Monthly Archives: September 2015

The Last Four Issues on the List

The last four issues on the list are:

Issue 9. The Chamber of Commerce has advanced an Economic Strategic Planning process
Question 9-a: What are the strengths and weaknesses of the plan?
Question 9-b: Do you believe the City should contract with the Chamber to execute this plan?
Question 9-c: How does this plan fit into a City wide comprehensive strategic plan for the City?
Question 9-d: What can/should be done to improve economic conditions for small businesses here?

Issue 10. The residents are concerned about pedestrian safety due to speeding traffic.
Question 10-a: Do you see this as a problem and if yes, what would you do about it?
Question 10-b: How would you define a “safe” speed limit on residential streets?

Issue 11: The Council struggled to implement a compromise No Smoking Ordinance.
Question 11-a: Would you support changing the ordinance in any way?
Question 11-b: How do you reconcile the public health benefits of the no smoking ordinance with the rights of property owners?

Issue 12: Homeowner difficulty with approvals from the City?
Question: 12-a: What would you do to make it easier for property owners to work with the City?

Here are my comments:

The Economic Development Strategic Plan is not the Chamber of Commerce’s Plan. It is the City’s plan. I know that because Herb Perez and I, the City Manager and Assistant City Manager, the Community Development Director, the Parks & Rec Director, the CEO of the Chamber of Commerce and a former Chair of the Environmental Sustainability Task Force were the eight member crew that spent over two years putting the initial plan together. It was passed in a 5-0 vote in February of 2014 by the City Council and became the City’s plan. City staff proposed having the Chamber of Commerce work with City staff to more further develop specific tasks and flesh out the plan for which the City would compensate the Chamber for that work. It was believed that the Chamber with its familiarity with the City and its lower labor rate could do the work more economically. I urge anyone that has not seen the plan to review it as I hope it will be funded next year. I would love to hear the candidates comment on it.

We have just about the safest non-gated community possible. We are consistently ranked as one of the safest communities in the Nation. Yes, there were some traffic accidents last year and unfortunately people were injured, but the idea that lowering the speed limit will make people obey the law when they currently drive faster than the speed limits makes no sense. If you think traffic is bad now, think about what it would be like if we put a stop sign on every corner. We have added safety features to intersections around our schools and our City participates in the Safe Streets to School program. I continue to believe that people can change their driving behavior but I intend to work through a program that I run at Bowditch to reach our students with safety programs. I would like to see others involved in making safe driving a more public issue as that is what I think will work.

Last year’s smoking ordinance was a compromise between vastly different positions on the issue by various members of our Council. I think that we were able to reach resolution when the positions were so far apart is a credit to our Council. That said, I do not see this as a critical issue for the candidates. We have much more significant issues we will have to deal with in the next two years and our efforts to protect the health of our citizens through the smoking ordinance has been a success.

Many of our planning and permit processes have been streamlined over the past years as staff and Council have worked together. It has been quite some time since someone complained to me about difficulty there, so I do not see this as an issue.

Thank you for reading my comments on these issues. I look forward to hearing your comments and especially the thoughts of the people running for election to our City Council.

City Council Decorum

Issue 8 on the post at NextDoor is about Council Decorum, an issue near and dear to my heart, so here is what the post says and here is my response.

Issue 8. Citizens are concerned about the bickering and lack of decorum among City Council members.

Question 8-a: How would you manage this problem?

Question 8-b: Do you believe this has led to departure of key staff?

Question 8-c: How do you think staff morale and retention can be improved?

