Letter to the Editor: The Elephant in the Room

[Editor's Notes: The following letter was submitted to Patch on Friday by Belmont City Councilmember Coralin Feierbach. To submit your own letter to the editor, send an email to joan.dentler@patch.com.]

Dear Editor:

The elephant in the room:

According to the staff reports, the final value for Crystal Springs Upland School, if built on Davis Drive, in Belmont, would be $30,000,000.

The total current value of the two empty buildings on Davis Dr that CSUS would be replacing is $14,901,932. (approx half)

Because CSUS is a non profit they will NOT be paying the 1% of the 30 Million in General Property Taxes – amounting to $300,000.

So here is the elephant:
Right now, the two empty properties on Davis Drive pay a total of $149,019/year in General Property Tax.
Belmont General Fund receives $14,331 each year from that $149,019 amount.

Here is only a partial list of the various agencies that currently receive from the two empty buildings on Davis Dr from the General Property Tax:

Library $4,936
Belmont-Redwood Shores School District $29,412
Sequoia High School District $22,310
San Mateo Community College $9,688
Belmont Fire District $23,722
Sequoia Hospital District $2,091
City of Belmont $14,331
County of San Mateo $33,859

And many more agencies totaling $149,019/year.

So if we take the city of Belmont out of $149,019, the rest of the agencies currently receive $134,688/yr.

Ok, now let's double that for CSUS since their new property will be valued at $30 million. Thus the rest of the agencies should get (if CSUS were not a non-profit), $269,376.

But because CSUS is non profit, THEY WILL EACH GET ZERO – Belmont Redwood Shores School District gets zero money, Sequoia High School District gets zero money and so for.

Now, of the $250,000/year that CSUS promises to give the city, you can be sure that some of these agencies will request their fair share or at least they should.    

Will the council have the generosity to share the $250,000 with these agencies?
Will CSUS make it whole by giving each agency above the money that they would be losing by CSUS coming to Belmont?
That remains to be seen.

Very few people have mentioned this and I believe your readers need to know how much these agencies would lose unless the city council shares the $250,000 or if CSUS puts in more money besides the $250,000/year to the city alone to make these agencies whole.

I am a very strong supporter of our public school system as I know most of you are, and they cannot afford to lose the money that they are getting now even from the two empty properties on Davis Drive.

So do you think the City ought to share the $250,000/year money and/or CSUS pay extra money to these districts?

Thank you!

