As you drive, stroll, or bike around the city of San Mateo, you can’t help noticing the many new structures just completed or still in the building stage. Most of the activity is in the rail corridor, between State Route 92 and Hillsdale Boulevard. But soon the emphasis will be on downtown and then El Camino Real.
On Delaware Street, near the former police station and adjacent to the Arco gas station, 120 housing units are going up. Sixty are low-income, or so-called affordable apartments. The other half are moderately priced units, with construction about to begin. At 2090 Delaware St., the former Bofors Inc. site, 11 apartments are under construction.
At Bay Meadows, several of the residential units are built and already have lists of people waiting to move in. Meanwhile, the large community park is a reality. Moving north by the Hayward Park Caltrain station, the specific plan for Station Park Green has been approved for 599 housing units and up to 70,000 square feet of commercial space. The next step is for design, site plan and architectural review. Meanwhile, the Hines office project, 276,000 square feet of commercial space on the former Telecenter site has been approved but has not yet been issued a building permit to begin construction.
Downtown and on Third Avenue and El Camino Real, the big question is what is going to happen to the three former gas station sites. Two have been shut and empty for years. The third one came down earlier this month. There has been some interest expressed in building residential on this last site, but it is small and parking is a problem. On the northeast corner, a project was approved for retail and office space in mid-2000. But the economy tanked and the developers never picked up their building permits. On the southeast corner, a smaller residential, perhaps senior housing, has been discussed in the past but parking again is an issue. Ron Munekawa, the city’s chief of planning, feels some of these parking obstacles could be met when the Public Works Department completes the downtown parking strategy, which hopefully could facilitate the development of these former gas station sites.
The hot topic downtown is the proposed Essex development across from Central Park on Fifth avenue. The project is receiving its public input now, mostly negative, but the council seems interested in doing something with the Essex proposal, maybe in a modified form. The development calls for higher heights of eight stories rather than the traditional five, providing there is a public benefit. It’s the public benefit which is attracting the city’s interest. It could pay for improvements to Central Park, a new parking structure, etc. This project will be in the news for sometime to come. Maybe an old idea, but a sensible one, of turning Second and Fifth avenues into one-way streets to accommodate traffic flow downtown, will be revisited as the City Council, Planning Commission and Public Works devise a new downtown parking strategy and deal with the Essex proposal.
There are a few others worth mentioning. Arbor Rose is the name of a new recently completed residential development, including townhouses and single family homes, on the former San Mateo Times site on Amphlett Boulevard. On North San Mateo Drive, near Burlingame, at the former Shen automobile dealership, 158 apartments have been built, a mixture of market-rate and low-income units. This development is not in the city’s rail corridor but it is fairly close to the Burlingame train station. The city took a financial hit when the Shen auto complex shut down. If you are driving on State Route 92 you can see the top of Elkhorn Court off of 20th Avenue, which will include 197 apartment and 126,000 square feet of office space when it is complete. Lastly, 100,000 square feet for office space has been approved by the former SolarCity site next to the College of San Mateo.
A contested judicial election in November for an open seat is of particular interest because of contrasting endorsements. The main contenders are Stephanie Garratt, former deputy district attorney and court commissioner, and Daly City Councilman Raymond Buenaventura, a criminal defense lawyer. Prosecutor Garratt is supported by most of the local judges and police officer associations, by Sheriff Greg Munks and former sheriff and current Supervisor Don Horsley (also endorsing Buenaventura).
Meanwhile, Buenaventura has the support of many elected officials including his colleagues on the City Council; U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo; state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo; Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco; county supervisors Dave Pine and Warren Slocum; and attorney Joe Cotchett. Is this election really about whether prosecutors or defense lawyers make better judges? Let’s hope not. An ideal judge is impeccably impartial and able to evaluate testimony and evidence without prejudice.
Sue Lempert is the former mayor of San Mateo. Her column runs every Monday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.