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.


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