San Mateo Community Development Department
The City of San Mateo citizens service academy spent an evening (7 May 1997 ) with the community development department including a visit to the new Draeger's grocery store which is still under development. These are some of my notes and pictures...
The Community Development Department is what most of us know as the "Planning Department". The evening began by meeting at City Hall and then being driven over to the new Draeger's Market under development. This is, to me, a fairly large project of a two story 61,000 sq. ft. supermarket. These are a few of our group waiting in front of the soon-to-be entrance to the parking lot under the building. Rafael Adame of the City's building department helped us pass the time by answering questions while we waited for some late comers.
One or two people in our group didn't like the color of the building... guess you can't please everyone. Some of the neighbors across the street (a very upscale and expensive condo) had many concerns about the impact of the loading and unloading, especially in the early morning. The City and the architect found a way to get semis in and out for deliveries without backing up (and therefore without that annoying beeping). It used to be that such complaints from neighbors came up during the building rather than beforehand. Thanks in large part to the BHNA, the City now requires (for larger projects) a neighborhood meeting before even applying for a building permit.
Once everyone got there we headed down to the parking garage where Rafael was joined by Bob Hulsman the building inspector. Some of the other planning department staff was also there... Barbara Kautz (Community Development director), Gaye Quinn (chief of planning), Rory Walsh (zoning administrator) and Ron Munekawa (Senior Planner).
We came up a service stairway from the garage into the loading dock and then into the grocery market. It's a most interesting site to be in a very large (something like 18,000 sq. ft.) new market before it's finished. This is a very modern market (note the very "in" black and white floor pattern) with very wide aisles... of very dark (black?) shelving. And cabinet upon cabinet of refrigerated showcases. Everyone said over and over that they couldn't wait til this market was open.
They'll have a bakery, specialty produce, a few cheese refrigerators for aging, meats, seafood, and on and on and on. And of course, fine wines. Ok, some of you might call this a yuppie market, but it looks like it will be the place to go if you want fine or hard-to-find food products.
On the second floor there's a huge cookware section, banquet rooms, a cooking school, and of course, a restaurant. The booths haven't been finished yet, but I don't think I'd like that booth closest to the fireplace. On the opposite side is a full rotisserie and wood burning pizza oven.
Although this was a commercial project, it was a great example for us. This project had to overcome many obstacles and is on track (actually ahead of originally scheduled) to open at the beginning of June -- complete with a parade. Many of us had wanted Draeger's to come back to San Mateo -- for this is where the family started their grocery! Most of us felt that although they've spent nearly $12 million on this project that it will be a huge success.
After our extended tour we went back for a presentation and some Q & A by Barbara Kautz, the city's community development director. In discussing some of the building permit fees, most of us were amazed to find out that the City used to charge $65 for a permit to install (or replace) a water heater. The planning department seemed thrilled that they've reduced that fee to "only" $25 now. The other interesting thing about building permit fees is that they're running a surplus... So much so that they've actually reduced fees.
Their position is that almost ANY work you want to do on your house requires a building permit fee. It seems that their reason for the high fees is that it costs so much for the staff etc. to properly monitor projects. Of course there's a need for work to be done properly, but perhaps... just perhaps... such high fees ending up with a surplus are more indicative of helping to build and maintain a larger than necessary department. We very briefly discussed that there must be ways to maintain proper building improvements and yet dramatically reduce the cost --- especially to homeowners.
Diana Whitecar, the City's economic development and business assistant, talked at length about San Mateo's major business areas: the downtown area, El Camino (especially south of route 92), 25th Avenue, and 37th Avenue. The downtown area has their own merchant's association and is working on bringing more businesses to the downtown. The 25th Ave. merchants want to be more like the downtown, and the 37th Ave. merchants want to be more like 25th Ave.
The evening ended by having the department's staff role-play as developers and concerned citizens as we role-played as the planning commission. The "hypothetical" project was a 10 screen movie theater in the downtown area. Everyone agreed that there were two major problems: traffic and the parking. 2,200 seats in the theater with only 288 parking spaces trusting that existing downtown parking would be adequate is clearly the major problem. Watch out San Mateo --- I wonder how "hypothetical" this role-playing project really is...
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