“What’s going on with the land at Charter Square?” Lately not a single conversation with a resident is complete without this question. You may have seen the demolition of buildings and hauling off of debris by the site at Beach Park and Shell Boulevards. This work is being done by the owner of the site Westlake Urban who will transfer the ownership of the property to the San Mateo-Foster City School District once the site is graded. This transfer of ownership option and to publicly bid the construction of the school was chosen by the School District’s Board of Trustees late last year. The School District was not able to purchase the property originally without construction by the owner included, until the owner could not deliver the project within the budget. As a result, the School District was able to purchase the property with demolished buildings and a graded site just as you see it today.
Last Friday, May 10, 2019, the San Mateo-Foster City School District opened the bids for the Charter Square (Fourth Elementary School) project. The Base Bid (main structure) came in just below $30 million with Added Alternative Bid Items totaling approximately $5.5 million. The School District is reviewing the bid submittal before recommending the Award of Contract to the lowest bidder at its Board Meeting in June 2019. Construction could begin as early as Fall 2019. We hope that the fourth elementary school will help alleviate the overcrowding problems in the existing schools and will further enhance the quality of education for our children.
Our schools are among one of the prime reasons why families choose Foster City. We have been fortunate to have great elementary & middle schools with a track record of strong performance and scores. Bowditch Middle School currently has been recognized as a “Distinguished School” in the State of California and will be recognized at a City Council Meeting in the near future. Meanwhile, Audubon, Brewer Island, and Foster City Elementary Schools continue to receive high rankings with at least a score of 7. The School District has indicated that Foster City is more desirable for families than our neighboring cities. For example, the demographer has indicated that new housing generates 1 student for every 5 units, where San Mateo generates 1 student for every 20 units. According to the School District, with the construction of the new elementary school, 200-300 new housing units could be added to Foster City and accommodate the new students.
However, our schools are part of San Mateo-Foster City School District and we have had challenges in our relationship with the School District in the past. Foster City families often expressed concerns around equity in funding allocation as well as lack of financial and strategic stewardship.
In addition, we don’t have a high school in Foster City and we are part of San Mateo Union High School District. Our children have the option of going to San Mateo, Hillsdale, and Aragon High Schools based on the neighborhood they reside in. Not having our own high school and related facilities has been a sticking point of several residents who have expressed their concerns with me.
Needless to say, the City Council has a responsibility to continue to try to establish and maintain a relationship with our school districts. With the goal of continuing to collaborate and partner with the school districts and to establish an open communication channel, I recently reached out and met with Joan Rosas, Superintendent of the Elementary School District and Kevin Skelly, Superintendent of the High School District.
Superintendent Rosas shared several updates about the Elementary School District including the focus on long term strategic and financial planning, openness to collaborate on securing private funding for our schools, and continued dialogue and open communication. I am optimistic that we should be able to work together on aspects such as improving the infrastructure & other challenges for Bowditch Middle School, which our residents have expressed concerns about.
Superintendent Skelly talked about the trend in high school enrollment decline and explained that the enrollments are dropping due to the generation not having as many kids. The enrollment decline, which is already visible this academic year is projected to be more pronounced in the next few years. Superintendent Skelly indicated that having a high school in Foster City was explored in the past, deemed not feasible, and would most likely not happen even if they could acquire property in Foster City at no cost to the High School District. Enrollment decline further eliminates the case for building a new high school. Smaller schools are financially challenging to maintain due to lack of economy of scale and are not in a position to offer the same level of amenities and curriculum offerings as bigger schools.
Schools are an important component of any city and community. They attract families, help build a great community, and drive property values. Even though schools don’t fall under the jurisdiction of the City Council, we are committed to continuing to enhance our relationship, collaboration, and partnership with the school districts. The City Council has “walked the walk” in this area by partnership and contribution of dollars where possible. Below are some examples.
Typically, crossing guards are paid for by the School District. For Foster City, the City contributes approximately $22,000 annually for Crossing Guards.
The City is working with the School District to help in minimizing the costs for the construction of Fourth Elementary School (at the former Charter Square Shopping Center site). For example, the City will be conducting the project management of the design of the new traffic signal at Beach Park Boulevard/Shell Boulevard to help minimize costs for construction.
In partnership with the High School District, Foster City also contributes to the funding costs of the After School Activity Bus Program to assist Foster City students with transportation when their extracurricular activities, such as sports, occur after school hours.
