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Gentrification Battle In East San Jose Puts Focus On Planning Commission Membership

SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) -- A battle over gentrification in East San Jose is shaping up in the fast changing Alum Rock neighborhood.

"Our surrounding neighborhoods are experiencing persistent displacement also known as advanced gentrification," said Camille Llanez-Fontanilla of the community group Somos Mayfair.

Dozens of East Side residents gathered at the site of a major new housing development to be built on Alum Rock Avenue. It is part of a new wave of construction which threatens to push out current residents and older minority-owned small businesses.

"Big businesses coming in, big developers, making this eight stories and ten stories," said Helen Garza, who has lived in the neighborhood for 50 years.

She joined her neighbors in demanding a greater voice in what happens in the area. Neighbors are demanding representation on the San Jose Planning Commission. The commission currently has no members living on the East Side, but has four from wealthier Willow Glen.

There are currently two open seats on the commission to be filled by the city council.

"We want to make sure that the planning commission, the two new members who will be chosen, understand what it means to live in a vulnerable community and what it's like to suddenly be targeted by developers," said Magdalena Carrasco.

She represents the East Side on the San Jose City Council.

The planning commission is targeted because the seven-member appointed body now has greater powers after San Jose's adoption of form-based planning for Alum Rock Avenue.

It's supposed to help speed up construction in so-called urban villages close to transit. For the first time, commissioners can now "greenlight" major project plans without them going to the full council.

"I would absolutely agree that the planning commission and other commissions certainly lack the diversity that reflects the city that we have," said Peter Allen, who sits on the Planning Commission and lives in the Rose Garden neighborhood.

Besides diversity, Allen said the other problem with some projects in Alum Rock and other places is that the city doesn't usually involve the community early enough in the process.

"Once a project comes in that fits all of the plans and codes, there is not a whole lot we can do to deny it," Allen said.

The planning commission members will be appointed at next Tuesday's council meeting.

Mayor Sam Liccardo has put out a memo, calling for a new ordinance that would prohibit more than two commissioners from serving from any one council district.

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