to contribute to the local infrastructure they will stress — such as storm water and sewer capacity, water and power lines, streets, parks and schools. Developers and speculators will benefit the most from these policies. Our neighborhoods will bear the biggest brunt of state control.

From an environmental viewpoint, increased density in our tree-rich neighborhoods could result in a loss of critical shade trees without public review. Because SB 9 would apply citywide and not necessarily near public transit, greenhouse gas emissions could also increase from more driving. These are not fear-mongering sentiments. They are the reality of flawed policy.

I have stood up against efforts to destroy our neighborhoods since the issue was first brought up in San Jose over a year ago. Under the guise of “opportunity housing,” the proposal was to eliminate single-family home zoning throughout San Jose. Last August, despite my strong objection, the General Plan Task Force voted to recommend that proposal to the City Council. Now SB 9 has effectively eliminated single-family home zoning statewide.

We should be building density where San Jose has planned for it — in urban villages. These designated growth areas around the city are located near transit and allow for larger developments that are required to make infrastructure upgrades as part of their projects. Currently, our planning department is stretched to capacity with project submissions and unfinished urban village plans. With the added strain of SB 9 implementation, our planning staff will have to move urban village plans to the back burner. Let’s finish the urban village plans and encourage density where it is most wanted and appropriate.

San Jose is the third largest city in California and therefore plays a critical role in cities regaining local control over their own zoning decisions. We have a right to be heard on local matters. If we don’t want to be silenced on what goes on in our neighborhoods, we can join the statewide, tri-partisan initiative to regain local control over land use with an amendment to the California Constitution. If the initiative passes, each city’s land use laws will take precedence over state land use laws. Through local control, we can shape growth to the benefit of everyone in our city, not just developers. Please join us. Go to to learn more.


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