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.

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(7) comments

Madeline B

Good for Mayor Goethals! The group of homeowners styling itself as for "responsive" government wants to stop all government input on these important issues for decades, and constantly lies about why they didn't make the 2018 election (it's because they conned the people signing their proposition, by changing the wording!). Let's focus on San Mateo issues other than propping up home prices with artificial scarcity.


With the advent of COVID-19, there should be a moratorium on increasing housing density.


Tarzantom - Now that's wisdom !!

Thomas Morgan

Neither measure is perfect, but both are the result of inaction on the part of City Council. SMERG clearly has a lead and their measure does not necessarily need to be delayed, in order to give the new group an opportunity to gather signatures.

If the new measure advocates can get enough signatures, they can certainly get enough votes to defeat the SMERG measure.

My problem with the new measure is the message from Council has been to go follow the General Plan Process (this has been placed on hold, making SMERG's measure more reasonable). In my opinion a few are getting an unfair advantage (those property owners surrounding the Caltrain Stations). At the detriment to the Citizens and other property owners (all should get the same deal or no deal). For those who oppose Prop 13 land use up zoning is no different (it is a once in a lifetime benefit, available to those at a point in time).

If Council postpones, and the new advocates can pass their measure, this will poison the General Plan Process. SMERG’s focus will be directed elsewhere and we will end up with less overall. Sometimes you need to lose a battle to win a war.


Adam Alberti is the same person who led the then LA based group in closing Bay Meadows Race Track. End of story.

Goethals is 100 per cent correct.


To get involved in our grassroots efforts to protect our city from overzealous development without neighborhood support and consideration, please visit


Unfortunately, the Journal left out a lot of important information on this shameful ploy by our mayor. Full release follows:

San Mateans for Responsive Government 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. As SMRG spokesman Michael Weinhauer said, "The Council has a legal duty to place this measure on the Nov 2020 ballot." At what point are we to witness the city condoning voter suppression?

In early 2018, over 7000 San Mateo voters submitted signatures which the County verified and the City certified. The next step should have been the ballot. Yet at every turn, the Council, often with Joe the most vocal, found a reason to put this measure off & delay it until the November 2020 ballot. Now Joe has another reason this should not happen?

The grapevine says that the developer proponents of the new initiative want the CC to place their measure on the ballot, despite not doing what SMRG accomplished with untold hours of volunteer effort. This would be unjust, since the CC refused to put the citizens' initiative on the 2018 ballot and delayed it until 2020. If their measure is to be voted on this November, let the developers do what's legally required. Otherwise, we await their attempt for the Nov 2022 election.

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