A plan growing South San Francisco’s population to 108,000 residents while nearly doubling the local job base over the next two decades received unanimous support from officials charged with guiding the city’s evolution.
The South San Francisco City Council voted 5-0 during a meeting Wednesday, Nov. 18, to adopt residential and commercial development targets for the area east of Highway 101, downtown, Lindenville and the El Camino Real corridor.
The decision is not binding and officials will continue examining crucial elements of the general plan update over the coming months, but the vote will advance planning designed to shape the city’s future growth.
Recognizing the months of community outreach and detailed analysis needed to bring the document before councilmembers, Mayor Rich Garbarino lauded the plan and admired its comprehensive scope.
“I think this comes pretty doggone close to meeting our needs for the next 20 years or so,” said Garbarino.
The decision moved ahead the preferred development alternatives for the general plan update, setting the stage for a pending environmental review and expected adoption of a master development policy next year.
The alternatives lay out development targets in key portions of the city, including the Bayshore region home to the city’s treasured biotech hub, South San Francisco’s historic downtown, its transitional Lindenville neighborhood and span of El Camino Real.
The plan targets a majority of the city’s substantial development in the area east of Highway 101, to support anticipated growth in the biotech sector and also allow for housing development near the Caltrain line.
Residential construction in the region typically reserved for industrial and life sciences businesses marks a new direction for South San Francisco. But officials worked to assure that the housing construction will not impede expansion of the life science industry, or displace existing industrial businesses.
In Lindenville, officials see an opportunity to transition from the industrial businesses in the southeastern section of the city to the burgeoning residential core downtown. Looking ahead, officials are hoping to intensify the residential development and introduce more diverse businesses while keeping space for the current occupants.
For downtown and the El Camino Real corridor, the plan makes space for more dense housing development — continuing a growing trend of building mixed-use projects around public transportation hubs like the Caltrain and BART stations.
Developing the regions according to recommendations would make way for the city’s population to grow to 108,000 residents living in 40,000 units, with 104,000 jobs, preserving the ratio of 2.6 jobs to housing units.
The city is currently comprised of 64,000 residents living in 22,000 housing units while South San Francisco offers 57,000 jobs. The current general plan would allow the city’s population to grow to 85,000 residents in 26,000 units with 96,000 jobs, furthering the imbalance to 3.7 jobs per housing unit.
Acknowledging that adopting a plan allowing development of more jobs than homes amid an affordability crisis could raise some eyebrows, Vice Mayor Mark Addiego said a broader perspective shows the city is an employment center for the entire region.
Furthermore, City Manager Mike Futrell said officials are aware that the city’s economic development could generate further congestion on Highway 101 as well as surrounding thoroughfares. As a result, they have pressured employers to assure workers are commuting on public transportation.
“If they can’t live here, we would like them to take mass transit,” he said.
For his part, Garbarino questioned whether the additional job growth would generate the feared transportation problems. Noting that many companies are leaning heavily on remote work arrangements, he said it is unlikely all those filling the new jobs will be regularly visiting South San Francisco.
“The job numbers don’t scare me as much because I don’t think there are actually going to be 47,000 more people wandering around east of 101 and Grand Avenue,” he said.
Regarding residential development, Garbarino said the city faces constraints in the search for areas suited to accommodate new homes. The best site for expansive growth is the former Foxridge Elementary School campus, which is owned by the South San Francisco Unified School District, he said.
School officials have long discussed the opportunity to redevelop the site, most recently as housing for teachers. The discussions are still in their formative stages though, and no decision is immediately anticipated.
Acknowledging the challenges that exist in financing affordable housing, and the dearth of local options for city officials to take on such an initiative, Addiego suggested other agencies step up to fill the void.
“It would seem that if supplying affordable housing, or housing in general, was for the entire community — then maybe those other agencies like the County of San Mateo or our own unified school district should be participating in a housing project or two? Just a thought,” he said.