As with everything else, we could do even better. My meetings with Superintendent Skelly and Rosas offer me the optimism to make tangible progress in this area. Along with the close involvement with the new school construction and ensuring our residents get what was promised in terms of the school size and facilities, we also need to understand and push for what could be done with the Bowditch Middle School infrastructure and facilities. We all agree that it is in dire need for significant improvements.
Majority of us agree that having a high school in Foster City is no longer a viable option. Unfortunately that ship has sailed already and we need to look forward. I am keen to explore what could be done creatively to make up for no high school, which could be valuable for our families and children of current and future residents. I am open to your input and creative ideas on this and other topics. Please continue to reach out to me at email@example.com.
Last month marked the completion of my first 100 days as a Councilmember. I think it’s a great opportunity to reflect on the past three months and share a snapshot of what I’ve been up to, my experience thus far, and my outlook for the future.
It has been a fast transition to the role and broadening of my thought process and analysis and continued evolution and refinement of my views and positions on various topics. I went through a steep learning curve, with the help and support from the City staff and my mentors. I realized the depth of the issues and multi-dimensional analysis required to come up with a decision or a point of view.
In my professional career, my approach in getting up to speed in a new role has been to first build a strong foundation of job content, formulate opinions and point of views based on facts, and invest in establishing relationships. This has always allowed me to hit the ground running effectively. I applied the same approach in this role and started by building an in-depth understanding of topics such as housing, aging infrastructure challenges, and economic development opportunities and challenges. I went through the budget planning process and met with various staff to better understand the City’s finances. I was assigned and have been serving as the Council Liaison for the Youth Advisory Committee, San Mateo Union High School District, Peninsula Traffic Congestion Relief Alliance (Commute.org), and the Foster City Communications and Public Engagement and Levee Council Subcommittees. I also started the efforts on establishing regional relationships and representing Foster City at regional meetings and events.
We, as a City Council, are a team with common goals. We may differ in our skills, perspectives, and ideas that we bring to the table, but we are unified in our love for our City and the passion, drive, and the dedication to serve our community. The City Council and the City staff worked together and made great progress in this short period of time and we are poised very well for productivity and success in the future.
In February, the City conducted its City Council Vision & Policy Summit where it identified and discussed its key priorities for the next two years. Then as the City Council moved into the strategic planning process, proposed goals and initiatives that met each respective priority focus area was discussed in greater detail, refining the associated strategies and prioritizing the necessary action steps. As a result, the Implementation Plan for the goals identified in the next 2 years was recently approved by the City Council.
One of the first, and by far one of the most important decisions that was brought up in front of the City Council was the “Traffic Relief Pilot Program” approval to address cut-through traffic down the City’s main corridor – E. Hillsdale Boulevard. Following over a year of discussions with the community and the City Council, the three-month pilot started in February of this year. Currently, the City is analyzing the feedback from our community on the pilot program and its feasibility to continue.
The challenges with our Recreation Center have been discussed for years. The City Council reviewed and accepted the Recreation Center Conceptual Design Plan Report, decided on the preferred conceptual design, and provided direction to staff to include as a Capital Improvement Project to be considered for funding as part of the FY 2019-2020 budget process. This does not authorize the expenditure of funds and would be brought back to the City Council for consideration. Because of the cost involved and the funding challenges, it will require a lot of courage for the City Council to make the right decision. Inaction on this is no longer a viable option. I am confident that the City Council will work together to achieve the best possible outcome for our community and our future.
To address the $78 million unfunded pension liability, an Additional Discretionary Payment (ADP) strategy was directed for $2 million originally reserved. I think, short term, it’s a good idea to evaluate the approach of addressing the pension liability every year, before we decide to formulate a policy on this.
We face unique challenges on the economic development front, because of our location and other factors. The exciting news is that the City is trying to move the needle again with renewed focus. A new local campaign, “Get It Here: Support Local Foster City” launched in March to connect businesses within Foster City to each other, to its residents, to the 15,000-daytime working population, and to visitors. Having a career in business, I am very passionate about economic development and have had several discussions with City staff & the Economic Development/Sustainability subcommittee members on potential ideas to continue the momentum. I also expressed the importance of continued monetization of our assets i.e. our parks and beautiful locations via regional events like the Summer Concert Series and the Fourth of July Celebration, while continuing to have local events targeted for residents only.