My response:

Yes there are some concerned about “bickering” among the Council but I do not think the perception that this is a “problem” is all that widespread. While I do agree that there have been comments that were probably a bit too personal and a bit offensive, at least during my year as mayor we were able to reach consensus on some significant issues and we got a lot of things done. We were able to compromise on the smoking ordinance and get that in place. We were able to work with the residents on the revised hedge ordinance and get that in place. We were able to reach agreements with all of our labor organizations, when we did not have agreements with some for a few years prior. We were able to expand the joint administration of the fire service to add in Belmont and increase service at lower cost. We started liaison committees with both of our local school districts and with neighboring cities to work jointly on common problems and issues. We passed the City’s very first economic development plan. We began the project to put solar panels on the library and to reduce our energy use. We continued our efforts to reduce water use and we increased our rebate programs. We passed a budget that for the first time in years did not rely on the use of reserves to supplement income. Did we have disagreements – yes. Were some of them harsh – yes. But the fact is that we got a lot of things done in 2014. So my position is that you should judge us on what we accomplished not whether you like our personalities. We worked hard for the City and some of us are very passionate about the direction that the City needs to go. Sometimes this boils over in ways we later wish is did not. This would be a problem if as a result we were unable to accomplish anything, but that is not what happened. In 2014 we accomplished a lot through compromise, discussion and yes, even argument. So I dispute the conclusion that “bickering” was a problem that needs to be solved as it is our job to get things done for the City, not to simply get along.

As to the departure of staff, blaming that on the Council is also false. When I arrived on the City Council in 2009, all of our senior staff had been here for many years and all were already looking at retirement plans. We discussed this as a Council and through our City Manager we began planning for it. Most of the senior staff that left went on to retirement. Those retirements were planned but also the fact that the 2008 recession was freezing salaries probably accelerated the process. I believe that one staff member likely left due to issues with some of the Council, but not one other ever told me or anyone else I know that the retirements were due to the Council. Having gone to lots of Council meetings in other places, I can tell you first hand, that there are a lot more “difficult” council members than any of us. Proof of what I am saying is shown in the fact that most of the positions vacated by retirement where then taken by then current senior staff in the relevant department. Also, when you look at our staff as a whole, there are a lot of people who have been here a very long time. That is not usual to see as there is often lots of movement. We do not have very much of that. It is easy to believe from the outside that there were a lot of retirements and some difficult moments with Council members but the fact is that the Council was not the cause of the vast majority of those retirements.

Staff morale and retention are also not a problem. As noted above, we have a large number of staff members who have been here a long time. The way municipal pensions work, however, is that many retire at ages that are younger than they would retire in the private sector. That does not mean that moral or retention are a problem. They are not.

Edgewater Place and Charter Square

Issue #7 on the list posted on NextDoor is about Edgewater Shopping Center and Charter Square Shopping Center and is posed as follows:

Issue 7. Edgewater Shopping Center and Charter Square are being allowed to deteriorate.

Question 7-a: What can/should the City do to keep these two sites from being allowed to deteriorate?

My response:

Once again I think this question presents a false premise that the shopping centers are being allowed to deteriorate. The fact is that these are privately owned shopping centers and other than blighted conditions or unsafe conditions, the City has little it can do to make the owners fill the centers with tenants or modernize the center. Whatever power the City has, it is and has been working with the property owners to deal with the issues within its power. Other than that, the property owners are free to let their spaces go vacant and so long as they clean up actual garbage and fix safety issues, there is little the City can do.

What we have tried to do is to revitalize the shopping centers through the Economic Development Strategic Plan which was passed last February but the funding was pulled shortly thereafter. We had begun to hold events with the property owners, Chamber of Commerce and the City to bring people to the centers to meet the merchants, service providers and restauranteurs to encourage people to use their services, buy their products and eat at their restaurants. Those events were very well received but since the funding on the Plan was pulled, those events have stopped. I am hopeful that the next Council will bring the Plan back and begin working with our shopping centers to revitalize their commercial efforts and to encourage residents and businesses to shop at those centers. Shopping center success comes from patronage and we need to make efforts to patronize our local businesses if we want them to succeed. The City Council should do what it can to encourage that effort.

