Here we go again!
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Here we go again!

A balanced budget is an important marker of the health of a City and is the main thing I want to talk about in this article, but another indicator is the quality of life and safety that a City's residents enjoy. I would be remiss if I didn't start out this article by congratulating our City and its Police Department for having earned the rank of 55th Safest City in America from Neighborhood Scout website. This is up from our ranking of 81st last year. Foster City is the only San Mateo County municipality to make the 2014 list. According to the same data, Foster City ranks as the 8th Safest City in California! This is an accomplishment our whole community can be proud of as it takes a partnership of all who Live, Work and Play in our community to keep us safe.

The way we ensure that our Police Department and, indeed, all of our City departments continue to provide this top-notch level of service, is through careful budgeting and conservative fiscal policy. Each year about this time the City Council, with great assistance from staff, begins its yearly budget planning process. This process attempts to create a balanced budget by estimating what our revenues for the upcoming year may be and comparing them to what we think we are going to spend.  

In the years 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 it turned out that, in our General Fund (this is our "bank account" where we pay for most of the programs and services the community enjoys), we spent more than we took in. We called it a 'structural deficit' because it wasn't because of a one-time anomaly, but because our revenues, primarily property taxes, were less than our expenditures and, unless we cut programs or found new sources of revenue; the deficit would not go away on its own. A case could be made that our property tax revenues were less than anticipated due to the fact that many of the commercial properties in town requested that their appraised valuations be reduced because of the economy. Unfortunately for the City's budget, the tax gods (aka, the County Assessor's Office) smiled upon them and granted many of their requests.

However, recent gains in the economy have made the real estate market look better so the assessor has increased the value of those commercial properties and now we are receiving the property tax revenues we sorely needed and had expected.

Why am I talking about property taxes? As I said, the revenues we receive from property taxes are the number one item on our revenue list. Second and third are sales taxes and transient occupancy taxes (hotel taxes), respectively. But sales taxes and transient occupancy taxes trail in the far distance compared to property taxes when it comes to City finances.

Many of you have noticed that there is a lot of building going on here in town. This is good news because those properties will have newer buildings with higher values and therefore more property taxes. And those properties that were previously vacant (Foster Square, for example) will bring in all new property taxes since the property was previously vacant, owned by the City and not creating any tax revenues whatsoever.

What I'd like to do is give you a short list of those developments that have recently been constructed or soon will be built here in Foster City because I'm sure many of you are curious to know what's going on in your home town.

Let's start with the most obvious as well as the biggest single project in town, the 15 acres, or from now on "Foster Square." This vacant piece of land is between the Civic Center buildings and the North Peninsula Jewish Campus. Over many years various attempts were made to develop that piece of vacant land including a private high school, a charter high school and most recently a senior residential project called "Mirabella." Since then the City Council has worked with a private developer to create a haven where our seniors can age in place, including "affordable" and market rate senior housing and retail space to create a gathering space for all residents. The Council is working hard to ensure that the project creates a sense of community and that the retail portion of the project brings in retailers adjacent to a public plaza that would make Foster Square a destination.

The next large project is already completed but being tucked away between 92 and Triton Drive you may not be familiar with how wonderful it has become! It is called The Plaza Luxury Apartments and was developed by our friends at Sares Regis with the property owned by Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company. The amenities of The Plaza are amazing; almost resort-like with over 95% of the building already occupied. The Plaza also has some retail, a salon and a quirky sandwich shop called "Sandwich Monkey" which is owned by a local Foster City family. That family is also building an upscale coffee house and has named it after their Tutu (grandmother), Penelope. The shop should open right around the time you are reading this article. Check it out.

Other noteworthy projects that are visible on the south side of 92 are the Triton Pointe apartments and The Waverly apartments and townhomes. These projects are part of a Pilgrim Triton Master Plan of which The Plaza was phase 1; Triton Pointe is phase 2 while The Waverly is part of phase 3. Triton Pointe is currently under construction and is located behind the Chevron station. Do you remember the noise from the pile drivers? They had to drive over 400 piles into the Foster City soil to be sure that the foundation would be solid. Triton Pointe should be ready for occupancy in about 18 months and will consist of 166 rental units. The Waverly will have 220 rental units, 20 townhouses for sale and some retail. They should start construction around September and be ready for occupancy after two years of construction. Once these projects are completed the City could anticipate another bump in our property tax revenues.

It must be mentioned that our friends at Gilead Sciences are creating a wonderful campus north of 92 in the Vintage Park section of the City. When they finish their expansion program there should be around 2,500,000 square feet of research and development space.

We are also getting ready to create a new hotel here in town. You all remember the Black Angus restaurant? Well that property will soon be demolished and an extended stay hotel will be constructed at that site. This project can be expected to add both to our property tax base and will improve our revenue stream from the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) or more commonly known as the hotel tax.

These developments are some of the ways we are doing our best to increase our revenues as well create a sustainable stream of income. This will also allow us to keep our infrastructure in good working condition and continue making Foster City the ultimate place to live, work and play.

If you have any questions or comments about this article, please email me at sokamoto@fostercity.org.

Council Corner

March 05, 2014
Here we go again!
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