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OP-ED: If you don’t build it, they won’t come
May 11, 2013, 05:00 AM By Coralin Feierbach

Coralin Feierbach

This is in response to the May 1 article in the Daily Journal, “What is Plan Bay Area? Region Adopting Strategy for Future Growth.” The article states that San Mateo plans to add 10,000 new housing units by 2040. To paraphrase futurist Paul Saffo when he spoke before the Council of Cities 10 years ago, San Mateo County is in the process of loving itself to death.

Peninsula cities are continually inundated by pro-growth voices from the San Mateo County Economic Development Association, the Association of Bay Area Governments, building trade unions, developers and Realtors, “building more new housing” proponents, state legislators and their lobbyists and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

If it were only voices, that would be one thing. But now the deck is being stacked so if cities don’t build more housing then grant money may not available for road or other infrastructure improvements. In the post-Proposition 13 era, property taxes on housing units have not been sufficient to pay for all city services, including infrastructure maintenance, used by residential property owners. So adding more housing comes at a cost to cities’ infrastructures — a cost that is not funded by state or regional agencies.

ABAG issues mandates for each city for a number of additional housing units they must enable via zoning increases. These mandates have so far not been enforced, but proposed state legislation may soon change that. The very qualities that attracted us to Belmont are threatened.

Will local cities be forced to convert suburban single-family neighborhoods to urban multi-family condos and apartments? Will we be forced to sell our open space to developers to make up for sales tax money the state can potentially deny us? Will we be forced to build high-rise apartment buildings and condos along the “transportation corridor” as ABAG and MTC wants, destroying the view of the Bay for many Belmont households?

With increased development on either side of Belmont, El Camino Real will turn into a parking lot while frustrated drivers will use our side streets and severely impacted Ralston Avenue to get to their destination. Studies have also shown that residents living on the “transportation corridors” are only slightly more likely to use the available public transit, so even “transit-oriented” housing will bring added traffic congestion and an added burden on our infrastructure.

Thirty years ago, brave souls like San Mateo councilwoman Jane Baker and San Mateo County supervisor Ed Bacciocco (both now deceased) turned down 1,000 housing units (only 280 housing units were allowed to be built instead) on Sugarloaf Mountain, and created permanent open space. What would happen today if Sugarloaf was still on the butcher block? I would guess that instead of the 280 units it would be more like 500-600 units, destroying the ecosystem of this precious piece of property now owned by the city of San Mateo. And, in addition, the quality of life for surrounding neighborhoods would be reduced.

Belmont has about 350 acres of open space. Previous and present councils made that happen with strength, courage and conviction. Yes, there will be some new development in downtown Belmont on El Camino Real but not the kind of massive development some cities like Millbrae, Redwood City and San Bruno have generated and San Mateo is about to generate. Massive housing is not a sustainable solution. New Belmont development will be done with care and with consideration of long-term sustainability, consultation with residents and in cooperation with neighboring cities as well.

We moved to the San Mateo Peninsula because it was suburban, not urban. Yet outside agencies continually pressure us to urbanize. It’s time for our voices to be heard in Sacramento. Let us not die of a thousand cuts.

Coralin Feierbach is a 14-year member of the Belmont City Council. She has lived with her family in Belmont since 1973. 



Tags: housing, belmont, mateo, units, cities, would,

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