With cities facing an updated state home building mandate, Millbrae officials plotted a strategy for working alongside neighboring communities when considering the Regional Housing Needs Allocation.

The Millbrae City Council generally agreed during a meeting Tuesday, Sept. 10, to join other San Mateo County cities in establishing a subregion to negotiate with state officials when determining the number of housing units which must be constructed.

The decision comes as officials across the Peninsula prepare for a new goal determining the amount of homes which must be developed under RHNA, an administrative arm assuring communities are adhering to state housing law.

As an initial step into the process, officials agreed Millbrae working with other local cities to establish a group which would negotiate with the state could enhance their bargaining capacity.

“I think partnership will give us strength,” said Mayor Wayne Lee, according to video of the meeting.

Community Development Director Brad Meisner shared a similar sentiment.

“If we are in a subregion situation, with any luck, we will be able to talk about the nuance that we have,” he said.

With the consensus, Millbrae officials ostensibly agreed to participate in a process similar to the 21 Elements initiative, through which Peninsula officials previously banded together under the City/County Association of Governments umbrella to discuss state housing mandates as a county.

Some changes to that model are expected in the next round of discussions though, as Millbrae officials indicated San Mateo preferred to opt out of the county group. With a February 2020 deadline to determine whether the rest of the C/CAG group will carry into the next round of RHNA deliberations, all cities will ultimately receive a new state housing allocation for each level of affordability in July 2021. The determination will guide a city’s housing element, which is the plan for meeting the state mandate.

Millbrae officials acknowledged the magnitude of the moment and value of establishing a strong negotiating position, in anticipation of a housing allocation which some expect will focus heavily the Peninsula.

Officials predicted the forthcoming state housing allocation will target jobs-rich corridors such as San Mateo County where employment opportunities far outnumber housing units, and the cost of living rises higher.

“Word on the street is that the increase is going to be very significant,” said Elisa Tierney, economic development and housing project manager, who speculated cities could face mandates to build nearly twice as many homes as the previous round of allocations.

It is also expected that state officials will pay greater attention to assuring that homes are built before crediting a city’s progress, rather than counting units approved toward meeting the allocation, said Tierney.

Considering the pressure cities will be under to approve, and construct, new homes, Millbrae officials agreed to work alongside neighboring communities to identify a reasonable set of expectations.

City Manager Tom Williams laid out an undesirable alternative, if Millbrae officials elected to navigate the process as an isolated entity.

“We are going to get a number, I’m telling you, that will be totally unrealistic to achieve,” he said.

In other business, the councilmembers unanimously approved proposed designs for the new Recreation Center, replacing the previous facility which was destroyed by an arson fire. Officials are still determining a strategy for financing the rebuild, while remaining hopeful the new center will open in 2022.

And finally, developer Mark Calvano requested officials agree to enter an exclusive negotiating rights agreement to hammer out details for his proposed mixed-use development at the current home of Peter’s Café.

Initial plans for the project showed 444,000 square feet of office space and 26,000 square feet of retail space in an eight-story tower next to a 160-room hotel, which could be the next phase of development in the area abutting the Caltrain and BART station.

Before the project plans can be finalized, Millbrae officials and Calvano must reach an agreement over where the proposed hotel would be located. Both the developer and city own parcels nearby which could be stitched together to facilitate construction, but Calvano’s plan has called for a property swap to allow for development of the hotel on his lot existing along El Camino Real.

In return, he is requesting officials trade a larger city parcel which would abut the rear of the commercial building and the train station, where Calvano is proposing establishing a drop-off zone for transit riders.

Calvano’s request for exclusive negotiations occurred during public comment, which precluded officials from responding. But as incentive for allowing his project to advance, the renowned San Francisco developer offered a $15 million payment toward rebuilding the Recreation Center.

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