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Two competing measures on the November ballot seek to extend building height and density caps throughout San Mateo for 10 years, but one of the measures exempts areas around train stations from those restrictions. 

Measure Y would extend the citywide 55-foot height limit and 50-unit-per-acre density limit established by Measure P through 2030. The restrictions in Measure P were initially approved by voters in 1991 and will expire at the end of this year.  The measure also allows for heights of up to 75 feet in certain areas of the city like downtown as long as there is an identified community benefit.

Measure R would also extend those restrictions in most of the city for as long, but not in specified areas surrounding the downtown, Hayward Park and Hillsdale Caltrain stations.

Supporters of Measure Y say it’s needed to protect residents from overdevelopment and associated impacts. Their opponents say Measure Y limits the construction of much needed affordable housing, including below-market rate units, amidst an affordability crisis while Measure R does the opposite.

Proponents of Measure Y also say the height and density limits have worked well for the city and should remain in place until the general plan update process is complete. That is slated to be completed in 2023.

“It’s trusted and proven. It’s worked well for San Mateo over the last several decades,” said Michael Weinhauer, spokesman for the group San Mateans for Responsive Government. “It’s allowed us to grow rather rapidly and we’ve grown significantly, but it’s provided a much needed voter counterbalance to very strong development forces that will pretty much always exist in San Mateo.”

Weinhauer and other Measure Y proponents argue Measure R will allow “unrestrained growth” around the city’s train stations, including significant portions of downtown, 25th Avenue and El Camino Real.

“People have chosen to live here because they don’t want to be living in the major urban centers,” said Maxine Terner, also a member of SMRG. “I’m very concerned about our downtown. We have a [two-story] historic district that is authentic that everybody is attracted to because it’s a walkable real downtown. If you go above five to seven stories and start to have these 12- and 15-story buildings you’ve totally changed the character and environmental effects. Do you want to be sitting at the base of a building where the wind and shadows destroy the fact that we have such wonderful weather?”

But high rises will not suddenly emerge in the absence of existing height limits and a process is in place to ensure project proposals are carefully vetted, said Measure Y opponent Evelyn Stivers, the executive director of Housing Leadership Council.

“There’s not going to be overnight a corridor of high rises on El Camino Real,” she said. “There’s a process the city takes to make land use decisions. … You have to take into consideration traffic and you have to take into consideration greenhouse gas emissions and transportation use and parks and schools. All of these issues will be studied and vetted thoroughly by the council and professional planners to make sure we’re looking out for the quality of life for existing and future residents.”


Supporters of Measure R describe it as a compromise that will keep in place protections for single-family neighborhoods while creating additional opportunities for housing, including affordable units, near transit. Adding housing near transit will meet the needs of a growing population without exacerbating traffic congestion, they’ve argued.

“Measure R is a compromise with the single-family neighborhoods. Measure R is giving people some reassurance that we’re not trying to add huge apartment buildings in Baywood, Beresford, San Mateo Park and not even in Shoreview,” said San Mateo Mayor Joe Goethals. “We really need the development to be concentrated in those areas where people aren’t getting into cars every day. Without it, then you’ll have four extra lanes of traffic every day and we all know that doesn’t work.”

Getting on the ballot

Measure Y supporters accumulated more than 7,000 signatures in 2018 to place the measure on the ballot. A signature gathering effort for Measure R was in full swing earlier this year, but was suspended due to the pandemic. The council in the spring unanimously approved placing it on the November ballot anyway while also opposing Measure Y.

Measure R supporters include prominent developers, business leaders and housing activists.

Also among Measure R proponents is San Mateo-Foster City Elementary School District Trustee Shara Watkins, who argued the measure will pave the way for additional housing units for teachers.

“One of the reasons why I support Measure R is our ability to continue to build to provide housing for teachers and staff in addition to other folks in other industries so they can afford housing in this area and live near where they work,” she said. “[Measure R is needed] so we’re not constantly facing this challenge of recruiting and retaining teachers.”

The official ballot argument for Measure R makes a similar case, claiming the measure will create “new affordable housing for the heroes who have risked their own health for us.”

Weinhauer rejects those claims.

In-lieu fees

“It’s a fiction that they’re going to provide all this housing for local heroes,” he said. “I don’t see that happening. [Developers] are going to build luxury housing — that’s what will make them the most money — and they’ll pay our in-lieu fees, which are half to one-third of what it really costs to build a unit. … Then the heroes are not going to be able to afford to live there.”

Weinhauer added in-lieu fees will then be used to “establish ghettos somewhere else.”

“We believe affordable should be built brick by brick, side by side with market rate housing to get quality housing that gets built at the time it’s developed,” he said.

Measure Y would not permit the payment of in-lieu fees as an alternative means of compliance with the city’s inclusionary housing requirement. Measure R, on the other hand, would allow in-lieu fees and other alternative means of compliance with the requirement.

Measure Y also requires residential projects with more than 10 units to restrict 10% of the units for affordable housing.

Goethals said Measure R will create more affordable housing than Measure Y in part because of the in-lieu fee provision.

“Measure R will preserve more affordable housing than Measure Y,” Goethals said. “Measure Y only built a little bit onsite. Measure R gives us the ability to take in-lieu fees and invest it into existing affordable housing and we’ll end up with more affordable units because of it.”

State housing requirements

Measure R proponents also argue that if the measure fails at the ballot box then residential development will increasingly occur in neighborhoods where it’s more impactful rather than concentrating it downtown to meet state-mandated requirements for housing creation known as RHNA targets for Regional Housing Needs Assessment.

“Due to RHNA allocations and state mandates, development will be pushed into the areas outside of these zones [around train stations],” said Adam Alberti, who is part of the pro-Measure R campaign. “One-hundred percent of the RHNA allocation that we are looking at can fit within the zones on the transit-oriented areas. If you apply the Measure Y restrictions that is nowhere near the case and thousands of units will have to spill out elsewhere.”

