San Mateo County Has Opened the Dialogue About Affordable Housing

Threshold 2008Today was the first of two days that 400 people are spending at Canada College in Redwood City talking about housing choices in San Mateo County.  These people were randomly chosen to participate in a dialogue about affordable housing, who it’s for and what it means.  The idea for this, Threshold2008, is to empower citizens in the serious decision processes our local governments are going to go through this year and open the dialogue on housing.

The participants are divided into 26 groups each lead by a facilitator, and each is tackling the question of what are we going to do to have affordable housing near our workplace, reduce commute times and gasoline expenditures, and improve quality of life.  The 400 participants were asked about their opinions on various housing issues prior to their selection.  Some had very strong views on one side or the other, not necessarily right or wrong.  At the conclusion of the Assembly, tomorrow afternoon, the same questions will again be posed and it will be interesting to see how people’s opinions have shifted after two days of discussion and dialogue with our decision makers.  There will be a report about this event available for anyone to read and download in a couple of months.

Experts predict that by 2025, San Mateo County will add 71,000 new households and 133,300 new jobs.  This means the County will need to provide 73,000 new housing units to accomodate everyone.  At the rate that we are currently building new housing, we expect to see a shortfall of 49,000 housing units.

What we are seeing in San Mateo County is a brain drain.  Our children can not afford to live here.  Our teachers, our policemen, firemen, nurses, small business owners and other workers are living further and further away from our County, or moving out of the state all together.  They can never come back if they’ve moved out of California because of the high cost of housing.  San Mateo County is one of the 3 most expensive counties in California.  The other two, San Francisco and Marin, are three quarters of my Fantasy Island. Major employers are reconsidering the location of their businesses in our County because of the lack of housing and high cost of doing business here.

What is so exciting to me about Threshold2008 is that the public is being asked to be participants in the discussion of what to do, and how to do it.  We’re being urged to get involved with our cities while they go through a serious process of planning for affordable housing this next year.  Whether affordable housing will be able to bring back all of the people we’ve lost to this County, no one knows, but we are trying to address this through this Assembly.

The participants broke into their small groups and discussed Four Alternative Futures for San Mateo County.

  • Continue on Our Current Path:  managing housing development as it’s done today.
  • Improve Commutes: don’t build any more housing in the County but support the economy by making it easier to commute here.
  • Open New Land to Development: change zoning, find empty land to build on, re-purpose buildings for housing.
  • Higher Density Development: build high density housing by changing zoning, adding mixed use housing options and building up.

Their instructions for today were to discuss different visions of what housing development is in San Mateo County, and what it might look like in the future.  After their first session, they returned to the Canada College Auditorium where they were able to ask key questions to a panel of experts on housing and the environment. The topic of the morning:  “Alternative Futures for San Mateo County.”

  • Karyl Eldridge, with Peninsula Interfaith Action
  • Peter Ingram, Interim City Manager of the City of Redwood City
  • Bruce Liedstrand, Principal, Liedstrand Associates
  • Paul Powers, President & CEO of the Pauls Corporation
  • Lennie Roberts, Legislative Advocate, Committee for Green Foothills
  • Marisa Espinosa, San Mateo County Transit District

By the conclusion of the morning session the participants understood how complex an issue was before them all.  Water rights, pollution, public transit, economic restraints on builders and developers, jobs, and changing trends in where people are migrating to and from.

In the afternoon, a repeat of the break-out sessions took place and a new panel of experts were there to ask their key questions.  The topic of the afternoon: “Your Vision of San Mateo County’s Future.”

  • Duane Bay, Executive Director of the San Mateo County Department of Housing
  • Gary Patton, General Counsel for the Planning and Conservation League
  • Audrey Rust, Executive Director for Peninsula Open Space Trust (covering San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz Counties)
  • Fran Wagstaff. Executive Director for Mid-Peninsula Housing
  • Don Weden, Former Principal Planner for Santa Clara County
  • Peter Ingram, Interim City Manager for the City of Redwood City

The demographics of the participants are broad.  Young and old.  All ethnicity’s.  There is also a group for Spanish speakers only, and their questions are posed in Spanish and interpreted for the panel. Many of the questions the groups posed were quite similar, showing that there may be some agreement in what to do tomorrow.

I’ll be there to listen and learn. I’ll be back to report to you about this.  What is so very exciting about Threshold2008 is that you can also participate in the dialogue online between April 28th and May 9th.  I’ll have more to report about that as we get closer to the dates.

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