Monthly Archives: February 2015

The Marina Project – Tomorrow!!

It has been a busy week for me so it was just this morning that I read the article in the Islander about the hearing tomorrow on the Marina Project. I was familiar with the factual issues but frankly what surprised me was that only Herb Perez and I were willing to comment and tell our residents our thoughts on the issue.

Now I understand that the point of the public hearing process is to keep an open mind and be willing to listen, which I always do, but that does not mean that you can not have concerns about what is being proposed at a public hearing or have concerns about an issue effecting your City. When one Council Member does not respond at all and two others say they want to wait to hear what everyone has to say before they are willing to say anything, I get very concerned.

Steve Okamoto is technically correct that the hearing is not about the Housing Element of the General Plan. However, the point made by the two of us that voted not to approve the Housing Element, is that it clears hurdles for more housing in a way that we believe is not in the best interest of Foster City right now because it fails to address the impacts from such growth.  The same concerns are presented by the proposed Marina Project and so the same issue is presented: do we clear more hurdles for more housing now, or do we study the issue and find ways to diversify the City’s revenue and ameliorate the impacts from additional development.

Thus, when Council Members who have I have heard to say privately that they want to wait on housing until we can see the impacts from what we have currently in development are not willing to say that on the record, I worry and I think that maybe what happened with the Housing Element happened only because very few residents showed up to express their opinion. So, unless we have lots of people showing up tomorrow, who knows what might happen!

So again Foster City, this is another call to action from me.  I have challenged you this year to take action and this is another time to do that. I also challenge you to take broader action as this is an election year when a majority of the Council is up for election. Art is termed out but both Herb and Steve can be reelected. This is a critical year to make sure that someone is elected that believes that it is their responsiblity to be answerable to the residents that elected them. Those are my challenges to you.

The Marina Project

As many of you already know, the proposal to build housing and a marina across from Bowditch Middle School (the “Marina Project”) is coming back to the Council for another public hearing on Monday, February 23, 2015 starting at 6:30. I am expecting (and hoping) to see a large turnout again.

I have received a lot of emails but at this point there are too many to respond to all of them, so if you emailed me and did not get an individual response, I apologize. What I have been saying is that it is not the City’s plan to build this housing. It is the owner of the land coming to the City Council to get some advice and feedback on whether the Council would approve a zoning change to allow the property owner to build housing.  Right now it is not zoned for housing.

Last year we changed the law and began having these kinds of hearings as the very first step in the development process. The point was to allow the public and the Council to weigh in on new projects before the process went far down the road and the property owner spent a lot of money. Charter Square was one such hearing, Edgewater Shopping Center was another. A prior version of the development plan for the Marina Project was a third. The Marina Project has been changed by the property owner and so now it has come back to another hearing.

Under California law I cannot decide on a matter before the public hearing but I have told everyone, including the property owner’s representative, that I have serious concerns about moving forward on any housing development before we have had the chance to study all of the impacts and looked at ways to diversify the City’s income portfolio away from the current concentration on revenue from property tax. That has been my consistent position for some time and I see no reason it will not continue.

If you support that position, I encourage you to come to the hearing on the 23rd.

Housing and Traffic and Schools, Oh My…

This is a preview of my Council Corner for this coming Wednesday, February 18, 2015.

We all remember Dorothy Gale walking down the yellow brick road with the Tin Man and Scarecrow and as they entered the dark woods they started to talk about the things troubling them the most and it ended up in a chant – Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My. Well, in Foster City today the issues of greatest importance to us seem to be housing, traffic and school overcrowding. Well, what the trio on the yellow brick road found out as they became a quartet, is that when you face your problems head on, they turn out to not be as scary as you thought.

Housing is today’s front-page issue. So how are we dealing with it? There are some who want a moratorium and others, including some elected officials, who believe “higher density is going to happen – it’s just a matter of when.” Well, I believe in neither. I believe that we need to take time, study the issue, look at the impacts of additional housing, how they can be ameliorated and how we can best preserve our quality of life. Once all that is done, the problem will be much more manageable. I call that smart growth. I also believe that we, Foster City, rely too much on housing and the property tax revenue it generates. We therefore need to take that into account as we move into the future and try to have greater financial diversity in the City’s revenue stream.

Traffic is a nightmare. I know, I sit in it too often. The problem however, is not that our City streets are inadequate, the problem is that everyone is leaving at our around the same time and going to or coming from the same place. We are all trying to get to 92 or 101 and those roads are already well past their designed use. They are inadequately designed for today’s workload and we have no real public transportation. Traffic will be better when we build the type of flyover at 92 and 101 as was built at 92 and 880. It will also better when we build a BART extension from Hayward to San Mateo. I grew up in New York City and I can tell you that nobody drives to work in Manhattan. Everyone commutes, mostly by train. If we could provide a BART system that made that possible, traffic would be much lighter. They are doing this type of thing right now in Los Angeles, why aren’t we doing it here?

