Sue Lempert

I usually don’t believe in litmus tests but this time I have one which will influence not only what I eat, drive, buy, but how I vote. We lost our spring and summer to COVID-19. And we lost, most of our usually best month of the year, September, to unrelenting unprecedented fires and bad air. If that’s not enough to influence your choices, I don’t know what is. So I am saying goodbye to an old friend whom I have supported for the past 30 years to vote for a more friendly environment alternative.

I am joining every single member of the San Mateo City Council in opposing Measure Y. As a 60-year resident of the city, I have publicly supported H in the past and, as a councilmember, I voted to put Measure P on the ballot. But 30 years later, the city has changed, our needs are changed, and we need to get out of our cars and take public transportation or walk to do shopping if we can. We can’t if we live up in the hills, anywhere west of the Alameda de las Pulgas or east of Highway 101 in San Mateo. That’s why any future building needs to occur along the transportation corridor, ideally around the three Caltrain stations. Measure Y doesn’t deal with the climate change challenge. Measure R does. It encourages development around the city’s three train stations by allowing for higher height and density limits in these three area, the amounts to be determined by the general plan. R keeps most of Measure Y intact.

Neither initiative is perfect but, between the two, Measure R is preferable.


In multiple surveys informing the city’s updated general plan, temporarily on hold due to the pandemic, residents said they wanted to keep the existing residential character of their neighborhoods and they also saw the need for more affordable housing. We know many of our children and grandchildren can’t afford to live here. That there are for hire signs all over downtown because housing is too expensive for most employees. That teachers are sleeping in cars or on a friend’s couch because they can no longer afford rent increases.

I often hear why are we building so much market rate housing when the need is for affordable housing.

The answer is money. One needs subsidies galore to build all affordable housing. The city now requires 15% of new market rate housing to include less expensive units. In an apartment complex which allowed greater heights and density, the developer could provide more affordable units and still make a profit. Measure Y limits heights to 55 feet in most areas of the city and density of 50 units per acre.

In 2017, the state Legislature adopted Assembly Bill 1505 to clarify requirements for providing inclusionary housing including alternative means of compliance besides on site: in-lieu fees, land dedication, off-site construction or acquisition and rehabilitation of existing units. Measure Y does not allow in-lieu fees but allows for off-site building or other alternatives. Measure R follows the language of the legislation more closely and would allow for in-lieu fees.

Because it does not address environmental and housing concerns, Y is opposed by a group of nonprofits including Save the Bay, Greenbelt Alliance, the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County. This group is running its own No on Y campaign funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.


For many of us, it’s a difficult decision or confusing alternatives to consider. Best to check the city’s website (or your voter’s handbook) where you can read the full text of each measure. R also specifies the areas around the train stations earmarked for possible increases as determined by the General Plan. You might also want to consider why the council, with differing opinions on growth/development, was united in opposing Y.

For me, once I decided to vote no on Y it only made sense to vote yes on R. Here’s why. The initiative which wins the most votes passes. Each initiative needs more yes votes than no votes to pass. If you vote no on both, then it’s similar to those who disliked Trump but didn’t like Hillary in 2016 and didn’t vote. If you just vote no on Y but don’t vote yes on R there’s a good chance Y will pass. The group is running an effective grassroots campaign which is hard to beat. R passed my litmus test. Y didn’t.

Sue Lempert is the former mayor of San Mateo. Her column appears every Monday. She can be reached at

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(9) comments


I agree with former mayor Sue Lempert. No on Measure Y.


Dear Sue: As usual, uninformed Trump-supporters stuck at the 3rd grade level, will attack you no matter what you write about, whether they understand your point, or usually not. The name calling is so trumpish and childish that the only reason the editor allows it in print, must be to show the intellectual level of those who still believe that Trump has even a fiber of leadership potential, never mind what it takes to lead the most powerful nation on Earth. Despite all the damage Trump has done, despite his own silly name calling, despite the embarrassing public display of his lack of education and knowledge of the most important problems facing all of us, - they are ready to vote for a second term. What a sick joke! And, just watch now, how those attacking me, inadvertently prove my point!

