While most of the November election will be focused on the presidential race, there will be important local measures to consider and local candidates to be elected.

Sue Lempert

In the meantime, we know that there will be two dueling height density measures for San Mateo voters to select. Measure P, a citizens’ initiative, the continuation of Measure H first enacted 30 years ago, was placed on the ballot by the City Council last year. It requires a 55-foot limit on heights throughout the city except in a few designated areas. If it is approved, it will go into effect immediately before the multi-year general plan is complete and will be in effect until 2030. The general plan will have to work within its limits.

The dueling measure keeps Measure P mostly intact except for three major carved-out areas-one near downtown and the other Caltrain train stations at Hillsdale and Hayward Park. It would include parts of Hillsdale Shopping Center, such as the old TGIF’s, Ana’s Furniture, Barnes & Noble. There are no height or density limits in these areas but the initiative if it passes does not go into effect until after the general plan process is complete. The council after community input can then decide what the height and density limits are in those areas.


Measure P is sacred to the group of citizens who worked hard to get enough signatures to put it on the ballot. The dueling initiative, supported by affordable housing advocates, labor, real estate interests and the Bohannon Organization which owns the shopping center, was stopped in gathering signatures by the coronavirus. For this reason, the City Council, which was convinced this group could get the needed signatures, thought it only fair to put it on the ballot. Also things have changed in 30 years. San Mateo is no longer a suburban bedroom community but an urban/suburban mix. It is very difficult for young people to buy a home here, something that was possible 20 to 30 years ago. And if you are a renter, good luck (although the virus has for the moment halted the steep rise and maybe in some cases lowered rents significantly). Among some members of the community, there is a desire for increased density and perhaps height near the transportation corridor. I doubt there is a desire among the general public for some of the 10 story or more buildings we see in Redwood City but a little more in those transit hubs might be acceptable. On the other hand, there are large segments of the population who believe we already have too much traffic, too much building and too much change.


The new initiative is very important to the shopping center. It sees the future of traditional retail-oriented shopping centers as a dead end. This was a trend before the virus hit but with shelter in place more and more people buy online and probably will continue to do so. Big anchors like Macy’s (which has closed several stores) and Sears (which already closed its stores across the country) are just the tip of the iceberg. And the shopping center has been one of the biggest contributors to the city’s economy and a major player in community events. It is also important to housing advocates who want to see more affordable rental units. It is also backed by developers who want more market-rate housing and more opportunities for office space. The advocates for Measure P have objected to input from those who are not residents of the city, people who work here or own businesses here. But when it comes to November, it will be only residents who cast a vote.


I am waiting to see the exact language before I decide. I have supported Measure H and its extension as Measure P in the past. I like the height limits but am more flexible with increased density in the transportation corridor and moderate increases in height along El Camino Real. Measure P does not deal with environmental issues. There is no special restrictions on building in areas far away from public transit where people need to use cars to go anywhere.

The new initiative at least focuses on increased development near transit centers. I would hope that language could be added to the general plan to disallow new housing or office space too far from El Camino Real, say west of Alameda de las Pulgas. On the east side of the city, the Bay is a natural barrier but building too close to a rising water system is also unwise.

Sue Lempert is the former mayor of San Mateo. Her column runs every Monday. She can be reached at sue@smdailyjournal.com.

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(3) comments

Madeline B

Both initiatives are terrible. Measure P has destroyed our city and our environment: pre-lockdown it routinely took 15 minutes to travel 3 blocks to get out of my North Shoreview neighborhood during the commute... Because the self-dealing homeowners who enacted Measure P forced everyone poor or middle class to go across the San Mateo bridge to find housing. Has traffic gotten better in the last 30 years? Of course not. They drove Pilgrim Baptist Church out after nearly a hundred years. Because they can't imagine a nice fourplex next door? More like, because they enjoy lining their pockets with 50K in unearned home value every year.

Christopher Conway

During Coronavirus, the concept of stacked housing and vertical housing is as popular as a death sentence. Glad we are having this discussion during the pandemic which will have a chilling affect on those who want to build more highrises and pack us in like sardines. Vote No on changing any height maximums and take control of your city and say NO to those interests outside our city who are trying to change the character of San Mateo. They have continuously tried to do end arounds and do not care what we, the long time citizens of San Mateo think. Let's show them at the ballot box.


We know from Taipei and Hong Kong and Singapore that density / tall buildings really are not a factor. Those and other places with extremely dense building patterns have done MUCH better than pretty much anywhere in the US. The things that seem to make a big difference are universal masking, and very aggressive test-and-trace. You test anyone who has even a shadow of a chance of having it, and train LOTS of people to help with contact tracing. (There are a lot of people out of work, so it's not like it's hard to recruit.) Successful locales have positive-test rates of like 1-in-30, or even lower.

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