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CSUS Proposal.....To be Continued

"I want to find a way to get this school here, but we're not quite there yet."

 

[Editor's note: Due to the lenghty meeting and late hour at which it concluded, the following is an abbrievated summary of last night's public hearing. A more in depth story will follow on Wednesday.]

After a marathon public hearing, the voted 4-1 Tuesday night to grant a continuance at the request of Crystal Springs Uplands School on its application to build a middle school on Davis Drive in Belmont.

Prior to the opening of the hearing in Belmont City Hall, officials from CSCU requested the continuance in order to "sharpen their pencils" with regards to the which was one of the five entitlements being discussed at the hearing.

The purpose of the public hearing was for the planning commision to consider five entitlements related to the application for consruction of a 60,000 square foot : development agreement, general plan amendment, planned development rezoning and a conceptual development plan.

The development agreement, by which CSUS would make financial allocations to the city in return for developing the site, was discussed at length. In its current agreement, CSUS has offered $75,000 to the city to offset the cost of public safety services, and $40,000 in scholarship money for a Belmont student(s) to attend CSUS.

Following a presentation by city staff and CSUS officials, 28 members of the public addressed their commission expressing their support or opposition to the project.

Traffic mitigation issues and loss of tax revenue to the city were the most frequently mentioned to the project. cited the benefits of having a prestigious private school located within Belmont and the fact that the buildings on the site upon which the school would be built are currently vacant.

At the conclusion of the public comments, planning commission chair Kristen Mercer asked for a vote on continiuing their decision on the application. The commission voted 4-1 to continue the decision to a future date undecided.

Alan Smithee June 20, 2012 at 02:46 PM
If it was presented, it would be great to hear what the city staff's perspective was on the tax revenue impact for the city and broader city services (library, schools, etc.) Thank you for covering this story!
Steve Hayes June 20, 2012 at 02:46 PM
First, a comment about process – The Belmont Planning/Development process is awful. I have not watched any meetings in about five years and I was reminded why last night. Throughout the night concerns were expressed about lost revenue, the result of converting commercial property to non-profit. Guess what, the process I saw last night would completely turn off any business considering opening in Belmont. Of course the economy is bad but clearly there are other reasons business avoid Belmont – a tedious development process is a Big One. The Planning Commission Kristen Mercer was actually quite effective last night, but all of the other members of the commission either looked brain dead (at worst) or just half asleep (at best). If people are going to serve on the commission then act alive, follow the conversation and make some reasonably thoughtful comments. Ms. Mercer offered some clear suggestions to CSUS and the rest of the time she seemed to be prodding the other people to remain awake. let me ask for a continuance
Steve Hayes June 20, 2012 at 02:47 PM
Community Development Staff – IMO we waste $1.2 million a year to pay for a staff incapable or unwilling to make decisions and main goal is to slow things down. I want to hear crisp presentations with clear positions – not stuff like “ we sort of think we should put an x in this box but you (Planning Commission) are the authoritative decision maker and we will mindlessly do whatever you wish us to do” Now on to the Project The Key issue is and always was money. CSUS should change its offer- First determine what is the exact amount of money the City currently collects in property taxes (around $65K) and double that figure. Clearly the City overstated (to their discredit) the amount needed to break even, but there is an opportunity cost so the offer to the city should be in the range of $130K- $150K. Next, make the Belmont School district whole – a payment of around $40K per year. Eliminate the scholarship idea. Get the youth sports programs on board (need their support) with the idea of using the soccer field and find a way to share the pool so that Ralston can offer a limited competitive swim program.
Seely June 20, 2012 at 03:37 PM
June 20, 2012: Whatever the outcome of the CSUS proposal for Belmont, the concept of a non-profit tax-exempt entity paying the City a substantial sum "in lieu" of taxes is a promising oneThe for Belmont. Given Belmont's need for revenue, one would hope that NDNU and the Charles Armstrong school would step forward and offer a substantial "in lieu" payment to the City for the services--fire, police--in particular in the case of NDNU--and other services which are provided to them by the taxpayers of Belmont. The Council should actively pursue the matter. Gordon Seely
Jeff Selman June 20, 2012 at 03:38 PM
Nice summary Steve. I stepped out of the room as the continuance vote took place. Who voted against it? Kristen Mercer was very effective last night, and I was pleased that she asked the City to provide better data on the real police/fire costs, including on the Safe School program costs (which from my review of the report appeared to have some curious cost accounting assumptions) and accurate info on which schools, if any, in Belmont currently have an expense allocation for this program, to better enable CSUS to "sharpen their pencils". This is a good project, and can be made even better with resolution of the fiscal issues. Also, as Steve notes, it will show businesses what Belmont is prepared to do, and that will ultimately be necessary as real tax-generating economic development will only occur in the downtown Villages project, but only if the City provides positive experiences.
Bob June 20, 2012 at 03:57 PM
I had to leave early last night but stayed long enough to hear the staff report. From what I gathered the City would be subsidizing a school for a population residing for the most part if not all from out of the area. The $41,000 deficit was only the beginning of costs listed. I was surprised to hear the city would provide all care and maintenance for the sports field while only having weekend use and 3 weeks in the summer. Does Belmont have a shortage of fields? I was also very surprised to see the predicted number of cars into the city. The number of children in buses and car pools was comical, I would imagine people paying near $40k a year for middle school are not likely the type to be told how to get them there. I know Belmont has a history of discouraging businesses from coming here. I am just not sure how the city would benefit from having a business that is a drain on it's already limited resouces.
Joan S. Dentler (Editor) June 20, 2012 at 04:13 PM
Hi Jeff.....Commissioner Rich Frautschi was the 'nay' vote on the continuance.
Steve Hayes June 20, 2012 at 04:34 PM
Bob Just to clarify things- Belmont (the City) currently gets about $65K in property taxes per year from the site. As far as I can tell Belmont will not incur any incremental costs as a result of the project - all of the City costs are covered by the $75K offer made by CSUS. There is no $41K shortfall. The City is claiming it really will cost $116K to provide services to the school, but if you get into the detail it is obvious that the numbers are inflated. I think they (the City) should just be honest and just point out that the space could be used eventually by a robust private enterprise and that would likely result in much higher tax revenues. Based on that, the school should kick in more. Twice as much seems fair and it really is not that much money. I also think they should feel obligated to cover the tax shortfall to the Belmont School district. And yes the community has a shortage of fields - actually this field will make up for the one being lost up at Ralston - due to classroom expansion. Jeff - Mr. Frautschi voted against the continuance, without explanation.
Bob June 20, 2012 at 04:56 PM
