Council Candidates – More Q&A

After the September 16th SMUHA/BHNA Candidates’ Night, there were still a few resident questions. We asked the candidates to answer them after our meeting and promised to share them with you. The incumbents had a few more questions put to them, but we thank them all for their participation and through answers. (Ms. Lee is the only one noted below answering about her position on Measure R as the other two candidates answered at the Candidates’ Night.) Let’s get to it!

Diane Papan Q&A:

If the City Council continues to tout more housing, then why has there been so much office/commercial built instead of housing?

What gets built depends upon the zoning.  Where housing and commercial construction are allowed, developers often propose mixed use projects.  Most likely because the commercial portion of the project generates more income and offsets costs of the housing portion. 

If San Mateo ever had an urban-interface wildfire or fires stemming from a large earthquake, how will you ensure residents are safely and quickly able to evacuate the area with your projection for increased housing?  

San Mateo Consolidated Fire creates evacuation plans/routes that are updated regularly based upon changing circumstances.  SMCF also has a communications component to its evacuation plan. If you haven’t already, I encourage residents to view emergency preparedness information and sign up for emergency alert information here.  

Noise pollution is increasingly being studied and found to be an under-recognized but significant health hazard.  What will you do to assess and mitigate this issue for San Mateo?  

Noise is a particular sensitivity to all of us.  I get it.  I have been working on “Project Quiet Night” which entails fortifying our rail crossings to create a quiet zone so that trains and particularly the freight trains in the middle of the night are not required to blast their horns through each intersection.  Grade separations are another (but more expensive) way to reduce train horn noise.  Our three new ones at 25th, 28th and 31st Avenues will go a long way toward reducing the noise of blaring horns.  

Please tell me why you think more than 5-7 floors are necessary to build affordable housing?  

Not sure what is meant by necessary, but if there are greater residential building heights in certain areas of the city, there will be greater affordable housing units given the 15% inclusionary housing requirement, which will help current and future generations remain and call San Mateo home.  

Lisa Diaz Nash Q&A:

If San Mateo ever had an urban-interface wildfire or fires stemming from a large earthquake, how will you ensure residents are safely and quickly able to evacuate the area with your projection for increased housing?

The essential job of a Council Member is to keep our residents safe.  Safe from crime, safe from COVID-19, safe from the increasing wildfire realities brought on by climate change.  The way to do this is through comprehensive resident education and regional planning ahead of time based on future trends, not old models. 

The questioner is correct to identify our ability to safely evacuate our residents as being heavily influenced by the total number of residents in San Mateo.  Just as we can only support a population of so much, based on the amount of clean water available to us, we also need to bound our growth by our ability to keep our residents safe in emergencies and every day.

We should re-examine the State’s current growth projections for San Mateo County, given how much our basic assumptions about how people work and live are changing.  We know that San Diego and Los Angeles Counties are asking for lowered Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) housing targets based on these trends.  We are no different.  This could result in major shifts in our growth projections and our resulting housing needs.

Under any circumstance, however, San Mateo must have a detailed emergency evacuation plan in place and updated to reflect the impact of climate change.  As a member of the San Mateo Neighborhood Watch Board, I speak frequently with Fire Chief Ray Iverson and Police Chief Ed Barberini about what they need to conduct safe emergency evacuations and, even more importantly, what the City needs to do to educate its citizens.  One of the four planks of my platform is to “Keep San Mateans safe.”  This means to “ensure sufficient police & emergency response staffing to keep neighborhoods safe & minimize wildfire risk.”

While I would hope that the recent CA wildfires would wake people up into creating their personal evacuation plans, we need increased Citywide education programs and evacuation drills.

The San Mateo General Plan is the ideal forum in which to have the necessary discussions about growth, open space and what we want our City to be going forward.  It also is where we must discuss the implications of growth intersecting with climate change and the increased risks we face for major fires with a larger population.  We must insist on comprehensive emergency planning as part of the building development process and be prepared to curb growth if we cannot keep our residents safe.

We need to treat the possibility of a major fire not as an “if” but a “when” and prepare as if our lives depended on it…because they do.

Noise pollution is increasingly being studied and found to be an under-recognized but significant health hazard.  What will you do to assess and mitigate this issue for San Mateo?

Noise pollution is a significant health hazard in our community that needs to be addressed in a variety of ways.  Some of the specific steps I would take:

  • Consult with local and regional health authorities and be guided by their evaluation of the specific dangers of noise pollution in San Mateo and their recommendations as to how to mitigate the negative impact;
  • Review current City and County noise pollution codes to ensure they align with the reality of the noise pollution we actually are facing (e.g. increased construction, traffic, etc.).  Attach aggressive fines for repeat violations and ensure strict enforcement.
  • Conduct a listening tour with our neighborhoods and small businesses to understand their noise pollution concerns and ideas for how to resolve them.  Ensure neighborhood concerns about existing noise polluters or the noise impact of new development projects receive Council’s regular attention and action, not just lip service.
  • Work to prioritize concerns and develop a nuts and bolts plan to reduce noise pollution based on negative health and quality of life impact, number of people impacted, noise pollution location and characteristics of people impacted (e.g. elders could be more negatively impacted that young adults).  
  • Work with the community, businesses, and public agencies to implement the plan, monitor it closely and strongly go after noise polluters with all the tools at the City’s disposal.
  • Be an advocate for proactively considering noise pollution potential in all Council and City programs.

