Common "Myth-perceptions" Busted!


Without managing the number of jobs being created there is no way for housing to catch up, no matter how high we build.  This is just basic supply and demand.  Housing prices are set at what the market will bear, not what people can afford.  Hong Kong and New York City keep building extremely tall buildings yet continue to have some of the most expensive housing costs in the world.  Housing prices will not come down until the jobs/housing balance can be restored which will require limiting office construction. 


Tech billionaires are funneling money to push their build-build-build agenda for more housing at all costs.  A May 3rd article in California Today noted that San Francisco tech company Stripe is giving $1 million to the pro-development lobbying group, California YIMBY.  There is a growing recognition that those of us who live here should also have a say in our future, not just the global tech corporations and real estate interests.  San Mateans true power lies in the vote.  Only through the ballot can we counter these large sums of money that distort our government at every level.   Residents and voters are standing up and fighting back against those who view our community as nothing more than an economic opportunity - a resource to be exploited. 



Some say the only way to meet our housing needs and goals is to go up - way up.  One of the distinguishing design characteristics of a built-environment is the heights of buildings. The existing height limit of 55’ was chosen to allow substantial growth while being compatible with the majority of the one-two story buildings throughout the community.  It also favors less costly, wood-frame construction instead of the more costly, steel-framed construction needed for tall buildings.  Much new development (e.g., both phases of Bay Meadows and Station Park Green) has already been built under the current voter adopted height limits while maintaining our valued, low-scale suburban environment.


These 5-story building heights emulate the livable, pedestrian scale of many of the most loved and visited American and European cities.  These heights promote human-scaled urban design based on the principles of how cities and towns have been built for the last several centuries.  Principles that are increasingly in favor today under the headings Smart Growth and the New Urbanism. 

Bay Area residents have many life-style choices and those that want to live in high-rise buildings can live in one of the region’s three urban centers or in new high-rise developments recently approved in Redwood City, South San Francisco and Millbrae.  People choose to live in suburban San Mateo for many reasons:  its demographic diversity, its varied housing options, its excellent schools and parks, its vibrant and historic downtown, its strong and identifiable neighborhoods and its convenient location.  San Mateo is the desirable city we know today because generations of citizens have stood up to protect our community. They knew then, as we know now, not to change its core values and character with every swing of the economic pendulum.



Measure P has stood the test of time and allowed substantial growth to San Mateo through many boom-and-bust economic cycles.  But this growth has been incremental and within the ability of the community to absorb, without destroying why people live here in the first place.  Unlike the move fast, risk-taking, break things model of the tech industry, successful cities have a long-term perspective that maintains their community’s values.  Sometimes these policies don’t match up with the short-term, economic cycle perspectives of individual property owners and businesses. 


San Mateo has grown substantially under the protections of Measure P and captured much new development fueled by the tech boom, including the new office and residential neighborhoods built in Bay Meadows and at the Station Park Green sites.  Developers have had no problem building within the Measure P allowances.  Many new projects in the downtown are also being built within the existing height limits. But the housing-at-all-costs special interests still don’t believe that these responsible growth levels are enough, despite the unresolved traffic and infrastructure impacts.


While it’s true that the Measure P height, density and affordable housing protections have been in place for many years, the economic and political climate that sparked them in 1991 is similar to what we are experiencing in 2018. Then, as now, there was a strong economic cycle with a lot of global money coming into the Bay Area. Tall (twelve story -120’) buildings were proposed in downtown and residents felt the City Council was not listening to neighborhood concerns about traffic and out of scale development.  Sound familiar?



The extension of the height, density & affordable housing protections will not short-circuit the City’s proposed General Plan process.  It will provide baseline development standards with which new ideas and proposals can be compared.  Once a revised General Plan is finalized, it can be presented to the voters for approval.  Nothing is locked in that can't be changed by a vote of the people. 


When politicians allow the city’s growth to become so out of balance that the community can no longer absorb the rapid growth, and representative democracy fails its citizens, California voters are lucky to have a process to give power back to the people.  San Mateo residents determined many years ago that some development decisions cannot be left to just 3 votes of the City Council on any Monday night.  Why?  Because too often plans, that were approved with much public effort and participation, were changed just because a developer wanted even more.  Our elected representatives have let us down by approving too many developments without addressing the externalized costs (traffic, overcrowded schools, and loss of affordable housing) those developments impose on existing residents. 


Just imagine what could happen if Measure P expires during the expected lengthy General Plan update process.  The development floodgates would open and changes to heights, densities and affordable housing would occur with just 3 votes of the City Council.  Backing this extension will level the political playing field and provide a safety net to the community that allows the entire community, not just special interests, to decide what it wants to be. 


Yes, we need better transit; yes, we need more affordable housing; and yes, we need to address the traffic gridlock and insufficient infrastructure that negatively affects all residents in the region.  We strongly support the General Plan update as an important opportunity for full discussion of these complex issues.  And that will happen with more cooperation and less divisiveness with citizen-voted safeguards in place.  The result will be a diverse San Mateo built around the needs of many generations, not any single demographic now favored by the current swing of the economic pendulum.  

Become a Height Hero!


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