March 9, 2018
The Balanced Benefits of Measure P
Terrific Op-Ed in the San Mateo Daily Journal by our own Maxine Terner! Read on!
Build more, build higher, the argument goes, and all our housing troubles will be solved. San Mateans have benefited from Measure P for years, but now we’re told it’s bad for affordable housing because of its height limit guidelines. Repeated often, but that doesn’t make it true.
What has Measure P, and its predecessor, Measure H actually done for affordable housing? According to the city of San Mateo, between 1991 and 2017 there were 5,298 total housing units built in San Mateo or in the development pipeline. Of those, 864 units were affordable, and more than half were the direct result of measures H and P. San Mateo would have far less affordable housing without Measure P. We continue with efforts to share information with organized housing groups so they understand the goal of our measure extension is not in conflict with their desire for more affordable housing.
The big question now is whether raising height limits to accommodate more market rate housing shrinks or expands the affordability gap? Housing prices are set at what the market will bear, not what people can afford. Measure P mandates that at least 10 percent of housing units be below market rate in every new residential development. One affordable for every nine market rate units built. If developers take advantage of the maximum housing bonus allowed by state law, the percent of affordable units drops to 7.4; one affordable unit to 12.5 market rate units.
Increasing allowable building heights and densities, without corresponding increases in affordability requirements, does little more than widen the affordability gap. And without managing the number of jobs being created there is no way for housing to catch up, no matter how high we build. It seems elected officials keep ignoring the jobs side of this problem.
Can anyone truthfully explain the benefits of all this additional growth? We have seen its downside: displacement of renters and small businesses, skyrocketing housing prices and traffic gridlock. It appears that any increased tax revenue goes toward paying the costs of solving the problems this new growth creates, not improving the quality of life for the residents of the region.
But affordable housing is not the only benefit of Measure P. At its core, Measure P is a grassroots effort to give power back to the residents. It provides a seat at the development table where those who benefit financially from more building already sit.
No one can deny that Measure P has allowed measured, but substantial, growth over the years — in scale with our valued suburban character. Measure P’s maximum height limits of 55 feet (generally five stories), with a few places up to 75 feet, are quite high within the context of our predominantly one- to two-story city. These maximum heights are focused near transit. Many new developments recently built in San Francisco and other more urban areas are also within these height limits. San Mateo does its fair share.
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. But these are complex issues that will require a holistic approach to solve — with more cooperation and less divisiveness. San Mateo’s upcoming General Plan update is where residents can resolve these issues, via input to their City Council, and determine what kind of city they desire in the future. We envision a diverse San Mateo built around the needs of many generations, not any single demographic favored by the current swing of the economic pendulum.
Maxine Terner wrote this on behalf of San Mateans for Responsive Government. Maxine is a founding member of SMRG, community activist and former San Mateo planning commissioner. Go to smartergrowthsm.com for more information.