 Please tell me why you think more than 5-7 floors are necessary to build affordable housing? 

More than 5-7 floors are not necessary to build affordable housing.  A thoughtful, detailed end-to-end plan is what is necessary to build sustainable, affordable housing.

The goal should not be to create units to satisfy numbers on a spreadsheet, but to create an overall safe, quality environment that will give people stable, attractive housing at an affordable price.  

We need to look at all the aspects impacting a potential housing project, e.g. variety of unit sizes; construction quality; provision of sufficient essential services such as water and sewer; open space; pedestrian/bike safety; and surrounding retail/restaurant locations.  The “affordable” units in a project also shouldn’t be built to visibly lower standards or put in less desirable locations than the market rate units.

We need to look at how the housing fits into surrounding neighborhoods, e.g. taller buildings fit better in a Transit Oriented Development corridor to have the least impact on existing residents, while Accessory Dwelling Units, built by existing homeowners, can meet the need to house parents, adult children, etc. while maintaining the character of a neighborhood.

Increasing our affordable housing options is a top priority of mine that I will work for as a San Mateo City Council Member.  My lifetime of business and nonprofit leadership and community service give me the experience and skills to work with our residents and businesses to develop a solution that will deliver on my commitment.  I am excited to get started on this important task.  I commit that the neighborhoods will be active and respected partners as we work to expand our affordable housing options.

Amourence Lee Q&A:

*NOTE: This Q&A was an opportunity for each candidate to promote their candidacy.  However, since Ms. Lee’s answers include/indicate her strong opposition to Measure Y (which our BHNA Board and Membership endorses), and has promoted what she considers positives in Measure R, the BHNA Board feels that a balance is warranted as a service to our members, and are therefore providing a rebuttal at the end of her comments.

What is your position on Measure R?

Like my council colleagues Diane Papan and Eric Rodriguez, I have not taken a formal position on Measure R. I view Measure R as a compromise measure with pros and cons. 

  • The carve-out map mostly aligns with the approved General Plan Study Area map which includes mostly commercial areas and excludes residential neighborhoods. I was in favor of updating the Measure R map to perfectly align with the General Plan Update map and include key commercial areas like Bridge Point Shopping Center which generates comparable city revenue as the Hillsdale Mall. Retail revenue and the demand for retail space is steadily declining and over these next 10 years, I expect we will be forced to redevelop these spaces to meet our Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) goals.
  • The strongest argument to support Measure R is that it will concentrate growth around our 3 Caltrain Stations. I believe in science and feel the moral urgency to take unprecedented action to cut carbon emissions over these next 10 years. Measure R focuses growth around transit, which clearly serves our climate resilience and sustainability goals. 
  • Measure R supports the expansion of options to create affordable housing including in-lieu fees. The City’s current in-lieu fees for fractional below market-rate housing units are based on an independent financial analysis that determined a cost gap of about $520,000. These fees are critical to an affordable housing preservation strategy that has been out of reach under Measure H and P. San Mateans will be better served when we have the option to acquire naturally occurring existing affordable housing units to help keep existing community members who are at risk of displacement in place as well as grow city land assets.  

Ultimately I trust in the people of San Mateo to determine how and where we should grow. While I appreciate Measure R’s reliance on the General Plan process to determine height and density in the carve-out transit corridor, after decades of ballot box planning here in San Mateo, it is my strong preference to do community-led land-use planning through the General Plan Update Process. It is imperative that we hold ourselves to the highest standards of community education and engagement, and as a former General Plan Subcommittee member and now a Councilmember, I have been deeply engaged in this process which has been rigorous, researched, and data-driven. To date, our outreach efforts include 3 Bilingual Online Surveys, 5 Community Presentations, 6 Community Workshops, 9 Pop-Up Events, and 17 Council, Commission & Sub-Committee Meetings.  

If the City Council continues to tout more housing, then why has there been so much office/commercial built instead of housing?

Sadly, Measure H and P policies arbitrarily limit density to 50 housing units per acre, which has unintentionally made building commercial space more financially advantageous to developers. In spite of these market and policy constraints, the council has found ways to bring projects online like Waters Park which has redeveloped and rezoned under-utilized commercial buildings into housing. I also voted to increase the affordable housing inclusionary requirements from 10% to 15%. It’s important to note that this policy change was based on an independent financial analysis, which concluded that Measure H and P height and density restrictions made it financially infeasible to increase inclusionary affordable housing requirements beyond 15%. If we want to see more and deeper levels of affordable housing than we need to vote No on Y. 

