I am writing you in support of protecting historic homes and neighborhoods in San Mateo. I urge you to update and/or complete the City’s Historic Resources Inventory now. It is important to have this data before any decisions are made.
— Linda Segervall-Baldini, Baywood resident, in a letter to the City Council
Saving Homes / Saving Places
San Mateo is known for its charming neighborhoods with homes of enduring beauty and classic-architecture built a century ago. Some of San Mateo’s oldest neighborhoods are among the most beautiful and desirable neighborhoods on the Peninsula.
To walk along the streets of Baywood, Aragon and San Mateo Park, for example, is to be both delighted and inspired by the authenticity of the architecture. A treasure trove of classic homes of exquisite quality and architectural detail built in the first few decades of the Twentieth Century.
These neighborhoods attract residents and visitors alike, but are now threatened by the piecemeal demolition of these homes without adequate environmental review and public notice under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). As of this writing, there are five homes proposed for demolition in Baywood alone, and an untold number in other neighborhoods. In response, the Baywood neighborhood has commissioned a Historic Analysis report by a qualified architectural historian that found that the Baywood study area appears to be eligible for listing as a historic district in the National Register of Historic Places.
Collectively, these largely still intact neighborhoods tell the story of how residential development in California, its architecture and history, unfolded in San Mateo before and after the First World War. For this reason, these San Mateo neighborhoods were determined by the State Office of Historic Preservation (OHP) to be National Register or California “Register-eligible" historic districts.
Because these residential neighborhoods west of El Camino Real have been identified as potentially eligible for listing as historic districts in the California Register of Historical Resources, San Mateo General Plan policy revisions, zoning changes, planning applications and residential design guidelines must be evaluated in terms of these potential districts and the contributor buildings within them.
Over thirty years ago, in 1989, San Mateo adopted a Historic Building Survey as part of its General Plan update. That survey serves as a basis for review and regulation of San Mateo’s historic resources, including the City’s Historic Preservation Ordinance, the Zoning Code, and CEQA. The 1989 survey was a significant achievement, but also limited in budget and scope. The survey concentrated its attention on the downtown commercial district and the oldest residential neighborhoods, mostly east of El Camino Real where historic resources were most threatened with demolition and redevelopment.
Many individual buildings and two historic districts - the Downtown Commercial District and Glazenwood Residential District - were identified as historically significant and as a result were listed on the California Register of Historical Resources. Residential neighborhoods west of El Camino Real were never completely or adequately surveyed, although several are referenced in the survey report as potentially significant historic districts.
To be eligible for listing on the California Register, one of four criteria must be met. The City of San Mateo Historic Building Survey strongly suggests these potentially eligible neighborhoods may meet two of these criteria. The General Plan update process is an opportunity to evaluate these neighborhoods’ significance to the community, determine if they rise to the level of importance and integrity of designated historic districts, and add General Plan policy language accordingly.
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Identifying historic resources is responsible planning
In order to make informed planning decisions that support City policy goals, policy makers need baseline information on potential historic resources, both individually and collectively as districts. Before buildings are torn down or neighborhoods irreparably altered, it is useful to ask if they have some significance to the community. Without information about our historic resources, bad planning decisions will inevitably be made. And without critical data on the number and location of existing cultural resources, an adequate evaluation of the impacts becomes impossible.
San Mateo’s General Plan 2040 anticipates that in the next twenty years San Mateo will undergo an unprecedented level of population, jobs and housing growth. The most aggressive alternative, chosen by the City Council, calls for population and housing growth exceeding 50% of 2020 levels - the equivalent to adding the populations of both San Carlos and Burlingame to the City of San Mateo. The impacts of this growth will be felt city-wide, effecting every neighborhood in every corner of the city in residential and commercial districts alike.
Completing the historic resources survey at this time, in tandem with the current General Plan update, would accomplish a strategic direction identified by the City Council in 2016 to “support efforts to improve residential neighborhoods and preserve and enhance neighborhood character.” It would also help ensure that San Mateo continues to be the “healthy community that respects the quality of its neighborhoods,” as declared in the 2040 General Plan vision statement. Despite current City policies, the City Council has declined to include a historic resources survey in the General Plan update.
As development pressure continues to mount, and San Mateo examines its future through the General Plan revision process, it becomes more critical than ever to identify, retain and preserve the historic resources and neighborhoods that contribute so much to San Mateo’s identity, character and value. To this end, San Mateo Heritage Alliance was formed in 2022 in response to community concerns about losing irreplaceable historic resources and the resulting erosion of neighborhood character and sense of place. Visit their website at www.smheritage.org, and help save San Mateo's irreplaceable historic resources.
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A Neighborhood in action
At least one neighborhood has taken action. Dozens of concerned Baywood residents wrote to the Council asking for the City to help protect their neighborhood and update the historic resources inventory. But the response from City Hall was tepid at best. So the neighbors began a fundraising effort. They commissioned a historic consultant to prepare a preliminary report to confirm that there are a sufficient number of historic homes in Baywood to be considered eligible as a historic district.
How You Can Help
Do you value your home and your neighborhood? Do you believe protecting historic resources and building new housing are not mutually exclusive?
If you care - like so many of us do - about the future of the San Mateo's historic neighborhoods, please email the City Council (with copies to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org) and tell them you:
Support protection of historic homes and neighborhoods in San Mateo.
Support updating/completing the City’s Historic Resources Inventory now.
City Council: email@example.com 650-522-7049
Eric Rodriguez: firstname.lastname@example.org
Diane Papan: email@example.com
Joe Goethals: firstname.lastname@example.org
Rick Bonilla: email@example.com
Amourence Lee: firstname.lastname@example.org
Cc: City Clerk Patrice Olds: email@example.com
Make sure your voice is heard.
Help shape San Mateo's future for the better.
Participate in the General Plan Update: