Belmont has always been a unique place for a business to locate. So what’s new with Crystal Springs Uplands Schools (CSUS) application to the Belmont Planning Department and subsequent appeal to the Belmont City Council? What messages and urban myths will continue to be perpetuated by this process that will affect future business from considering their locating to Belmont? Certainly from my perspective as a business owner, I was encouraged when CSUS was told in April 2011 that Belmont was receptive to the idea of locating their school to the office park on Davis Drive. So what went wrong?
How has this issue risen to such high levels of anxiety in the Belmont Community? Let’s take a deeper dive into Belmont politics to understand the uproar.
The main issue should be if a school is an appropriate use for vacant office buildings on Davis Drive and if it would be a benefit to the city. The school’s plan is for a 52,000-square-foot building on a site where 83,000 square feet of buildings are now. An office use would generate traffic and currently this property has entitlements that would allow for up to 850 employees, presumably each driving their own vehicle. A school use would generate traffic with estimates closer to 250 people at this location. A school would not generate city revenue because it is nonprofit and tax-exempt. However, CSUS has offered a one-
time $1 million payment to the city and annual benefits worth more than $250,000. CSUS has been willing to make concessions because it really wants to be in Belmont.
Seems simple enough to me! A lower impact and intensity usage should work for this property. The hurdle has developed because Belmont’s Zoning must be changed from Office to School. In Belmont politics, this sort of variance is “an opportunity” for the Planning Commission and the City Council to say: Wait it doesn’t fit and you must do _________ to make it fit so that we will change the zoning. So time has passed and CSUS has met every objection. Environmentally the Belmont Planning Commission accepted the Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) which reviewed the environmental impacts of having CSUS’s plan approved. So what’s the problem of welcoming the intellectual investment that CSUS
would bring to Belmont? Some say traffic is the biggest problem, however the MND stated CSUS traffic would not jam Ralston at peak traffic times. CSUS traffic would arrive and leave before peak Ralston Avenue traffic times. By contrast, the traffic experts noted, a return of office use for this property would increase traffic at peak traffic times. Currently at peak times, traffic is very high because of the population bubble at Ralston Middle School (1066 students).
The problem boils down to the vocal NIMBY’s who have elected our Belmont politicians. These self-righteous NIMBY’s are trying to say their way is the only way. The NIMBY’s would like to continue to have no use for buildings that have stood vacant and unused for over four years. The NIMBY’s would have you believe every red herring they throw out. The NIMBY’s would say, well traffic is bad now, and any usage would make it worse. The NIMBY’s believe that a California Environmental document such as the Mitigated Negative Dec and all of the traffic studies are big-lies. The NIMBY’s believe they are math experts when they that state a $1 million dollar initial payment and $250,000 per year to the City
of Belmont is not enough.
Well NIMBY’s or not, I hope the City Council, in their wisdom will be able to weigh this matter logically and review with a keen eye the information received. The City Council has the ability and experience to get down to the true issues. From my perspective those issues revolve around what it takes to Do Business in Belmont.