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This Morning With the Mayors

It's rare to wrangle one mayor in a room, let alone four, but Bisnow managed to do just that at this morning's Peninsula Boom event at the San Mateo Marriott, where issues ran the gamut from traffic to creative housing plans.

The day started with an al fresco breakfast. We caught up with caffeine fans South San Francisco city manager Mike Futrell and South S.F. mayor Rich Garbarino, who's in his third stint in charge. Rich says we're blessed geographically. At a biotech conference in Philly this summer, he learned South S.F. is the biotech hub of the world, which is stunning for a 65,000-person population. The area has 11M SF available for development and 5M approved. One new housing project will have 200 units across from See's Candies on El Camino Real, which he calls a key transit corridor.

Here's San Carlos Mayor Ron Collins chatting post-panel with CHS Development Group's Mark Haesloop. Ron grew up in San Carlos, and says it hasn't changed much in the last 10 years. What's new is the behind-the-scenes planning, and he says several projects will take shape over the next few years: 200 apartments called Transit Village and Wheeler Plaza, 800 condos with retail. There's not enough recreation space, he says, or "places to have fun." He's trying to add more to balance growth.

Redwood City Mayor Jeffrey Gee says his city used to be a secret. Those days are done since Box moved in. Finding new creative ways to build housing in the area is critical, he says. Land ownership in the peninsula is king. If you're an owner of what's not the highest and best use, the pitch is they could keep that business and go up five stories with housing. Or link up the American Legion with a nonprofit housing developer to build housing for vets. 

Densifying school sites and freeing up land for teacher housing is one growing concept. Rich says there are two vacant school sites in his city just sitting there. That's wasted land, and the trustees are reluctant to do anything with the properties. Vacant land costs money and the area is losing out on providing something sorely needed. He's in discussions with school districts about partnering up. He recently did just that with the South S.F. Rotary and their plan is to build 90 units in the downtown area. 
Allen Matkins partner Lee Gotshall-Maxon, left, moderated our panel of mayors.

Jeff says it's about connecting the dots between land owners and public agencies and developers willing to invest in communities. Gone are the days of the "seagulls who come, eat, crap and leave," he says. Now Jeff wants them to stay put. (Let's hope no actual seagulls did just that today.) 
In this era, the No. 1 tool is density and building height to facilitate the creation of housing. It can cost $500/SF to $600/SF for a tear-down here; by contrast, in Contra Costa that kind of land costs $30/SF. 

San Mateo is growing at a fast pace, reports San Mateo mayor Maureen Freschet (here chatting with with BSB SVP of development Bill Ryan). She says there's 1M SF of commercial space in the pipeline. During the recession, several projects went to a standstill; now three developments are moving ahead on Delaware Street. Thank the 2005 rail corridor TOD plan for development along transit hubs. She calls Bay Meadows a world-class development, and there's also housing, commercial and retail coming to the Hayward train station. The goal is to get people out of cars and to live in these communities.

These days young people don't want to be tied to their cars, and both of Maureen's daughters commute via public transit around the Bay Area. Ron says rising home prices are keeping people out. His relative is a firefighter and lives in S.F. but is among the demographic that can't afford a $300k down payment in an area like San Carlos.