Steve have you ever seen the city or any government agency over estimate expenses long term? To clarify a surplus of funds is rare shortfalls seems to be the rule. Also from what I had time to see the agreement didn't seem to have an incrimental increase factor built in to cover higher costs of services in the future.
Member June 20, 2012 at 05:03 PM
We will lose directly 25% of Belmont's Office Space (6.2 acres of 25 acres). Indirectly, much more. Surrounding businesses will not stay at that location and will leave Belmont. Already 2 businesses were scared away by the school idea. How much will this indirect loss be in revenue for schools, city, and fire department? In 2011 Property Taxes for the whole Davis Drive complex were $557,733! Let's work together on getting a business back in the property.
Steve Hayes June 20, 2012 at 05:27 PM
Hi Bob My point is pretty simple - if the City has 100 (used as an example) employees before and After the development the employee costs do not rise as a result of the development. If the City is getting by with $65K now then they should be able to get by with $75K later. Of course, I think they should ask for more because we are losing the opportunity to offer the space to private business that would likely pay higher taxes. I heard them say there is some sort of inflation factor built into the amount to be paid by the school - obviously that is important.
Kathy Olsen June 20, 2012 at 05:32 PM
If any potential business is even thinking about relocating here, they should run, not walk as far away as possible from Belmont. Lousy traffic, citizens who say no to scholarship money for their kids, and whose planning commission would rather keep a site empty than say yes to an obviously great project with an institution whose motto is, " if it's bad for Belmont then it's bad for us." This school has our best interest at heart but they won't put up with our attempts at extortion for long. I was there last night and as one thoughtful citizen said, we can't expect CSUS to solve our traffic issues-- something we should be doing ourselves. If Ralston MS traffic is a mess, let's fix it and not use it as an excuse to say no. I agree with Steve-- Kristen did a good job last night
Bob June 20, 2012 at 05:38 PM
Please tell me the benefis that Belmont will gain from this project. Currently empty buildings are providing more revenue than this project will. That revenue will only increase if a business moves in. The school will result in a loss in revenue with the potential of becoming a larger drain on revenue in the future. All that and for the most part not serve any of the children residing here. People say Belmont should encourage businesses to locate here and now this project will remove a good amount of the land available for that.
Member June 20, 2012 at 06:03 PM
And CSUS claims to be a good Neighbor? Well, they have not shown any of this so far. I was sitting next to the Business Owner of 2 Davis Dr. CSUS is suggesting to the City of Belmont to acquire 2 Davis Dr property should a right-turn lane be required. They did not even talk to the "neighbor"/business owner of the building. How would you feel if they suggest buying your house for construction of a turn-lane?
Eric Dentler June 20, 2012 at 06:26 PM
I heard last night from a Chamber of Commerce rep that locally owned Devil's Canyon Brewery had wanted to make 10 Davis Drive their new home. They employ local people and donate time, money and services to the city (e.g. Water Dog Lake cleanup) and local charities. Best of all they would pay a sizable annual tax to the city based on microbrew beer shipments.
Mary Smith June 20, 2012 at 06:49 PM
Eric: Then why did we not take the Brewery up on their offe? Have you ever been to a brewery? The smell from the hops alone would drive the market value of homes and commercial properties. CSUS is looking better and better.
Bob June 20, 2012 at 06:58 PM
I am not sure how often Eric frquents Devil's Canyon. I drive by there almost daily and have never noticed an odor. In fact during last year's Neighborhood Night Out that is what was being poured. Devil's Canyon continually contributes to the community and provides tax revenue too.
Steve Hayes June 20, 2012 at 07:14 PM
Off topic By the way Devils Canyon is trying to get a $250K grant so they can expand. In order to do that they need us to vote in favor of their application - they need at least 300 votes and the vote count currently stands at 273. So go to their web page, follow the directions and vote!
Bob June 20, 2012 at 07:39 PM
Thanks Steve it says they are only 6 votes shy. Come on people let's get it done
Alan Smithee June 20, 2012 at 08:37 PM
Is Devil's Canyon no longer a possibility? Or if the school doesn't go through, could they still move to 10 Davis?
Joan S. Dentler (Editor) June 20, 2012 at 08:41 PM
(Editor's Note: The following comment is from Patch user Mike Cunneen, who is having log-in difficulties and asked if I would post his comment on the site. This comment is not the opinion of the editor or Patch): From Mike Cunneen:"Belmont residents should be told the reason 6, 8 & 10 Davis Drive buildings have been empty for the past two years because CPUS has them under contract. These buildings were being used prior to the current sales contract. A lot of false information continues to be circulated about Ralston Industrial Park. Industrial firms should be encouraged and not discouraged by the City to move to Ralston Industrial Park. If Ralston Industrial Park zoning is changed to allow schools there will be an irreversible loss of current and future city and county tax revenue. It is your option if you want to use the other information I send to you. My main concern is if Ralston Industrial is rezoned for a school a prime industrial part will be lost forever." Mike
Member June 21, 2012 at 01:27 AM
