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Letter to the Editor: Resident Rebuts Letter From CSUS Proponents

"Many residents opposed to the CSUS project have lived in Belmont for years, raised children, and run businesses, yet they are adamantly opposed to this diminution of our unique Belmont quality of life." Joe Brennan

Dear Editor:

Rebuttal to the October 2012 letter sent to Belmont homeowners by seven residents:

They said:

"We have lived in Belmont for years. We’ve raised children, owned homes, and run businesses here. We have also been engaged in Belmont civic and community activities at all levels. We want you to know why we—and many fellow residents—are excited about Crystal Springs Uplands School’s proposal to turn a vacant office site on Davis Drive into a beautiful, green middle school campus that benefits our community. We are not receiving any personal benefit and are not directly connected to the school. We simply care deeply about Belmont and its future."

Fact:

Many residents opposed to the CSUS project have lived in Belmont for years, raised children, and run businesses, yet they are adamantly opposed to this diminution of our unique Belmont quality of life. Also, the authors leave out the contract that CSUS has had with the seller of the buildings for the last few years that prevented it from being rented or purchased. We who are opposed to the CSUS project also care deeply about Belmont and its future; that's why we are opposed.

They said:

"First, we believe that the use of this site for a middle school is an excellent and better use than commercial alternatives. The campus will have a lower intensity than potential commercial uses of the property. Crystal Springs will significantly reduce the square footage of the buildings, remove hardscape, construct energy efficient buildings and install an all-weather soccer field to which the community will have access. Also, the majority of the owners or property representatives of neighboring commercial buildings on Davis Drive support the proposal."

Fact:

It is the authors' opinion, not shared by many residents, that the school is an excellent and better use than commercial alternatives. Ask current owners of businesses on Davis Drive who do not have a conflict of interest involving the seller and CSUS.

They said:

"Second, the financial benefits to Belmont are substantial. Crystal Springs’ guaranteed annual payment of $250,000 ensures fiscal neutrality to the City of Belmont and exceeds current tax revenue collected from the site. This is enough to allow the Belmont school district to not suffer from loss of property taxes, and is also likely higher than what alternative commercial tenants would provide. Crystal Springs has been in business 60 years, and this annual payment is a phenomenal opportunity to secure a stable long-term revenue stream. Crystal Springs is also offering a one-time payment of $1 million that Belmont can use to make a real difference to its infrastructure, services,
parks, and schools. In addition, building the campus will inject $33 million into the local economy, creating 200 new jobs as a result of the construction in Belmont and boosting economic activity."

Fact:

What the authors failed to mention is when the $250K payment will be made (If one year after the school opens, that could mean 3 years). Also, the 2% cap on cost-of-living increases could spell financial disaster for the City in high-inflation times that seem inevitable. The increase in the City's $116K cost of services to the proposed campus could EXCEED the CSUS annual payments! The $250K payment, after deducting the City's cost of $116K to service the proposed campus, is more like $134K net to the City that probably would be shared with County schools and facilities. Taxes from businesses, especially new ones, seems like more secure revenues for the City. The financial security of Belmont could be impacted by a liability forever created by a tax-exempt property; would this potential forever annual liability be worth a $5.12 benefit to each Belmont resident?

Also, the $1M one-time offer by CSUS is due one year after the proposed campus would open, which would make it at least 3 years in the future, which would lower the value to close to 800K. It stretches the average imagination to think that this payment will make a real difference to Belmont's infrastructure, services, parks, and schools in a city of 26,147 residents - approximately $30.50 per resident!

The claim of the campus injecting $33M into the local economy, creating 200 jobs, and boosting economic activity has been completely debunked in prior Internet postings as Black-Magic accounting by the Belmont Chamber of Commerce. Shame on the authors for repeating these assertions.

They said:

"We are convinced that the benefits of the proposal overcome the concerns that have been raised. We know that any business that moves into the Davis Drive office park will generate traffic, but Crystal Springs has a long history of being a considerate, quiet neighbor in a completely residential area. It is planning an early start time to avoid overlap with Ralston Middle School and peak commuting hours. Belmont’s own studies confirm that the school will not have a material impact on existing Ralston Avenue traffic issues. Plus, the school has agreed to long-term monitoring to make sure that its traffic never becomes an issue. It’s hard to imagine a commercial business doing the same."

Fact:

What the authors left out is that the original and corrected traffic surveys were suspect because of gross errors, and the latest correction is again being reviewed by the City's traffic consultant. The statement the school will not have a material impact on existing Ralston Avenue traffic is wishful conjecture by the authors. The results of the traffic survey will be in the staff report.

They said:

"You can learn more about the Crystal Springs proposal and its benefits to Belmont’s residents at www.csus.org/belmont.

The City Council will consider the project in October. We encourage you to add your voice to the many supporters who have already spoken and ask our elected representatives to approve this project. You can email the Council members at CityCouncil@Belmont.gov. This is important for Belmont’s future!

Thank you for taking the time to understand the huge benefits to Belmont of approving the Crystal Springs project."

Fact:

Thank you for taking the time to evaluate the negative effects of the CSUS project on the citizens of Belmont that the authors left out and decide for yourself if the alleged CSUS benefits are exaggerations, misstatements or just wishful thinking.

They said:

"Paid for with private funds by Belmont schools parents and by Crystal Springs
parents."

Fact:

It would be interesting to know how much tax-exempt money has been spent on Public Relations for this project by CSUS, and if the so-called "private funds" by parents are tax deductible because that would mean that the taxpayers are also funding the CSUS project. Also, they say they are not affiliated with CSUS, yet this was paid for by CSUS parents - seemingly a distinction without a difference.

Joseph A. Brennan
2836 Wakefield Drive
Belmont, CA 94002-2935

Annie October 13, 2012 at 03:12 PM
Joe, You are funny, You have all the facts. I am sure you do have friends that don't want this project. Fact: Every poll that has been taken is in favor of the school. You can say it is fixed. It just keeps happening. Where are the traffic surveys with the gross errors? I understand that you are against the school, that is your right. Contrary to what you believe there are people who live in Belmont who love it as much as you do and would like to see Belmont not stagnate, Your facts are indeed your opinion,
Joe Brennan October 13, 2012 at 05:40 PM
Annie: I find it interesting that you find it funny, but that is your prerogative, as is your opinion on CSUS. The comments of many residents who received poll calls that the poll was not unbiased speak for themselves. You should try to get up to date on the traffic surveys. The City is still analyzing the latest survey with the input from citizens who felt that the original surveys were flawed, and the staff report will be published next Friday. You certainly have your right to your opinion, but not to your facts.
Lois Peterson October 13, 2012 at 06:14 PM
Nothing is funny about this entire effort on the part of the entire population of Belmont - not only the people in favor of CSUS. The fact that the school was able to prevent any rental of the empty building is one of the reasons that some people have suggested that the business park is not doing well at the present time. Traffic is a major issue. There needs to be more monitoring of the current traffic problems on Ralston. A Belmont policeman was doing some of that last week - stopping cars for violations - we need more of that effort. Belmont Patch should be a "place" for intelligent conversation/discussion.
Portnoy's Complaint October 13, 2012 at 07:56 PM
Joe, You seem to suffer from the similar affliction that many Californian's suffer. Although not medically diagnosed, I like to call it, "I got mine, and I could care less about yours." Individual's with this affliction tend to live in large houses (+2,500 SF), either have no children or their children are now adults, and tend have have stanch opposition to any progressive development. As a young adult in my early 30's with a very young child and another on the way, living in a 1,000 SF house in Belmont I have to look at things differently than you. We need to grow, we need to have the ability to add additional funds to city's bottom line ($134k is better than $0) and modernize buildings that were installed over 20 years ago. Oh and by the way, I work in the commercial real estate industry (Civil Engineer by schooling) last I checked for a project of this size, privately funded, you are looking at a 12-18 month construction schedule, not sure where you get your "fact" on 3 years. And your reference to "black magic" for the economic stimulus, where will the 100-150 construction workers pick up lunch, buy coffee, and purchase Belmont business license's to complete their work? Oh and while I am at it, can you and the opposition fund the replacement on the garage door at the firehouse on the corner of Cipriani and Ralston? Maybe a good old fashion car wash?
Joe Brennan October 13, 2012 at 08:49 PM
Portnoy's Complaint, I hope your business acumen and diagnostic abilities are better than your diagnostic analysis of me. If so, I am confident that you will proper. After paying my dues as a Belmont resident for more than 42 years, I have come to love Belmont and volunteer my time to educate children in order improve our community. Despite your effort to paint me into a pejorative box, I want the best-growth projects for Belmont as long as they don't diminish our priceless and unique quality of life - my principal reason for opposing the CSUS project. I hope you are aware of the following definition that Is on the Internet: Portnoy's Complaint: A disorder in which strongly felt ethical and altruistic impulses are perpetually warring with extreme sexual longings, often of a perverse nature.
