Samantha Weigel/Daily Journal
Project 90 Executive Director Jim Stansberry stands outside the nonprofit’s O’Toole Center on Ninth Avenue in San Mateo. The substance abuse treatment center may have to move its facility because of a development plan.
A plan to redevelop a corner block on the southwest end of San Mateo’s Central Park could force nonprofit substance abuse treatment program Project 90 to relocate one of its largest residential facilities.
Project 90, which serves clients in San Mateo and Santa Clara county, provides about 140 treatment beds for individuals through 11 residential facilities it operates between San Mateo, Redwood City and Foster City.
Since 1983, Project 90’s largest residential and intake facility has been the O’Toole Center, located at 15 Ninth Ave. in San Mateo. The nonprofit offers 34 beds and supports 14 staff members between the center and a nearby residential building at 31 Ninth Ave., said Project 90 Executive Director Jim Stansberry.
Project 90 has benefited San Mateo for 41 years by providing a safe place for those who struggle with addiction, Stansberry said.
“Part of it’s not having them on the street, but having them to where they’re getting assistance is not only really positive for the individual, but for their families and to the community,” Stansberry said.
However, the property owner’s desire to develop the two residential sites may leave the sober living environment looking for a new home.
On May 22, property owner Trans World Insurance Company submitted an application to the city to redevelop 888 El Camino Real and 15, 25 and 31 Ninth Ave. into a 33,500-square-foot, four-story office building on the corner of El Camino Real and a 77,800-square-foot, four-story residential building on Ninth Avenue, according to a city staff report.
The Planning Commission reviewed a pre-application Trans World submitted last October and the site won’t need a zoning amendment, said Darcy Forsell, principal planner with the city’s Planning Division.
The formal application is being reviewed and environmental impact studies will take place before a public hearing is held with the Planning Commission, Forsell said. There is no timeline as to when any approval or even construction would begin, Forsell said.
Trans World has been supportive of Project 90, but it’s been the owner’s plan for nearly 40 years to redevelop the land into a site that serves as a nice gateway into Central Park, said Julie Baigent, a development consultant with Jewel Property Advisors who is working with Trans World.
“When the financial crisis hit and [Project 90] lost a lot of funding, Trans World reduced their rent so they could stay there, but there was always an understanding,” Baigent said. “They were helping them in the meantime because it’s a good organization, but the plan was at some point to redevelop so they could recoup some value from that.”
Stansberry said Project 90 has a good relationship with its landlord and he understands it’s trying to keep up with the economy. However, with affordable housing already an obstacle for many in San Mateo County, Stansberry and some members of the San Mateo City Council worry it could be difficult to find Project 90 an alternate site.
“Because we’re in a densely populated area, part of what’s happening in the Peninsula and particularly in the south Peninsula, San Mateo and Santa Clara, properties are pretty well utilized.” Stansberry said.
Councilman David Lim said San Mateo has been supportive of Project 90 and, between 2011 and 2013, approved $40,000 in rental subsidy grants for those needing assistance with housing through the nonprofit.
“It’s an important project for sure. It’s an important member of our community. Helping people who have substance abuse, those are our neighbors, our friends our families. And they do deserve help or any support we can give them,” Lim said.
Councilman Joe Goethals said finding Project 90 a suitable location isn’t going to be easy and, when he heard of the redevelopment proposal, was compelled to ensure the important community resource doesn’t become an afterthought.
“Drug addiction is a burden on San Mateo as a community and to the extent that we have community organizations that help people who face addiction, it helps lighten that burden. And so the city has an interest in finding a home for any group that has a positive impact on the community like that. Because the alternative is not having help and not having services and probably facing a community that has more addiction and perhaps more crime,” Goethals said. “That’s San Mateo’s interest and that’s why I think we have a responsibility to make sure they find a home.”
Project 90 supports those struggling with addiction by providing them with a structured sober living environment, regular support groups and counseling for an average of 90 days.
“It’s critical, because when people are stable, they start becoming producers. When they’re in their addiction they end up in emergency services, jail services, having work and financial difficulties. The difference is transitioning people, getting them into being productive and altering their lifestyle,” Stansberry said.
Clients typically begin at the O’Toole Center, which is heavily staffed, to stabilize and, after a period of adjustment, some are sent to one of the organization’s other residential facilities, Stansberry said. The center was once a convalescence home and a replacement location will need to provide full living quarters such as bedrooms, a kitchen, bathrooms and community classroom type space, Stansberry said.
“It’s lengthy and time consuming to get set up, particularly in an area like the Bay Area. We have long waiting lists, there’s always more people seeking treatment than what we’ve got the facilities for. And particularly with just what’s happening with the economy. What’s happening with jobs, what’s happening with people being released from jail, so having the assistance is pretty critical to what the alternatives are.”
For more information about Project 90 visit www.projectninety.org.
For more information about the redevelopment proposal visit the What’s Happening in Development? on the city’s website at cityofsanmateo.org.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106