Development

We cannot ignore that we desperately need housing here in the Bay Area, and every city including San Bruno must do its part to add units and address the problem. I do believe that it is possible to encourage development that adds units while minimizing the impact on our existing neighborhoods. While on the Planning Commission, I advocated for a reduction in scope for the Mills Park development to address congestion issues for the surrounding neighborhood, and our Commission sent a unanimous resolution to City Council to ask them to work with the developer to achieve this. Unfortunately this proposal was rejected, and this contributed to the (temporary) death of the entire project. The project came back in June 2020 with a reduction in scope…specifically the removal of the Whole Foods store which reduced traffic impact on the surrounding neighborhood by 70%, and with over $5 million in additional guaranteed benefits to the City compared to the original plan that failed. This plan was approved unanimously by City Council.

I feel for our neighbors in Mills Park who live near this project and who will need to live through the construction and its aftermath, and if elected I will join my council colleagues in insisting that the developer take every reasonable step possible to reduce disruption in the neighborhood as construction proceeds.

It’s important to understand that I support smart development, and that I’m not a “build it, just not next to me” person. To illustrate, the Crestmoor High School will be up for discussion soon with a proposal to build hundreds of homes. Because I live nearby, I will be recused from voting on anything related to that project in my current position as Planning Commissioner or if I’m lucky enough to be elected to council. My family and my neighbors will see a substantial increase in traffic when those homes go in. But I will still speak out, as a resident, in support of responsible development at the Crestmoor site, because we need housing. My only caveat will be to insist that the new property owner save the sports fields for our kids.

Downtown

Downtown San Bruno

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.

Measure G

I supported Measure G, the half-cent Sales Tax that voters approved in 2019. The measure allowed the funds to be used for General Fund purposes, but be tracked separately and subject to oversight by an appointed committee of citizens.

The $8.3 million budget deficit cannot be ignored, and it’s tempting to apply all of the Measure G funds against the deficit. But we also cannot ignore that the Measure G campaign was sold to us as a means of funding desperately needed street repairs that have been repeatedly deferred for many years.

I advocate for a balanced approach, where we spend 50% of Measure G funds on street repairs and 50% to address the budget deficit, then reassess as our financial situation changes.

Regarding the oversight committee, unfortunately the committee selected does not adequately represent the diversity of San Bruno. If elected I will work with council colleagues to address the makeup of this committee to ensure everyone in San Bruno is represented.

Cannabis

I am in favor of allowing cannabis dispensaries to operate in San Bruno, subject to strict oversight regarding where they may operate within our City. I spoke on this topic at the City Council Meeting on June 9, 2020 (clip below).

“We have an $8 million budget shortfall that we’ll be dealing with for years to come, and an opportunity to attract a recession-proof, heavily regulated business to our city, an opportunity that won’t come up again for two more years. Now is exactly the time to move forward with a ballot measure.

If you’re against cannabis, vote no on the ballot measure. And if it does pass, then don’t patronize the dispensary. I don’t plan to…I don’t use cannabis, but I do see the benefit it brings to several of my neighbors in San Bruno who suffer from chronic illness. I also see the massive economic benefit it will bring and that our City desperately needs.”

Currently San Bruno residents drive to other cities to legally purchase cannabis and leave their tax dollars in those cities, and residents from cities to our south drive right by San Bruno to drive to San Francisco or Pacifica to spend tax dollars that we could get right here in San Bruno.

Tom Hamilton, City Council Public Comment, 09 June 2020

Charter City & District Elections

San Bruno currently operates under General Law, meaning that we have not adopted our own municipal charter and instead default to the general laws of the State of California. These general laws specify that a city of our size must utilize District Elections wherein we would divide the city into a number of districts, with each represented by a City Council member who resides in that district and is elected by the voters in that district. A group of lawyers is currently moving up and down the state to force cities like ours to move to district elections or face lawsuits, and San Bruno appears to be next on their list.

The overall concept of district elections sounds reasonable, but I have specific reservations about moving to this model in San Bruno at this time. To start, when I think of areas of the city like Downtown, I wouldn’t want responsibility to fall on only one councilmember…I want all of our councilmembers to be responsible and held accountable for our Downtown. Second, we currently do not have many residents choosing to run for office from across the various areas of San Bruno. I fear that if we move to district elections, there’s a real possibility of no one stepping up to run for a particular district or for candidates to run unopposed. A lack of candidates would also invite outside interests to recruit and fund a campaign for a local resident in order to influence our council. In a large city like San Francisco district elections make sense, but I don’t believe the situation in San Bruno is appropriate for us to move to District Elections at this time.