Coralin Feierbach

resident September 09, 2012 at 06:22 PM
So it seems to me the "elephant in the room" is really the fact that, as people have stated, we may not be able to trust the city council to make these agencies whole, as CSUS clearly meant to do when they increased their offer to $250,000 per year. Is there a mechanism by which we, the citizens of Belmont, can insure this outcome? Can the distribution to schools and fire be written into the terms of the deal with CSUS?
Bill Mitchell September 09, 2012 at 06:49 PM
Once again, why can't the recent "residents", "blog readers", etc., have the courage to leave their name(s)? These latest author(s)? plus those previously sent to Patch weeks ago should have the courage to write their names. I'm a little surprised that Patch allows such unattributed comments as many other companies do not. Without names we really don't know if they all are written by one or two people...........
Tim Hoffman September 10, 2012 at 12:32 AM
I see I'm late to this party: I believe Ms. Feierbach has already pretty much conceded that while she stepped out of the room the elephant worked up the nerve to introduce himself and has already downed most of the Good Liquor, so now all we're left with is precisely how to make the various tax districts whole. I think the argument being made here is that, since CSUS is not exactly a help-the-widows-and-orphans nonprofit and instead offers a relatively high-cost education, CSUS should cough up what any other for-profit would pay to plant itself on Davis Drive -- and then some. The fact that CSUS offered to do so sure seems pretty generous to me, but what do I know? Regardless of the other side-arguments on this thread, and despite me now falling into one of the classic blunders (1: Never get involved in a land war in Asia; 2: Never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line; 3: Never think you'll be the first person to change someone's mind on a Patch comment thread), I don't see this to be an insurmountable problem. (CONTINUED)
Tim Hoffman September 10, 2012 at 12:32 AM
(Continuing): So-called Payments In Lieu of Taxes (PILOTs) by well-funded nonprofits are quite common (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PILOT_(finance) for example). Usually large private universities are the best known entities making such in-lieu payments to local tax rolls, but CSUS isn't really asking anything novel here. Could the Council not simply tell CSUS to instead cut individual checks every year to each of the various entities (including the school and fire districts, etc.) to approximate the property revenue due to those various entities but-for CSUS being there? Honestly, while I suppose the Mosquito Abatement District is due what's coming to them (zero in my mind...) I really only care about the BRSSD being made whole, or better. Then we wouldn't have to worry about the political will, or lack thereof, of some future City Council. Thanks, all.
Alan Sarver September 10, 2012 at 04:32 AM
Clearly, the financial considerations of the CSUS application are only one piece of the puzzle under consideration. Hopefully, all of the combined intricacies will be discussed and considered Tuesday night. On this financial part of the deal, I would advocate for an arrangement where the $250,000 annual payment, or any greater sum that is eventually negotiated, be delivered directly to the County Treasurer, with permanently binding legal direction to distribute the funds to all agencies that would normally receive payments from Property Taxes, in the proportion that they would receive those funds. That way, distribution would be fair, and not subject to the whims of some future City Council. This suggestion is not intended to imply that I support the entire deal (I would want to follow the entire discussion Tuesday night), but only how I believe that a fair distribution of these In Lieu of Taxes payments should be contractually arranged IF the deal proceeds. Thanks, Alan Sarver
Tim Hoffman September 10, 2012 at 04:39 AM
Seems completely reasonable to me.
Tim Hoffman September 10, 2012 at 05:39 AM
Bill- With respect to your comment re: unattributed commenters, I used to get a little bent out of shape, too, about anonymous Internet commenters, especially when it came to local issues. I've pretty much gotten over it. Rule #1 of the Internet is that No One Knows You're a Dog (or a sockpuppet, or whatever). Anonymity is both reviled and sacrosanct on the Net, as it ever will be. Having said that, the dirty little secret that can keep us a little happier about it all is that anonymous comments typically are ascribed no more than about 1/100th the weight, respect or attention of those instead made by people like us who are dumb enough to attach our actual names to things. I've heard from more than a few elected officials over the past several years that unless someone is willing to go on the record with a position with his or her own name -- online, via email, or otherwise -- that "person's" observations or opinions are worthless and disregarded in whole. So, we've got that going for us, I suppose. Thanks.
Timothy E. Strinden September 15, 2012 at 12:33 AM
It appears it may be an illegal gift of public funds under Article XVI, Section 6, of the California Constitution for the city council to give the agencies the proportional amounts they would have received in property taxes. Please see: http://www.vanguardnews.com/election/publicfunds.htm#6. So, this plan may not work.
Annie September 15, 2012 at 12:44 AM
I may be way off base, but isn't for political contributions and ballot measures? Can someone please explain this to the lay people.
Charles Stone September 15, 2012 at 12:59 AM
Finally some time to comment. Timothy, that may or may not be the case (hopefully I'll had some time to look into it,) but I don't think the City has to be the one to dole the money out and I think it's pretty clear that the City doesn't want to be in the position of passing the money along even if it is legal. If that's the case, perhaps CSUS can make the payment directly to the taxing agencies or, perhaps the development agreement can require that the funds be paid to the County Treasurer who then allocates them to the various taxing agencies. I'm looking forward to hearing more about this. I find it hard to believe this is the first time such an issue has arisen in California.
Cheryl Amalu September 17, 2012 at 06:41 PM
Coralin, I would like to know why your support for the fire district only gets a maybe, does that also apply to the library and hospital district?
