San Mateo council race 2020

The three candidates competing for two open seats on the San Mateo City Council have taken similar positions on a pair of controversial land use measures on the November ballot.

Measure Y seeks to extend for 10 years the voter approved building height limit of 55 feet and density limit of 50 units per acre in the city. Measure R would extend the same limits for as long throughout most of the city, but would exempt areas around the three train stations from the restrictions.

Challenger Lisa Diaz Nash, appointed incumbent Amourence Lee and incumbent Diane Papan all oppose Measure Y. As for Measure R, Nash opposes it while Lee and Papan have not taken a position on it.

Lee opposes Measure Y because she says it’s an obstacle to the development of sorely needed affordable housing.

“[Measure Y] limits our ability to produce affordable housing and it also limits our ability to preserve existing affordable housing with the restriction on in-lieu fees,” said Lee.

Measure Y does not permit the payment of in-lieu fees but allows for off-site building or other alternatives. Measure Y also requires residential projects with more than 10 units to reserve at least 10% of the units for affordable housing.

Lee praised that provision, but said the measure’s goal of creating affordable housing has not been fully realized.

“I think the intent of it was very genuine and the work it has done to advance inclusionary policy is remarkable,” Lee said. “However, I believe that where we are today shows the intent was not in fact achieved. We know 51% of our renters are rent burdened. We’re facing a severe increase in housing overcrowdedness. And particularly those things are true in my neighborhood: North Central. I can’t support a failed policy I think time has shown isn’t working.”

Papan opposes Measure Y because she believes planning, including height and density limits, should be done through the general plan update process and not at the ballot box.  

“I’d like to not do any of this at the ballot box let me be clear. … We’re going to have a robust, community-based discussion about these things at the general plan process,” Papan said. “That’s why I made the decision to come out against Measure Y.”

Nash opposes both measures Y and R for the same reasons Lee and Papan oppose Measure Y.  

“I look at land use through the lens of expanding our affordable housing options in San Mateo and therefore I cannot support either Measure Y or Measure R,” Nash said. “I’m concerned because the limits in both measures, particularly with regards to density, would take options for affordable housing off the table at a time when we need every option we can get.

“I believe strategies to address the big issues driving our city’s future, like affordable housing, should be developed listening to the voices of all our residents,” Nash continued. “The right place for that to happen is in our general plan and that’s where it should stay unencumbered by ballot initiates that could hamper our options to make San Mateo the vibrant diverse community we all want and love.”

While Lee and Papan have not officially taken a position on Measure R they both suggested it’s preferable to Measure Y.

“[Measure R] provides a little more opportunity,” Papan said. “It has a little more possibility to perhaps change some of what we do here in San Mateo because it has carved out those three areas, but it didn’t get all the areas we chose to study in the general plan, including Bridgepointe.”

Lee made a similar point and said she can’t take a position on Measure R because doing so might help Measure Y pass.

“If I have to choose between the two it’d be no on Y and yes on R, but that is not the actual choice here and I worry that my taking a position will create an opportunity for Y to actually pass,” Lee said. “We know the one with the most votes will prevail and I can’t weigh in in a way that will enable that to happen because I’m strongly opposed to Measure Y passing.”


Also top of mind for the candidates is the city’s financial outlook as it addresses a $7.8 million structural deficit due to the pandemic. One of the strategies identified by the council is to cancel raises for city employees over the next two years to save roughly $3 million.  

Lee said she hopes employees will ultimately be compensated.  

“The biggest concern I have is really taking care of our 600 employees,” she said. “We’re only as strong as our people. It’s really challenging, especially the folks who’ve been with us for decades, to ask them to take a freeze for two years. Those are hard conversations we can have and my hope is we can make our people whole.”

Nash said “targeted reductions” may soon be necessary to balance the budget, though she would prefer to address the problem via new revenue measures such as billboard advertising. She also wants to leverage new technologies to enhance efficiency at City Hall.

“We may have to, going forward, look at some reductions,” she said. “So far the city finance group has been great in identifying ways of freezing positions and not taking any service cuts, but depending on how the economy goes we may be forced to look at targeted reductions.

“I believe we need to grow our way out of this as opposed to cut wherever possible,” she continued.” Maybe we need to look at how to get new revenues. Billboards may come back into the picture again. … And also how do we use technology to improve our efficiency and do more with less.”

Papan feels the private sector should help.

“One of the things I’ve longed felt very strongly about even with COVID we’re sitting in the promised land of a lot of corporations that are sitting on a ton of cash,” she said. “I really think it’s time for them to step up to the plate and give us cash for certain projects in a tax free way so they help with some of the infrastructure that gets their people to work and that keeps them generating money.”

