With raising height limits in a stretch of area north of San Bruno’s downtown on the November ballot, those for and against the measure are expressing their concerns and support.
Measure N would modify 1977’s Ordinance 1284, which limits building heights, potentially raising them from the current maximum of 50 feet to 90 feet near the San Bruno Caltrain station. The ordinance was the result of a voter initiative, which was intended to preserve the existing character of San Bruno by requiring voter approval for high-rise developments, increased density in existing neighborhoods and projects encroaching upon scenic corridors and open spaces. Proponents of the change say it will help growth in development in San Bruno, while others argue it will gentrify a working class area, while increasing congestion and causing water shortages.
One of the people in support of the ballot measure is Mayor Jim Ruane who said the ordinance is outdated and increasing height limits in that particular area will allow for more development.
“Times have changed and the economic outlook is much brighter,” Ruane said. “We have had a lot of interest from developers, but [the height limits] really restrict what we can do. On the advent of (Caltrain) grade separation, it’s the perfect time.”
He added that the change only affects that area and residents aren’t going to be moved for development.
“It’s just a reasonable thing and will help the economic vitality of San Bruno.”
On the other side, Millbrae’s Doug Radtke, the campaign chair against Measure N, calls San Bruno’s Downtown and Transit Corridors Economic Enhancement Initiative a “thinly veiled attempt to promote the Plan Bay Area goal of expanding areas of high density ‘pack and stack’ housing, eroding neighbors’ property values,” according to his ballot argument. Radtke lived half of his childhood in San Bruno before moving to Millbrae.
“I noticed a lot of the supporters were business owners,” he said. “It’s just targeting a specific working class area. Growing up there, it’s been a working class neighborhood. I just see the plan as arbitrarily picking a zone for gentrification to benefit the developers. … Why not just repeal it? Allow the free market to decide what gets built and what doesn’t get built. … I feel like the measure goes to benefit companies.”
Some local business leaders say the height limits need to change to give downtown a boost, with Dennis Sammut, CEO of the Artichoke Joe’s Casino on Huntington Avenue, noting that a lot of the buildings in the downtown 1600 block of San Mateo Avenue are 100 years old.
“The downtown is tired; it’s old,” he previously said. “Someday you’ve got to bite the bullet. I think they’re (the council) kind of caught. There’s a lot of resident concerns. It’s a very difficult decision for the council; it’s dynamic. If they want the town to move into the next century, it has to be an intelligently planned development. … Looking for the future of San Bruno, the way to help move it forward is increase height limits. … You can’t go crazy and put up a 90-story building though.”
This is a turning point for San Bruno, Radtke said.
“Whatever they (voters) choose, that won’t impact my daily life, but folks need to educate themselves on both sides to decide what type of city they want to live in. I don’t think you can transform San Bruno into Burlingame Avenue overnight.”
The Yes on N campaign responded to Radtke’s argument with a rebuttal that noted the process to craft the measure included two years of public outreach, changes and engagement.
“Unfortunately, the one individual who signed the opposing argument did not participate in any of our public discussion — plus he lives in Millbrae,” it stated. “His ‘solution’ to remove all limits in the entire city is ridiculous and inconsistent with the thoughtful community process that produced Measure N.”
Conversely, residents like Marty Medina, want to see a nice, bustling, pretty downtown, but is primarily concerned adding more water users to the city will result in a more expensive water system for San Bruno.
“Everybody else would like to have another Burlingame Avenue, but we’re not in Burlingame,” he said. “The biggest issue I think I have besides the water issue is how our council is selling this to the public. Why they are silent on the issue? They could have stepped down and said, ‘I’m not voting, but here is my public comment.’ … They (the council) keep saying we need this because developers aren’t going to come to San Bruno, but that’s a lie. Developers are going to come here because there’s no more land in the area to build. … The council should be more upfront with what’s going on and not do the legal minimums.”
Two councilmembers, Rico Medina and Michael Salazar, recused themselves from the vote to put the measure on the Nov. 4 ballot because they own properties in close proximity. Councilwoman Irene O’Connell also owns property in the vicinity, but voted for the measure to get the third vote needed for it to pass.
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