San Mateo Mayor Joe Goethals is proposing to delay two competing measures on building height limits slated for the November ballot because of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, but supporters of one of the measures are not open to the proposal.
Measure P, which caps building height in the city at 55 feet and limits density to 50 units per acre, will sunset by the end of the year. In 2018, a group called San Mateans for Responsive Government, or SMRG, gathered the requisite number of signatures to place a proposed extension of Measure P on the ballot. The measure, which was delayed in 2019, has qualified for the November ballot.
But Goethals during a meeting last week said that measure and a competing one should be delayed because of the ongoing health crisis. SMRG is vehemently opposed to Goethals’ proposal.
“SMRG is astonished by Joe Goethals’ comments that this is not the time for the voters to decide about the important issues of height and density,” said SMRG spokesman Michael Weinhauer. “The council has a legal duty to place this measure on the November 2020 ballot. At what point are we to witness the city condoning voters suppression?”
Goethals felt the measures should be delayed because officials and residents should instead be focused on the ongoing health crisis and because debating the nuances of each proposal are difficult under such circumstances.
“It’s very difficult right now for us to engage the public during the pandemic and the sheltering in place and for that reason I feel we shouldn’t go forward with the ballot initiatives. Now isn’t the time to divide the community over building heights and densities,” Goethals said after the meeting.
“When we can gather in the council chambers again and talk through the issues and debate the finer points and nuances of heights and densities we can go forward on a ballot measure then,” Goethals said, adding “this isn’t an attempt by the council to do anything other than keep our focus on the most important issue right now and that’s public health.”
Councilman Rick Bonilla agreed with Goethals during the meeting.
In February, a different group announced a signature gathering effort to place a competing measure on the November ballot. That measure would extend for 10 years the same voter-approved building height and density limits while removing those restrictions around the city’s three Caltrain stations until new height limits are established through the general plan update process. The general plan process was underway at the time of the announcement, but has since been put on pause because of the virus.
The measure that exempts areas around train stations from height and density limits is being proposed by longtime union leader and community activist Rich Hedges; Nicole Fernandez, San Mateo County Democratic Party chair; and developer Alan Talansky.
After the outbreak of the virus, the group put its signature gathering effort on hold because of the ongoing health crisis, which has made signature gathering impossible.
“It is clear to us from our efforts that we will easily be able to qualify a measure and that the measure is greatly preferred to the extension of the outdated Measure P,” said Adam Alberti, a spokesman for the group. “However at this time we have paused our efforts and are deferential to the need to put public health and safety first. That is what we have done and what we will continue to do until we are cleared to continue.”
A separate revenue measure may also be on the November ballot. Officials in the past have discussed upping the city’s hotel tax rate from 12% to 14%, Goethals said, though the health crisis has also made that effort uncertain. The council will discuss whether to move forward with that measure at a future meeting.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 102