San Jose and Santa Clara County at loggerheads over home building

Left to right: San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and Santa Clara County Executive Jeff Smith (Office of the Santa Clara County Executive, Getty Images)

Four months ago, the cities of San Jose and Santa Clara agreed to break a decade-long stalemate in building 32,000 homes. Now the county has delayed the deal.

Santa Clara County has stalled construction until San Jose completes a series of long-running highway improvements, the San Jose Mercury News reported. Negotiations are at a standstill, with both entities moving toward mediation.

It’s part of San Jose’s “standard irresponsible approach to development,” said Santa Clara County Executive Jeff Smith, who pointed to a 16-year-old agreement that included explicit road improvements.

“When someone is stuck in traffic on one of the roads in San Jose,” he said, “they may think the city isn’t mitigating the housing and construction they approved. “

In May, San Jose reached an agreement with the city of Santa Clara to end a decade-long housing cap, which paved the way for housing, office and commercial development in North San Jose.

In 2005, the city planned to build up to 32,000 homes and 26.7 million square feet of office or industrial space, plus 2.7 million square feet of commercial space on its north side. But lawsuits by the City of Santa Clara and Santa Clara County produced a settlement more than a decade ago that effectively capped housing development.

The new development would play a vital role in San Jose’s efforts to meet state-mandated housing goals, with 20% of the 32,000 planned units marked as affordable.

Under the recently amended agreement, San Jose pledged to invest $38.5 million in transportation improvements to reduce traffic congestion. In exchange, Santa Clara agreed not to sue San Jose.

But the county fell short of the deal, despite San Jose’s progress in widening the Montague Freeway between Lick Mill Boulevard and First Street, with other transportation projects underway.

“We look forward to the county expressing its specific requirements that will allow us to build affordable housing in North San Jose,” Mayor Sam Liccardo told Mercury News. “I haven’t seen any indication that the county is more willing to allow housing to be built.”

A May letter from County Attorney James Williams to the city outlined road projects San Jose must complete, including the widening of the Montague Freeway, as well as I-880 and Trade Zone Boulevard, as well as building a flyover of Trimble Road.
The county has already threatened to sue San Jose if the city goes ahead. But Liccardo sees litigation as “unlikely”.
“What’s much more likely is that the cloud of litigation will prevent any builder from getting a shovel in the ground,” he said. “The mere threat of litigation will be enough to tell any builder in the area not to build in North San Jose.”

— Dana Barthelemy