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Name: Michael Patrick
Location: San Jose, California, United States

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Monday, November 7


Cupertino's Measure C: Overreactionary

houses, S 3rd Street, San Jose, August 21, 2005

Central San Jose homes with small, economical, and harmless setbacks. Imagine the houses not there, and you get Cupertino's Measure C if San Joseans approved an idential initiative.

Sorry to make a big deal about politics in a jurisdiction where I'm not a citizen--I'm not Senator John McCain--but something strange is happening in Cupertino. Measure C, if approved tomorrow, would forbid building within 35 feet of the street in most areas of the city. Why?

  1. The Cupertino City Council frequently approves amendments to the General Plan and permits developments which are turning our city into more of an urban center.
  2. The recent and rapid increase in building heights and densities is significantly changing our small town character and negatively impacting our quality of life.
  3. Continued rapid growth is also a concern to the people of the city because it would affect the city's ability to provide adequate public facilities to meet the requirements of that growth.
  4. Sensible growth management, such as is contained in this initiative amendment, will help ensure more responsible growth and help preserve the suburban character of Cupertino.

[from Measure C's full text]

Mandating a huge, permanently unbuilt space in front of new structures is "sensible growth management"? Growth prevention is a more accurate term--and perhaps many residents would like that.

But regional growth will happen, won't it? And where will it go if not to Cupertino (or to another similarly not-in-my-front-yard locale)? Oh, you know, just some other place--they can deal with it.

And how much growth could potentially not occur within Cupertino as a result of this? Looking at housing, a 35-foot setback on a relatively modest, 60-foot-wide lot makes for 2,100 square feet of front yard. Assume a subdivision has 15 such lots. If the 35-foot-setback rule were not in place, this subdivision could include six more parcels of 5,250 square feet each, for a total of 21 residences--40 percent more housing than what would be allowed under Cupertino's proposed rule.

Sure, that might be a selling point in Measure C's favor, given housing's cost to local public funding. But imagine the Bay Area housing market's level of affordability today if we had a full 40 percent more supply. Thus, Measure C is a statement in opposition to housing affordability in the region.

And does any actual significant nexus exist between front setback size and city residents' quality of life? What will a 35-foot setback do that a 15-foot setback won't? Don't forget the rule also applies to most commercial development. Front setbacks are screens between structures and streets; to say that businesses need a screen between their building and the street is to say they shouldn't have customers (who come in off the street).

Hey, other Bay Area cities, don't get any ideas.

At a time when companies all over the valley are looking at ways to redevelop outdated office and industrial space -- often replacing low buildings with taller ones to make better use of the land -- these measures would discourage reinvestment in Cupertino.

And while the region's CEO's are convinced that the No. 1 barrier to job growth here is the lack of affordable housing, these measures would shut it down in Cupertino.

The measures' supporters say worries about affordable housing are bogus because density is unrelated to affordability and because the measures can be overridden with a public vote. Both arguments are true in theory but false in practice.

If 10 single homes are built on an acre of land, each will be more expensive than if 20 condos are built. [Mercury News editorial, October 9]

November 9: Good choice, Cupertino--Measure C rejected along with A and B (election results).

Yes, I just noticed I used very similar front-yard/setback-land-area mathematical reasonings in this post and the artificial-lawn posting. But I guess that underscores the multiple problems resulting from mandatory front setbacks that are unnecessarily large.

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