One way to avoid being forced into district elections would be to become a Charter City. We can write and adopt our own municipal charter and then decide on our own when it will be appropriate to move to district elections.

There are other benefits to becoming a charter city. The city would have the power to enact a transfer fee on real estate sales, a tactic other charter cities in California have used to substantially increase revenue. Such a transfer fee could be set up however we wish; it could apply to commercial and not residential property, it could be set at different amounts for each…whatever we decide to write into our charter. Over the past several years California state law has steadily eroded our ability to use local tax dollars for local needs, which we could mitigate by having our own municipal charter. We would have increased autonomy over land use decisions and more control over traffic regulations, among other benefits.

There are currently 121 cities in California, including several in the Bay Area, who have moved to the charter city model, and I advocate for exploring this option for San Bruno as soon as possible. This would involve drafting the municipal charter, which the voters must approve before it could be enacted.

Transportation

I believe our local transportation options in San Bruno to be extremely inadequate, specifically our ability to move residents from our neighborhoods to the transit corridor (first-mile commute options) and to our business districts.

A local shuttle option would be the best way to deal with this gap, however as with most things, funding for such a program is lacking. I advocate with partnering with organizations like Commute.org and seeking grants to design and implement a local shuttle program. This would help us get residents out of their cars both for commuting as well as for visiting our downtown and other business areas. This would have the added benefit of reducing parking needs in those areas. 

Commissions, Boards, and Committees

Some of our advisory commissions, boards and committees, made up of appointed volunteers from our community, have seen their influence slowly wane over the past several years. The Traffic, Safety and Parking Committee, on which I served for 12 years, has seen the number of items brought before them drop dramatically, to the point where the December 2019 meeting had no actual items to discuss or vote upon. At the same time, citizens report that issues they reported three or more years ago have received no acknowledgement, let alone any action.

On the Planning Commission, where I serve today, our job is to represent the community to review and approve additions for homes, or proposals from businesses who want to open or to remodel their space, and I’m proud of the work we do in this regard. But for large projects, the Planning Commission is largely out of the loop. When the Mills Park project first came before our Commission, by standard process it first went before the Architectural Review Subcommittee (ARC), where we were able to influence design decisions like window placement, color and material choices, and the like, but not the overall size of the project. The ARC also cannot make recommendations regarding neighborhood impacts of potential projects like traffic congestion. When the project then came before the full Planning Commission, we were told specifically by the City Attorney that our only two options were to approve the project as-is, or kill the entire project permanently, with no opportunity to discuss reducing the scope of the project by even a small amount.

We must work with staff to improve our processes and ensure that our commissions, boards and committees are being utilized as they were intended when we formed them: as true advisory bodies to the City Council.

Buy Local

I believe the City must do everything in their power to support our local businesses, including adopting a “Buy Local” policy to ensure that businesses based in San Bruno are given appropriate consideration when the City needs to purchase goods and services. If the San Bruno option is competitive and appropriate, the City should go with the San Bruno option, simple as that.

Communications

We can and must do more to keep our citizens and business owners informed of what’s happening in San Bruno. The City has a policy of sending mailed notices to residents/business owners within 500 feet of a subject property, but this is antiquated and inadequate.

I advocate for allowing residents to create an account on the City website (this is already in place) and then be able to choose from a menu of current and upcoming issues on which they would like to be informed. Our various city departments can then use that information to send out mass email announcements in addition to the mailers they’re already sending.

San Bruno CityNet Services

San Bruno is one of the last communities in the country to maintain their own cable TV and internet provider services. There are definite advantages to not dealing with a large corporation and the council has advocated for keeping it and focusing on providing new services like fiber. However it’s hard to ignore that the services provided currently by San Bruno CityNet Services are inadequate when compared to services provided in neighboring communities. If we are to keep this service, we must be creative in finding adequate funding to make upgrades. First, we must immediately end the practice of diverting profits from CityNet into the General Fund to balance the budget instead of reinvesting in CityNet to improve services and stay more current. We should explore selling the Citynet office site on El Camino (the City might get $5M to $7M for that property based on recent sales) and moving those services to City Hall, then use the proceeds to start the fiber project and make other changes to improve the service experience for our residents.