Dear Patch Editor,
I have owned property and lived in Belmont since 2004. I have lived in San Mateo County my entire life. Belmont has been given a rare and incredible opportunity to turn an underutilized (to say the least), older, larger, unattractive building into a smaller, modern, more vibrant and environmentally savvy educational facility. Additionally, the Council has been given the opportunity to allow Belmont to receive a $1,000,000.00 one time payment (a true windfall) and a $250,000.00 annual income stream (which more than offsets the current property tax derived from the properties in question). Dismissing a financial opportunity like this is both unreasonable and irresponsible. Making statements such as "there is no amount of money that would make it acceptable" is, in addition to unreasonable and irresponsible, outrageous.
As if the financial windfall for our City is not enough to compel any reasonable person to accept this proposal, CSUS has offered the use of its all-weather sports field to the community, and to Ralston. Field space is very limited in Belmont, while use has increased. The addition of an all weather field to the pool of available community fields would be a boondoggle for the children of Belmont.
The arguments against CSUS's proposal simply do not hold water and almost all of them really amount to generic arguments against any development (or development agreement.) First, we heard of the allegedly ruinous effect on traffic. However, CSUS has offered to start the school day long before Ralston's, thereby mitigating some of that concern. As I understand it (though I could be wrong) the Mitigated Negative Declaration recommended (by a 6-1 vote) by the Planning Commission found that the proposal has adequately addressed any environmental impacts. Furthermore, the traffic study performed did not show the type of substantial effect that many opponents are talking about. Moreover, if the existing buildings become fully leased, traffic will increase anyway. i accept that this project MAY incrementally increase traffic on Ralston in the morning. Members of my family will be directly impacted if it does. I support the project nonetheless. Lest we forget, there are alternate routes available. No one has to use Ralston to get to 92. In fact, when I need to get to 92 west during the school year in the morning, I usually choose Alameda de Las Pulgas. The ride does not take that much longer. I am also sensitive to the traffic concerns of Ralston parents (one of whom I will be all too soon.) Regardless, the financial benefit to Belmont and other taxing agencies (including BRSSD) far outweighs any potential traffic inconvenience.
(At least) one council member and some opponents have made the argument that the amounts of money being offered should not be compelling because "any future council can change or delete these offerings." Unless I've misunderstood, that is reason to never enter into any agreements, with anyone. Of course anything could happen in the future. But why any City Council would vote to decrease payments from CSUS in the future is beyond this resident. There is also talk that CSUS could "cry poor" or go broke. I do allow for the possibility that CSUS could somehow end up in dire financial straights and make a proposal that would put Council in a position where they would be forced to decide to take a reduced amount, or risk no amount. But this possibility exists with any such arrangement. The proper inquiry, as which any such situation, is whether or not CSUS is a good risk. The fact that CSUS has been viable for 60 years, continues to attract more students than it accepts, and brings in millions of dollars in revenue from tuition leads to the belief that CSUS is actually a BETTER risk than many businesses might be. Unless the City of Belmont has some evidence that CSUS is not in sound fiscal shape, these pointless statements should immediately cease. Making generic arguments against progress and preying on fear and ignorance are the hallmarks of adhering to an unreasonable irrational position.
Opponents to the project have made vague and unsupported allusions to the potential that CSUS will not have to honor the development agreement because of their status as a not for profit organization. However, I have been unable to find any legal support for that position or publicized instances in which a not for profit/non-profit was excused from performance of a binding development agreement simply because of their tax status. I have asked several opponents to provide me with citations to any legal authority supporting that position or any publicized (or, for that matter, un-publicized) instance. I have received nothing.
We have heard that "bringing a school in could chase away existing businesses and scare away new ones." Of course we've not heard any solid evidence supporting this conjecture; instead it is merely repeated loudly over and over again. Since speculative conjecture has become the flavor of the day among opponents, I instead submit that replacing older unoccupied buildings with modern, attractive and environmentally friendly buildings seems more likely to encourage businesses to remain in and/or relocate to an area than to flee or locate elsewhere.
We have also heard about the "noise" the school will bring. If it is construction noise that is the concern, that seems, again, to be an argument against any development ever. If it is school noise that is objected to, I, for one, prefer the laughter, learning, and playing of children to many other sounds. To be clear, my house sits only a few hundred yards from the site and there is nothing but air between the site and my home office. Might I suggest that anyone truly concerned about the horrible sounds of children learning, laughing, and playing invest in a pair of noise canceling headphones. They can be had quite cheaply. It is also noteworthy that CSUS current high school campus shares fence lines with residential neighbors and behaves responsibly with regard to noise. At the proposed development location, unless I am mistaken, there will be no common fence lines with residential neighbors.
