A Response to the Open Letter on City Concerns From Mike Futrell, SSF City Manager

South San Francisco, CA    August 8, 2015    Submitted by Mike Futrell, City Manager South San FranciscoSSF logo

PREFACE: Everything South City received an open letter from a neighbor who was seeking answers to multiple questions. We thank Mr. Futrell for responding to these concerns.

A Response to the Open Letter From Mike Futrell, SSF City Manager

Dear Concerned Citizen:

Thank you for sharing your concerns about South San Francisco. You and I share something in common — a love for this City. My wife Susan, our son James, and I live in South San Francisco. Like you, we belong to this great community and have a deeply vested interest in the City’s current well-being and long-term future.

These are challenging times for South San Francisco, as Silicon Valley is moving north, and San Francisco is moving south. Both have discovered that South San Francisco is a great place to start a business or to live. This is a bittersweet reality and we must manage it with care. Our challenge is to embrace the good, which comes from our strong economy, while honoring our history, values, and the friendly, small-town feel, which makes South City unique.


As your City Manager, I am focused on building a strong, motivated team of City employees who also care about this City, can get the job done well and will keep South San Francisco a great place to live, learn, play and work. I can see from your “open letter,” you have concerns regarding the broader issues that represent a cross-section of the following: 1) city planning and development, 2) roadways and repairs, 3) economic development and job growth, 4) our form of municipal government, 5) technology in public libraries, 6) crime in the City as “reported” via the blogosphere, and 7) a claim of nepotism. Together my team and I have done our best to address your concerns in a concise and reasonable manner below.

You can reach me by email at mike.futrell@ssf.net or telephone at (650) 877-8501. Thank you again for caring about our City.



1) One issue I would like to know or ask about is the plans that the city seems to have for the downtown region near city hall. Every day it seems like they plan to move new, more grandiose buildings into the downtown region. While I understand a city grows, it seems like they kicking out the smaller mom and pop shops that exist there and have been there for decades now. This includes many of the local residents who live down there as well, whom I am concerned could be displaced due to these “expansions” across the city. The large, new parking tower is one such example, which rarely seems to be used whenever I have gone past it.

A key to our City’s continued success is its healthy mix of small, medium, and larger businesses. This healthy mix is part of what makes our City so unique and we are committed to protecting and supporting every business in town — whether in the Downtown area or not.


We do have a new Downtown Plan, adopted by the Council in January after two years of outreach and public meetings. The plan is on the City website at: http://www.ssf.net/DocumentCenter/View/9809 The downtown area is definitely improving, but certainly NOT at the expense of existing businesses or residents. In fact, it is improving through the meaningful, collaborative, hands-on efforts of Downtown merchants and residents alike, as these are the very people who helped to make the new Downtown Plan a reality.


You mention the five-story parking garage downtown. Far from being a “tower,” it also houses a police sub-station and part of the City’s economic development department. The parking garage is greatly needed to help with current and future parking needs downtown. The City is partnering with the Rotary Club to build affordable housing for senior citizens on Miller Avenue and 14 new businesses have opened on or near Grand Avenue in the last year. The Miller Avenue parking garage is the perfect solution for these growing parking needs.


2) The roads around South City are also a concern to me. I’ve come to find out that many roads are part of the county, which I can understand the city might not have control over. However, why can the city not explain that better to residents? If that is the case, then the citizens should be able to know who to ask for help in repairing the roadways we use every day.

Many citizens are aware of which agency is responsible for which road; however, for those who are not, we will gladly post online a helpful map of roads maintained by the state, county, or city along with links and contact information for those agencies. This will be linked to our City website, www.ssf.net in coming weeks.

Regardless of which agency is responsible, the City’s Public Works Department can provide help. Staff maintains contacts and relationships with the roadway maintenance staff of San Mateo County and Caltrans.  Residents can contact the South San Francisco Public Works Department directly by calling (650) 877-8550 to report any roadway issues.  City staff can relay the request to the appropriate agency and let the requestor know that it is the responsibility of another jurisdiction, or, if desired, staff can provide contact information for the resident to follow up directly.  Residents may also submit a maintenance request through the internet at http://www.ssf.net/2021/Engage-SSF, by email to web-pw@ssf.net, or by downloading and utilizing the EngageSSF application for smart phones.”


