Matt Grocott

To the reader, today’s column is the second of two pieces on one topic written for the Daily Journal. The first appeared in the April 9, 2019, edition and was titled, “History of the housing crisis.” In the previous column, I put California’s current housing crisis into the context of our state’s history to demonstrate that the problem we face today is not new. It has existed before.

After offering a brief historical perspective, I then added my own personal experience from when I moved to the Bay Area until the time I ran for San Carlos City Council. My experience was that housing was plentiful, diverse and affordable. However, upon running for council, I was told that we had a “housing crisis.” The focus then was on teachers, police and firefighters who, it was said, could not afford to live in the communities where they worked.

The previous column received a number of comments, one of which I would like to address. A writer suggested that, as a councilmember, I “endorsed programs of new housing for the city, adding to its population.” Anyone who knows my record on the council knows this is not true. When I ran for office in 2001, there was talk of developing Wheeler Plaza and the Caltrain site along El Camino Real. I was opposed to both then and remained opposed throughout my tenure. Later, when the idea to build housing on the parking lot next to Bianchini’s was proposed, I argued against it because it was like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

Building housing wherever we think we can find room on an already crowded Peninsula is not the answer. In the close of my previous column, I noted that professional planners have said for decades, what we are facing is a “jobs/housing imbalance.” This is in fact true but I would argue that to look at only one side of the balance is to error. If we cannot keep up with housing needs as circumstances exist today, then why are we building more and more to accommodate more commercial space?

If one were to look at only the plans of three major employers in the area, including Stanford University, Facebook and Google, they are calling for an additional 6.5 million square feet of new building, most of which is office and would account for nearly 22,000 new positions, both for students and employees. Those “new positions” equate to new residents arriving on the Peninsula, all of whom would be looking for a place to live. That number of people is the same as squeezing onto the Peninsula a new city the size of Millbrae.

Aside from the three employers cited above, other companies would be invited to either expand their operations or move into the area with additional buildings being drawn up by various developers. Together these projects include an additional 3.7 million square feet of office space, equating to 14,700 new jobs. Similar to what I wrote above, this would be like inviting a city slightly larger than Mill Valley to relocate somewhere on the Peninsula.

Is this what passes for planning? Is this what is needed to have a healthy economy on the Peninsula? When does it all come to a grinding halt because of traffic congestion? When does the quality of life become so reduced that families with a long history in the area pack up and leave? When does it become apparent that our infrastructure for transportation, water, power, sewage and garbage cannot handle the increase and our capability to build or reconstruct for new capacity is either impractical or hugely unaffordable?

When California faced housing shortages in the past, virtually none of these tangent issues existed, sans the water issue. There was always room for more. Today, however, circumstances are more complex and planning must be more sophisticated than it has been. It also must be more strictly enforced. Too often developers are allowed to come in with alternative uses for what was zoned per a city’s general plan and too often mitigation measures are allowed to purportedly reduce the negative environmental impacts. It is also past time for citizens to give keener attention to what their state and local officials are doing and planning.

To wit, I would like to echo the plea of Dave Simpson of Redwood City, who wrote to this paper on April 16, 2019. His concern was the proposed demolition of the Cow Palace in Daly City per Senate Bill 281, authored by state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco. The legislation, if passed, would pave the way for housing to be built where now stands the historic and iconic facility, unique in character and use on the Peninsula. Please visit savethecowpalace.com and join the fight to save this structure.

A former member of the San Carlos City Council and mayor, Matt Grocott has been involved in political policy on the Peninsula for 17 years. He can be reached by email at mattgrocott@comcast.net.

Recommended for you

(17) comments

Dirk van Ulden

Mr. Wei is correct. If EIRs were required we would likely not have gotten into this mess. While I would not be in favor of SB 50 per se, the County should develop an initiative to resolve the imbalance between jobs and housing. Let's face it, individual cities are not up to it as they have their own priorities that are not necessarily in the interest of the region.

Reality Check

In addition to the $2 billion Caltrain electrification and fleet replacement project now well underway, we've also got a half-billion-plus dollar SMCo. Hwy 101 High-Occupancy Toll (aka "Express") lane project now under construction. With the recent passage of SMCo. 1/2-cent sales tax Measure W, there will be more infrastructure projects in the pipeline.

