Though San Mateo residents raised questions about how a 10-unit condominium project proposed for El Camino Real would fit within its surrounding neighborhood and affect traffic, the City Council’s decision to uphold the Planning Commission’s denial of the project Monday ultimately came down to distance between a one-story home adjacent to the property and the four-story building included in the plans.

In a discussion sparking concerns ranging from the preservation of the neighborhood’s character to the pressing need to increase the city and region’s housing stock, councilmembers voted 3-1 to deny the applicant’s appeal of the commission’s fall decision, with Mayor Rick Bonilla voting against the denial. Councilman Eric Rodriguez recused himself from the discussion because he served as a Planning Commissioner during the fall discussions.

In affirming the commission’s decision, councilmembers also upheld its finding that the building’s height varied more than one story from a one-story building next to it without a step, or transition between the heights, effectively issuing the final rejection of the plans in their current form.

Referring to the dozens of residents who stepped forward with concerns abut the building’s impact on homes and streets near the project site between Engle Road and West Santa Inez Avenue, Councilwoman Maureen Freschet admitted some surprise to see the controversy caused by a 10-unit building. But she also acknowledged deep regional concerns caused by the housing shortage as well as the difficulty of navigating change affecting the quality of life for nearby residents and character of a given neighborhood.

“In today’s environment where we’re experiencing massive development and more is being proposed, it’s a little surprising to see that a 10-unit building would be so controversial,” she said, adding that she wouldn’t have had a problem with a three-story project. “It’s disappointing to me that we couldn’t have found a way forward to make that happen to the satisfaction of all the stakeholders.”

Joining other residents of the San Mateo Park neighborhood in urging councilmembers to affirm the commission’s decision, nearby resident Jodie Penner noted the mass, parking congestion and traffic associated with the four-story building where two single-family residences currently stand were cause for concern for her and her neighbors.

“We are not seeking to block any and all multifamily housing from this property,” she said, adding that sensitively scaled, multi-family units could benefit neighbors of the project by providing a buffer to El Camino Real traffic and would add to the city’s housing supply. “This project is too large for its lot and in relation to the established neighborhood of small single-family cottages and bungalows directly abutting the project.”

Many neighbors of the project worried residents of the new units could affect available street parking on West Santa Inez Avenue and nearby streets, where some said parking is in short supply. Though a 23-car underground parking garage was included in the plans, some expressed doubts as to whether residents would use it, which uses a mechanized “puzzle” system allowing cars to be stored with less space than a traditional structure. Because the underground garage by Oakland-based CityLift uses on a retrieval process to store the cars and some versions of the platform don’t accommodate larger models, neighbors of the project, like Gerry Wentworth, wondered if new residents would opt to park on the street instead of using on-site parking.

“We have no more available parking,” he said. “We just don’t have any more space available.”

Jack Matthews, the project architect and former mayor, confirmed residents of the building would agree not to park on the street and a representative of CityLift said four spaces reserved for oversized cars, like SUVs and minivans, could accommodate larger vehicles that may not fit in the garage’s regular storage.

But for 20-year San Mateo resident Rafael Reyes and other housing advocates, the uphill challenge for those looking to buy a home in San Mateo weighed heavily, moving him to support the project.

“My family is very fortunate to live here,” he said. “There are many others that do not have that benefit because it is simply outrageously expensive. And we must move forward with housing to accommodate families that work here and live nearby.”

In voting against the denial, Bonilla joined voices in support of the project, noting the need for housing to support teachers and first responders in the city and commending the building’s design.

“It’s in my opinion a good building ... its time has come but obviously based on what I’m hearing maybe not now,” he said. “I do look forward to finding ways to build the housing that we need for everybody.”

In opting to issue the denial without prejudice, councilmembers agreed to allow the applicant to submit an amended version of the project within a year, which Councilman Joe Goethals said he hoped would happen soon. Noting the difficulty residents are increasingly facing with regard to street parking, Goethals suggested the developer find ways to accommodate a wider variety of vehicles to afford some flexibility to future residents of the building and to ensure residents park in the garage in future versions of the plans.

Though Goethals acknowledged residents’ concerns regarding the mass and height of the building, he said he hoped any plans submitted in the future are more amenable to its neighbors.

“It may not be everything that the neighborhood wants when it comes to what comes forward next,” he said. “But … I have to imagine that the project that comes forward next, that the neighborhood will be more in tune with it.”

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(29) comments


My Uncle also built Belmont Slough when he was City Engineer of San Mateo He widened the road around Alameda also. You don't live in an area 48 years and not know about the history..


SAn mateo Park brings me back to the friendship My Uncle had with San Mateo. My Uncle was the City Manager of Hillsborough first the city engineer of San mateo and City Manager of koby Japan. I was friend's with Art sullivan past city manager and his daughters who lived there. He was responsible for all the developments Tobin Clark, etc. in the 70's. I think of my San Mateo Park Past connections. San Mateo Park is an awesome group. They won't give up. They will organize and repreesent the neighborhood Yay!


Vincent I always enjoy your comments You have the facts and figures . tyhank you for not throwing insults around. You make a lot of sense. San Mateo Park is a really tight knit group of neighbors. I pity any kind of building such as this in that area. They represented their views quite well. They rock!


I really would not know about the need for housing I have only lived her 48 years. What I see is a bunch of grown men calling out name to the residents because they lost the planning commissioners and council support.