But Weinhauer believes housing demand is on the decline because of new work-from-home policies brought on by the pandemic. And he believes RHNA goals will have to be reduced in response to that new reality.

“COVID in my mind has fundamentally changed how we live and work and commute. The council, developers and everyone else is charging ahead like COVID is going to pass and everything will go back to the way it was,” he said. “That fundamental change and the delay in the general plan process is a good reason to keep the Measure P wording in place rather than saying ‘oh yeah we’ll need to have all this high density housing now’ when we don’t know what that will look like.”  


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(8) comments

Maxine Terner

Measure Y has been misrepresented by HLC to every affordable housing developer and activist group in the county. Sadly, integrity and honesty have been in short supply in HLC's campaign to defeat Measure Y. Their concern about the impact on affordable housing due to Measure Y not allowing in-lieu fees is incorrect. In-lieu fees have their place but they delay construction of affordable housing. Measure Y's inclusionary housing requirement ensures that affordable housing is built at the same time as the market-rate building and equitably distributed throughout the community.

Affordable housing non-profits do use in-lieu fees as part of the complex funding needed to subsidize affordability. But many other funding sources are available.It's "a blatant pants on fire lie" that Measure Y inhibits affordable housing. A few examples of 100% affordable developments that have been approved or built in San Mateo without in-lieu fees. Santa Inez apartments - 44 units Rotary Hacienda and Floritas - 132 units Delaware Pacific - 60 units Bay Meadows Bridge - 68 units MidPen - 225 units

How cynical that HLC chastises Measure Y for leaving the definition of "community benefits" up to the City Council!  For their information, the Council has described a range of benefits and a number of developments have contributed to public benefits in the past 30 years. E.g., the Marriott hotel public benefits included improvements to the 19th Ave Park neighborhood park and boundary fencing along Concar Drive. 

Is it too much to expect that HLC would do their homework before slamming Measure Y


Follow the money. $756,500 was ponied up to pass Measure R by the David D. Bohannon, Robert L. Webster, Steve Finn, & Prometheus Real Estate. Measure Y has one major donor, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Advocacy ($100,000). I believe the Measure R donors are in it for the money and Chan Zuckerberg is supportive of local residents. I encourage YES on Y and NO on R.


After further review, the Chan Zuckerburg Initiative Advocacy opposes Measure Y (Sponsored by the Housing Leadership Council). The YES on Y has no major donors. They raised $15,000. Can David beat Goliath?


Measure Y is opposed by every affordable housing developer and activist group in the county. Two statements made by Yes on Y folks are blatantly false.

1. That measure Y allows 75 feet in some situations. Many housing geeks supported the original measure and P because of this deception. The truth is, in the 30 years that the measure has been in place, not one development has met the standard for building 75 feet because the standard is not defined. Could Measure Y proponents define "community benefits"? Of course. But they didnt'. So, it is an unusable provision.

2. In-lieu fees are a loophole. This is disgustingly false because it plays into the idea that only market rate developers can build affordable homes. To build real affordable housing, developers need land, zoning, and MONEY.

When a market-rate developer pays in-lieu fees instead of building affordable units, that money is required to be used for affordable housing, and it goes to a non-profit developer. Non-profits are able to leverage in lieu fees with other funding sources to provide more units, and to provide better on site services like after school care and computer labs that improve the quality of life for residents.

Here are examples of affordable homes that would not have been possible without in-lieu fees. Please note that none of them are in San Mateo, because Measure Y doesn’t allow it:

Sequoia Belle Haven – 90 homes for seniors in Menlo Park

Sweeney Lane – 52 homes for families in Daly City

Mosaic Gardens at Friendly Acres – acquisition/rehab of 50 homes for people with special needs in Redwood City

Shorebreeze Apartments – addition of 62 homes for families in Mountain View

To pretend that the measure is helpful to affordable housing is a blatant pants on fire lie that needs to be challenged.

Thomas Morgan

Housing Leadership Council is taking up space at Peninsula Station on El Camino in San Mateo, Next to the Hillsdale Caltrain Station. Perhaps HLC should give up that space for childcare and or computer space to improve the live of the people living in that building. Since other Cities are so much better than San Mateo perhaps HLC would prefer to patronize those Cities instead of Hillsdale Mall across the street.


Peninsula Station, like all stand alone affordable housing, has a computer lab, a classroom for after school care, a gym, a common area for parties and gatherings, a playground, and other amenities for the current residents.

Thomas Morgan

While Measure Y may say 50 units per acre State Density Bonus currently allows for there to be 68 units per acre (The article and City should do a better job at giving a full picture). The State Density Bonus is to encourage the production of affordable housing. Second affordable housing near transit can go to seven stories. Measure R would take away both of these provision and put market rate housing in direct competition with market rate housing. The passage of Measure R would create an incentive for developers not to propose any development until the general plan is done in order to maximize their profit. There are at least two projects with approvals Hillsdale Terrace and Central Park South which would likely be submitted for revisions. Measure R does the worst possible thing in an uncertain time by introducing more uncertainty. While many claim Measure Y has restricted housing production, Measure R will bring housing production to a grinding halt. Costing many their construction jobs and putting their livelihoods at risk. Yes on Y no on R.

Christopher Conway

he San Mateo City Council has a different agenda than the people of San Mateo. The fact that the council put a measure on the ballot to counter Measure Y tells the entire story of our current city council. They want stacked housing and are willing to confuse the voter in order to get their way. Vote Yes on Y and No on R. Let the San Mateo City Council know that the citizens of San Mateo are still in charge of the future of our city, not them and their special interests.

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