Coralin Feierbach September 17, 2012 at 07:27 PM
This is to Chryrl: Good question! You asked: "Coralin, I would like to know why your support for the fire district only gets a maybe, does that also apply to the library and hospital district?" As everyone knows, I am a very strong supporter of our own Belmont Fire Protection District. The reason I said "maybe" is that I thought at the time that of the $116,000 that it costs for the city for essential services to CSUS, that our Fire District was included in that $116,000 already. So I said "maybe". Look this whole CSUS discussion is getting completely out of hand. There is a lot of nit picking on both sides. Since your question was based on the article that I wrote above, I answered it. I am in support for all of the agencies getting the money. I just didn't know if the fire district was already included in the $116,000. The problem is that we cannot use any of the $250,000 to pay these agencies and school districts. It would be a gift of public funds and from what I understand from staff, it is not allowed. CSUS would have to make their own arrangements with these districts and agencies. One wonders why other council people have not expressed their public feelings either way on this issue. How many times does one want their heads chopped off? Quiet they are, silent they are, cautious they are and wise they are!
bystander1 September 17, 2012 at 07:46 PM
thank you for the response....so is it not possible to make sure in any proposed development agreement that the city council stipulates exactly how, where and how much any monies would go to and for the benefit of the agencies you mention? Same with the $1m? Isn't that a good debate to have? Just how should the city spend any or all of those funds?
ronny September 17, 2012 at 07:55 PM
Hey Jeff, Steve and Charles, If any of you guys are going to run for the possible open seats to the Belmont CC next year, remember that it will be your job to build concensus. I do not see any of you having this ability in your blog posts. I see attacks, especially coming from you, Charles. Did I see you seriously disrespect one of our elected council members Tues. night and right now on this blog? You expect to be elected with this demeanor? Remember guys, even if this blog is removed, it stays in cashe on Google. Play nice.
Justin September 17, 2012 at 08:04 PM
Charles--I'm guessing you're a defense attorney. Am I right?
Coralin Feierbach September 17, 2012 at 08:05 PM
Hi Bystander1, I suppose that if there are the votes pro CSUS, they could stipulate: 1. The city keeps just the $116,000 for services rendered but doesn't keep the rest of the $250,000/year. The rest CSUS could contribute to the various agencies and districts. That would be less to the city general fund but it would make the rest of the agencies/district keep what they are receiving now from the 2 properties on Davis Dr. 2. Could the city council ask CSUS to give more money to the districts/agencies over and above the $250,000 they are giving the city? I don't know, it is up to CSUS. 3. As far as the 1M, it is really up to the city council. Since I don't know how they feel about this project, I can't speculate how they would distribute the money. Remember, the city cannot give any of the $250,000 to the various agencies and districts. I have no idea what the council is going to do either with voting for CSUS or the distributing of monies. I would really like to hear what they have to say. What is interesting is that none of these agencies or districts to my knowledge, have asked for any of the money that they are getting now in the case that CSUS is voted in the positive. I have no idea why that is the case. $29,000 for the Belmont Redwood Shores School District is 1/2 of a teacher's salary (without including benefits). This whole CSUS issue is really strange in a way, maybe silence is golden.
Coralin Feierbach September 17, 2012 at 08:46 PM
Thank you too kind Mary Beth - I have to think of all our residents and businesses alike on this issue and other issues as well. I probably should have kept quiet about my feelings about CSUS like the other council members have done. Much politically safer. Lesson learned. Never again. Take care Mary Beth. If others have any questions I'll try to answer them as best as I can however.
Coralin Feierbach September 17, 2012 at 09:39 PM
Mary Beth, There are 4 other minds on the council. There could be 3-4 other yes votes - I can't predict how council will vote. I would not wager a bet on that. They have kept very quiet indeed. There is quite an opposition to this project too - There was a poll on San Mateo Daily Journal where 77% of the people polled were against the project. Now I know that these polls are unscientific and under certain circumstances people can vote over and over again by making changes in their computers but still it is an indicator that not everyone loves CSUS going on Davis Dr, mostly because of the traffic. I hear the arguments on both sides every day.
Mike Cunneen September 17, 2012 at 11:41 PM
I am against having CSUS on Davis Drive for many reasons but especially the safety of children when two large loading docks are adjacent to the proposed school and soccer field. Signet Products, Inc. is located at 2 Davis Drive. It is a small business by design with nine employees incorporated in Belmont on January 19, 1988. Signet has collected over 1 ½ million dollars of California sales tax plus has paid the required fees to the city of Belmont and other taxing agencies. Our products are estimated to be 99% made in the USA and 35% exported. 2 Davis Drive was purchased based on the current zoning law. Substantial loss has occurred and will continue since CSUS has been trying to move to Davis Drive. http://www.signetproducts.com/contact02.asp
Coralin Feierbach September 18, 2012 at 12:13 AM
Ok, I have to make a correction: Belmont City Council has 2 representatives that meet with the Belmont-Redwood Shores School District - it is called the 2+2 subcommittee (2 from the city council and 2 from the BRSSD). They meet from time to time. From what I understand from one of the members of the BRSSD, BRSSD subcommittee members did make a request for the continuation of the current property tax money to the school district from 8 and 10 Davis Dr. to the 2 representatives, representing the city. (in the case that CSUS goes through) I am not sure if the 2+2 members ever conveyed that request to the city council or to the city staff. I can't find that information in the council minutes where council members report back about their subcommittee meetings. However, to my knowledge, no letter has ever been formally received by the BRSSD board to the city council requesting that money share . To repeat, CSUS has to make its own arrangements with the various agencies and school boards and pay them directly the amount that these agencies/districts are receiving currently from 8 and 10 Davis Dr..
