Most of the newcomers are already here, and I hear people are leaving. I still see lots of people though, so not sure how true that is.

What is true, however, is that the newly arrived usually have questions. And it’s always interesting to see them pop up and how much engagement the questions get from those who have been around.

So consider this a sort of newcomer’s guide. There are always new people here so it doesn’t take long to become a local yokel. Welcome to San Mateo County!

What is that strange rumbling sound from the Bayfront at night? They have these jet engines at the airport, which we all live next to, that have jet blast. We hear it more at night.

Why do the planes buzz our houses in the rain? The airport changes the approach at times because of the weather so planes come in from the west. It’s kind of neat when it happens, but we should all be thankful it doesn’t happen that often.

Why do the trains blast their horns in the middle of the night? Does the engineer’s ex-girlfriend live nearby or something? No, it’s freight trains that share the Caltrain line. They are required to sound their horn at night when crossing intersections. And yes, there has been an effort to quiet them. For years. And no, it hasn’t been successful, though horns have been moved from the top of the train to the bottom.

Why can’t we swim, boat or fish in the Crystal Springs Reservoir? It’s our water supply. It’s part of the Hetch Hetchy water system and all that land around it is part of the watershed controlled by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. By the way, the town of Crystal Springs was flooded by construction of the dam, but its population was cleared before then.

Those are the big ones. But there are other fun facts about the Peninsula.

There is a Caltrain engine named after Jackie Speier because of her key role in securing $127 million for the baby bullet express trains when she was a state legislator.

It’s always windy in May and June. The wind always comes from the north. Be mindful of that when making a trip south on your bike.

There used to be an amusement park at Coyote Point called Pacific City. It lasted from 1921-22. It failed because of poor weather (see above fact), smells and competition from other similar parks.

Portions of the Burlingame Bayfront are made up of pieces of the old San Mateo Bridge.

Foster City used to be marsh land, then dairy land, then a planned city with lagoons and pumps. It was intended to have a high school with 40 acres plus 16 under power lines. However, with dropping enrollment districtwide, half the land was sold off and the other half given to the city in the 1980s. The amount of acreage was not deemed sufficient for a comprehensive high school though many have tried over the years. Also, State Route 92 originally was intended to go all the way to the Sierras.

South San Francisco’s old City Hall building on Grand Avenue was styled after Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

Redwood City was named for its redwood timber business. Trees in the hills prompted the name of Redwood Creek, which prompted the name of the city. It was originally called Mezesville, after the city’s land owner.

Anson Burlingame never lived in Burlingame.

There used to be several sanitariums in Belmont.

Downtown San Mateo’s Fire Station 21 is the last building of what was a civic center complex sold off when some silly officials decided City Hall should go somewhere else.

According to, the tallest building in San Mateo is 55 W. Fifth Ave., which is 16 floors and around 194 feet, the same height as the Oracle 300 building in Redwood Shores. But you can’t build anything higher than 75 feet in San Mateo these days because of voter-approved initiative. The Gateway of Pacific III on the east side of Highway 101 in South San Francisco is 11 floors and 202 feet. The tallest building in Burlingame is the Hilton at 15 floors and 183 feet.

Some school districts are funded by local tax dollars, and others are funded through the state. It’s a formula that only 23 people on the Peninsula truly understand.

Oh yeah, Tom Brady and Barry Bonds went to Serra.

And it’s ridiculously expensive to live here. It wasn’t always that way, but it is now. And tons of people have opinions on how to fix it. It’s sort of a pastime. A collective hobby, if you will.

So there you have it. Consider yourself up to speed. And let me know if I missed anything.

Jon Mays is the editor in chief of the Daily Journal. He can be reached at Follow Jon on Twitter @jonmays.

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(3) comments

Thomas Morgan

The interesting thing is all the buildings over 75 mentioned in the article serve commercial purposes, not housing.

Thomas Morgan

My mistake I was thinking E versus W 3rd Ave. Still a majority is for commercial purpose.

Dirk van Ulden

Thank you Jon. I have lived in San Mateo County since 1970 and am still learning about its history. I do remember the I-280 being built, new Sky Farm houses in Hillsborough costing a little over $100K and of course, Marine World.

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