I have been working with the School District on class overcrowding since before I was elected to the Council in 2009. What is needed now is for the two cities, Foster City and San Mateo to come together for the benefit of our children and their education. Yes, each City has different problems, but we can fight with one another or we can find middle ground and compromise for the betterment of all. The Next Steps committee is trying to do the latter and I applaud that. Our Council has stayed involved and I know that the San Mateo Council is also getting involved. That is great news.

So what can you do? In earlier articles I wrote and challenged you to make 2015 the year to get involved. On housing, you can email, call and meet with members of our Council and tell them how you feel about housing, economics and the like. For traffic, I urge you to contact our state representatives and ask them to fix the freeways and find a way to fund real mass transit for our City and County. For the Schools, go to a Next Steps meeting, keep up with it on the District website, understand that you and we will need to compromise and be prepared to do that for the greater good.

Housing and Traffic and Schools are big issues for us right now. There are plenty of ways to get involved, just pick one and do it. This is an election year in Foster City, consider running for office, volunteer for a committee, just come to a Council meeting and share your opinion. If you get involved with solutions, you will see that these problems are not quite as scary as you thought.

City Council Paves The Way For Hundreds Of Additional Housing Units

At yesterday’s City Council meeting by a vote of 3-2 (with Council Member Perez and me opposing) the City Council voted to approve the Housing Element Update of our General Plan.  The effect of this is that we will have to rezone two apartment projects in town from 20 units per acre to 35 units per acre, paving the way for the owners of those projects to add hundreds of additional housing units to our City. Moreover, this will significantly limit the ability of the City to stop such high density growth at those projects and its resulting negative impact on our quality of life.

While I commended staff for looking outside the box, I suggested an alternative, which was to rezone the City owned golf course on 3rd avenue. Now it is important to understand when considering this alternative that the Housing Element does not require us to build any housing, it only requires us to show the State that we have the ability to meet our allocated housing needs.  Thus, when I asked the staff if we could satisfy our obligations by rezoning the golf course to residential without actually building any housing, they said we could. They said that the only drawback was that they could not get that done in time for us to meet the State’s May 31 deadline to submit our Housing Element because of the necessary environmental impact study.  Missing that deadline would mean nothing more than that we would have to update our housing element one additional time, four years from now.  No other impact!

The upside of that option would have been that the City would retain complete control of any new housing anywhere in the City! Something I viewed as a win-win in that we could meet the State’s requirements yet retain the power to build or not build as we saw fit.  Apparently the majority of the Council disagreed and instead simply wanted to placate the State regardless of its impact on our City.  Wow!

I was especially troubled by the comments of our mayor and I urge you to look at the videotape of the meeting.  The mayor’s comments come towards the very end.  He started out by saying that no growth will reduce property values. Then, without skipping a beat, he claimed that low inventory is driving up home prices. I, for one, do not see how those two could possibly both be true.

He then went on to talk about possible litigation and the effect of that on our bond rating. The fact is that rezoning of the golf course would put us in compliance with State law and thus there would be no litigation. Moreover, while we might be seeking bond financing sometime in the future to deal with our levees and wastewater treatment plant, none of that has even been discussed let alone decided.

He then talked about where Gilead and Illumina employees would live and suggested that some members of the Council were being hypocritical by approving those companies’ growth plans without planning for housing for their employees. My answer to that is simple. They can live where they live now (I’ve moved my office many times and never moved my residence because of that), or if the want to move into Foster City, they can move into the hundreds of units under construction as I write this. There simply is no need for more housing to fill those needs.

The mayor then said, and this is a quote: “Higher density is going to happen – it’s just a matter of when.” Quite frankly, that offended me, not only as a member of the Council but as a resident of Foster City. Is that really what Foster City is destined to become? Do we really have no choice?  I don’t believe it.

He then went on to say “we grow or we die.” While under Prop 13 economics that is basically true and I have said as much myself, it is also true that we can have economic growth in areas other than housing development.  As I have written about before, perhaps to the point of obsession, we are much too dependant on property tax and need to diversify. The Housing Element approved by the Council only serves to make that dependence worse, not better.

Finally, the mayor concluded that he could not support the golf course idea because anyone living at the golf course would not be connected to Foster City because they are physically isolated from the other residential areas. The point in rezoning the golf course is not to build houses there, but to show the State that we have the potential to build if needed. We can then address real growth and real housing needs at our leasure without any pressure from the State and without giving up our right to control growth in our City.

This is an election year folks. The mayor is termed out but two of those that agreed with him are not and one of those is up for re-election in November. Do you agree that “higher density is going to happen – it’s just a matter of when”? If not, now is the time for action. I am not a no-growth advocate, I am a smart growth, diversify the economic base of the City advocate. We can get that done if a majority of the Council agrees to do just that. The choice will be coming in November and the choice will be yours.