In an effort to boost the number of child care spots available in San Carlos, city officials opted this week to exempt providers serving the general public from fees that could be a challenge for the low-margin operations to afford.

The shortage of child care in San Carlos was pegged for study by the City Council in January, and officials directed staff to conduct community outreach on the issue. With several studies showing high real estate costs, extensive regulations and local permitting fees have been a barrier to those hoping to open child care facilities, the council in August asked to review the effect of traffic impact fees on those looking to provide child care in the city, according to a staff report.

Because the city’s traffic impact fees are based on a calculation of the number of car trips expected to accompany those uses, child care providers seeking a permit in the city can face a considerably costly fee, up to $90,000 for a recent applicant, explained City Attorney Greg Rubens, who noted the cost of the permit could be passed onto parents who enroll their children in child care.

Rubens said the city has exempted other public uses, such as schools and government facilities, from these fees, and has also implemented exemptions for other types of fees, such as inspection fees.

San Carlos resident Sarah Kinahan supported the exemption, noting that while child care facilities may result in higher trip counts, those located near jobs and housing can help reduce traffic overall. A parent and a representative of Build Up for San Mateo County’s Children, an initiative focused on increasing the supply of child care facilities in the county, Kinahan felt she would have benefited from a child care facility on the southern portion of Laurel Street, which could have allowed her to walk with her children to their child care provider. She said she instead drove her children from their home in the White Oaks neighborhood to a child care provider near Carlmont High School and contributed to traffic congestion.

“Child care is a very low-margin business, and … the costs are all passed onto the parents paying the tuition,” she said, according to a video of the meeting. “At some point there’s a maximum to what parents can afford before they have to start making hard choices about someone not working and not using child care.”

Councilman Adam Rak was joined by his fellow councilmembers in supporting the exemption for child care providers and also advocated for officials to consider adding to the exemption a provision to review the ordinance in five years to review its effects.

“I’d like to understand how it’s working … I’d love to get some understanding of the traffic impacts,” he said. “Is it working, is it doing what it’s supposed to do?”

Councilmembers voted 4-0 to approve the exemption with a provision to review it in five years in an action Vice Mayor Ron Collins felt was overdue. Mayor Mark Olbert was absent from the meeting.

“We’ve made a commitment on this council to be responsive to the needs in our community,” said Collins. “This is certainly a huge need in our community.”

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