How New Development Projects Get Approved in San Jose

Approval Process

As San Jose continues to grow and develop, our elected leaders and appointed officials have the responsibility of reviewing each major project to ensure that our city grows in a safe, sustainable and responsible way. Throughout the planning and review process there are opportunities for San Jose residents to make our voices heard and communicate directly with key decision makers.

In San Jose, the City Council has the ultimate decision making authority in approving or rejecting major development projects but before any major project comes to the Council for a vote, several city departments and agencies review development proposals and create opportunities for people in our community to provide their input.

The process starts when a developer files a formal application with the Department of Planning, Building and Code Enforcement (DPBCE).  The DPBCE, other city departments (which may include Police, Fire, Public Works or Transportation) and outside agencies like Caltrans, the Valley Transportation Authority and the Santa Clara Valley Water District are responsible for reviewing the project application to ensure that it complies with health and safety standards.

Environmental Review

The next step in the review process is an Environmental Review. The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)  requires developer to disclose the potential environmental impacts that could result from the construction of a project. An initial study is prepared to determine whether or not the project would have significant environmental impacts that could not be reduced by making changes in the project to mitigate the environmental impact. If the initial study determines that the project may have a significant effect on the environment, an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) must be prepared.

Before the final approval of any planning application there is a public comment period during which members of the public can express their opinions about the project and its potential environmental impact.

While the CEQA process is designed to bring forward potential environmental impacts of new development project, the ultimate decision about whether a project is approved lies with the City Council. Even if there are significant adverse environmental impacts created by a project, the City Council may adopt a “statement of overriding considerations” if it believes that the economic or other benefits outweigh the negative impacts.

Director’s Public Hearing

Once the environmental review process is completed, the Director of Planning, Building, and Code Enforcement will hold a public hearing to give the public an opportunity to learn about the project, provide input, and raise concerns. Generally, notices for the public hearing are sent to all property owners and residents within 500 feet of the project site. After hearing from the community at the public meeting the Director of DPBCE will make a decision to approve or reject the application.

For some major permits, the entire Planning Commission will hold a public hearing to provide members of the community an additional opportunity to voice their opinions before voting to approve the application. The Planning Commission meets on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month and its meetings are open to the public and streamed live on its website.

City Council Hearing

For projects that involve rezoning or general plan amendments, the City Council has the ultimate responsibility of approving permit applications. Before voting on the application, the City Council will hold a public hearing to hear questions or concerns from residents. The City Council has the authority to approve a project, approve the project with conditions of approval, or deny the project altogether.