San Jose officials may create a vacant storefront registry to spur property owners to clean up or lease out blighted buildings in downtown. The City Council on Tuesday will discuss the proposal, which would assess a quarterly fee to landlords whose storefronts remain empty for at least a month.
Downtown Manager Blage Zelalich noted in a memo that empty storefronts stifle neighborhood vitality and hurt surrounding businesses, which is why many other cities throughout the country have a program to monitor them.
“Vacant or neglected buildings can lead to neighborhood decline and discourage economic development,” Zelalich wrote. “The presence of vacant storefronts severely degrades the public’s perception of an area, stifles neighborhood growth and vitality and creates an uninviting atmosphere. While ground floor vacancies are inevitable in the normal lifecycle of a commercial district, we can minimize the negative impact of these vacancies on the surrounding environment.”
San Jose’s vacant building monitoring program focuses on neglected and abandoned properties, but not storefronts specifically. Under the current rules, building owners don’t have to enroll in any kind of registry when their property becomes vacant.
To make the proposed registry manageable for city staff, Zelalich suggested focusing it on downtown, from Julian Street and I-280 (from north to south) and Highway 87 to I-280 (west to east).
San Jose’s code enforcement division would manage the program, which would charge property owners $202 every three months a building remains empty. Code enforcement would inspect the property on a quarterly basis to make sure the landlord keeps the building well lit and free from graffiti and weeds.
If a property owner violates the ordinance, the city would bump up the cost to $606 for monthly inspections in addition to fines. To revert back to the lower rate, landlords have to make it through six consecutive violation-free months. There would be an appeals process for building owners who want to challenge a fine.
To withdraw from the registry, property owners would have to show the city documentary proof that they leased, sold or started construction on the space.
Meanwhile, the city will offer a number of initiatives to encourage property owners to activate their buildings in downtown. Economic development staff will promote the idea of turning empty storefronts into temporary art galleries or pop-up shops, like the ones that occupy the former Ross department store in downtown. The city will also list available spaces online at www.sjeconomy.com with the landlord’s contact information.
While the pilot program will focus on downtown, the hope is to eventually expand it citywide. Councilman Raul Peralez, who initially proposed the idea two years ago, said the goal is to clean up commercial corridors and to incentivize property owners to explore creative temporary uses.
“We acknowledge that the market may occasionally not be in the favor of property owners and the need to wait for a suitable tenant is warranted,” Peralez wrote in a memo co-signed by Vice Mayor Magdalena Carrasco and Councilman Chappie Jones. “However, what we will not tolerate is the negligence of a minority of storefront property owners, many absentee, who allow their properties to be consumed by blight, creating harmful effects on the community. The staff recommendations clearly make the distinction as to who would qualify for this expansion of the city’s pre-existing vacant building program.”
More from the San Jose City Council agenda for November 7, 2017:
- The city needs to strengthen oversight of its retirement plans, according a new audit up for review by the council. Both the $2.2 billion federated and $3.4 billion police and fire pension plans performed well below their peers in recent years, City Auditor Sharon Erickson found. In addition, the Retirement Services division lacks a well-defined budget, per the audit, and should improve its communication with the city’s elected officials. Because of the growing burden of unfunded pension liabilities ($4 billion as of June 30), Erickson suggested that the city schedule a joint annual study session between the council and the retirement services department.
WHAT: City Council meets
WHEN: 1:30pm Tuesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260