San Mateo development policy upsets many

Bob Nice lives a half a block away from a proposed development that could add dozens of new homes, cars and people to his quiet neighborhood. But he only found out about it when one of his neighbors knocked on his door.

He wasn’t aware of the housing proposal because the city sends notifications to homes only within 300 feet — about six houses — of a proposed project, regardless of whether it’s a simple home remodel or a several-acre development.

That may change, however. The San Mateo City Council will rethink the city’s notification process at its Feb. 25 meeting, and has asked the Planning Department to suggest a new policy.

At a recent City Council meeting, Nice, a part-time fire inspector for the city and resident of the Sunnybrae neighborhood, was one of a handful of people who asked the council to take action on the issue. He said notifying more residents would improve the city government’s reputation.

“There is a distrust in San Mateo when it comes to development,” he said. “The people that you’re representing feel … that if the city of San Mateo wants to put something in, it doesn’t matter what we say.”

At a recent neighborhood meeting about the proposed development on the San Mateo County Times site, only about 20 percent of the 100 people who attended had been invited to the meeting. Other residents heardabout it after a handful of residents took it upon themselves to inform neighbors about the meeting.

Ronald Munekawa, the city’s planning chief, said this is not the first time the 300-foot rule has come under scrutiny. He said his staff is surveying other Peninsula cities about their policies, but suspected most follow the same 300-foot rule, since that’s what state law requires.

The department will not only be looking at who should be notified, but how they are notified, Munekawa said.

“Increasingly, people are also looking at electronic communication, and we’re looking at how that can play a roll here,” he said.

There’s no doubt such improvement would be well-received by the community, who want have some say in what happens in their neighborhood, said Greg Grialou, a San Mateo resident who spoke at the recent council meeting.

“[Notifying more people] will kind of drag things along, but I think in the long run, it’s best for everybody,” he said.

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