John Morris

You stated it with an air of irony, but you obviously WOULDN'T know about the need for housing if you've been (assumedly) a homeowner for the past 48 years. You haven't experienced the 50-60% spike in rental prices over the past decade, nor have you had to pay for a home recently, in a market where only 14% of people can afford a median-priced house. And we're not calling out residents; we're calling out homeowners who have exploited the market and prevented building to increase their own property values.

SMC citizen

Bring that development to Redwood City, overcrowding, no parking and gridlock traffic is the norm here.


mnboy: our house has doubled in value since we bought it four years ago. We both have advanced degrees and good jobs. We had to save 20 years for our down payment. Less than five years later, we earn more but would be unable to afford our own house. If we were 10 years younger we’d probably have to pay double again. No amount of gumption will compensate for this. We need to build more housing. The state can’t step in soon enough.

vincent wei

Amazing how this Council listens intently to and and all west side residents concerns(west of EC), while ignoring any similar pleas from folks living on the east side of San Mateo.....

......There needs to be a Greater East San Mateo homeowners association like the have in San Carlos......And additionally to all the YIMBY straw man comments..... San Mateo has approved thousands of residential units and hundreds of thousands of commercial sq. footage building in just the last few years......BUT don't let the facts get in the way of your cliche'd NIMBY narrative...

John Morris

I'd challenge you to present one comment that actually includes a straw-man in it, Vincent -- you can find examples of every single 'yimby' complaint in the video footage of the city council meeting. San Mateo County as a whole (with the bulk of jobs being in RWC) has built ~3,800 housing units and added 72,000 jobs. We need more housing to accommodate them. The facts are in the way of your ridiculous narrative, not ours.

vincent wei

Seems to me that you have answered the question for me...3800 residential units...and 72,000 San Mateo and RWC?....those are your own facts right?....doesn't sound like the people you label as nimby's have actually been successful in stopping development...BUT maybe people like you would only be satisfied if they built 50000 units...huh? more maybe 75000...maybe there will never be enough for you ???

John Morris

There will be enough for me, Vincent, when the number of jobs match the number of units built. You cannot add jobs to an area and then refuse to add an equal amount of housing, which is exactly what the NIMBYs in the area have done. Where exactly are those 72,000 workers supposed to live? There needs to be an equilibrium. If you can't understand that, I genuinely don't know what to tell you.

John Morris

Edit: In San Mateo and RWC


Don't blame it on the NIMBYs, blame this mess on city leaders who can't say "no" to massive job creation with inadequate infrastructure.

John Morris

I can only imagine the flexibility necessary to contort oneself into that kind of twisted logic. NIMBY homeowners have prevented necessary housing growth for decades, this has absolutely nothing to do with the council (who, by the way, are elected BY the people).

vincent wei

Clueless much?....Try environmentalists who shut our 80% of the Bay Area for restricted open space. Get outside your bubble and look at the facts for the last 40 plus years in the Bay Area...

John Morris

You keep referencing facts, Vincent, when you clearly mean your own subjective opinion. By every economic metric, we have not added enough housing over the past several decades, especially this past one. The last thing we should be doing is expanding into open space; we need to better utilize the space we've already sprawled into.


This is so embarrassing for San Mateo.

The failure of NIMBYs to pick their battles is what will ultimately result in state intervention that damages future ability to oppose projects that are *actually* harmful to the community.


Ryan, you should check out Redwood City Forward on FB. PM us if you’d like to learn more.


Batallion Chief James Waters lived behind this..Love how they say promise not to park on street.. Tell me that with 12 cars coming in my neighborhood taking all the best spots in the me first genre.


Must be developers responding..

John Morris

Enough, already, with the canard that people who disagree with you must be shills for development. It's tired, lazy, and unintelligent.


I suggest parking in your driveway, as you expect others to.

@John Morris - thank you. I'm exhausted by the pessimism and obstructionism.


It's a shame that this project didn't achieve final approval but I like that the council at least acknowledged the need for multi-family housing. The crisis is real and NIMBYism needs to be put aside.


Another example of NIMBYs blocking much needed housing. This means that people who now live on the east side of the bay will continue clogging Highway 92 with long commutes because a few homeowners think it will spoil the "character" of their neighborhood. We live in an urban area. Get over it.


Because these ten units would have solved the purported "housing crisis". Brilliant.


now more traffic on the bridges...


It's not about this project, really. It's about the hundreds (or thousands) of small projects just like it that are either banned in the zoning code, or arbitrarily shot down, over the course of decades. I doubt you'd prefer a cluster of 50 story buildings as an alternative, so we get a shortage instead.

If you don't believe there's a housing crisis in the bay area, you haven't looked for a new place recently.

vincent wei

ryansbrand....How can you say that?....Have you not been following the news for the last bunch of years regarding the multitude of residential and commercial developments that have been approved and/or are pending from SSF, Oyster Point, Brisband thru Milbrae and San RWC?


I'm sorry that not everyone can afford to buy a home here, but that's life. There's no shortage of housing, people just want to pay less. Just because you can't afford it doesn't mean it's unaffordable. There's plenty of space in Reno, or Boise, or Tucson if you prefer warmer weather. Work hard, save money, make good decisions, and you can control your own situation without trying to force other people who have made their way to take care of you.

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