Terence Y

Another JUNC (Jorg’s Usual Niggling Conniption) comment. It’s ironic when people name-call and insult people (as Jorg does all the time), they’re surprised when people push back and use the same tactic against them. Not everyone subscribes to the Dimmocrat “good for thee, but not for me” nonsense. Turnabout is fair play. BTW, Jorg, your so-called usual, uninformed Trump supporters elected a winner, so what’s that say about you - even more uninformed and a loser, I’d say. Shouldn’t you be contacting your overlords for your new nothingburger to push?

Terence Y

Reads like another SUEWAJE (SUE Writing Another Junk Editorial) column. Anytime somebody brings up the old global warming/climate change canard, it’s highly likely to be a proposition that will take money out of your wallet and lower your quality of life. If Sue is for it, you know to vote the opposite. Yes on Y, No on R. And why doesn’t Sue talk about brain-dead Biden? She endorsed him a while ago but crickets since then. Maybe Sue is resigned to the fact her great President Trump will win four more years.

Christopher Conway

With Sue's support of Measure R, you have just learned everything you need to know to vote against Measure R. Sue has been part of the Democrat Cabal in San Mateo and her time has come and gone. Vote Yes of Y, No on R.


Sue, thank you for the GREAT analysis and am in agreement

Alexander Melendrez

Thank you Sue for supporting no on Y!

Maxine Terner

I too have a litmus test for this election regarding Measures R & Y. It's based on "follow the money" and telling the truth. The pro Measure R and anti Measure Y campaign are a case study in political power. Large business interests, real estate interests and the Building Trades unions are special interests who financially benefit from building more and taller and have always had undue influence in San Mateo County politics.  

For example, the commercial linkage fee, an important funding source for affordable housing, could have been established 30 years ago but was strongly opposed by many of the same organizations opposing Measure Y and supporting Measure R.  Finally in 2017, the council established a commercial linkage fee but not until it included a 25% fee discount to the developer if union wages are paid. Imagine how much "money" would be available for affordable housing today had the council been able to resist the business interests to establish the fee then.  

Measure Y supporters want to restore the jobs/housing and business/neighborhoods balance that is so important to community well-being. The vote is the only way residents can get an influential seat at the development table. Can anyone really believe that building more affordable housing or a fair General Plan process is the reason over $1,000,000 is being spent to defeat Measure Y? What these special interests really want is for both measures to fail so that their undue influence with the council can continue and their luxury market-rate projects can exclude affordable housing.  

Sue is correct about affordable housing needing "subsidies galore." but in-lieu fees are NOT NECESSARY to build affordable housing. Many 100% affordable projects have been built in the city without in-lieu fees.  Measure Y deliberately excludes in-lieu fees so that affordable units are built at the same time as the new development and equitably distributed throughout the city.  But it is in every housing non profit's interest to use them when available. Is it any surprise that they oppose Measure Y?  Follow the money.

Sue knows that Measure Y does its part to address climate change by specifying areas around the train stations for more intense development. In fact, projects in surrounding Peninsula cities with the same high development standards as Measure Y are supported by these same housing advocates who oppose Measure Y here. She also knows that the General Plan update can propose changes to Measure Y heights & densities; Y just allows the voters to approve these changes at the end of the update, not just 3 votes of the council.

To see examples of wonderful high density projects built in San Mateo and surrounding communities within Measure Y standards, go to:  VOTE YES on Y.



I agree with Sue Lemperts thinking she has outlined in this opinion piece. With the significant RHNA targets that San Mateo will be mandated to meet, it makes so much sense to have a path for a large # of these new units to be close to our existing and significant public transportation infrastructure. I will vote No on Y, and Yes on R

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