3) While the city certainly has grown under Biotech businesses and trades, I also find it concerning that the city leadership seems to be catering more and more towards these businesses. While I understand they provide jobs, they seem to employ more workers who come from outside of South City rather than from within.

South San Francisco is home to the largest biotech complex in the world, providing approximately 20,000 clean, good-paying jobs with benefits, many of which are filled by our residents. These 20,000 spend their money here in our City, boosting our economy, and bringing business to the mix of small, medium and larger businesses we addressed earlier. We should be proud of being the “Birthplace of Biotech” and being literally the best in the world — in this industry. Just looking today, there are nearly 1,600 open biotech jobs in South San Francisco advertised online. As more biotech, and tech, companies locate in South San Francisco, peripheral businesses will grow to serve the needs of their employees. This too provides even more employment opportunities for our residents. Ask anyone who has lived or worked in South San Francisco for many years if they know anyone who works at Genentech, for example. I’ll bet they do.


A recent survey listed South San Francisco as the 2nd best small city in California to start a business, and 13th best in the entire country. City government supports all businesses, including a growing manufacturing and food processing industry, restaurants, hotels, medical offices, and hundreds of other types of businesses. The “Industrial City” is living up to its reputation as a great place to start a business and to succeed. Another recent survey listed South San Francisco as the 9th best place to raise a family in California. We have both quality of life and standard of living. We need to accept the fact that South San Francisco is getting noticed for all the right reasons.


4) Many of the people who are in city leadership positions right now have been there for multiple years. In doing so it seems as though they have become more “set in stone” with what they want to see done, rather than what could help the city. It’s very upsetting, especially knowing that their job is to help the citizens, not just keep making choices for money or because they believe in issue is of greater importance. Especially of concern to me is that the leadership roles, such as Mayor, seem to just shuffle between members as though they were playing musical chairs.

Our City Councilmembers are elected by the public, with City Council elections every two years. On the current Council, we have two new Councilmembers – Pradeep Gupta and Liza Normandy – along with three seasoned Councilmembers providing historic perspective and experience – Rich Garbarino, Mark Addiego and Karyl Matsumoto. Like most cities our size in California, the position of Mayor is not permanent and Councilmembers are required by law to select a Mayor each year from among the sitting Councilmembers.


City staff leadership has seen a great infusion of new blood, including a new City Manager, new Assistant City Manager, new Police Chief, new Communications Director, new Fire Chief, new Finance Director, new Human Resources Director, new Economic Development Director, new Public Works Director, and new Community Liaison, all within the last 18 months. This new team is focused on efficient and appropriate innovation – finding better ways to serve our residents and businesses with a friendlier, more customer-centric approach to public service. While each of our Department Heads is well educated and experienced, they are all trained in leadership. Each has the skills a leader needs to think critically and to lead strategically. I am very proud of this team. Together, with City Council, we work hard to achieve vision – this, being anything but “set in stone.”


5) The libraries I believe have just purchased new, 3D printers. Why do the libraries need such advanced pieces of machinery? While I understand they are unique, what use could a set of smaller city libraries have for expensive 3D printers? I would expect these to be seen in a business in the Biotech region, not for a local library.

Libraries are trusted community hubs and repositories of knowledge and information. As the entire country transitions from industrial and service-based economic models to a new economy in which knowledge and creativity are the drivers of productivity and economic growth, the information, technology and learning offered by our Library become central to our economic performance and prosperity. Although they still house our beloved books, Libraries are now centers of creativity, research and collaboration.

From our Library Director, Valerie Sommer: “Public libraries have always been a place for the community to try out and discover new technology, ideas, and information.  As 3D printers are moving into the personal printer, home market, South San Francisco Public Library has added this equipment to our growing program efforts in the area of STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) education, and is providing access to 3D and other “maker” processes to all levels in our community. As we saw in this year’s Education Day at the Maker Faire, adding technology to the library’s traditional arts, crafts and science classes and activities will help prepare our local children and workforce with skills needed in current and future jobs.       

