Letter to the Editor: A long time resident speaks his mind about development – and elected officials

South San Francisco, CA   April 9, 2018  by Corey David via Nextdoor

Please allow this sixty year resident of South San Francisco to share a little, if not a lot, of insight with you.

 

 

A panel of five “political hobbyists” (our city council) has come forward with a plan to build a city within a city on El Camino Real south of Kaiser Hospital down to Chestnut Avenue. If this is news to you, I’m not surprised as they have a history of inadequately informing the affected public. You might ask yourself, why would your elected representatives not want you to be aware of a project of such scope and magnitude? Might it be that they feel they are smarter than the residents, know what is best for them and don’t want any citizen participation or interference? One can only speculate.

 

 

This project will irreparably alter the character and “small town feel” of the suburb, not really a city, where we make our home. I am well aware and sympathetic with the housing shortage in the Bay Area and I realize this huge parcel of dormant land will be developed in some, hopefully responsible, manner.

 

 

Why, though, is it the responsibility of South San Francisco to sacrifice our quality of life when Brisbane smartly pushes back against over-development and the SSF biotech industry has shot down plans to build 1200-1300 housing units on the more appropriate east side of 101? The answer escapes me. In addition, one set of plans included three projected building sizes. Eight stories, twelve stories and fifteen stories. To my knowledge, nothing of this height has been allowed on the El Camino corridor with the exception of a hospital.

 

 

Why is our city the only one to let a developer cram as much building as possible on a given “footprint of land?” We know the developers would like us to believe that this is a magnanimous act to provide much needed housing in the Bay Area. They’d have you believe they are a non-profit but we all know they are just out to make a buck, lots of them. If they destroy the current residents’ quality of life, oh well, they don’t live here. They won’t be looking at towering high rises outside the door of their R1 zoned homes. They won’t be dealing with the rush hour parking lot that will be Buri Buri when the Oak Avenue Extension joins Arroyo and every tributary running off of it becomes a thoroughfare with commuters looking for new routes through the neighborhood to find a quicker way to Junipero Serra.

 

 

Now, about that multi-story, multiple choice selection at the city council meeting presentation. The citizen/resident attendees in the council chambers were outraged and, admittedly a little vulgar, in their reactions when they saw the plans. Deservedly, they were chastised and admonished by one councilman. Too bad that he, as well as another seated councilman, remained silent when the currently seated councilwoman attacked me in an unwarranted, inappropriate profanity laced tirade when I addressed the council several years ago about rezoning plans for fifteen story buildings south of Kaiser Hospital. It seems that there is one standard of decorum for the council members and another for the public.

 

 

In that meeting, the result was a unanimous vote to rezone for 120ft ten story buildings, not the 180ft fifteen story buildings originally sought. This decision was arrived at after one councilman did a ‘little dance” for the public by claiming discomfort with the building heights after driving El Camino and seeing the limits in other cities. Within ten minutes, city officials had convinced him to vote for the rezoning. An Oscar worthy performance and it’s all on the record. Within days, every reference to 180ft fifteen story buildings was wiped from several websites. The reference is still on the 8ft lawn sign I created and I always double check myself.

 

 

What’s my point? I see a direct parallel with this new project. Ask for twelve and fifteen story buildings and settle for eight. The public claims a victory but it might just be “bait and switch.” Officials probably knew the excessive heights were a stretch but the result is still higher than other cities have allowed on the El Camino corridor. Include other contrived distractions such as the labels “mixed use” and “proximity to a transit hub” that target communities in an effort to conceal the impact of out scale projects and the fix is in. Ask for “high density housing” and the public is “up in arms.” Add a first floor of under-utilized retail and now we’re European chic “mixed use.” “Proximity to a transit hub” is code for this project won’t add to traffic congestion and people own fewer cars so the developer can mitigate the difficulty of providing adequate parking spaces.

 

First of all, if you have used our public transit, you know how woefully lacking it is. If the developer is wrong about the need for parking, no problem, the residents of this new “mini-city” will just radiate out in every direction from the project and use the residential street in front of your house to park their cars. Strict parking requirements are just for homeowners, not large scale developers. Remember, we the residents are too stupid to know when we have been “played.”

 

 

We can pretty much assume any developer’s interest in this city is simply to make a buck. The city’s interest is all that that additional property tax revenue. Who knows, maybe we can use the money to name a park bench after a council member? I am having difficulty discerning this project’s benefit to the current residents of this community as there may be only a downside.

 

 

But, the biggest question is, what’s in it for our city council members and why would they entertain destroying the very character of our city and risk the wrath of its residents? So here we find ourselves, a city of close to 67,000 people whose future and quality of life is in the hands of five individuals who desperately need a new hobby. While they might be elected officials, if my memory serves me, their victorious vote count as a percentage of the electorate borderlines on embarrassing. A mandate it is not. Why something of this magnitude isn’t on the ballot baffles me as the individuals making this monumental decision will be long gone by the time the consequences and damage to this community are realized.

 

 

In closing, I’ll leave you with the words of my good friend who served as mayor 25-30 years ago. He confided in me that “if a developer buys the city council lunch, they’ll let him bulldoze San Bruno Mountain.” That explains Terrabay. You might ask yourself, what did the city council have for lunch?

 

Cory David

 

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