Schools and the City Council

Item 6 in the list of “issues” posted on NextDoor deals with the elementary and middle schools and, in part, the City’s role in that. The issue and questions are set out as follows:

Issue 6. Our schools are overcrowded. People who move here no longer have assurances that their children will be able to attend schools in Foster City?

Question 6-a: Do you believe the City has a responsibility to deal with school overcrowding? If so, what are those responsibilities and what would you do to make sure the City meets them?

Question 6-b: Do you support Measure X, the school bond issue?

Question 6-c: Do you believe Measure X will solve our school crowding? If not, what specific additional steps would you initiate to address the problem?

My response:

Let’s start with some basic facts and history. School overcrowding at Foster City schools predates any of the current development. In fact, school overcrowding has been an issue for some time, but personally I can speak of starting to work on it back in 2009 when I was first running for City Council. During that year, the San Mateo Foster City School District asked Foster City to give it all or a portion of Booth Bay Park for a fourth elementary school. The Council at the time help a public hearing and unanimously rejected the request in part due to some legal restraints on giving away a park and in part due to public opposition. The local schools at the time were becoming overcrowded and Foster City School had been shut down with the students in portables waiting for new permanent buildings to be built. The relationship between the City and the School District was problematic and there was a lot of finger pointing. Residents were categorizing people as to whether they were for or against schools.

At the time I was running for Council and I met with some of the school board members and proposed some solutions that I thought would help the situation, including a second story on the yet-to-be-rebuilt Foster City School. Ultimately none of my suggestions were accepted and the Foster City School as we now see it was built and over the years additional portables were added to the various campuses as a temporary way to deal with increased enrollment.

The District then retained a new Superintendent and she began an outreach program to get the community more involved in the problem and in finding a solution. That committee met and made recommendations that were put together in the School Bond effort in November of 2013. As we now know, that effort failed. Why it failed is no longer relevant, but because it failed the problem continued.

The Superintendent then put together the Next Steps committee with people from Foster City and San Mateo and they studied the situation, conducted public outreach and at the end of many months, gave recommendations to the District. Those recommendations, to the extent possible, are now before the voters in the form of Measure X.

So that is a brief history of how we got here, now to address the questions:

  1. The City does not have any legal responsibility to provide additional classroom space. So the question really should not be does the City have any responsibility because legally it does not, so the question really is should the City assist the District in the school overcrowding issue – why or why not, and if so how. My answer to that question is yes, we should assist by helping to get the word out on how important it is to pass Measure X. I have said time and again that educating our children is one of the most important things we can do as a civilized society. We have some of the best schools in the State in Foster City and those should be available to all residents. I know that there are potential pitfalls and problems with Measure X and what it will truly mean to Foster City, but I think that we need to ensure that we have the funds necessary to provide the infrastructure, whatever that turns out to be, to provide adequate classroom space. If and when the bond passes, then I think that the City should assist the District in finding the best solution as to where that classroom space should be built. I continue to believe that if there is a commitment on the part of the City Council and on the part of the School Board to work together collaboratively to finding a solution, then a solution that will be in the best interest of our community as a whole will be found. If, however, the bond does not pass, then it does not really matter what the City or the District wants to do as there is simply not enough money to deal with the problem and it will continue into the future.
  2. Measure X is flawed but it is the best alternative, much better than doing nothing. Measure X was developed from a year of study by community members from Foster City and San Mateo who looked at the varying interests of the two cities and found ways to address their similar and differing needs. I will be the first to say that the solutions are far from perfect, but after being involved in this issue for more than six years and having attended a lot of the community and committee meetings, the solution they have will at least give us a framework and the funds necessary to do what needs to be done to meet the needs of our children. I too would much prefer a definitive plan, but sometime despite best efforts a tentative plan must be put in place until certain unknowns can be worked out for the definitive plan. That alternative is better than not planning at all or not having the needed funds to remedy the problem which will then continue to drag on for at least two more years.
  3. Measure X can solve the overcrowding problem if the City and the District work together. Just like the District did outreach to the community through the Next Steps committee, the District will need to outreach to the City through the City Council to work on solutions that will provide additional class space at a reasonable cost and with the least impact possible. The District understands schools and eduction, the City Council understands the City and its needs and limitations. If these two bodies commit to working together to find a solution, then I am convinced that a solution will be found.