Attending events like ribbon cutting ceremonies for the Post Office and local businesses, and events like the Spaghetti Feed & Bingo with Lions and Rotary clubs, and special cultural events like Holi, gave me the chance to interact with our residents and get a better sense of what’s important for our community. Events like the New Mayors and Councilmembers Academy in Sacramento and the monthly Council of Cities meetings have helped me build relationships with our regional counterparts and understand the common challenges and opportunities we share with them.
Overall, it has been a whirlwind three months of learning, observing, and generally getting used to the rigor and the process. I have found myself and my views evolving as I gained knowledge, background, and context on various topics, and you will see that reflected in my future decisions and views. Challenges in the near future include deciding on the next steps on the Recreation Center, identifying next steps and a plan based on the results of the Traffic Relief Pilot Program and finding creative ways for continued efforts around economic development. Identifying ways to increase and diversify our revenue sources will allow us to address the needs and expenses of our aging infrastructure and will ensure that we will continue to have a balanced budget. Regionally, it is becoming more critical than ever for us to try even harder to ensure local control and fight the “one size fits all” syndrome. We must continue to represent Foster City and play a role in influencing the decisions on topics such as housing, traffic & transportation that would impact us. We need to be able to convey our City’s unique geographic location, articulate and highlight the steps we have already taken to address the housing crisis, and that we are already built out.
One of the sources of encouragement and motivation for my efforts has been the positive feedback from the community. I look forward to continuing to hear from you all. Please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or ideas.
Thank you for your comments and positive feedback on my previous council corner “The Housing Dilemma” published on January 30, 2019. I appreciate your input on this complex topic and for joining me in my learning and fact gathering journey.
Continuing this journey, let’s talk about the Elephant in the Room – Our aging infrastructure, our funding challenges, and the need to discuss, figure out solutions, prioritize and make difficult decisions to address them.
Foster City is fiscally strong. Our mission states that “We are committed to ensuring the long-term financial stability of the City and providing services that enhance the quality of life for those who live, work, and play in Foster City.” The fiscal stewardship exercised by the City Council and City staff is manifested through developing prudent and effective long-term financial strategies and making appropriate financial decisions. For the current fiscal year, a combination of property, sales, transient occupancy (TOT), and business license taxes make up the majority of the City’s $43.5 million dollar General Fund Budget.
However, our City is turning 50 in 2021. The City's infrastructure, which was built more than 40 years ago, now requires minor renovations or major upgrades to operate efficiently and safely. In addition, a reduction of new development projects over the next 5-years diminishes one-time building and permit revenues to pay for infrastructure maintenance or replacements. We are at a point where prudent planning, existing revenue sources, and focus on economic development is not enough to address these issues. As a community, we must acknowledge this harsh reality and begin the conversation and dialogue on how to tackle these challenges.
Foster City enjoys more than 100 acres of park and open space land including bike paths, dog exercise areas, a lighted softball field, numerous soccer and youth baseball fields, tennis courts, basketball courts, bocce ball courts, picnic facilities, par courses, and a wildlife refuge. The City’s system of 24 parks, 8 miles of levee pedway, a recreation center, library, Council Chambers, youth center, and other public facilities are showing signs of age. Funding is needed to preserve and rehabilitate existing infrastructure as it ages.
As a financial planning strategy, the City has built up reserves in its General Fund and Capital Improvement Fund to provide the necessary financial resources to maintain infrastructure. As an additional planning tool, the City initiated a parks system master plan study to help identify future maintenance, sustainability, and water conservation opportunities. Parks staff estimates that over the next 15-years, total Parks capital improvements will require a significant fiscal investment.
We have been talking about the Recreation Center issues for a while, but there are other buildings that need our attention as well.
The Public Works Corporation Yard Buildings are some of the oldest buildings in Foster City and need attention. The roof of the Parks Workshop Buildings is over 20 years old, and while maintenance and repairs have been conducted as needed, the roof is now due for replacement.
The Police Station roof was installed when the building underwent its major remodel in 2000 as part of the Government Center Project. Since that time, the Building Maintenance Division has performed on-going maintenance and repairs to address on-going leaks in the lineup room, kitchen, and lobby areas. This roof is scheduled and due for replacement.
The Council Chambers roof was installed when the building was constructed in 2001. Now this facility is due for maintenance.
