San Mateo Daily News Article Wednesday October 29, 2008
Council rejects planning commission proposal
Multi-family developments voted down as residents feared property value decreases


The San Carlos City Council has unanimously voted down a proposed change to the city’s general plan that east side residents feared could jeopardize their homes.  At its Monday night meeting, the council rejected a planning commission recommendation to allow multi-family developments on a portion of Holly Street and the south side of Springfield Drive. It also voted down a General Plan Advisory Committee, or GPAC, proposal to apply that designation just to Holly Street.  Residents had feared the changes would cause their property values to plummet and put them at risk of losing their homes to developers.  “The people who bought those houses, they bought them to live in them,” Vice Mayor Bob Grassilli said at the meeting. “To put a cloud over someone’s home is just not right.”

The decision came at about 11:15 p.m. after dozens of east side residents clad in red T-shirts flooded council chambers, spilling into the lobby and an overflow room on the second floor. Emotions ran from fear to anger to disbelief during more than two hours of public comment, peppered with frequent applause and jeers.  Some of the nearly 50 speakers said they were worried the city would take over their homes as part of future development projects, although San Carlos officials noted that California Propo sition 99 prohibits state and local governments from acquiring an owner-occupied residence for a private project.

Critics have questioned how much the proposition, passed in June, protects renters and even homeowners living on their properties if, for ex ample, a private developer includes space for a public facility.  Linda Ledwith, a resident of the south side of Springfield Drive, anticipated that tough eco nomic times would force some owners to sell to developers whether or not the city got involved.  “Who is going to buy their parcel? A devel oper. And so it will begin,” Ledwith said. “One by one, our parcels on Springfield will be plucked up, and us long-term residents will sit and watch as our neighborhood is decimated.”
Others voiced concern that just designating the area as multi-family low density could se verely impact home values and complained that east side residents lacked proper representation on the planning commission and in the city gov ernment. They pointed to a number of develop ment projects under way in the area and said the city wasn’t reinvesting proceeds into their neigh borhood.  “If you live on the west side of San Carlos, it is the city of good living,” said Kelly Reutlinger. “But if you live on the east side, you better watch out.”

The plan to include Springfield in the pro posal to revamp Holly Street and make it a more fitting gateway to the city sprung from a letter west side resident Bonnie McClure sent GPAC in September. The committee didn’t adopt the change, but the planning commission recom mended it and also proposed giving two parcels on Fairfield Drive a neighborhood retail des ignation, potentially opening up the cul de sac to heavy traffic.
At the meeting, McClure said she had worked 18 years to widen Holly Street and thought it would make a “very important” gateway to the city. If developers built up the north side of Holly, ensuing traffic problems could necessitate a widening of Springfield as well, McClure said.
“We all have changes in our neighborhoods,” she added.  Outraged residents met her comments with jeers of, “Stay up in the hills!” and “Your house isn’t being taken!”  After the council rejected the proposal, those same people embraced each other and gave council members a standing ovation.

Also Monday, the council unanimously voted to support a GPAC and planning commission recommendation not to allow mixed-use development in a commercial zone east of Industrial Road between Bransten Road and Brittan Avenue.  Business owners had worried that the introduction of residential housing would negatively impact their operations, some of which involve noise and chemicals appropriate for industrial areas but not family neighborhoods.

E-mail Jessica Bernstein-Wax at