If San Mateo ever had an urban-interface wildfire or fires stemming from a large earthquake, how will you ensure residents are safely and quickly able to evacuate the area with your projection for increased housing?

California building safety and environmental codes are leading the nation, newer structures are often built more resilient than older ones. San Mateo Consolidated is looking ahead to adapt our technology and vehicles to meet the needs of our growing population, including the use of drones (recently acquired by the SMPD) and upgrading to smaller and more maneuverable engines, etc. Our Wildfire Mitigation Plan includes mapping and identifying the wildfire risks in our jurisdictions aligning with the state map system that will now include very high-risk and high-risk zone classifications, which will have legal ramifications for San Mateo. Additionally, we acquired new software to help evaluate hazards within neighborhoods at the parcel level to help educate residents and in the future, it will be used to enforce risk mitigation measures (i.e. fuel reduction, chimney clearance, etc.). Additionally, we are rolling out Zonehaven, an evacuation software utilized by the County to manage evacuation plans by zones. 

Noise pollution is increasingly being studied and found to be an under-recognized but significant health hazard.  What will you do to assess and mitigate this issue for San Mateo? 

With Caltrain electrification coming, the noise from the train will be significantly reduced along with the environmental impact (no diesel), and increased frequency will mean it is a better and more reliable mode of transit for San Mateans. We are also moving forward with the Operation Quiet Night Project to create a quiet zone along the downtown Caltrain station. 

Please tell me why you think more than 5-7 floors are necessary to build affordable housing? 

Though the final numbers are still pending approval, in the next cycle of the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) allocation, San Mateo will need to produce about 6,500 new units of housing, according to the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG). Growth is inevitable and now mandated, with HCD empowered as an oversight and enforcement agency to ensure that municipalities meet their RHNA obligations. San Mateans will need to choose between sprawl into residential neighborhoods or focused transit-oriented development. I strongly support the latter. As your elected councilwoman, I will work with my fellow councilmembers, city staff, and the community to listen and co-create a vision for growth that respects our history, diversity, and neighborhoods.   

The status quo of Measure P/H is clearly not working and has inhibited our ability to keep pace with the needs of our community. It shows in the increasing number of overcrowded households and rent-burdened families, the family of 5 living in a one-bedroom apartment, the adult children living with their parents despite high paying jobs, the attrition of our teachers, and recruitment and retention barriers for our police department and city staff. 

*BHNA Board Rebuttal to Ms. Lee’s Comments:

Ms. Lee’s responses unfortunately perpetuate various misunderstandings about what Measure Y does and what it does not do. It requires a very careful read to properly consider its context in the General Plan.  There are additionally some mischaracterizations regarding Measure R. Below please find clarifications:

-The future of the Bridgepointe shopping area is in the hands of the City Council. It always has been, and nothing in Measure Y prevents the Council from rezoning that land, which would change its use – and possibly its height limit and residential density, up to the voter approved maximum. 

-Measure R carve out areas are not consistent when you view their map and then try to compare it to their text description, so it is impossible to say what that measure “mostly aligns with”.  The City Council would need to make that interpretation, making the voters’ decision ineffective. 

-Waters Park redevelopment, approved under Measure Y standards, is one good example of how we can repurpose under-utilized areas. The townhouse proposal for Campus Drive is also a solution to that problem. Ms. Lee should be aware of such examples.

-Measure Y has already focused development around the transit stations, for example: Bay Meadows, The Passages, Station Park Green.  All these projects help stem climate change. 

-The city has lost many hundreds of thousands of dollars in potential housing fees over the years due to Council decisions:

Studies in California show that the in-lieu fee option for affordable housing becomes the way most all developers deal with the requirements. That option causes a delay in providing affordable units and creates exclusionary housing (grouping affordable units into one area).In the past, the Council commissions have studied the amounts, and then reduced them to avoid having too big an impact on a developer’s bottom line.

The same has happened with the commercial linkage fee option, which the Council refused to adopt until very recently – although a key part of San Mateo’s affordable housing concepts, adopted by San Mateo voters in 1991. Even then, the Council enacted a softer version, which provides a 25% discount for paying union wages, no matter the development. 

It’s clear that many approaches to development and housing are not working as they should, but that is not a Measure Y issue. With many of these issues, the buck stops with the City Council. Ms. Lee can look further into the history, the facts and what is possible if the Council has the will to get it done.

-Referring to Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) numbers and Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) projections regarding how much growth is needed in every city is speculative at best.  The pandemic has changed everything.  At this stage, there is no one who can accurately point to what future needs will be – so a statement that San Mateo cannot meet those needs is baseless.

-If the Council has a housing preservation strategy, the commercial linkage fees (currently millions of dollars) are a readily available source for that.

– In reference to “Ballot Box Planning,” the vote is the most democratic way for San Mateans to determine our growth. Unless the voters get to approve the results of the General Plan process, it will become another piece of paper the City Council can change at will, and the people’s efforts will be to no effect.