That New Housing - So What's In It For Us?
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That New Housing - So What's In It For Us?
By the time you read this we will have elected a new President. Hopefully now that the election is behind us and we continue to give effect to the peaceful transition of power that is a cornerstone of our democracy, we can all put the divisiveness behind us and unite as a Country. There are great challenges that face us as a nation, challenges that require us to unite and will overwhelm us if we divide. As a great man once said “A house divided cannot stand.” Let’s all remember that.

Turning to our more local issues, over the past months I have received a number of emails, most polite but some quite nasty; but all of which, in effect, wanted to know what the current residents of Foster City got out of the new housing that we have seen lately. Development seems to stir up conversation, so I thought I would answer that question publicly.

When I was elected to the City Council in 2009, our City was facing a $5,000,000 structural deficit in a $30,000,000 general budget. What that means is that our revenues were $5 million less than our expenses and so we were burning through our reserves. That deficit was due in part to the Great Recession, but to some extent had existed for a number of years prior to that. The City Council was very concerned about the deficit as we knew that if we did nothing we would eventually run out of money.

What we did was put into place a plan to bring in a balanced budget over the following three years. As part of that plan we cut City services down to those that we determined were essential. We were fortunate that no jobs were lost, but open positions were not filled, maintenance items were deferred and we ended up working without labor contracts for all three labor groups for several years. While the service cuts helped significantly, it was clear that new revenue was needed in order to get to a balanced budget.

The primary revenue source for Foster City is Property Tax. The problem with that is that under Prop 13, increases in property tax on existing development is limited and so revenue growth is similarly limited. Redevelopment and new development can increase a city’s revenue substantially, when the redeveloped property and new development increase the value of the land and the improvements on the land.

Thus, as a City Council, we pushed for new development. Why? Well you can look around you and you will see why. Lots of cities around us now use the County Sheriff as a contract vendor to provide their police services. We still have our own police force. Cities lost fire stations and increased the risk. We still have a fully staffed fire station and have augmented safety though joint fire management with San Mateo. Drive through the streets of some of the surrounding cities and you will see the difference in the quality of the roads. We have added three new parks and we have had the funds to add facilities to our existing parks to make them more economical to run and more sustainable. Other cities have left their parks to decay. We have been able to fill long empty personnel vacancies and provide faster and better service to our residents. We have seed money to address key issues facing us, such as levee upgrades and a new wastewater treatment plant.

The fact is that none of this would have been possible without the new development you see. Has there been cost? Of course, there is always cost, but there is not as much cost as some would have you believe. Take traffic, for example. State Route 92 and Highway 101 would be just as crowded as they are now, whether we allowed these new homes to be built or not. What would not have happened if these developments had not been built, is we would not have received nor would we continue to receive the ongoing revenue that these projects generate. We would have continued in a deficit situation and would have had to significantly reduce services. Our quality of life would have significantly deteriorated in ways much more significant than the frustration we feel having to sit in yet more traffic to get to and from our homes, and we would have that frustration to bear as well.

I hate traffic just as much as you do. I have continued concerns about our available classroom space. I, we really, did not have the luxury of sitting back and doing nothing. We did what we were charged to do, which was to run our City in a fiscally responsible way that preserves our quality of life. Is it perfect – no. Are there significant issues – yes. But frankly we are in better financial shape than we were in 2009 and our quality of life has been better preserved than you will find in most any other comparable location. So we did get something out of those new developments. We got to keep our safe, comfortable community and put it in a position to thrive in the future.

As always, the best way to reach me is via email at

Council Corner

November 09, 2016
That New Housing - So What's In It For Us?

City Hall - 610 Foster City Blvd.
Foster City, CA 94404
(650) 286-3200