I do believe that the school bond and overcrowding are key issues. The quality of our schools contributes in no small part to our property values and our quality of life. Like many, I no longer have school age children but I do have a continued commitment to the families in our community that do and that want and need the quality eduction that our schools provide. I hope you feel the same and I hope you will elect candidates to the City Council that feel the same as well.


Issue #5 as posted on NextDoor complains about our street infrastructure. It is posed as follows:

Issue 5. Our roads and related infrastructure seem to be at or beyond capacity. Our City infrastructure is being overwhelmed.

Question 5-a: Do you believe the city is “built out” or “over-built” or is there room for more?

Question 5-b: What specific actions or solutions would you work toward to better manage traffic congestion within the City?

Question 5-c: What specific actions or solutions would you work toward to better manage traffic created by the proposed additional employees from Gilead, BioMed, Illumina, etc.?

Question 5-d: Would you support an additional traffic route in and out of Foster City? If so, where should it be?

My response:

  1. The main question is based on a false premise: Once again I feel that a false premise has been created that our City infrastructure is being overwhelmed in the sense that what is intended to be communicated by author of the post is that the problem comes from recent development within the City. The fact is that traffic is a nighmare and that our streets are impacted but the impact comes mostly from regional commute traffic during peak hours on routes to and from the freeways. To date, we have added only 300 additional residential units to our City in the last decade so the traffic you are seeing is not from that. If the issue is worded in a more neutral sense to ask how would you deal with regional traffic impact on Foster City, then that is a valid question to ask of the candidates.
  2. Asking whether a city is “built-out” or “over-built” ignores fundamental economic issues of long term sustainability of a city. So first, some economic facts: Foster City income to its general fund consists of more than 50% property tax. Under Proposition 13 properties are reassessed for property tax purposes, with exception, only at time of sale. Otherwise, increases in property tax revenue is capped at 2% and can be less. Thus the plain and ugly fact of life is that cities that do not grow in some way ultimately run out of money because inflation, even when modest, exceeds the amount of revenue growth and thus expenses exceed income. If you can find one credible person in the entire State of California that refutes this fact, I would be shocked. Thus, cities understand that it is a grow or die situation. Now I have written extensively in the past about growth alternatives that are not simply additional development and I continue to believe strongly in those. You can find those in my other posts but they include investment in existing developments to increase their value and diversifying the City’s portfolio to a more balanced income stream. I believe those will have less impact that building more buildings of any type, but in reality additional real estate development, both residential and commercial has to happen to keep Foster City, or really any California city, alive. So any of the candidates that believes that we are built-out or over-built to mean that we can never allow more development is dooming the City to ultimate failure. I, for one, would never vote for such a person. The solution is a global plan for growth that looks are alternative growth measures, investments and in managing growth through development and management of impacts.
  3. Traffic congestion mitigation requires a regional solution. There is little that the City can impose by itself that will fix the traffic congestion at and around the freeway exits and entrances during peak periods. However, candidates should understand how things work regionally and within the County as fixing the traffic issue will either require State or regional effort – adding lanes to the freeways, fixing the 92 – 101 interchange, adding busses, adding BART or light rail and so on. Stopping development is not the answer and will not fix the problem. If we do not bring in new jobs to Foster City, our neighboring cities will snatch them up and the employees will still have to get to work traveling through Foster City on either 92 or 101 or both. We need to regionally work to match jobs with housing if we want to see any real impact on traffic reduction. If the candidate you are talking to says otherwise, I would ask a lot of follow up questions.
  4. Additional Employees: Biomed is a landlord/developer, Illumina will be the tenant. Gilead already has a traffic mitigation plan and any further development that will come before the Council will further strengthen that plan. Illumina, just last night, proposed the most stringent traffic mitigation plan for a business of its size in the region. I would love to hear any other realistic ideas that any of the candidates have.
  5. Additional Traffic Routes are not realistic and could exacerbate the problem. Entrances and exits from the freeways are governed by CalTrans not the City. Roads across the Belmont Slough could work but my guess is that a lot of people who do not live in Foster City would use them to get from 101 to 92 and move the traffic into and through the heart of the City. This is not a reasonble solution and if it were there should be significant study on the impacts so that we do not end up making it worse rather than better.