Portnoy's Complaint October 13, 2012 at 09:37 PM
Joe, I am impressed by your computer skills, I too can utilize "Google" to find seemingly superior intellectual words (eg, pejorative), to make myself seem more powerful than others, but have found that takes the fun out of personal attacks. (Note: another characteristic symptom of "I got mine").. As for my selection of Portnoy's complaint, it has both a play on my surname and the fact that I am a Jew with a complaint. PS. the modern translation of the Yiddush word "Chutzpah" has a positive connotation, not the negative you refer to in another blog post. Be careful with your "Googling" This coming from a guy that is usually regarded as a "Mensch" (Go ahead, Google it)
Joe Brennan October 13, 2012 at 09:45 PM
No need to Google, I grew up in a wonderful Jewish neighbor and have studied English vocabulary for more than 65 years. The Yiddish word derives from the Hebrew word ḥutṣpâ (חֻצְפָּה), meaning "insolence" or "audacity". The modern English usage of the word has taken on a broader meaning, having been popularized through vernacular use in film, literature, and television. The word has also been able to be interpreted as meaning the amount of courage, mettle or ardor that an individual has. In more traditional usage, chutzpah is invariably negative.
Portnoy's Complaint October 13, 2012 at 10:45 PM
Well seeing that you aren't an MOT (member of the tribe) and didn't immerse yourself in 12 years of hebrew school, I don't need you to copy directly from Wikipedia into this blogsphere.. I do enjoy that your responses are so trigger quick though. To more enjoyable readings of your other Blog replies, I have to go mow the lawn..
Joe Brennan October 13, 2012 at 11:23 PM
The only reason for the copy of the definition was to include the traditional meaning. Congratulations on your Hebrew school education. My catholic mother frequently used mazel tov, schmutter, and my friends and I used schmuck often. But I bow out from further exchanges because I am not a MOT, and I hope you have an enjoyable mow. Amen. Mazel tov.
Charles Stone October 15, 2012 at 08:39 PM
"The fact that the school was able to prevent rental..." You make it sound so nefarious! The current owner of the building ,Cengage, entered into an agreement with CSUS that allowed CSUS to exercise an option to buy the property. At least that's my understanding. It's possible that some interested lessors were deterred by that fact, but I've seen no evidence of it. Can you provide some factual evidence that there were willing lessors interested in the property? The only one I've heard of is Comcast and, unsurprisingly, when you pull back the layers of BS, it turns out the CSUS option to purchase had nothing to do with Comcast not taking space up there. In reality, the property is not commercially attractive. That was made quite clear by a commercial real estate expert as well as those who work in commercial real estate. This is an older building without most of the amenities lessors look for (but, WITH Asbestos...meaning expensive TIs.) It's not on the transit corridor. Have you driven down 101 lately? There are plenty of much more attractive properties with space. You're certainly right that there should be more enforcement of the speed limit on Ralston. Did you watch/were you present at the board meeting where the CSUS proposal was discussed? It was quite clear to me that, that when the lowered speed limit on part of Ralston this project will mandate is coupled with enforcement, there's a high degree of likelihood Ralston would be SAFER than it is now.
Timothy E. Strinden October 16, 2012 at 02:05 AM
One of the advantages of living here is the quick access to Fwy 92 & 280 via Ralston. I am not in favor of lower speed limits on Ralston that would slow the traffic. If the CSUS proposal would require lower speed limits, than I am even more firmly opposed to the project.
Annie October 16, 2012 at 03:10 AM
Timothy E. Strinden, when do you ever have quick access to 92, 280 and 101 on Ralston Ave between 8:50 am and 9:15 am on a school morning, The speed limit doesn't need to be adjusted. In case you don't know, there are signs in front of Ralston School that say the speed limit is 25 miles an hour. The traffic at Ralston School is horrible, that should have been addressed years ago. At least CSUS is addressing the issue. "If" you have 400+ employees, even with flex time, you are going to have more traffic, and they won't have to care about the traffic, give usage of a field to the community, etc.. Also, you will have reverse commute, with office workers leaving the office between 5:00pm - 6:30, this will also put 400 more cars on the road. As Charles states above, it will cost money to bring the buildings, that exist up to code or rebuilt. If you look at the existing office space available on the Peninsula, there are plenty of new buildings off of 101. Why would they want to go to Davis Drive.
Timothy E. Strinden October 16, 2012 at 05:12 AM
