A massive development proposed to be built on property owned by Bay Area Rapid Transit in Millbrae is causing a schism in the race for the City Council.
Republic Urban Properties, the developer selected by BART to construct a large, mixed-use housing project near the train station, donated a substantial amount of money to the newly formed Committee for Responsible Government in Millbrae that has the aim of supporting the candidacies of Mayor Robert Gottschalk and candidate Ann Schneider while opposing former mayor Gina Papan, who is also seeking voter support.
The developer donated $20,000 in favor of Gottschalk and Schneider, and opposition of Papan, while the San Mateo County Building and Construction Trades Joint Council gave $6,000 toward the same cause.
Proposed construction in the region around the city’s BART and Caltrain station, near the intersection of Millbrae Avenue and El Camino Real, has been identified as a top priority by candidates running for election on an all-mail ballot due Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3.
Republic Urban has offered to build 164,000 square feet of office space, nearly 47,000 square feet of retail, more than 300 residential units as well as a hotel, on property that is currently a parking lot owned by BART.
Papan has been critical of the project, and said she would like to see a development built which offers more benefits to the public.
“I have been standing up against this project,” she said. “That’s why this special interest group is targeting me.”
Individuals and organizations concerned about the council election formed the Committee for Responsible Government in Millbrae, and are attempting to influence the outcome of the race, according to an email from Republic Urban representative Kelly Erardi, attorney Janet Fogarty and union representative James Ruigomez.
In the race for three available seats are Gottschalk, Schneider, Papan and Councilman Wayne Lee. Councilwoman Marge Colapietro is termed out.
The donations have financed the printing mailers sent to registered voters in Millbrae pushing the merits of the organization’s preferred candidates, and diminishing Papan.
Papan said she was dismayed to see the campaign take a negative turn.
“These are tactics you see more on a national level, poisoning that aspect of it,” she said. “It’s a shame they are bringing it to our town.”
Those sentiments were echoed by the rest of the candidates.
“I’m sorry to see this is happening,” said Gottschalk.
He said he did not ask for the support, and was surprised to hear of it.
Gottschalk said he believes the Republic Urban project has some merit as proposed, but room for improvement remains.
Ultimately, he said it is too early to take a formal position on the development, and instead favored allowing the project to work its way through the formal planning process before passing judgment.
Review is underway for the Millbrae Station Area Specific Plan, which will establish policy and guidelines for development near the transit center.
Serra Station Properties has also proposed building a development containing 267,000 square feet of office space, 32,000 feet of retail space and 500 residential units near the transit center as well.
In all, the two projects propose to develop roughly 400,000 square feet of office space, about 79,000 square feet of retail space, more than 800 residential units, and an extended stay hotel.
Gottschalk said it would be wise to hold off on passing judgment on any particular development, until the specific plan has been approved.
Schneider, who supports the BART project, said she too was dismayed to see the developer attempt to influence the tone of the race.
“I run a positive campaign,” she said. “I plan on being a positive councilperson and I look forward to working with everyone.”
Schneider said she was not aware of the support, and did not interact with representatives from the contributing organizations regarding the council race prior to the donation.
“It bothers me that I’m being associated with this,” she said. “My campaign would not have supported this kind of mailer.”
She said though the council should seize the opportunity to approve developments near the train station, for fear that the economy may soon dive and officials will lose the chance to build and shape the future of the city.
“I’m supporting getting Millbrae to actually stop planning things, and actually getting things done,” she said.
Papan too said she favored moving forward with buildings projects at the site, so long as they are done in what she considers a responsible fashion.
“We will all have a really bright future if we can work together and BART can present a project that will help the Millbrae residents,” she said.
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