Influential commission to guide San Jose development finally gets citywide representation

For years, one of San Jose’s most influential commissions has
been overwhelmingly controlled by white representatives from some
of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods. But that’s about to
finally change.

The San Jose City Council has appointed five new members from
different areas across the city to the Planning Commission after
public scrutiny for its longtime lack of racial and geographic
diversity.

The commission, which evaluates land-use policies and gives
recommendations on planning and development proposals, will now
include three Latinx residents, three white residents and a Black
resident — all seven of whom reside in separate council
districts. The council, however, did not appoint any Asian-American
candidates even though nearly a third of the city’s population is
made up of people of Asian and pacific island descent.

“We got an excellent pool of candidates, which speaks volumes
about the council’s willingness to step up to this kind of
commitment and I’m grateful to all the people who applied,”
Mayor Sam Liccardo said during the appointment meeting on Monday
about the pool of 14 candidates.

In the coming years, the Planning Commission will help mold
projects with long-lasting impacts on the city — from the
proposed Google transit village to the expansion of its bike lane
network to housing projects and developments along business and
transit corridors across San Jose.

The makeup of the new commission follows more than a year of
calls for more representation from the city’s low-income and
minority communities. Earlier this month, the council passed
reforms to limit the term of planning commissioners to two
consecutive four-year terms and prohibit the appointment of more
than two commissioners from the same council district.

Matt Gustafson of Somos Mayfair, a nonprofit organization in the
Mayfair neighborhood of East San Jose, was one of the community
members pushing for a more equitable group makeup. In an interview
after the appointments, Gustafson said he was “disappointed”
with the outcome.

For East San Jose community members and leaders, those elected
to the city’s planning commission can sometimes wield as much
power as the councilin approving developments that could lead
to more gentrification and displacement of low-income residents.
Urban village plans on the city’s east side only require project
approval for the planning commission, rather than a recommendation
by the planning commission and approval by the city council.

“It’s not just about geographic representation,†Gustafson
said. “I don’t think that several of the candidates have
demonstrated that they understand the negative impacts of certain
kinds of development on marginalized communities.â€

“If a planning commissioner doesn’t have concerns for
displacement, that’s really bad for Mayfair,†he added.

In particular, Gustafson questioned the council’s decision to
pass over two qualified candidates with years of applicable
experience — Huy Tran, a former council candidate and former San
Jose housing commissioner,  and Aimee Escobar, a senior housing
policy analyst for Santa Clara County Housing Authority and a
member of Santa Clara County’s Planning Commission. Escobar also
has a master’s degree in urban planning.

“How much more experience can you get?†Gustafson said of
Escobar. “It’s clear that there are politics that go into
choosing candidates.â€

The council faced serious backlash last year when it bypassed
two Latinx candidates, Rolando Bonilla and Aimee Escobar, to
replace Ada Marquez, the only woman of color on the commission at
that time. Instead, the council appointed former councilmember
Pierluigi Oliverio — a decision that solidified the
commission’s all-white makeup.

Commissioner Shiloh Ballard, whose term ends at the end of June
and decided not to try for reappointment, noted at the time that
the body made of a majority of white men did not “accurately
reflect the makeup of our city.â€

“With so many key land use decisions being discussed on a
regular basis, it’s important that our planning commission be
made up of individuals that have deep ties in communities
throughout the City,†Ballard wrote on Facebook after the
appointment. “It saddens me that decisions will be made without
thinking of the potential impacts in areas like Mayfair, Capitol
Park, Mt. Pleasant, and the Washington Neighborhood.â€

Since then, the council appointed two Latinx commissioners,
Mariel Caballero, who was appointed in October to fill a partial
term ending this month, and Rolando Bonilla, whose term ends in
June 2022. Last week, Caballero was elected by her fellow
commissioners to serve as chair and Bonilla as vice-chair.

The city council was tasked with filling five slots on the
commission this week — one vacancy due to the resignation of
Melanie Griswold on April 15 and four vacancies due to
commissioners with terms ending at the end of June.

The new chair of the commission, Caballero, was unanimously
approved for another term on Tuesday. Caballero is a deputy
director of prohibition administration for Santa Clara County and
lives in the city’s downtown area, District 3.

Speaking to Caballero during the virtual interview, council
member Raul Peralez, who represents her district, said she has
represented his district “proudly†and her quick appointment to
the chair was a “testament to your ability to serve on this
commission.â€

The other newly-elected commissioners include:

  • George Casey, an associate attorney at Morrison Foerster and a
    resident of District 10
  • Jorge Antonio Garcia, an account executive by Redwood Mortgage
    and a resident of District 8
  • Justin Lardinois, a software engineer at Google and a resident
    of District 1
  • Deborah Torrens, a self-employed family child-care provider and
    a resident of District 2

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Current commissioners Oliverio, a District 6 resident, and
Bonilla, a District 5 resident, will serve until the end of June
2022.

Source: FS – All – Real Estate News 1
Influential commission to guide San Jose development finally
gets citywide representation