During June and July, 12 MakerSpace programs were held in the library with 421 total attendees learning and exploring STEM concepts. MakerSpace programs are open to all ages and are on a drop in basis.  In August, MakerSpace is available August 7, 13, 14, 27 and 28 from 12:00 – 3:00 p.m. For more information, please call the Main Library, (650) 829-3860 or visit us online at www.ssf.net/library.”


6) Multiple gangs and break ins have me concerned about the safety of the city. The violence and problems should be going down, not up. Yet every week, even on the Everything South City page on Facebook, people post again and again about more scams and break ins happening all over the city. This includes the family that panhandles as though they are poor with children, yet then get into an expensive car afterwards. How is the city trying to fix these problems?

First, let me be clear, we have zero tolerance for crime, and we have a very hard working police force (although they work in less than stellar conditions). In order to afford our residents a credible, reliable primary source, Chief of Police Jeff Azzopardi recently held three Town Hall meetings, discussing crime trends in our city, the challenges faced by our police, and answering citizen questions. Chief Azzopardi will hold more Town Halls in the future. I urge you to attend, express your concerns and hear from the Chief.

Second, social media is not a credible source for determining crime trends. EveryThingSouthCity.com is a good partner with both the Police and Fire Departments, helping residents by alerting readers to possible scams and posting Police and Fire press releases when help is needed from the public. This is very helpful to residents and we are grateful for the help. The chatter on social media, however, may give a skewed view of the crime rate. Actual statistics are available and were reviewed at the recent Police Town Hall meetings, showing that compared to other similar cities in the Bay Area, South San Francisco is a safe city.

No crime is tolerated in South San Francisco. Responding to your question, Police Chief Jeff Azzopardi, stated: “The South San Francisco Police Department continues to take a proactive approach to crime prevention. We are actively involved in San Mateo County’s Gang Task Force and Gang Intelligence Unit. We currently have three members of our department assigned to these task forces. We are closely monitoring our gang issues/cases and they are actually down during the last 3 years. Our patrol division currently has directed patrols assignments that specifically target the areas where we have had gang issues. Our Neighborhood Response Team is also monitoring the areas daily by vehicle and foot patrol of the neighborhoods. They also continue their education campaign by speaking at schools, boys and girls clubs, and community meetings. Education and relationship building, especially for our younger generation, will hopefully deter some of our youth from the gang life. SSFPD is not naïve to gang issues and takes these situations very seriously.

California law enforcement as a whole has seen an uptick in vehicle burglaries and scams. This has affected San Mateo County and South San Francisco as well. As a county we are working together to combat this. The scams have become a major priority for our Federal partners as the suspects often cross federal jurisdictions throughout the world. We continually educate the public through social media and the news media. We are getting more phone calls from our residents advising they were contacted and didn’t participate in the scam. This is good news as a few years ago the majority of our calls were from residents who had just been victimized. We believe our education campaign has been successful, but we know the scams will continue so we must remain diligent.

Panhandling has historically not been a huge problem in South San Francisco. When we come across these people they are dealt with immediately and appropriately. The example you gave is a sad one as using one’s kids for personal gain is a societal issue that is shameful.“


7) The last major concern I have is the amount of families I see working for the city. Now just to clarify, I’m not saying that are in any way bad at their jobs or do not deserve them. My concern is for the potential for nepotism, and that these jobs are not being made available to everyone through job posts. If parents are helping their children gain the jobs, it becomes a concern.

I am unaware of any instance where someone is employed for the simple fact that he/she is related to a current City employee. New hires are made solely on the basis of merit as required by law. The City has a very stringent written anti-nepotism policy in place, stating:

  • City elected officials, City Manager and City Attorney: No one in the officials’ immediate family can work for the city in any capacity in any department.
  • City appointed board members: No one in the board members immediate family can work in an area supervised or advised by the relevant board.
  • Immediate Family: The City may not hire, promote, transfer or employ an immediate family member within the same department, division or facility if one immediate family member would be placed in such a position as to directly supervise, evaluate or discipline the other immediate family member, or would be working as a manager in the same department, division or facility as the other immediate family member.
  • Regardless of the above, no more than two immediate family members may, at any given time, work in the same department, division or facility.

Should you have fact-based information that City policy has been violated, contact me immediately at my direct cell phone number, (650) 676-0173. I take such acquisitions seriously and will take action.




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