Council Corners

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The Housing Dilemma (1/30/19)

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 Problem

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.

State’s Role

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.  

Solutions

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 rawasthi@fostercity.org.

New Beginnings (12/26/18)

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 rawasthi@fostercity.org. 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.