A growing population and increasing building costs and expenses have put those providing child care in San Mateo County in a bind, according to a countywide study.
The Redwood City Planning Commission took a closer look at the numbers for the city Tuesday, reviewing a report showing similar issues in meeting the demand for child care in the city, which is slated to see an increase in the number of children under 12 years old of 1,000 by 2025, according to the report.
Prepared and presented by economic consultant Joanne Brion, the report estimated 86 percent of the current demand in the city is being met by the supply, leaving a shortage of an estimated 1,100 spaces. The city’s ability to meet demand appeared to be higher than the county’s average — which another report Brion prepared showed 68 percent of demand for infant care and preschools being met currently. However, the flow of employees into the city signaled a closer look at the future growth of child care.
Factored into the demand for spaces was the 24 percent growth in the number of Redwood City employees from 57,400 to 71,000 by 2025. Combined with the statistic that 48 percent of Redwood City employees reside outside San Mateo County, Brion cautioned the commission to consider how the influx of employees may augment demand for child care in the city, as those commuting into the city for work might want to be near their children during the work day.
While Commissioner Shawn White said he has three young children, with one currently in child care, he hadn’t realized the urgency of the shortage in Redwood City.
“I did not realize just how big of an issue this is,” he said. “Starting to put some real data behind it, I think, was really powerful.”
Kristen Anderson, the city’s child care coordinator, highlighted the pressure increased rent and limited space in schools has put on those providing child care, which are already operating under small or non-existent profit margins and are required to be attentive to a network of local, state and federal regulations.
“Over the past many, many years we’ve really used up what is easy to use in churches and school spaces,” she said. “This facility shortage has only increased with all the development going on and the rent increases going on.”
Anderson cited the example of four child care centers and preschools that closed in June either because of increased rent or because the schools where they were operating needed the space for other operations. She said all four child care providers had searched for an alternative space for two years prior to their closing, but were unsuccessful in finding them, resulting in a loss of 256 spaces.
Anderson said the focus in finding space where child care facilities could be built or expanded had been on schools or faith-based organizations, many of which own their spaces and can allow child care providers to operate at a low lease rates and during the weekdays. But since those spaces have filled up, providers have had to test the real estate market, encountering steep rents or high costs in building new locations.
Brion’s report, which is expected to go before the City Council later this year, estimated an average cost of $40,717 for each new child care space, averaging the costs of building new spaces, expanding current facilities and portable buildings, among others. Though she estimated a space to serve an average of 7.5 children in its 30-year life span, the average cost per child per space would still be $5,429.
‘Not just a Redwood City problem’
Tracy Crawford, director of the Roots N Wings Montessori School at Redwood Baptist Church at 2323 Euclid Ave., said thoughts about expanding the services offered at her school have stalled because of the red tape and high fees involved. She expects demand for spots at her school, which currently serves children ages 2 to 6, to remain high as she has received interest from parents from a growing radius around the school, from San Carlos to Mountain View.
“This is not just a Redwood City problem,” she said. “The child care shortage is huge.”
Crawford urged commissioners to advocate for child care opportunities in neighborhoods where they may face opposition, one barrier for expansion that Brion’s study mentioned. Brion also noted the capital and time needed to apply for operation permits has deterred providers who might consider opening a facility.
Commissioner Connie Guerrero expressed support for exploring how fees or community benefits required of new developments could help finance future child care facilities, agreeing with Commissioner Ernie Schmidt that parcel taxes, which have already been used to fund school programs, could be a less appealing prospect for the community.
“I do see a big need for finding a way to maybe have this developer impact fee, or employer-based care or community benefits … to find a way to encourage tenants, employers to create or fund affordable day care for employees and communities,” she said.
Schmidt acknowledged the difficulty in trying to ease the bureaucratic process for child care providers as they expand their services, given the need for trained providers and safe facilities.
“You could say that trying to remove the red tape, but then you have to be careful with that because you are caring for children,” he said.
Commissioner Rick Hunter expressed interest in loosening zoning requirements for child care providers, especially those who could offer services in their homes.
Jean-Marie Houston, director of early learning support services at the San Mateo County Office of Education, said she was optimistic the city would move forward in expanding child care services given the increased attention the issue has received. She said that staying open to a variety of solutions and partnerships would be the keys to meeting the child care demand.
“It does take a lot of bullets to address this,” she said. “It’s a forgotten part of what makes communities thrive.”
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