Police reform, downtown

On the subject of police reforms, all three candidates praised the San Mateo Police Department’s new approach to mental health crises. Starting sometime around the end of the year, a full-time licensed mental health clinician will be embedded in the department and will respond to mental health calls with police officers.

Nash wants to see further investment in mental health resources and partnerships while Papan wants to see a continued commitment to diversity and de-escalation training at the department.

As for what can be done to support businesses downtown, Lee wants to change the fee structure for the assessment district, which currently “overburdens retail businesses,” and establish a property business improvement district in which property owners pay for improvements within the district boundaries.  

Papan also said she’ll continue to push for a PBID while Nash wants to see the city branded as “the heart of the Peninsula” to increase visitors.

“There’s an untapped opportunity there,” Nash said.

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(8) comments


Who ever is elected the challenges are great because of the drop in revenue, closing of businesses, and pressure on policing. None will be popular. Disappointed that all three are tone deaf and out of touch with the people on Measure Y. Worse yet is that developers own two of the candidates because of the large sums of money they are investing in Measure R. Ideally zoning should be handled by the general plan process but too many persons that do not live in the city are involved with the process. Salaries make up a large chunk of the budget. Hopefully the city council will make good business decisions with the smaller budget. IMHO the pressure on police in the City of San Mateo is completely unfounded. They do a superior job and deserve our support. In all aspects of elected leaders, we the people, need to be engaged with our elected leaders to help find the best solutions and keep them accountable.


Yes, our local law enforcement is under a lot of pressure and they do deserve our support. By providing them with mental health resources, diversity training and de-escalation training, we are allocating much needed support to them. The SMPD is taking a step in the right direction by hiring a full-time licensed mental health clinician to advise on emergency situations.

In the last six years, there were at least four deaths that occurred during interactions with law enforcement officials in San Mateo county. All four deaths were of individuals who were dealing with some sort of mental health related issue. My sympathies go out to those families and communities who were affected when their lives were lost.

I do not doubt that these these interactions continue to plague the officers who are living with the consequences of using lethal force in the line of duty. It is clear to see the stress those officers were under. We must remember that in emergency situations that involve mental health crises, both the individual suffering the crisis as well as responding officers are under stress. Our local law enforcement has a wonderful opportunity to learn from mental health professionals so that they can safely respond to mental health crises and keep all San Mateans safe.

Christopher Conway

I just thought, no matter what San Mateo is going to get two liberal council members who are for Measure R and against Y. Measure Y is a citizen Measure by the people of San Mateo, who are concerned about their neighborhoods and community. We got to start thinking about who sits in City Hall of 20th Avenue. After the election, we will not have 1 council person who is supportive of moderate community based development and not one who is pro-resident unless you live in North Central. We are about to get trampled folks, Oh San Mateo, how did we let ourselves get steamrolled like this.

Thomas Morgan

Chris, sounds like you missed your opportunity to drain the swamp. Since Measure R was placed on the ballot due to the inability of signature gathering, a recall election for the remaining seats on Council should have been pretty easy and permitted based on the same circumstance.

Regarding the budget there if positions are left empty those monies should be restricted for five years with phased back in over 5 the following 5 years (20% per year). The idea of leaving position empty while spending 100% of current year revenues is gross negligence.

Christopher Conway

All three women are wrong on Y. Showing you that none of the three want the will of the people in San Mateo to become law. You don't have a good candidate in any one of these three ladies but Amourence Lee is the worst of the three by far. San Mateo City voters need to hold their nose and vote for Ms. Papan and Ms. Nash this time. Then the people of San Mateo need to look really hard on who sits on our council and start to elect people who support the citizens that like us. We need our city council members to like the all the people of San Mateo, not just their little constituencies that they are working so hard for.


Like Trump, degrading comments as usual. You just can't help yourself.

And as usual, mixed-word/poor grammar. ( We need our city council members to like the all the people of San Mateo, not just their little constituencies that they are working so hard for.)

Christopher Conway

What do you do when you are not stalking me? As a fellow Padre, I apologize for whoever you are, you give men who went to Serra a bad name. No one would go after a fellow Padre publicly and do so anonymously. I feel sorry for you when I am gone, you are going to be one lost puppy.


STOP denigrating people when you post and or reply. Can't you hold a civil discourse conversation without denigrating one side or the other?

Ha. Serra, are you in their HOF? How much time did you spend in 'JUG', most likely quite a bit if your deportment was the same as it is now. Apologize for your own behavior.

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