Annie, you continue to post the same false number of 400+ employees. There are only 205 parking spaces and the Hexagon report estimates only 102 cars for the businesses. Plus, they would come in gradually over a two-hour period while the 115 cars for CSUS would be concentrated in a 30-minute period, with arrivals and departures totaling 230 in 30 minutes. The traffic from the school would clearly be worse than that from any businesses. Plus, by starting CSUS earlier than Ralston Middle School, the traffic slowdown would be extended from one hour to two hours, making it almost impossible for commuters to avoid it. You ask why a business would want to locate there rather than near 101. It's because 101 is backed up during commute hours while 280 continues to move. Why do you think Oracle employees take Ralston to the 280. The Ralston Park is a prime location with access to the 280, 92 and 101, providing many options for the quickest travel.
Annie October 16, 2012 at 06:15 AM
Timothy E. Strinden, even with the high end of 102 cars, since CSUS has to be in the classroom at 7:45am. The traffic would be concentrated from 7:15 to 7:40. So how does this make the slowdown from 1 hour to 2 hours. Ralston's homeroom starts at 8:20. This means that CSUS will have already been in class for 35 minutes before class even starts at Ralston. So I don't understand how this can make the commute time another hour. You might be correct in the fact that 102 cars arriving the same time as the Ralston students, the slowdown might increase. If Ralston Park is such a prime location, there wouldn't have been any empty buildings, even in a recession,
Timothy E. Strinden October 16, 2012 at 01:07 PM
The estimate is 115 cars for CSUS, all arriving and departing, meaning 230 turns on Davis within the half-hour before and after school. So, traffic on Ralston would be most impacted in the half-hour before CSUS starts, from 7:15 to 7:45; and the half-hour before Ralston Middle School starts, from 7:50 to 8:20; meaning the entire hour from 7:15 to 8:20, which is prime commute time. Also, the slowdowns from CSUS would be worse than Ralston Middle School because the traffic light at Davis stops all traffic on Ralston, while Ralston Middle School has a turnout lane so traffic at least continues to move in one lane each direction even though traffic backs up into the other. I know because I commuted west on that stretch for years at times when students were being dropped off. The buildings have been empty only since 2009 and the contingency for CSUS has kept them empty for about half that time. It is not unusual to take that long to sell a business property, especially when the economy is weak.
George Burgess October 16, 2012 at 09:37 PM
Joe, The person that came up with the saying "Ignorance is bliss" must have known you!Above you state "The claim of the campus injecting $33M into the local economy, creating 200 jobs, and boosting economic activity has been completely debunked in prior Internet postings as Black-Magic accounting by the Belmont Chamber of Commerce. Shame on the authors for repeating these assertions." First let me clarify something, all of my comments about the economic advantages to the local area were a result of personal investigation of current trends in economic analysis. The Chamber had nothing to do with my comments, The first time you asked for someone to justify the infusion of $12.5 million into the local economy, I did not ask CSUS how they arrived at that number. I gathered FACTS from various cities on how they computed the economic impact of new businesses. I presented figures to you on Patch and how I thought CSUS came up with $12.5 based upon current FACTUALdata available. I was correct. My exposure to and use of financal modeling to project the economic impact of various senarios started when I was employed by KPMG Peat Marwick forty years ago. This is proven process. You not accept the data:it was not Belmont. When you & Coralin questioned the $33 million figure, I asked CSUS if it was based on local numbers. As I reported on this site it is based on San Mateo County. Belmont would be higher. This is the 3rd explanation. Sir, that is not "black-magic accounting"
steve October 16, 2012 at 10:23 PM
right on George!!!! Thank you
Tom October 17, 2012 at 05:15 PM
Well said George, it is hard to talk sense into the opponents of this proposal. They do not like to listen or agree with facts.
Charles Stone October 17, 2012 at 06:09 PM
In fairness, shouldn't you also point out that the business traffic you speak of will impact the most-congested time on Ralston (in other words while it will be spread out, it will include a substantial impact on the already bad Ralston Middle School drop off traffic?) In contrast, CSUS traffic will be in and out before the dreaded Ralston Middle School traffic hits. Do you have any commercial real estate background? I'm not trying to start a fight, I'm seriously curious. All the commercial real estate professionals I've talked or listened to have stated that this is an unattractive commercial property for many reasons. The current configuration, aged building (along with asbestos,) location, and lack of amenities simply do not make it attractive for most businesses. There is a plethora of more modern space located closer to the transit corridor. There are several possible outcomes if CSUS doesn't purchase the space. 1) The property remains vacant and Cengage cannot find a buyer. In that scenario, Cengage will likely appeal the current property value assessment. If they are successful, the property will produce less in revenue for the various taxing agencies than it does now. 2) Cengage re-leases the space to a business. I find this highly unlikely. But if it happens, there is no increased benefit to the various taxing agencies except (maybe) some new lunch customers for local businesses. In this scenario, traffic on Ralston will increase at peak times.
