Last night, San Mateo City Council decided to defer until 2020 the placement of a citizens’ measure on the ballot that would extend the city’s height and density limits (which have been on the books since 1991) until 2030. City Council members wanted to make more progress over the next two years in getting input from residents and stakeholders as part of a General Plan update that is in progress before making a decision about whether to put an alternative measure on the ballot, in addition to the citizens’ measure. To put a measure on the ballot in 2018 would also have cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars for a special election.
Now that the General Plan discussions over the next two years are not being pre-empted by a ballot measure, community members will have the opportunity to learn about and discuss important questions shaping the decisions for 2020, including how the community should adapt to changes since 1991.
Changes since 1991 include the the housing affordability crisis affecting San Mateo and the region, and traffic congestion exacerbated by West Bay job growth far outstripping the growth in homes.
Observing transit-oriented housing/mixed use development in San Mateo in recent years shows that the city’s density limits have reduced the number of homes and affordable homes that could be built in projects in the transit corridor.
In addition, the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County has has publicly shared anecdotes of affordable housing projects contemplated for San Mateo that never came forward because they are not financially feasible with the current zoning.
While the height limits get the most media attention (55 feet, with exceptions in some areas up to 75 feet with special public benefits), the density limits have a notable impact on housing, reducing the number of homes, including affordable units, and requiring larger apartments, reducing relative affordability of market rate homes.
While supporters of height and density limits express an intent to reduce car traffic, the rise in traffic congestion over the decades and in recent years is also related to job growth outstripping housing growth, requiring many workers, especially lower-income workers, to commute long distances
For the General Plan discussions, community members and decisionmakers may want to raise questions including: