Losing the city’s redevelopment agency, recent controversies in its Community Development Department and whether the city should rethink its approach to building height limits are some of the concerns the Daily Journal asked five candidates for San Mateo City Council to discuss.
The candidates are Public Works Commissioner Joe Goethals, Planning Commissioner Josh Hugg, incumbent Mayor David Lim, incumbent Deputy Mayor Robert Ross and marketing professional Karen Schmidt.
Lim and Ross are seeking second terms on the council and the others are running for elected office for the first time. Current Councilman Brandt Grotte opted not to run for re-election.
The candidates were given the same questions to answer in 50 words or fewer to help the Daily Journal determine endorsements. Answers are arranged alphabetically by the candidate’s last name.
Would you be in favor of changing the city’s height limits outlined in measures H and P?
Joe Goethals: I support the intent of measures H and P to preserve the character of the city. I am also interested to see whether the flexibility of measures H and P encourages development downtown. Our downtown could accommodate a range of heights with a mix of potential uses including residential, office and retail spaces.
Josh Hugg: We need a community conversation about height limitations in our city’s growth areas. Limitations appropriate 20 years ago when they were first implemented now impact our ability to accommodate growing businesses, workforce, families and aging residents. This problem can only be addressed by enhancing growth in our downtown, along El Camino Real and in the Rail Corridor area.
David Lim: No. Measures H and P were enacted by direct vote of San Mateo residents and in my four years on the council the community has consistently reiterated their desire to maintain the city’s height limitation on development as a means to preserving our neighborhoods and quality of life.
Robert Ross: Yes and the statute requires a vote to change. I support the statute but San Mateo would benefit from limited height limit changes. We must ask, what it will take for San Mateo to be productive, competitive and offer a high quality of life. We must make futuristic forecasts of San Mateo’s needs and consider benefits of smart growth.
Karen Schmidt: I am opposed to changing the height limit restrictions outlined in measures H and P. Of course, with limited land and housing needs, the tendency is to want to grow upwards; however, I doubt the powerful neighborhood home associations would agree to it, and ours is a medium to small business/retail mix, not a high-powered corporate climate.
With the city’s redevelopment agency being dissolved, what is best way to bring more affordable housing to San Mateo or should that be a priority at all?
Joe Goethals: Developing an inventory of affordable housing is essential to maintaining a diverse and inclusive community and should be a focus of the council. The council can maintain a robust inclusionary requirement, provide density bonuses as an incentive for affordable housing development, and take advantage of new tools such as possible bond funding for affordable housing for veterans and matching funds from the county.
Josh Hugg: Housing affordability affects everyone here, but lower income residents and workers most of all. Continuing to enforce our city’s inclusionary housing ordinance is essential as is finding new sources of funding for affordable housing. Impact fees have been shown to be an effective source of funding in other cities around the county and should be considered.
David Lim: Affordable housing must continue to be a priority to allow seniors, young families and working professionals such as teachers and police to continue to live in our community. Partnerships with private developers, state and federal grants and maintaining below-market rate requirements will remain tools to building more affordable housing.
Robert Ross: Yes, affordable housing is a priority. I will continue to work with business, developers, nonprofits, the community and other governmental entities to meet San Mateo’s housing needs. Our properties can have great ongoing economic value and we should explore redirecting their uses to achieve maximum benefits.
Karen Schmidt: More affordable housing is a strategic goal of our local government and a concern with our residents; however, they don’t seem to think that pubic employees should be favored over the general public when it comes to being able to afford to live in San Mateo as I have found while canvassing for votes.
With the lack of leadership currently in the Community Development Department and several “hiccups” it has had in recent years, what is best way to restore the public’s trust in this area?
Joe Goethals: The public trust will have to be rebuilt over time with transparency and consistent performance. The process matters. Public comment, diligent research and strong decision-making based on community input will restore the confidence that San Mateo has traditionally had in its public officials and city staff.
Josh Hugg: The department has suffered from years of being short staffed, while attempting to maintain high service levels. Augmenting staffing and maximizing operational efficiencies through the upcoming management audit are good first steps. Public trust will only be restored when a culture of community engagement, accountability and transparency is consistently demonstrated.
David Lim: I am proud to have called for an independent audit of the Community Development Department to help improve and restore confidence in city services. We must restore staffing to crucial areas and allow staff the freedom and creativity to help serve the people of San Mateo.