Charles Stone October 17, 2012 at 06:15 PM
Again, there will be no reassessment of the property simply because a new business occupies it. It will continue to churn $145,000.00 (with maximum increases of 2% yearly) instead of the $250,000.00 it could churn with the CSUS deal. I've said it before and I'll say it again. It takes over 20 years to get to $250,000.00 in this scenario. 3) Someone else buys the property from Cengage after CSUS' option expires. I do not think you will find any reasonable commercial real estate professional who has any experience with acquisitions who will tell you that someone will buy this property for anything other than re-development (because of its current commercial un-attractiveness.) Is a developer going to want to build a building with a SMALLER footprint ? Highly unlikely. Is a developer going to care as much about being "green" as CSUS? Highly unlikely. Is a developer going to have an all-weather sports field for community use? Beyond highly unlikely. A developer is going to want to maximize that space and build the largest possible building for the cheapest possible price. What effect do you think THAT will have on traffic? Based on the opposition we've seen to an environmentally friendly state of the art school with an amazing reputation, what do you think the public response to a developer will be? Now let's compare that with the only scenario that we actually know we can make happen. 4) The CSUS deal goes through
Charles Stone October 17, 2012 at 06:18 PM
in the fourth scenario, the revenue derived from the property jumps from $145,000.00 to $250,000.00 (about a 70% increase.) When construction is complete, we've got a beautiful state of the art and environmentally friendly nationally recognized school in our neighborhood. Traffic will increase before, but not during, peak traffic times on Ralston. Oh...and there's that little ole windfall of $1,000,000.00 to the City as well. No choice is clear cut in local government. But this one certainly looks more clear cut than most.
Rob October 19, 2012 at 12:06 AM
Thank you George Burgess for your explanation. Perfect!
Timothy E. Strinden October 20, 2012 at 04:54 PM
George, while the figures of $33 million and 200 jobs may be valid, you acknowledge they are estimates for the county, not Belmont. Have you posted anywhere how much of the $33 million and 200 jobs would benefit Belmont, and how that was calculated?
Steve Hayes October 20, 2012 at 05:12 PM
Regardless of what spin people want to put on the $33 million figure, the property is currently providing ZERO benefit to the community. Belmont will certainly receive much more benefit than ZERO if the CSUS proposal is accepted.
Jeff Selman October 21, 2012 at 05:34 AM
Mr. Brennan notes above: "The results of the traffic survey [being reviewed by the City's traffic consultant] will be in the staff report." Here is the review of those results as submitted yesterday to the City by its traffic consultant and attached to the staff report. "At the request of the City of Belmont, Crane Transportation Group has peer reviewed the . . . memorandum report . . . prepared by Hexagon Transportation Consultants, Inc. to address City Council comments and concerns detailed by Crane Transportation Group in a Work Task Memorandum . . . for the City of Belmont. The report follows industry standards, employing current field data and valid use of modeling. In combination with the Traffic Analysis, the Hexagon study is considered to provide sound methodology, based on field data and observations that reasonably depict the traffic impacts of the project, and provide reasonable procedures for follow-up mitigation as needed for future traffic conditions. The report substantiates a finding of no significant impact to traffic based upon City impact significance criteria. The analysis demonstrates that the project would not adversely affect traffic operations along Ralston Avenue. Key to this is the proposed start-time of the CSUS campus (7:45 AM), which removes CSUS project traffic from the morning Ralston Middle School traffic backups (8:05 – 8:20). Mitigation measures are tied to monitoring as growth occurs."
Rob October 21, 2012 at 12:05 PM
Thanks Jeff for the above. I've been waiting for Joe Brennan's new revised traffic report and it looks like there isn't a problem at all. The City Council now has all the traffic data they need to make an educated vote in favor of the CSUS project. Traffic has been the oppositions big sticking point they point at as well as the tax revenue and both issues have been addressed and prove to be positive for the City of Belmont. This project has to get approved at this point.
Rob October 21, 2012 at 12:09 PM
Joe, looks like from Jeff's post below that traffic will not impact Ralston much due to the very early start time of CSUS since they moved to accommodate Ralston Middle School's start time. I think we can put the traffic issue to bed now and move forward with all the positives CSUS brings to Belmont.

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