I hate sitting in the traffic and I have to do it often because I commute. The problem, however, is not a Foster City problem it is a regional problem brought about by the success of the local economy. Solutions to traffic need to be regional and they need to be done in a way that does not stifle the economy. Ask the candidates how they would work regionally to address the traffic and what they would suggest be done.

Approval of the Housing Element – Issue #4

I have skipped over issue #3 because I addressed it in part of my response to issue #2. Impacts from the Saris Regis proposal are a trade off and a policy issue. I urge you to read my comments and voice your opinion.

Issue #4 is:

In January 2015, on a split 3-2vote, the City Council approved an update of the Housing Element of the General Plan.

Question: 4-a: If you had been on the Council at that time would you have approved the Housing Element Update?

Question: 4-b: If you had been on the Council at that time would you have approved the Statement of Negative Environmental Impact?

Question 4-c: If elected, would you move to amend the approved Housing Element: If so how and why?

The Basics: Land use is a very complicated issue in California and asking people about a Housing Element really requires explanation as to what a Housing Element is and what impact can it have on our City. So let’s start with Housing Element 101.

A Housing Element is part of a city’s General Plan. State Law requires cities to have General Plans or potentially be unable to obtain state funds and/or perhaps be sued by interested parties. The General Plan and its elements are required to be periodically updated. If updating deadlines are met then the General Plan sections are required to be updated less frequently, if not, then more frequent updates are required. Many of the parts of a General Plan are expensive to update as they require Environmental Impact Reports (EIR) that are costly to prepare and they require a lot of city staff time. The Housing Element is one of those expensive sections of the General Plan.

State law requires that cities show that they are able to sustain a certain level of growth in housing based on projected increases in population over the coming years. The Housing Element is the part of the General Plan where a city will demonstrate that it can comply with state law and support such housing growth. Planning for housing growth is a State mandate, cities are not given other options.

The Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) is the methodology by which the State tells cities precisely what additional housing they need to plan for. In the Bay Area we administer this locally through the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) which goes through a process to allocate additional housing to the local governments. Foster City ultimately gets its allocation and State Law requires that we show in our Housing Element how we will plan to meet that allocation over the coming years. Now the process is much more complex than this, but this is Housing Element 101 with enough information to at least understand what is going on.

Now the bizarre part in all of this is that the law does not require that we build this housing, only that we plan for it. Thus technically, approving a Housing Element does not directly result in new housing being built. This is important to understand because although I voted with the minority against the Housing Element, I believe that the majority voted in favor of it because it does not directly result in additional housing and because if we get the Housing Element approved by the deadline then we will have a lot more time and save money by not having to update it more frequently. (I do not like to speak for others but that is my understanding. Those who voted in the majority can speak for themselves in comments if they choose).

The controvertial part of the approved Housing Element was to increase the allowable density (number of residential units per acre) of four existing developments in our City. In other words, if any of these property owners want to build more housing units within their existing development we will allow that additional density. Now no one has come forward so far, but the problem that Herb Perez and I had, as the minority, was that it gives us one less reason in the future to stop that housing development if and when it comes before us in the future. What I mean is that if one of these developments wants to build the additional housing, we would not be able to stop them simply because of the additional density. We may have other reasons, but then again we may not. In essence it takes one bow out of our quiver. Whether there are other bows remaining we will only be able to tell at some later point.

