Council Unanimously Opposes Measure P
Tonight I voted to place the Measure P Extension on the ballot and to support the Subcommittee’s recommendation to oppose the measure. History shows us that growth is inevitable. Since San Mateo was first founded, 126 years ago, our population has increased about 1% annually. For so many reasons - our climate, jobs-rich economy, our diversity, and wonderful community spirit - many people want to make San Mateo their home. The question is: How can we manage our growth while preserving what makes San Mateo so special?
I oppose Measure P because I believe it actually works against what most San Matean’s want. According to our statistically-valid Community Survey, a majority of residents favored concentrating housing near transit and commercial areas. It’s worth noting that there was broad community consensus for a concentrated growth strategy across different ages, ethnicities, and from San Mateans who just moved here to folks who have lived here for over 15 years. Measure P limits height and density in significant areas of our Downtown and around Caltrain Stations - areas many residents believe can and should accommodate growth.
One of the measure’s original authors, Senator Hill, said his views have evolved. He explained that there was a need and a time for Measure P, but it reflects the community 30 years in the past. San Mateo has changed, our issues and community needs have changed. He encourages us all to trust an open process and community dialogue that will conform and adapt to the needs of our time. Staying frozen can also send us backwards, when we need to evolve with our changing demographics, economy and transportation needs in the 21st Century.
I agree with Senator Hill about the pitfalls and unintended consequences of ballot box legislation for city planning, which are not designed through broad-based community input. Like many San Mateans, I believe the General Plan Update is a far superior way to create our roadmap for land-use policy. It is a multi-year, community-led effort that envisions and designs the future for our City - it is a more fair, inclusive, informed and transparent process compared to Measure P. The ideas and input of thousands of community members are combined with comprehensive analysis by planning professionals, reviewed by our two citizen advisory bodies (the Subcommittee and Planning Commission), and ultimately heard by our City Council. The extension of Measure P subverts our City’s ability to professionally plan and engage the community on the full set of solutions available to meet our challenges. This highly irregular path - planning land use at the ballot box - undermines our local control, significantly delays implementation of the General Plan Update, and imposes additional costs to the City (at a time when financial worries are growing.)
The COVID-19 crisis is top of mind from everyone right now as it should be. I’ve also heard through the General Plan process and also our Community Survey that the top two issues concerning San Mateans are: the lack of affordable housing and traffic. Measure P’s restrictions, particularly the density limit of 50 units per acre, has limited and will continue to constrain the City’s affordable housing production. Even with our increased 15% inclusionary requirement for new housing developments, because of Measure P, only about 7 affordable homes can be built on a single acre. We have to create more affordable housing on every parcel and maximize as much community benefit as possible from every development. I cannot support a measure that impedes our ability to address the housing affordability crisis and reduce traffic.
From a sustainability lens, concentrating housing near our Caltrain stations is a more effective approach to reduce GHG emissions. Our transit-oriented developments have helped reduce traffic because those who live and work near the train stations are far more likely to use the trains, residents have lower rates of car ownership, and result in fewer cars on our streets. Extending the provisions of Measure P will constrain San Mateo’s ability to address traffic and hinders our ability to achieve the goals of our Climate Action Plan.
Deputy-Mayor Rodriguez recently made the very astute point that many of the supporters of Measure P wish to preserve the character of their single-family neighborhoods, however the extension of this measure could back-fire. Many people don’t realize that the State of California will increase the amount of housing San Mateo has to build under its Regional Housing Needs Allocation. Measure P’s restrictions on downtown and the transit corridor could drive density and spot zoning into established residential neighborhoods. Density-sprawl is the exact opposite effect that so many Measure P supporters desire.
As a councilmember, I’m charged with being a guardian of our quality of life today while ensuring the City’s vision for tomorrow honors our history and legacy. If we have learned nothing else from this pandemic, may we learn to trust and listen to our experts' opinions and our own community wisdom. This Council must uphold the General Plan Process which uplifts all voices in the process. Our world is changing in unpredictable ways, we see that immediately in our budget and we foresee great changes in every aspect of our society - how we socialize, how we eat, and spend time with people and even how we live and work. It’s too early to predict what those changes will be, but as a City we must have the flexibility to adjust to them as they arise. Measure P could have profoundly negative consequences to our ability to address our economic recovery from COVID-19. Hamstringing the City’s ability to study, have conversations and make determinations about what’s best for the City is a disservice to all San Mateans.
I am so appreciative of the time, energy, and thought subcommittee members Mayor Goethals and Deputy-Mayor Rodriguez put into this issue. Deputy-Mayor Rodriguez showed great leadership when he urged our council to expeditiously place the Measure P Extension on the ballot. I am certain that every San Matean considers the democratic process sacred and supports voter’s rights, including this Council. We all have a moral and patriotic duty to exercise our right to vote. Staying neutral on the hardest decisions of our time is skirting the responsibilities of good governance.
For all of these reasons I was proud to join with my council colleagues to unanimously oppose Measure P. My message to the sponsors of the Measure and to all San Mateans, is for us to continue our visioning and dialogue by empowering the General Plan Process. We can work together in building a better San Mateo around the principles I believe we share.
San Mateo City Council opposes height measure (San Mateo Daily Journal, May 20, 2020)
“Fixing ourselves and freezing ourselves in time is actually a way of holding ourselves back and effectively moving backwards,” said Councilwoman Amourence Lee. “The task at hand is to evolve with the changing demographics, economy and transportation needs of the 21st century.”
San Mateo council places height-density measure on November ballot, then opposes it (Climate Magazine, May 19, 2020)
Councilmember Amourence Lee, who also serves on the general plan sub-committee, spoke of the mutual trust in moving through the current general plan process, which is more robust than in previous years. She shared a conversation with State Sen. Jerry Hill, a former San Mateo mayor and proponent of height and density limits in the 1990s. His thinking has evolved and he questions the appropriateness for the time, Lee said. She added, “freezing ourselves in time isn’t evolving to the needs of our community.” In a post-decision statement, Lee expanded upon why she opposed the November ballot measure, saying it “actually works against what most San Mateans want” as reflected in a recent community survey.