We have also been told that the project should not go forward because few Belmont children will attend CSUS and thus the project will not benefit the community. Ignoring the fact that the project does allow for community use of the sports field (and that alone WILL benefit Belmont residents,) I was unaware that concerns over resident use are crucial when making land use decisions. I wonder if SunEdison was asked how many Belmont residents they planned to employ? I wonder how many Belmont families work in the empty building on Davis Drive? If CSUS is willing to make the financial commitment it has, any such concerns seem small. Additionally, it seems likely that the parents and caregivers of the students at CSUS will inevitably patronize our shops in Carlmont Village after drop off, before pick up, and after pick up.
Some have suggested that the CSUS could be a "financial time bomb" because inflation could actually make the one time $1,000,000.00 payment less than $1,000,000.00 in today's money by the time it is paid. The $250,000.00 yearly payment, this same faction has suggested, is really not attractive because increases are capped at a rate of 2%. Of course, this faction does not mention that current property tax increases are also capped at 2%. In other words, if inflation increases it will affect property tax revenues in the same manner it will affect the proposed CSUS payments. Inflation would not have a unique effect simply on payments CSUS makes. The argument, boiled down, amounts to "we should never enter into a development agreement requiring payments under any circumstances because inflation might make tomorrow's payments less than they are today (in today's money) even though property taxes work the same way."
Yes, the planning commission voted not to recommend the proposal. More importantly, though, they voted 6 to 1 to recommend the Mitigated Negative Declaration meaning that the commission found, by an overwhelming majority, that CSUS has adequately provided for the mitigation of any adverse environmental impacts. At least one council member has voiced concerns over cutting down trees to build the project and engaged in fear mongering and unfounded speculation about the "environmental affect this could have on Waterdog Lake area." This attempt to play on people's fear is unfounded and underhanded. Again, it's been several sentences since I mentioned it, so allow me to reiterate the planning commission found, by an overwhelming majority, that CSUS has adequately provided for the mitigation of any adverse environmental impacts.
Most recently we have heard, again from one council member in particular, that the "tactics of CSUS have been unacceptable." This same council member has stated that CSUS is "possibly violating do not call laws." Of course, once again, there is no support offered for this statement. It's another example of what I have come to believe is an active attempt by one particular Council Member to demonize CSUS. As an aside, I find it humorous that the same individual who, just a few short years ago, knocked on my door at 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning and then launched into a full on lobby for my vote without so much as a "hello," is now is an authority on acceptable political tactics. Yes, it is true that CSUS is sending out materials to Belmont residents and conducting a survey. Also that CSUS has appealed to "special interests." As it turns, those "special interests" include almost anyone who has a child in BRSSD or SUHD schools, or has a child that plays (or is interested in) league soccer. Injecting terms like "special interests" and invoking imaginary environmental damage to our "much loved Waterdog Lake area" is both juvenile and despicable. It reeks of the Washington D.C. way of playing politics that has disenchanted so many, for so long. CSUS has behaved admirably and responsible in taking extra steps to educate the community about the truths of its proposal AND to interface with the community to understand (and address) its concerns. CSUS should be applauded for this effort rather than castigated.
In closing I urge the City Council (and the community) to keep an open mind to the CSUS proposal. We have the opportunity to protect (and improve) income streams to all taxing agencies through acceptance of the CSUS proposal.
The Council has the power to declare that each taxing agency receive a portion of the proposed $250,000.00 yearly payment LARGER than it is currently receiving from the tax revenues flowing from the project site (and, it would seem, make that part of the development agreement.) In fact, CSUS has been clear in its recommendation that the school districts be made whole (and then some.) While our system of local government is set up in such a way that the school districts and other taxing agencies within the City are not under City Council control, that does not mean City Council should not act in those other agencies' best interests where those best interests align with the City's.
Let me repeat: the Council is in a position to increase revenues not only to the City, but to BRSSD, SUHD, and other taxing agencies. In exchange, all it has to do is let CSUS purchase a piece of property no one else seems to want and beautify it with a state of the art environmentally friendly school. There are few true "win-wins" in politics. This certainly has the hallmarks of one. It is my great hope that our City Council will work with CSUS to take advantage of this unique and lucrative opportunity.