Funding is also needed to maintain and improve existing infrastructure, like our roadways, sidewalks, water, wastewater, lagoon and levee facilities, to meet federal and state legal requirements put in place after the infrastructure was constructed. These requirements include environmental regulations, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Climate Change.
In March 2018, the City Council directed staff to plan for a Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) revenue measure (increasing the current rate from 9.5% to 11% effective January 1, 2019 and then to 12% effective July 1, 2019) in November 2018 to help address the City’s projected structural deficits. The five-year financial plan assumes the passage of this revenue measure with estimated additional annual TOT revenues.
Over the past few years, the City has taken an active role in using economic development activities to generate revenue for City needs. One such program, the Commercial Facade Improvement Matching Grant Program, assists neighborhood shopping center property-owners in upgrading their centers to help nurture a positive retail business environment and stimulate economic development. As a result of the upgrades, the upgraded property carries a higher property value, and potentially attract more customers to the center.
In closing, I think that the first step to plan and address any challenge is to have the courage to acknowledge it and begin the dialogue with an open mind. In order to ensure we continue to enjoy the same level of service and the quality of life, we must continue to find additional, diversified revenue sources and preserve the existing ones and intensify our economic development efforts. The challenge lies in achieving that without impacting our quality of life and maintaining the character of our beautiful and unique city. Broadly speaking, I foresee that balancing these two key aspects - additional revenue and maintaining our quality of life will be driving my decisions.
The residents should be aware, remain informed about these realities, and be more engaged as we tackle these difficult decisions in the not too distant future. Please continue to reach out to me at email@example.com with concerns, questions, and ideas.
Last week I had the chance to attend the ‘League of California Cities New Mayors and Council Members Academy’ in Sacramento, where I met with Councilmembers and Mayors from several cities in California. Almost every city has unique challenges and opportunities that they grapple with. However, no discussion on challenges was complete without a discussion of the Housing Crisis.
As a Councilmember, I now have better appreciation of the problem and have a more open mind to consider and evaluate potential solutions. Throughout my professional career, I have had the chance to work on complex products and initiatives, and I have taken pride in being able to simplify them for external customers and internal stakeholders. So as I gained more information and understanding of the magnitude of the housing problem, the current regulatory landscape, the role of state government and potential solutions, and the overall complexity of the issue, I felt that it is important to present a perspective for everyone to consider.
Overall, it is important for all of us to understand the problem and realize that it is not as simple as saying yes or saying no to housing. It is also critical to understand the projections for the future. It is becoming more critical to understand the important role of local government in advocacy efforts.
The major problem with housing in San Mateo County is the fact that housing development has not kept up with the tens of thousands of new jobs added over the last several years - and the problem has gotten worse in recent years. Between 2010 and 2016, approximately 80,000 new jobs were created in San Mateo County, but only 3,844 new housing units were built, a 16:1 ratio.
In 2017 and 2018, job growth increased by 1.8 percent each of those years. Economists project job growth in San Mateo County to increase at an average of 0.9 percent per year from 2019 to 2022. During that same period, San Mateo County municipalities are projected to issue only 1,000 housing permits per year (Source: CA EDD, US Census, American Community Survey).
For the most part, people want to live close to their work, which creates a housing demand that drives up the cost of housing for homebuyers and renters, especially along the Peninsula. Also, because workers with a moderate income cannot afford to live in San Mateo County, the demand produces congestion on our local roads and highways and creates longer commutes for workers.
Foster City’s Housing Element was updated in February 2015 (for the period between 2015-2023). For each housing element period, State law mandates that local governments plan for their share of the region’s housing need for all income categories. The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) authorized San Mateo County and its cities to work together to determine each jurisdiction’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) numbers. In addition to the overall number, the units are also required to be distributed according to income level.
Under State planning law, a housing element must describe how a municipality will be able to meet its RHNA numbers. In determining how to achieve its RHNA numbers for the 2015-2023 planning period, Foster City’s Housing Element committed to creating an Affordable Housing Overlay (“AHO”) Zone that would result in the potential for additional housing units to meet our state obligations. The City Council and Planning Commission will conduct study sessions on the AHO in the next several months.
Several tools have been used successfully by cities to address the housing crisis, and Foster City currently uses some of these tools. Adjusting development standards to require less parking, allowing the use of innovative materials or designs to reduce construction costs, second unit ordinances, development incentives, housing overlay zone, inclusionary zoning, and affordable housing impact fees are all strategies to create more affordable housing opportunities in our community.
