Editor,

As you may have heard, Berkeley City Council voted unanimously to allow more affordable housing types — like duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes — in all residential neighborhoods. It is also currently being considered by our neighbors in Sacramento, South San Francisco and Sunnyvale. It’s clear that this is gaining some political momentum, and I would like to urge you to consider the same action for San Mateo’s General Plan.

A diversity of housing allows greater flexibility for people’s changing needs. Whether it’s the construction of additional units for rental income, or a duplex conversion to accommodate an aging parent, this kind of housing helps fill in the “missing middle” that would enable more of our hard-working neighbors to stay in our city.

And of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that San Mateo’s single-family zoning is steeped in racist redlining policy as outlined in a recent New York Times opinion piece.

I think there’s unwarranted concern that neighborhoods will somehow become unrecognizable overnight. What’s more likely to happen is that a few homes here and there will be retrofitted to accommodate an extra family, and the only obvious difference will be that some buildings have an extra mailbox or two. No, it won’t singlehandedly solve our housing supply shortage, but it is one of several small actions we can take to remedy the situation. The alternative is to continue to push people farther from their jobs and families, requiring lengthy commutes which exacerbates our carbon footprint.

Let’s be a part of this momentous change and legalize fourplexes everywhere.

Jonathan New

San Mateo

The letter writer is a member of Peninsula for Everyone and San Mateo homeowner

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(21) comments

AllAreWelcome

Hear hear! I live in a mixed density neighborhood in redwood city and I think it's great. Would love to see more neighborhoods like that on the Peninsula.

Tafhdyd

Mr. New,

As the saying goes, the devil is in the details. Although the idea is admirable, it may not fly as high as you would like. A couple of examples would be infrastructure and parking. One fourplex could possibly bring eight cars to the small residential lot. One or two fourplexes would not make a big impact on the sewer, water or electric but depending the age of the neighborhood, three, four or more may.

Wilfred Fernandez Jr

Tafhdyd,

I thank God you have the wisdom our Federal Senate should exhibit. I am not informed well enough to elaborate on these matters, but methinks the dust bowl of the 30's should come to mind. Improper land use knows not about redlining nor economic class. Well done sir!

Tafhdyd

Wilfred,

You give me way too much credit. I thought my comment was just common sense. I will thank you though, it gives me an excuse to have a toast to your kind words. :)

Wilfred Fernandez Jr

wisdom:

wis·dom (wĭz′dəm)

n.

1. The ability to discern or judge what is true, right, or lasting; insight.

2. Common sense; good judgment: "It is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things" (Henry David Thoreau).

3.

a. The sum of learning through the ages; knowledge: "In those homely sayings was couched the collective wisdom of generations" (Maya Angelou).

b. Wise teachings of the ancient sages.

4. A wise outlook, plan, or course of action.

5. Wisdom Bible Wisdom of Solomon.

I'll toast back! [beam]

aurosharman

I honestly don’t understand the hostility to this type of reform, to allow property owners to use _their own properties_ in the way that works best for them.

Presently my spouse and I live in a 4BR single family home. We rent out two of the rooms to friends. If we converted the house to a duplex, its relationship to the neighborhood would be completely unchanged. It would just mean that our friends would have a little more privacy.

On the other hand, it is already legal to stick a second story on an existing SFH, as long as you don’t provide a second entrance, kitchen, and bathroom, to make that a separate unit.

Eventually I hope to add a second story, and renovate the shed structure in our back yard into a proper ADU, so that my elderly parents, older brother, and niece, will all have the option to join us. More families should have the flexibility to renovate their homes in the manner that works for them, whether that means upsizing their living space, or subdividing to earn some rental income after the kids leave home, to support aging in place during retirement.

Ray Fowler

I agree with your point that owners should be allowed to use their property in a way that works best for them. Your future plans that may include adding a second story to your home is a great example of letting the owner decide what will work.

I asked the LTE writer if the "diversity of housing" described by him goes the other way... in his opinion is it OK for a duplex owner in San Mateo to raze that structure and replace it with a larger single home? I'd love to hear his answer...

Mike Dunham

A lot of cities allow bonus floor area ratio and height for multi-family buildings. It would be a reasonable policy to allow a duplex to be a little bit larger than a single-family home on the same lot, so the situation you're describing wouldn't happen. But if duplexes were allowed everywhere, I don't think it'd be a major problem if the occasional old duplex were torn down and made into a single-family home. It would be outweighed by more properties going in the other direction.

Ray Fowler

Mike

Thanks for bringing more information to the discussion...

I'm not sure if the possibilities mentioned in your response address my question. You pointed out that a new duplex could have a "bit larger" footprint than a SFH. It might... that kinda makes sense. If it does and the new duplex fits the lot... OK. But what if an "old duplex" was torn down and an owner who wanted to build a SFH in its place with a larger footprint that also fits the lot... would that be OK?

That's at the heart of my question to the LTE's author. Does his "diversity of density" help the SFH owner who wants replace his or her home with a multi-family dwelling as well as a SFH owner who wants to replace his or her existing home with a larger SFH home? I'm guessing Jonathan is the one who can shed some light on what is meant by "diversity of density" in the LTE.

Seema

I agree with Auros. My husband and I were fortunate enough to buy a SFH a couple of years ago in one of San Mateo's more "affordable" neighborhoods. It took us nearly a decade to save enough for a down payment as a dual tech couple. My biggest concern for the future is that both of our young children, who were born here in San Mateo, won't be able to afford to live here as adults. The median home price in San Mateo county has risen almost 300% over the last 20 years. If we don't dramatically increase our housing supply and prices continue to rise at the same rate, the median home price will be $5.1M by the time my children graduate college.