I was also there last night and The Crystal Springs meeting. The traffic guy they hired was laughable. He said there would be no impact. I don't understand how the City of Belmont would allow this type of report. The City of Belmont should have hired their own traffic expert and billed Crystal Springs. As fo the person who said the traffic on Belmont is Belmont's problem - so it is okay for Crystal Springs to add more traffic? Don't believe anything a school says about vans etc. transporting kids; it will be the parents. My child goes to a private school with almost 500 kids and only 20 use the school's free shuttle service. There was another woman who said, I'd rather have the school there with only 250 cars then to have the office site filled with double the cars. I would have have cars from business' paying Belmont taxes then to give a school who can purchase land for $6M, pay many millions to construct and then not pay any property taxes. The school also conveniently forgot to mention, until they were asked, that their high schoolers would also be coming over for various activities. I am still in shock that Belmont has let this go this far. They are obviously aware that the citizens do not want this; but as usual in their arrogance, they continue to cater to their own special interests. It is no wonder was Crystal Springs came to Belmont, no other city on the peninsula would put up with this type of property with these types of conditions.
Belmont96 June 21, 2012 at 01:31 AM
I was also there last night and The Crystal Springs meeting. The traffic guy they hired was laughable. He said there would be no impact. I don't understand how the City of Belmont would allow this type of report. The City of Belmont should have hired their own traffic expert and billed Crystal Springs. As fo the person who said the traffic on Belmont is Belmont's problem - so it is okay for Crystal Springs to add more traffic? Don't believe anything a school says about vans etc. transporting kids; it will be the parents. My child goes to a private school with almost 500 kids and only 20 use the school's free shuttle service. There was another woman who said, I'd rather have the school there with only 250 cars then to have the office site filled with double the cars. I would have have cars from business' paying Belmont taxes then to give a school who can purchase land for $6M, pay many millions to construct and then not pay any property taxes. The school also conveniently forgot to mention, until they were asked, that their high schoolers would also be coming over for various activities. I am still in shock that Belmont has let this go this far. They are obviously aware that the citizens do not want this; but as usual in their arrogance, they continue to cater to their own special interests. It is no wonder was Crystal Springs came to Belmont, no other city on the peninsula would put up with this type of property with these types of conditions.
Amanda Greco June 21, 2012 at 10:21 PM
I also attended the Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday evening and stayed through the end. Let’s be honest in our consideration of the two predominant issues of public concern 1) traffic and 2) lost income to the city, and not lose sight of the big picture and the opportunity that has been presented to our community to receive an esteemed institution who proposes to make a beautiful investment in our community. CSUS has already demonstrated great steps toward becoming a responsive neighbor. They offer to cover their share of public amenities like police, fire, etc., pay the city to compensate for lost tax income, share their sports facilities (soccer field, likely the swimming pool too) with our public, contribute to the local school fund, and more. After the feedback provided by the Commissioners, CSUS has returned to the table to see what more they can do to sweeten their offer and prove their intent to contribute positively to our community.
Amanda Greco June 21, 2012 at 10:24 PM
Yes, traffic along the Ralston corridor is a problem in our town. But it’s not a problem that will be exacerbated by CSUS’ proposal. Any other use of the vacant lots at Davis Drive will result in more traffic than CSUS. The school’s traffic density is a fraction of what is produced by Ralston Middle School and the commercial neighbors, and CSUS has robust systems already in place to manage traffic flow in and out of their Hillsborough campus that will be expanded for use here. Any commercial resident would add more traffic than would the school, and might also require large delivery trucks rumbling up and down the hill and beeping their horns as they back in and out of driveways. We want a vibrant, healthy city in all dimensions and income from commercial taxes are of course very important. CSUS is going back to “sharpen their pencils” and enhance their current offer, which will likely match or exceed expected tax revenue from commercial use of the space. And the school has agreed to use San Mateo County guild craftsmen in the construction of the site, which will generate much needed jobs.
Amanda Greco June 21, 2012 at 10:25 PM
Amidst all the chatter about our need for a business-friendly environment, let’s not forget what appeals to people – businesspeople and residents alike. Beautiful places, vibrant communities, optimistic allies in local government, supportive communities, and amenities for workers, residents, and their families. The vision that CSUS puts forth to build a state-of-the-art, LEED certified building, to be stewards with us in the care of Water Dog Lake and canyon, to extend use of their sports facilities to our families, and to elevate the educational offerings of our town is exciting. Let’s be open-minded as they return to the drawing board to work on their proposal, and support our Commissioners and City Council Members as they evaluate the plan. Let’s not miss this opportunity to raise the real estate values and educational environment in our great community with a responsive, esteemed neighbor like CSUS.
Member June 21, 2012 at 11:12 PM
Last time I heard, Belmont's General Plan is not for sale!
Bob June 21, 2012 at 11:39 PM
If it was for sale, we should hope it would be to the benefit of people that reside in Belmont. This plan does not benefit the people of Belmont. Historically CSUS has not served the residents of Belmont to a large degree and I do not believe it does currently. If so, I imagine they would have stated so. Belmont can not afford to subsidize CSUS for the sake of prestige

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