San Jose proposed a move that would support school districts to easily sell and develop their lands, drawing criticism from some education leaders arguing officials are abusing their power and not coordinating with them properly.

The move puts valuable and coveted properties that might be used for building housing, would bring in funds for education, and could help solve the housing crisis in the city at stake.

Selling School Property

The plan to set guidelines for converting vacant school district properties for industrial and residential use was proposed by Mayor Sam Liccardo. In April, it is anticipated

to go before the City Council. However, some school administrators were shocked by the proposal.

“All parties, whether or not they have yet expressed interest in the topic or have plans underway, need an opportunity to participate in the discussion and receive clarity with regard to the rationale for the proposed policy, the timeline for the process, and the short and long-term implications on student enrollment patterns, finances and sustainability,” said Mary Ann Dewan, Santa Clara County Superintendent of Schools.

Land is a significant source of profit for school districts. And the proposal allows them to sell or lease their property and use the money to provide for school facilities. However, limitations on using those spaces pose a problem for communities seeking to benefit from their property.

Today, school districts in San Jose are unable to construct industrial developments or housing on their property without going through a year-long process and is known as a General Plan amendment. It also requires approval from the Planning Commission and the City Council of San Jose.

Building schools, universities, government yards, private recreation, public services facilities, and homeless shelters are allowed in the current land-use designation. However, retail and residences are not included.

Deputy Planning Director Michael Brilliot said that several school districts, including Campbell Union High School District, San Jose Unified School District, and Cambrian School District, recommended revising the land-use policy to allow the construction of housing or other commercial establishments.

“Generally, housing development is the biggest and best use — it’s the one where people make the most money, and that’s because we have a housing crisis,” said Brilliot.

Financial Difficulties

Brilliot said due to a lack of enrollment in public schools, even before the COVID-19, school districts faced financial difficulties. Several schools were considering using that land for educators’ houses or selling excess land to make money.

The city needs guidelines for handling conversions, Liccardo said. “Rather than considering these applications in a sporadic, uncoordinated way, we ought to be public and transparent about a principled approach for deciding which conversions make sense and which don’t, and apply those rules consistently,” he said.

Liccardo noted the conversion would also help the city accomplish its goal of growing affordable housing in San Jose. The new policy would require builders to propose projects that provide affordable housing, low-income rentals, or for-sale housing that have at least 20 residential units per acre in order to transform the land, San Jose Spotlight reported.

Since the proposal affects how the school districts of San Jose use their ground, Dewan advises the city to hold off until there is a chance for education officials to weigh in. She said that most of the superintendents of San Jose did not receive any invitation to provide input on the proposal that would have a direct effect on the finances of the school districts in the city.

Vice-chair of the San Jose Planning Commission, Rolando Bonilla, agreed that the representatives of the education sector must be included at the table. Liccardo said several school districts had been informed regarding the new policy.