What Herb and I argued was that we should come up with a realistic plan first, even if it means that we will have to update our Housing Element one additional time, because taking the time to plan will put us past the deadline for getting our Housing Element update approved. As the question states, that argument was rejected and the Housing Element passed 3 – 2.

Hopefully this gives people enough of an education on the Housing Element and on what happened in Foster City for me to address the issues raised by the questions and to suggest questions that I think you really want to ask of the candidates.

4-a and 4-b are irrelevant. Asking people how they would have voted on matters that are done is pointless. It changes nothing.

4-c would be difficult since the facts have not changed, all that has changed are the people making the policy decisions. Moreover, unless an amended Housing Plan dealt with Foster City’s RHNA allocations, it would be rejected.

So what I suggest you ask of our candidates is:

  1. What is a Housing Element and how can it effect us? Make sure they understand the issue and the impacts.
  2. What are our RHNA allocations and how would you meet them?
  3. Housing costs are skyrocketing making it more and more difficult for middle class wage earners to find places to live in Foster City – do you think that is a problem (why/why not) and if so how would you deal with it.
  4. New jobs in our County significantly outweigh new housing – do you think that is a problem (why/why not) and if so how would you deal with it.
  5. Do you think it is a good idea to link new commercial projects to local housing? Why/why not and if so what would you do to make that happen.

These questions will, I believe, let you know how the candidates stand on real policy issues, how they would plan to implement the policy they support and how well they truly understand the issues.



Pilgrim Triton – Issue #2

This post will address the second issue on the list of issues posted by a member of NextDoor.

Issue 2. Many Foster City residents are angry now that they see the Pilgrim Triton construction rising to the sky behind the Chevron station at the corner of Hillsdale and Foster City Blvd’s.

Question: 2-a: If elected, what would you do to mitigate the impacts of the Pilgrim Triton master plan?

Question: 2-b: Will you oppose or support similar construction anywhere in the City?

Here is my response:

  1. I dispute the premise. Initially I dispute the premise that “many Foster City residents are angry seeing Pilgrim Triton construction.” I think that Foster City residents are, like I am, sick of the traffic we have recently had to endure. They believe, which I do not, that the Pilgrim Triton project is to blame for that traffic. (To date Pilgrim Triton has added only about 300 residential units to our City). Otherwise the question is why were they not angry when the City allowed Port-O-Call to be replaced with residential housing and why were they not angry when the City allowed Marlin Cove to be redevelopment with mixed used including residential housing. Both of those projects have buildings of about the same height and density as Pilgrim Triton yet when those were built and occupied there was nary a peep. I think that if Pilgrim Triton went up when the economy was not booming like it is and regional traffic was not as bad as it is, then there would have been nary a peep. In fact, when the first building was completed just a few years ago, there was nary a peep. Thus, I believe that the issue is traffic and to a lesser extent school classroom space not housing that people really are angry about. Thus, the question should be what should the Council do about traffic and schools.
  2. When Pilgrim Triton was approved, it was done correctly and the project was seen to be in the best interest of the City. When the Pilgrim Triton project was approved by the City Council back in 2006 – 2007 (yes that long ago) the efforts to study the project were given to the Planning Commission. I was on the Planning Commission back then and at my urging we did two things of relevance to this discussion: 1 – we had the first ever City-wide traffic study done to look at the impacts not only of the Pilgrim Triton project but also of the 15 acres and Chess Hatch; and 2 – we wrote a letter to the San Mateo Foster City School District and asked whether these new developments would have impact on their schools in Foster City. The first effort came back with a number of suggested internal changes to Foster City streets some of which have been done (widening of Chess Drive) and some of which will be done (left turn lane extension from Foster City Blvd to Chess Drive). One of those changes was to add an additional lane getting on to Westbound 92 from Chess Drive. Initially CalTrans said we could do it, and then after we began moving forward from that they changed their minds. However, by that time the entitlements were in place. Where we see that impact today is in the evening commute getting onto westbound 92. The second effort resulted in the School District writing us back a letter saying that the new developments would have no impact on their schools. I was surprised at the time but I had to think that they knew what they were saying. Now this all needs to be put into context that it occurred eight and nine years ago when the economy was different than it is today, as was the development environment. At the time Pilgrim Triton was seen by the Council as a brilliant move to create the final residential neighborhood in Foster City. At the Planning Commission we probably had 25 – 30 public hearings on Pilgrim Triton and there was pretty much no opposition. Everyone felt that the impacts would be relatively minor and this would create a new and vibrant neighborhood with shopping, office, park and residential facilities all within the neighborhood.
  3. The impact of the Pilgrim Triton master plan need to be understood before they can be addressed. One of the impacts of the currently approved plan is that it calls for an office building that will impact traffic by adding 500 or more trips per day commuting into the City in the morning and out of the City in the evening – work based commuting. The developer is proposing to change that to remove the office building and build 50 additional town houses which would impact traffic by about 100 trips per day leaving the City in the morning and returning in the evening – residential commuting. Thus, on a net basis the traffic would, if these numbers are proven to be true, be much less. Is that mitigating the impacts? However, if we allow a change from commercial development to residential development we may significantly effect the businesses that are in the neighborhood that went there expecting a significant daytime population with whom they could do business. Is that mitigating the impacts? My point is that one first needs to understand what the impacts are, and then to make a choice because reducing one impact may increase another – the rule of unintended consequences. So before you can ask how someone would deal with the impacts, you should ask what they understand to be the impacts and then you can evaluate their solution and their understanding of the issue.
  4. Anyone who will pre-decide hypothetical development issues does not belong on our Council. I wrote about pre-deciding issues in the form of moratoria and edicts in my prior posts so I’m not going to repeat it here, you can read it there. I would be very wary of anyone who would say without knowing any specifics that they would never approve some hypothetical development at some unknown time. If we predecide everything, then we don’t need leadership, but I can assure you that we will eventually fail without it.

Many of the issues behind mitigating the impacts of Pilgrim Triton are decisions already made many years ago that cannot be undone. I agree that efforts to continue to mitigate impacts should continue and you have seen me ask our new and growing businesses to work with us to mitigate these impacts by, for example, agreeing to commit to using some of the housing being built for their local employees (which would take those folks out of the commute). While it is important to continue to do that, this is not a key issue, the key issue is regional traffic and planning for additional classrooms should the school bond fail. In that context, traffic and schools are among the key issues for this coming election and are the questions I would ask of the candidates.


Responding to “the issues” – Housing

On, one resident posted what she believes to be the key issues for the upcoming Foster City election. Rather than clog up nextdoor with long responses, I posted what I thought were the key issues and here on my blog I am going to give my thoughts on each of the individual issues initially posted.

The first issue was the following:

Issue 1. The Foster City Residents for Responsible Development have an online petition which reads: “We oppose any additional high-density residential units until all previously approved construction projects are completed and we can evaluate their impact on Foster City’s overcrowded schools, traffic congestion and potable water resources.”

Question 1-a: Will you agree that, if elected, you will not vote for additional, proposed high-density residential housing units?

Question 1-b: Over 2,000 residents have signed the on-line petition and many have left their names along with their comments. Have you looked at all the comments? Will you summarize for us what these comments are telling you?

My response:

  1. There is no need for this because there are no currently pending additional high density housing proposals. Any such proposals would have to come to the Council in a public “gate keeper” hearing where the public would have the right to comment on the proposal. Proposals from the owners of Charter Square, Edgewater Place and the Marina project all went thought that process and all of them were effectively rejected. Thus, there is already in place a process to prevent additional development that is not in the best interest of Foster City.
  2. There is no need to wait until the current projects are completed as we know right now what the impacts will be. If the regional economy continues to grow traffic will be as bad or worse but if the regional economy starts to shrink traffic will be better but less people will be employed. Our schools will have greater demand than they can meet, but they are looking to pass a bond to deal with current and future demand so they are working on the problem. We have plenty of potable water supply and we will have the ability with the rebuilding of our wastewater treatment plant to have recyled water which can be used in place of potable water in various ways depending upon what we want to do and what policies we set. Again, that is an issue that we are working on and for which we are currently setting policy. So, my point is we do not need to wait, because we know right now what the impacts will be.
  3. Waiting will not solve the problems. Even if you believe we should wait to see what the impacts will be, your question of the candidates should be – “then what?” Assume traffic is just as bad or worse, assume that the bond fails and we are bussing kids to San Mateo, assume the drought continues and we are further restricted on our potable water use. The question you should be asking the candidates is: “What are the solutions to these problems?” The best leaders hope for the best and plan for the worst so if the worst happens we are prepared for it. Of course this again begs the question of why do we need to wait – why not start planning now for the worst so that we are ahead of the game when it is time to implement that plan. But even if right now waiting is correct, waiting is not a solution, it’s just waiting – doing nothing while life goes on around you. Is that what you want in your leaders, a promise to do nothing?
  4. An outright moratorium is never a good idea, planning is what we should be doing. Telling the world that we do not welcome development in Foster City is simply going to put us at an economic disadvantage to other cities in our area. By that I do not mean to open up the flood gates, I mean to suggest that we need a plan for our future as to how and where we grow, in what ways we grow and then we need to implement that plan. It is simply the next step in the planned community that is Foster City. Let me give you two real life examples of how a development moratorium can hurt us. About two years ago we lost one single business that accounted for about 25% of our total sales tax, about $1,000,000 per year. $1,000,000 in sales tax to Foster City is a lot of sales and thus very difficult to replace. We do not get the entire 9% sales tax, we get only a fraction of that. Nonetheless we were able to work with Illumina who has agreed to consolidate their business here and in essence replace that lost revenue for at least the next 15 years. While there are impact issues that need to be dealt with, if the world thought that we were not interested in development, that deal would never have been brought here and the revenue loss would effectively become permanent. Thus a moratorium creates a public perception that we do not want more business here and that is not a good perception to create for long term sustainability. The other example is our neighboring city of Belmont. For a long time Belmont had a no growth policy. As a result when you look at retail in Belmont and compare it to its next door neighbor San Carlos, you see a shocking difference. Belmont’s streets are in disrepair and they go to the point were they were about to be lacking sufficient fire equipment. Newer Council members in Belmont have been working hard to turn all that around, but they will continue to have issues for years because of the reputation built and the economic problems that result. Belmont is a fine city and I do not mean to disparage it but it has suffered from its no growth policy and recovery from that will be difficult. These are two real life examples of why we should have a plan, but not an edict, and our plan needs to have the flexibility to allow us to consider anything so long as it is measured by the key criteria of: is it in the best interests of Foster City.

I continue to believe that Foster City residents are not anti-housing, they are sick of what they see as the impacts from development – primarily traffic and school overcrowding. I have been working with the School District on school overcrowding since 2009. Long before any development in Foster City. Traffic is a regional issue that needs, in most part, a regional solution. Foster City to date has added only about 300 additional housing units over the last decade. That is not why we sit in traffic. We sit in traffic because people have to commute from the east bay to jobs on the peninsula and south bay. What we need on the Council are people who can and will work with the school district and San Mateo to deal with school overcrowding and people who will advocate for us on east-west mass transit, who will work regionally so that all new developent, not just development in Foster City, has real and meaningful traffic mitigation plans, will work to match housing development with local workforces and by doing so take some of the traffic out of the commute by having people live where they work. Those are some of the solutions and there is no need to wait for any projects to be finished to start working on them. That is what I think you should be asking of the candidates – solutions to problems rather than committments to wait and do nothing.