We plan to add a second unit to our property as an insurance policy for our children's future. What if they want to go into public service when they grow up and be teachers or firefighters? What if even the high paying jobs, like doctors, lawyers and tech workers, don't pay enough to afford a $5.1M home?

Our neighborhood is full of beautiful duplexes and quadplexes that masquerade as SFHs. I strongly encourage our city to consider legalizing fourplexes everywhere - so that when my children (and the other children of San Mateo) grow up they have somewhere to live that is not directly under my roof. :D

Terence Y

Mr. New – I’m sorry, but if you’re citing a NYT opinion piece, its highly likely the opinion is based on fake news. Besides, in another letter to the editor today, Mr. Becker writes of the San Mateo County Event Center. That place is a prime location to build hundreds of new housing units. We can even dedicate some stack and pack buildings to include your diversity of housing. Win-win.

Madeline Frechette

Great letter, it's about time our Peninsula City Councils walk the talk and face exclusionary zoning head-on. The character of a neighborhood is made up of the character of it's residents and I think we all want to live in a place that's tolerant and welcoming and eager to house all the people who want to live here.

Ray Fowler

Hello, Mr. New

In 1744, Benjamin Franklin wrote in "Poor Richard's Almanack" the following... "Tart Words make no Friends: spoonful of honey will catch more flies than a Gallon of Vinegar." I agree in principle that we should address the lack of affordable housing on the peninsula. However, referring to San Mateans who may disagree with you as racist redliners is vinegary and does not help your cause.

As an aside... does the "diversity of housing" described by you go the other way? In other words, would it be OK for a duplex owner in San Mateo to raze that structure and replace it with a larger single home?

Mike Dunham

"San Mateo’s single-family zoning is steeped in racist redlining policy as outlined in a recent New York Times opinion piece" does not equal "referring to San Mateans who may disagree with you as racist redliners."

It's not racist to live in a single-family home. But it's essential for all of us to understand that the shape of our cities today is the product of racist and classist decisions decades ago. It's time to start righting those wrongs, and allowing neighborhood-scale multi-family housing -- like duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes -- everywhere is a good first step.

Ray Fowler

Hello, Mike...

I agree that allowing multi-family housing can be a positive step in creating more affordable housing. This issue is important and I can see why you made it the centerpiece of your city council campaign.

I disagree with an interpretation that suggests the LTE is only referencing San Mateo's past history when the writer says in his letter today, "San Mateo's single-family zoning is steeped in racist redlining policy... " Given the recent controversy over housing density in San Mateo and the results of Measure Y last November which extends voter enacted residential density policy, it appears the LTE criticizes San Mateo's past history AND the policy currently in place. The LTE's message appears to be... if you don't agree with the writer then you do agree with racist redlining.

The LTE writer missed a great opportunity to effectively advocate for his position. As you know, Measure Y was defeated by only 43 votes. I just feel he could change minds more easily with a spoonful of honey...

Madeline Frechette

Mr. Fowler, this LTE on housing is quite possibly the most unoffensive and respectful one I've ever read. No need to make an issue where one doesn't exist.

Ray Fowler

Madeline

With the exception of the last sentence in paragraph 2, I agree with you... Jonathan's LTE is neither offensive nor disrespectful.

The Unruh Act (1959) and the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1968 were legislative responses to the racist redlining that was sadly part of the development of cities like San Mateo. And you are correct when you suggest to others that we need to "get to work" on the affordable housing issue that touches all of us.

I agree with Jonathan and his advocacy for building multi-family homes. I do not agree with the unspoken but implied sentiment that someone who does not support MFH construction is a racist redliner today. Maybe those in opposition feel new construction would alter their neighborhoods in a negative way... maybe they feel new construction will bring congestion to their neighborhood... maybe they feel their taxes will increase to provide more services as a result of new construction... maybe. I don't know.

Madeline Frechette

We all have the responsibility to acknowledge how our cities have been shaped predominantly by racist policies and work to undo the harm it still causes today. That acknowledgment is no where near calling someone racist or using "tart" words. Let's move past our egos and get to work!

Ray Fowler

Hello, Madeline

Hmmm... I still disagree. I believe the LTE was crafted in such a way that it ties housing policy developed in San Mateo's past and policy in place today as racist redlining. With apologies to The Dude in the "The Big Lebowski"... that's just my opinion.

Of course, the author could easily clarify what he meant when he mentioned housing policy in San Mateo.

Let me ask you this... if you reread the LTE but omit the brief portion of it where the author feels "remiss" if he didn't mention racist redlining policy, would such an omission really change the letter's underlying message that we should "get to work"?

There is a lot of wisdom in Ben's suggestion that honey works better than vinegar.

Madeline Frechette

I think leaving out redlining and our history of racism in housing policy would be shirking our responsibility in affirmatively furthering fair housing. In fact, since those policies have had lasting effects on how our cities are still today segregated by class and race, we can't really talk about zoning reform without understanding and learning from that history and it's effects. It's there and it's real. You know what they say about history repeating itself.....

Jonathan New

Hi Mr. Fowler, thanks for taking the time to read my letter! I attempted to acknowledge our unfortunate history without overly harping on it. It's why I devoted only a single sentence to the topic. I certainly didn't intend to imply that those who disagree with me are racists. But, as Madeline pointed out in another comment, it's important to understand the history of how our city has been shaped. I wanted to focus more on the positives, or the honey to borrow your metaphor, like the additional opportunities such zoning changes would enable. I had a few extra positive thoughts in my first draft, but unfortunately I had to trim it down a bit to fit the format.

As for whether I'd be fine with a duplex being taken down in favor of a single family home, I think Mike summed up my thoughts on the matter rather well. Assuming appropriate tenant protections are in place, I would hope the occasional downsizing would be outweighed by the benefits of upzoning.

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