San Mateo to put height/density ballot measure to voters

in Community/Featured/Headline

San Mateo Mayor Joe Goethals reiterated this week that supporters of a November ballot measure on city height and density limits should consider postponing their efforts, saying public health should be the community’s top priority amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The mayor’s suggestion has faced criticism by the San Mateans for Responsive Government (SMRG), the group behind the November measure that, if passed, would extend the soon-to-expire Measure P. The measure was first approved by voters in 1991 and limits building heights throughout the city to 55 feet and housing density to no more than 50 units per acre. SMRG members accused the mayor of subverting the democratic process by suggesting the measure’s postponement and launched an email campaign to the City saying as much, and then some.

On Wednesday, the mayor held a Facebook Live Community Town Hall to clarify the city’s position. He noted he cannot nor had any intention of preventing the measure from going forward, but had hoped that such major decisions on the city’s future should incorporate the views of all community members, which will be difficult to accomplish amid the battle against the spread of the virus and the focus on recovering the economy. The mayor also noted signature gathering to qualify a competing ballot measure is impossible amid the ongoing shelter-in-place order.

A separate, competing effort by three San Mateo citizens has not yet qualified for the ballot. It aims to address the city’s housing needs by maintaining existing height and density limits for most of the City and all neighborhoods while carving out small areas for “smart growth” development around the city’s three Caltrain stations.

Only the three citizens sponsors of the Measure P extension can pull the measure off the November ballot. During Wednesday’s Town Hall, supporters of the measure criticized the mayor as “thwarting the democratic process” for suggesting that they do.

Goethels argued postponing the measure would, in fact, increase the democratic process, as the community will be given more time to debate the issue. Last year, City Council voted to keep current height-and-limit densities in place until the next General Plan Update is adopted in 2023. That allows ample time for a robust debate on the city’s future, according to the mayor.

“We want to hear from everyone,” Goethels said.

He said the discussion should attempt to address regional housing needs and related state laws.

“We agree on more than we disagree, we all want the betterment of our community,” Goethels said, adding, “It’s a difficult time and we should be supportive of one another.”