Before I delve into the subject of housing and economics in Foster City, I want to again take a moment to tell you all what an honor it was to have served as your mayor last year. Thank you for the opportunity to serve, I hope I served you well.
This past year most of us heard loudly and clearly that the people of Foster City are concerned about the impact of continued housing development in the city. Some residents have suggested that we adopt an ordinance providing a temporary moratorium on housing development. Of course, the problem with that solution is that if we can pass an ordinance establishing a moratorium, we can just as quickly pass an ordinance revoking the moratorium. Thus, a more long term and practical solution is what we really need.
Three years ago, before we even began to see these impacts, Council Member Perez and I, along with the CEO of the Foster City Chamber of Commerce and a group of City staff and City residents, became members of a City Council task force, the purpose of which was to study how to change the economic model under which our City operates and to come up with an economic development plan. The reason for this effort is that we are a young city and as such have relied primarily on housing growth as our economic engine. In fact about 80% of the general fund revenue for Foster City comes from property tax! However, as we came closer to being fully built out, it became clear to me, and others, that continued reliance on housing growth was simply not sustainable. Thus, we needed to find other ways to grow our revenue, including finding ways to make our existing assets more valuable.
As a group we, as members of the task force, worked together for two years and last February we bought our strategic plan to the City Council for adoption. On February 10, 2014, the City Council unanimously approved the plan. Unfortunately, just one month later the funding was pulled and the plan basically remains on hold.
I urge each and every one of you to read the plan. You can find it on our website – www.fostercity.org. From the home page hover over the button that reads “Projects & Initiative” and then click on the link that reads “Sustainable Foster City.” From that page there is a menu on the left and you can see the plan and download it by clicking on “Sustainable Foster City Plan.” The plan is not very long and it is not very technical, but you will see in that plan that there is only one mention of housing and that is affordable housing (a subject I will cover separately later this year). The rest of the plan is an outline of how to start to change the economic engine of Foster City so that it has greater balance and no longer relies so much on housing growth.
Today I feel even more strongly than I felt three years ago, and even last year when we presented the plan, that we are already suffering the impacts from an economic model too focused in one area, and that failure to change will only increase those impacts. It’s like an investment portfolio that has only one asset type. Impacts become more powerful and risk increases over time. Thus, in my opinion it continues to be imperative that we change the economic model and move forward with the plan.
Some say that we are in good shape and do not need to change. I am sure that the leaders in Detroit felt much the same way when the auto industry appeared to be thriving. Unless we can learn from other’s mistakes we are bound to repeat them.
The solution is not to impose a temporary moratorium that can be undone as quickly as it is done, but to change the economic model through investment and diversification. Again, please read the plan and please let each of us on the Council know that you support it and that you want us to move it forward.
I think we are already seeing the impacts of the delays in implementing the plan. We need to move forward while at the economy is strong. We need to be leaders, we need to innovate and we need to work hard until we succeed. Our other choice is to do nothing and hope that we do not end up the way Detroit ended up. I, for one, am not willing to take that chance.
Since I only write a Council Corner once every five weeks, I have set up a blog at charliefc.com where I will cover, on about a weekly basis, some of details of the plan and other issues that I feel are important to Foster City. I hope you will follow the blog and add your comments. No City funds are being used to pay for the blog.
Those are my thoughts. You can always share your ideas with me by email at email@example.com or call me at (650) 286-3504.