Zoning Reform Skepticism

Ending single-family zoning, as more cities around the United States have begun to do, is too extreme a response to contemporary planning challenges, according to a recent opinion piece published by the East Bay Times.

March 4, 2021, 12:00 PM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Highway 101 California

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Pierluigi Olivero, a member of the San Jose Planning Commission and a former San Jose City Councilman, writes an opinion piece published by the East Bay Times that announces opposition to a wave of zoning reform efforts underway in the San Francisco Bay Area.

According to Olivero, the idea of ending single-family zoning is "extreme," and proponents are exaggerating the scale at which reforms are being adopted. "In reality, this type of policy has only moved forward in two places: Oregon (2019) and Minneapolis (2020)." Olivero is distinguishing between the step of approving a plan and the additional step of then implementing that plan. These examples of zoning reform's avant garde are further along in the process, and they have encountered challenges in the implementation step. Olivero mentions that Lake Oswego, Oregon has resisted the state preemption of single-family zoning by raising demolition fees, and the process of implementing the Minneapolis 2040 Comprehensive Plan has been rife with controversy and litigation

By Planetizen's count, many other cities, counties, and states are taking substantive steps toward removing varying manifestations of single-family zoning, so focusing only on the two cities that have made the most progress in the zoning reform effort is probably also an exaggeration. 

Olivero is writing to respond to a proposal to oppose a similar action in San José, expected for a City Council hearing in June. According to Olivero, the ordinance "would allow a single-family house on your block to be demolished, without a community meeting or public hearing, and replaced with up to six housing units." Olivero also announces that called Families and Homes San Jose has formed to oppose the potential zoning reforms. According to Olivero, the organization supports the city's current general plan and the addition of accessory dwelling units, but would prefer Urban Village plans "to expedite mixed-use development of underutilized/vacant shopping centers."

"Alternatively, we might consider a hyperlocal zoning option where residents could vote for specific zoning for their individual block," writes Olivero, echoing an idea recently examined in an article published by Bloomberg CityLab that shared news of a report published by the Manhattan Institute in February 2021.

For another approach to zoning reform skepticism, recall an article by Jason Segedy, published in June 2020, which suggests that zoning reform might not be effective in delivering the desired outcomes.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021 in East Bay Times

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