Joan S. Dentler (Editor) September 18, 2012 at 12:41 AM
Hi Mary Beth....great idea. I will get a poll up on Belmont Patch this week.
Tim Hoffman September 18, 2012 at 12:57 AM
Ms. Feierbach- With respect to your comment about the Daily Journal poll showing over 75% in opposition to CSUS, I think it's fair to say that poll cannot be relied upon for anything. If I recall correctly, by the evening or so of the first day of that poll there was a little under 100 or so votes, with perhaps 60+% saying unqualified "Yes", with perhaps another 20% saying "Yes, IF the traffic issues are addressed, etc." To have it flip wildly in the other direction likely means it got "gamed". The Daily News poll function seems pretty awful. While it will disallow more than one vote per poll for most users, if one simply turns off browser cookies, you can vote as many times as you wish. Talk about voting early, and often. Unless somehow the Central Limit Theorem's been repealed while I hadn't been paying attention, I think someone may have been playing with the 'refresh' button a bit. I hadn't seen this asked and answered anywhere else: Much was said about the telephone poll CSUS ran in town in advance of last week's meeting. Did anyone ever ask for the results of the poll? Thanks, Tim
Coralin Feierbach September 18, 2012 at 01:38 AM
Hi Tim, I don't know if anyone ever asked the results of the CSUS poll, at least publicly. It would be really interesting to see the questions and the answers and the results. Polls should be conducted in a very neutral way. Good question Tim, someone should ask.
Coralin Feierbach September 18, 2012 at 01:45 AM
Tim, one more thing, you would think that CSUS would have announced their poll results but it could be that they were just trying to see what the residents wanted and the results would be used internally for further discussions. It was their poll so they could do what they want to. Some people, unfortunately thought that the city was doing the poll. I'm sure that's not what the poll people said however.
Steve Hayes September 18, 2012 at 01:52 AM
Mike I would like to understand why the proposal will have a large negative impact on your property, yet the other two owners of property on Davis Dr. are for the project. I can see the athletic field and the pool are very close to your building - is that the issue?
Coralin Feierbach September 18, 2012 at 03:27 AM
Yes Mary Beth, I had quite a few people who called me and emailed me to complain, some were accusing the city for doing the survey. Some complained that the survey person called to late in the evening ----- surveys are like that, they are just plain annoying but sometimes they need to be done. Good night everyone!
Timothy E. Strinden September 20, 2012 at 03:08 PM
If any business in the park is against the zoning change, I don't believe the city should make the change. When businesses located in the park, it was zoned for business only and they had the right to expect it would stay that way. Heavy traffic before school starts and after it ends will make it difficult to drive to businesses in the park, and will interfere with deliveries to and from those businesses. This would not happen with other businesses instead of the school because the traffic wouldn't be so concentrated at certain times. 2 Davis Drive will be most affected of the businesses in the park because it is right between the proposed school and Ralston Blvd. Middle school students would be walking by and probably on this property on a regular basis, raising questions of increased liability for the owner. While the current owner of some businesses in the park has been convinced by CSUS to support the school, that doesn't mean that the school and businesses are compatible. The presence of the school will probably discourage some businesses from locating in the park, thus decreasing the marketability of the businesses that are there. I believe Mr. Cunneen's concerns should be taken very seriously.
Concerned Belmont Taxpayer December 01, 2012 at 07:25 AM
rmondell, Belmont lost out big time. CSUS will now go to San Mateo. Maybe you can give an update on what is going on at Davis Drive? Has anyone purchased the building? Also, it was stated incorrectly that Belmont had 20 schools...and that was one of the main reasons to kill it. How can you turn down a nationally ranked school? That is nuts...Below is an accurate list. Please note San Mateo recently picked up the Nueva High School and Fusion. Looks like CSUS will be calling San Mateo home as well...Belmont really blew it. San Mateo 1. The Carey School K – 5 2. Alpha Beacon Christian School K – 6 3. Russell Bede School 1 – 6 4. St. Matthews Episcopal Day School K – 8 5. Standbridge Academy K – 8 6. Grace Lutheran School K - 8 7. Odyssey School 6 - 8 8. Pacific Rim International School K - 12 9. St. Gregory School K – 8 10. St. Matthew Catholic School K – 8 11. St. Timothy School K – 8 12. Junipero Serra High School 9 – 12 13. Fusion Academy 6 – 12 14. Nueva High School 9 – 12 15. Crystal Springs Uplands School 6 – 8 16. College of San Mateo Belmont 1. Belmont Oaks Academy K – 5 2. Serendipity School K – 5 3. Gloria Dei Lutheran School K - 5 4. Immaculate Heart of Mary PreK-8 5. Charles Armstrong School 1 – 8 6. Notre Dame Elementary K – 8 7. Notre Dame High School Belmont 9 – 12 8. Notre Dame University
1Diane December 01, 2012 at 09:59 AM
Isn't CSU still holding an active lease on the Davis Drive site? They need to let it go.
Concerned Belmont Taxpayer December 01, 2012 at 03:29 PM
It will be interesting to see what happens to the property. We could have had a beautiful, $33 million Green architecturally pleasing, silver LEED certified building. Instead we have a vacant lot with a 40 year old, decrepit, asbestos filled building. The families with young children lost out big time. It appears the Belmont City Council is anti-change and wants Belmont frozen in time. They claim they are progressive, this is the furthest thing from the truth. That is really what is going on. So sad for Belmont. You can not run a city that way.


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