Robert Ross: Be transparent and have honest discussion and admit deficiencies and review areas we can improve. Audit processes, identify inadequacies, add safeguards and require signoffs to ensure accountability is a must. We must continually monitor areas presenting similar challenges. We must train employees in these areas and demand and ensure process compliance.
Karen Schmidt: This turn of events really concerns me and it appears that the series of resignations is a means of protest for lack of support on the inside. Then beyond the lawsuits are costly audits that wound the budget, and cripple everyone’s moral. It was explained to me that projects shifted from hand to hand and corresponding background notes etc. ... were not married with the basic information, perhaps due to a more analog way of filing.
What is your vision for the city’s downtown?
Joe Goethals: San Mateo has experienced great success with our downtown and I hope to build upon that success. Our restaurant population is a magnet for diners. We can build on that success by including office and residential space that will in turn support robust retail activity. Improved community benefits must include new parking opportunities as well as improved pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure.
Josh Hugg: I envision a lively downtown with a diverse mix of retail, restaurants, offices and homes. We need more events that bring San Mateans together and key to that is a central gathering space, wide sidewalks for al fresco dining and, of course, adequate parking. Making a stronger connection to Central Park will also accentuate the beauty of our downtown.
David Lim: Continue to promote special events in downtown, and encourage more retail to add to the mix of restaurants already in place. Additionally, work on a long-term vision to build a community center at Central Park to serve as a gateway into downtown and promote more community activities and civic arts in downtown.
Robert Ross: A downtown that is clean, policed and serviced, including consistency in design, architecture, signage of historic areas, hanging signs, plaques on buildings, tree lighting, intersections with brick corners, outside dining, a plaza, mixed-use greater density buildings in targeted areas, world-class transportation and traffic flow and automated robotic parking should be the priority.
Karen Schmidt: I would like to see a bike share program with more racks, maybe even a free trolley to minimize cars and maximize human sustainability. If we want to promote mobility, we have to develop the digital tools like an app to highlight routes, available parking and offer advertising to the local merchants.
What is a decision the City Council has made in last four years that you disagree with and why?
Joe Goethals: The City Council has worked very hard in the past four years to face a myriad of challenges. They have balanced the budget. They have worked tirelessly with their public employees to reach agreements to weather the economic recession. They made significant cuts to save money. They have ensured that police and fire and city service levels remained high.
Josh Hugg: I am pleased that several neighborhoods were removed from the FEMA flood zone last year because of the new levee but I remain disappointed that the city has not taken more steps to bring similar benefits to North Shoreview, San Mateo Village and North Central. I know residents who moved away because they cannot afford flood insurance.
David Lim: I disagreed with the City Council decision to not require an open, public vote on employee salaries above $200,000 and on contracts over $25,000. These salaries and contracts can be approved by the city manager with no direct council vote or public input. I voted to create these rules but was outvoted. I believe the City Council must be personally accountable for your tax dollars.
Robert Ross: Making city ordinance violations, non-criminal infractions, chargeable as criminal misdemeanors. I struggle with labeling a city ordinance violator a criminal and making them subject to criminal penalties. Improper or overzealous application of administering such a law, potentially makes citizens question our motives and intentions such as the Claremont automotive enforcement.
Karen Schmidt: I am not so sure that the 7-Eleven debacle was properly reined and mediated for the best outcome. I think further concessions can be made with 7-Eleven, like painting the building gray, putting some bike racks in the front of the lot and perhaps limiting the hours of operation to tame the look and minimize potential late night commotion. Litigation is rarely the best solution.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106
Occupation: Deputy district attorney, Alameda County
Education: J.D., Santa Clara University School of Law, MPH, San Jose State University, BS, Santa Clara University
How long a resident: 35 years
Family: Married with two daughters
Occupation: Program manager at the Housing Leadership Council
Education: BS from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Master’s in Public Administration from San Jose State University
How long a resident: 15 years
Occupation: Incumbent San Mateo councilman and deputy district attorney, Alameda County
Education: B.A. 1992, M.Ed. 1993, UCLA, J.D. Hasting Law School, 1999
How long a resident: 12 years
Family: Married with three children, two in public schools
Occupation: Incumbent San Mateo councilman, retired San Mateo police lieutenant and current a real estate and investment broker
Education: BS and BA business/emergency preparedness/terrorism
How long a resident: 17 years
Family: Two adult children
Occupation: Marketing operations executive at ZOOB Corporation in San Mateo
Education: BS in graphic communications, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
How long a resident: Almost 13 years
Family: Son, 12, in local public school