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.