Local Government’s Role
In general, the City’s Housing Element is intended to be the vehicle to address our housing needs in a manner that maintains the "balance" of housing types, the design and character of housing and neighborhoods, and the affordability of housing in the City. As more State requirements are placed on top of existing requirements, many cities find it more and more difficult to comply.
It is important for the community to understand the requirements that will be imposed for Foster City. The City will be participating in regional efforts to become informed regularly regarding this subject matter. Equally important is understanding Foster City residents’ views and emotions on this topic, our unique geographic location and traffic challenges. Advocating for solutions such as building housing around transportation hubs and collaboration of private and public sector is crucial.
In closing, I urge you all to understand the problem at a deeper level and form fact-based opinions on the issues we are facing. We must work together to find solutions and it starts with understanding every challenge with an open mind. We need your engagement and involvement. I am happy to be available to discuss this or any other topic you’d like and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I hope you all are having a great holiday season and are able to relax and enjoy time with your family and friends. As we approach the year-end, we reflect on the year gone by and get ready for a new year, which brings hope for fresh beginnings.
The last couple of weeks marked starting my role as a City Councilmember and assuming the responsibilities to serve our community. I am thankful for the warm welcome and support as I begin this new phase. I have started the learning process and am building the knowledge base necessary for the work ahead.
Foster City, with a population of approximately 34,000 residents runs on a General Fund budget of approximately $44 million. Foster City continues to rank as one of the top 50 cities in the nation in regards to safety and is the envy of many cities in the Bay Area. Foster City is a full-service city which means that the City manages Police, Fire, and all utilities (water, sewer, storm drain facilities). Fortunately, the City is proactive in the maintenance of infrastructure, and is developing master plans for infrastructure to create a vision for the next 20 years, which also develops the funding needs to meet this vision as the City reaches its 50th birthday. In addition, a central lagoon, which many see as a leisure amenity with waterfront activities that many community members enjoy, also serves as storm drain detention during the rainy season. Further, we are fortunate to have companies like Gilead, Visa, Zoox, and Qualys, to name a few, that provide diversified services to the nation and bring various revenues to the City. Foster City is definitely unique compared to other cities in the Bay Area.
Our great foundation and valuable assets coupled with careful and methodical planning and execution will ensure a bright future for our city. Our key initiatives for 2019 include progressing with the Levee Project with delivery on time and on budget, the Wastewater Treatment Plan delivery, creating a plan to address City pension liabilities, and developing a strategy for the possible Recreation Center reconstruction. We are conducting a City Council Vision and Policy Summit on February 4, 2019, which will finalize our priorities and key initiatives for the upcoming year.
We heard loud and clear from our residents that traffic is the number one reason of frustration for them and we must do something to address it, especially the cut-through traffic. Last week the City Council approved the Traffic Relief Pilot Program. The pilot program would prohibit left-turns on East Hillsdale Boulevard in the eastbound direction at Edgewater Boulevard and Shell Boulevard. A number of cut-through traffic from non-Foster City residents cross through Foster City from Highway 101 heading to Highway 92 in the eastbound direction, during the peak evening hours from 4 PM to 7 PM. It is believed that the prohibition of left turns would discourage cut-through traffic. While this may not be a perfect program, it allows us the opportunity to test and learn. We must continue to try to find solutions for the six surrounding communities that will be disenfranchised with this no left turn policy. The pilot program traffic conditions will be observed during implementation and staff will provide a summary of the observations to the City Council for direction moving forward.
Knocking on doors and speaking directly with the residents was the most rewarding part of the elections and campaign for me. It allowed me to get a broader perspective and views of our residents and understand first hand, their thoughts and concerns. For me, the voice of our residents will serve as a powerful tool to use my voice and my vote in the City Council and will be instrumental in helping me make the right decisions for our City. I would like to continue the engagement and dialogue with all of you and am open to hearing all views and perspectives. I represent and serve all residents and the entire community. I look forward to hearing from you. You can email me at email@example.com. I will be hosting a coffee meet and greet at Penelope’s on every Friday at 9:30 AM. Let’s chat about our future.
Thanks again for your support and your trust and confidence in me. I am extremely excited about the opportunities ahead and look forward to my contributions in shaping the vision and future of Foster City with you.