The fight over building new housing in San Mateo Co., least compliant in Bay Area to state mandates

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

SAN MATEO, Calif. (KGO) — People in San Mateo like to keep things the way they are. There’s a belief that traditions never really go out of style.

Except that, when it comes to new construction, the status quo is being challenged by a state mandate to build more housing.

“In the case of San Mateo they have to make a plan for where you could build 7,015 units,” explained Tom Mayhew, an attorney with law firm Farella, Braun and Martel.

The firm is representing the Housing Action Coalition which is suing San Mateo because they argue the city’s plan to build more housing isn’t happening quickly enough.

“When we look at their list of where they say that it is possible to build housing, they included a lot of sites that are unrealistic,” Mayhew said.

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For example, the Bridgepoint Shopping Center’s parking lot has been identified by San Mateo city officials as a location to build housing. However, ABC7 discovered that there is an existing contract that says that no homes can be built on that site until 2056.

In fact, the entire county of San Mateo has the highest percentage of non-compliant housing elements out of all nine Bay Area counties.

The state has determined that 21 cities within San Mateo County have to increase the number of market-rate and below-market-rate units.

“I like to look at this as a wake-up call,” said Mayor Anders Fung of Millbrae.

The plan is to build more than 3,800 units in the next seven years.

“We just approved over 1,300 units,” Fung said. “Millbrae is at the table and we’re producing housing exactly where transit is so folks who come in and live here and work in Millbrae don’t even need a private vehicle.”

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On the other hand, the state is requiring San Mateo, the city, to build the most units in the entire county, which to some seems excessive.

“We live here because it’s suburban, right? Emphasis on ‘sub’ and we like our charming small downtown, we walk our walkability,” said Michael Weinhauer who is with San Mateo Residents Speak. “Everything here is built so it’s kind of a zero-sum game in order to build something new, you have to tear something else down.”

There is one lot near the historic downtown area which was purchased by a developer. Several small businesses and even a small housing unit were torn down. The city relocated the residents and small businesses.

Now some in the city government want to increase development by getting rid of Measure Y which sets limits on new residential building heights and densities.

“We’ve avoided this topic for 50-plus years and it’s gotten so expensive here on the Peninsula. We have a nice lifestyle but we need to share it,” insisted Joe Lanam, a longtime San Mateo resident.

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The question some may ask themselves is how will their children be able to live in the city they grew up in.

“Just like my son. He’s 30 years old and he can’t afford to live on his own,” said Ara Michaelian, another San Mateo resident.

As we discovered it’s no longer about being a NIMBY or not being a NIMBY. It’s not that black and white. There are different shades of NIMBYSM with plenty of shades of “ifs” and “buts” to justify their argument.

“If you are growing up living in a single-family home and all of a sudden someone wants to put a four-story building next to your house, I can see that’s an issue,” said Frank Ferraris, who has lived in San Mateo for more than 40 years.

Weinhauer has supported every development here but says going forward San Mateo city officials have to act responsibly and intelligently when it comes to this kind of expansion.

For example, addressing the infrastructure needed to accommodate more people and the increase in traffic that the expansion will create.

The state says it’s a compromise all Californians now have to learn to live with.

“That’s what state law requires is that every city do its fair share and not say ‘Well this is somebody else’s problem, let the housing be built somewhere else.’ Every single city has to do its part,” said Mayhew.

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.