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Here’s how businesses are pushing for housing on the Peninsula

In San Mateo, the business community is gearing up to fight for new housing.

The Peninsula city has begun the process of updating its general plan in preparation for 2040. And although planning processes bring to mind long meetings and bureaucracy, local developers and businesses have decided to jump in.

“We’re trying to encourage local government to add to the housing stock for local, existing employees — I’m not even talking about future growth,” said Brian Myers, a member of San Mateo Chamber of Commerce’s board and president of California Coastal Properties.

It’s not clear if the plan update could precede or coincide with the potential ballot measure, nor how that could affect the plan itself, said Kohar Kojayan, director of the city’s Community Development Department. After complaints from the community that the planning process felt rushed, the city decided not to peg the completion of the plan to the 2020 election. And the city also wants to widen the scope of participation, holding Spanish-language get-togethers and inviting a long list of community partners to meetings.

As the process solidifies, the chamber plans to be at the forefront of discussions on housing, Talansky said. “We need relief in the community … Maybe if the business people come out and say that, other people will come out and say it,” Talansky said.

Fiona Kelliher
Real estate reporter
San Francisco Business Times

His company is developing over 900 units homes next to the Hayward Park Caltrain Station, but his interest isn’t about personal development opportunities, Myers said: San Mateo’s lack of affordable housing affects almost every local industry negatively, including retailers, restaurants, schools, police and hotels.

At the San Mateo Marriott, for example, it’s tough to recruit and retain employees, Myers said. And meanwhile the debilitating employee turnover in the Bay Area’s service industry leaves downtown merchants in a lurch.

Trying to get housing for local employees is a really difficult task,” Myers said.

Last June, San Mateo County made headlines for adding just one new home for every 19 jobs in the region, a number stemming from a Housing Leadership Council report. The city, meanwhile, built out just 169 units at or below moderate income levels between 2015 and 2017, and added 1,076 units above moderate income, according to its annual Housing Element Report.

In addition to needing more housing stock overall, San Mateo needs to focus on affordability, chamber members say. That means convincing the government — and other communities — that building housing will ease people’s lives, not make them worse. Alan Talansky, the co-chair of public policy for the Chamber’s board and an executive vice president at EBL&S Development, said that business leaders have been actively dogging members to educate themselves, show up at planning meetings and advocate for aspects of planning that could benefit businesses.

Up and down the Peninsula, people who have lived in the suburbs for years feel the pressure of incoming jobs and people, Talansky said. But chamber members want the community to understand that it can’t ignore the housing crisis. “We can’t let San Mateo do a bad job, because everyone else [on the Peninsula] will think they can get away with it,” said Tim Tosta, a land use lawyer and partner at Arent Fox who lives in San Mateo. “It’s a linchpin.”

One of the most contentious issues is a strict height and density limit across most of San Mateo that’s been in place for about 27 years. Although the City Council postponed a ballot measure to continue the limits last fall, it could end up on the 2020 ballot.