In 2019, the Planning Commission recommended, and the City Council approved, a new Streetscape program for downtown. The result was a plan to revitalize the streets, sidewalks, lighting and public fixtures along San Mateo Avenue to make the area more attractive for customers and for new businesses. This plan was necessary for us to understand exactly what we want and how much it will cost, which will enable the City to pursue grants or other forms of funding to start making changes.
While enacting the entire Streetscape plan will be costly and is currently out of reach, we can’t just sit back and do nothing. There are several lower-cost improvements we can start making now, like removing the large planters and planting native shade trees directly in the ground, improving signage and replacing fixtures like garbage cans and benches.
Since the Streetscape Plan boundaries extend only to the public right-of-way (streets and sidewalks), we must also have a parallel effort to address the condition of some of the buildings on San Mateo Avenue. While there has been continued overall improvement to the building facades as new businesses have been opening along San Mateo Avenue, many buildings remain in various states of disrepair. Some of these buildings have been in this condition for quite some time and are evidence that the code enforcement measures currently available to the City are not adequate. I have a plan to address this:
1Establish a special enforcement zone along San Mateo Avenue, extending from El Camino Real to the Caltrain undercrossing. The enforcement zone would apply to commercial buildings with frontages along San Mateo Avenue. Establishing this zone would allow the city to enact specific ordinances applicable only to the San Mateo Avenue corridor and not affect other businesses elsewhere in San Bruno.
2Enact an ordinance establishing minimum upkeep standards for buildings in the special enforcement zone that would require building owners to maintain clean storefronts and replace broken fixtures, awnings and signage. Staff study and planning commission discussion would be required to establish exact standards for compliance. Our code enforcement department could first issue 30- or 90-day warnings to building owners who are out of compliance, and then if the issues are not addressed the City would impose recurring fines until the issues are addressed. Any fines collected could be maintained in a special fund used only to supplement existing maintenance and upkeep for the public right-of-way along San Mateo Avenue.
3To soften the impact of #2, the City could also enact a second ordinance establishing permit fee subsidies and expedited approval process for businesses in the special enforcement zone who apply for permits for new signage, replacement of awnings, and other items related to building exteriors which require City approval. This second ordinance could also help entice additional new businesses to open along San Mateo Avenue.
4Once the economy improves, the City could enact a third ordinance establishing a vacancy tax on building owners whose businesses remain vacant for an extended period. There are buildings along San Mateo Avenue which are in extreme disrepair that are being held as investment properties by owners who have no intention of leasing them out. It would not be appropriate to enact such an ordinance during the current economic climate, and any such an ordinance should include a provision for the council to temporarily suspend the vacancy tax in the event of another economic downturn.
These changes would have zero effect on the majority of existing businesses along San Mateo Avenue, whose proprietors routinely maintain their building facades in order to attract customers and grow their businesses.