JME

Mr. Grocott: You were politically active in San Carlos when most of today's projects
in San Carlos were being planned. How can you now step back and comment on something that you favored all along?

Dan

San Carlos pretty much screwed themselves. Extreme politics that the civilians voted for, then regret. No more police, high crime, homeless oakland residents coming here urinating on the streets.
All I know, is that micro management never works. Apartments only make the rich richer. They charge outrageous prices to people who frankly make too much. A vicious cycle.

vincent wei

It would be nice if cities actually did real EIR's and not just their standard Neg. Dec's for these developments.

A Negative Declaration is a statement that a project will not create significant environmental impact.

I can't see how with a straight face, they can approve these projects with neg. dec's and traffic studies that say no impact.

tarzantom

Who would have thought prosperity would result in a natural disaster?
Balancing housing, commercial development, infrastructure and traffic is not an easy task. Is this the 21st century version of the "Grapes of Wrath"?

David C

Matt has it half right. There are too many jobs and not enough housing, and adding more jobs will just make the situation worse. For example, Matt's city, San Carlos, currently has a pretty good jobs/housing balance, but there are developers that are looking to add up to 2M square feet of new office / R&D development on the East Side of El Camino that could result in an increase of 6,000 or more new jobs in the city which would require 4,000 or so new homes just to maintain balance. But, it is clear that San Carlos is not going to build 4,000 new housing units, so why is the city open to allowing the new office development? What is needed is to slow new large scale commercial development and require new office developers to work with the city to determine where the new employees will live. And the answer is not to say they will live somewhere else because that's what is causing the current traffic congestion and displacement we are all experiencing today.

Christopher Conway

Think it is bad now, wait and see if SB50 passes in the state legislature. We and our Local elected leaders will be voiceless and powerless.

Eaadams

"When does the quality of life become so reduced that families with a long history in the area pack up and leave?"

How out of touch is the author. Families already are leaving en masse. Look at immigration / migration stats for the SF Bay Area. "Between July 2015 and July 2018, about 64,300 Silicon Valley residents left the region, replaced by 62,000 immigrants from other countries" (Hansen, L. (2019, February 14th). Quest to leave Bay Area’s high prices and traffic grows. The Mercury News, pp. 1. https://www.mercurynews.com/2019/02/14/quest-to-leave-bay-areas-high-prices-and-traffic-grows/ )

As another commented posted in the prior Grocott commentary "I don’t expect [former] elected officials to choose my policy positions but I at least expect them to have a grasp of the facts."

kevinburke

"It's more important to have fewer good paying jobs than to make homes in this area affordable" is certainly a take.

Seasoned Observer

Mr. Grocott needs to be back on the San Carlos City Council. Too bad more elected officials don't understand the relationship between jobs and housing.

Lou

A standing ovation to you, Mr. Grocott!! And perhaps consider halting much of the building until infrastructures are built and/or brought up to standard.. Rekindle the efforts to build more bridges across the bay to alleviate traffic congestion. Being proactive rather than reactive.

kevinburke

In the past two years Caltrain has invested $2 billion in electrification, we've approved higher bridge tolls and gas taxes for transit, and a local sales tax for transit and bike/pedestrian improvements. The investments are being made; it's not clear what more exactly you are looking for.

vincent wei

Kevin... the $2 billion is a projected cost with a 'planned' completion date of 2022...the costs are already up $500 million from Caltrain's 2014 projections.

Cindy Cornell

No more jobs? Fine but you're a day late and a whole lot of housing short. Tell this to all of the other councils on the Peninsula who keep permitting additional commercial development. In the meantime, rent control on what we do have would help to keep those long-term residents you purport to care so much about in their homes.

MrMommy

Amen, Mr. Grocott. Amen.

Ray

Finally, someone who understands that adding thousands more jobs to an area lacking in housing and the infrastructure to support thousands more people is going to further worsen the quality of life for those who live here.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.

Thank you for reading the Daily Journal.

Please purchase an Enhanced Subscription to continue reading.Please log in, or sign up for a new account and purchase an Enhanced Subscription to continue reading.