I became involved with the 15-Acre parcel adjacent to City Hall at my very first meeting as a Foster City Planning Commissioner. We had a joint meeting with both the City Council and the Planning Commission to provide input into the decision of what was the best use of that parcel for the community. After hearing a lot of public testimony and having previously researched the issue, I became convinced that a senior retirement center was the best community use. I continue to believe that to this day.
At the most recent public hearing on the issue, on October 3, one resident suggested that the use of the 15-Acres for seniors was a form of subsidy in that if the parcel was used in another way it would have more economic value to the City. I had a chance to speak with that resident during a break in the meeting and told him why I disagreed.
I explained that most senior care in Foster City consists of converted single family homes that are now six bed skilled nursing facilities. I explained that many seniors have told me in the nearly six years since I have been involved with this issue, that they wanted to leave their larger single family home, perhaps to allow their children to move in, but did not want to leave Foster City. I explained that our ability to provide such a facility in Foster City would allow our existing residents to remain here and would also provide for additional available housing as those residents sold their current home to new residents or family members. This effect would further increase the economic benefit to the City and to our schools through additional property taxes. Thus, while a larger non-senior residential project might itself generate more revenue than either of the proposed senior centers, such a project would not have the secondary effect as few people would sell what they had now to move into just another development.
In addition, use of the 15-Acres as a senior center would also meet our needs as a community. The plans currently under consideration provide numerous housing options and graduated facilities so that people would be able to age in their own home and get additional care, without having to move, if and as they needed such care. The plans currently also call for additional retail space themed as a village square and run to benefit the City’s residents as a whole. A project not so structured might not have such secondary benefits.
Having said all this, although I continue to strongly believe that a senior residential center is the best use for the parcel, I continue to have concerns as to whether now is the right time to be selling that parcel and feel strongly, as I believe all of the Council Members do, that if we do sell it cannot be at a fire sale price. I have said repeatedly that we must take great care before selling any City owned land. Not only should such a sale benefit the City as a whole, but such a sale must also make both short term and long term economic sense. I believe strongly that we cannot simply sell land and then spend the money as a way to deal with our general fund deficit. If we do that, then at some point in the not to distant future we will have no land and no money.
Moreover, in this depressed real estate market are we better off waiting a few years to see if the market picks up so that we can both get more money for the land and more certainty that our project can be built? I must confess that I wish I had better answers to those questions as they are critical issues affecting Foster City’s future. We have been holding hearings on the 15-Acres way longer than I have been involved. However there is no hearing more important that the one coming up on October 17. At that time the City Council likely will be selecting one of the two developers to enter into negotiations with for the development of the parcel. That does not mean it will be a done deal, but it very well could be. Thus, this could be your last chance to have your say at a time when it can make a difference. I hope everyone who reads this will either attend the meeting or give the City Council your feedback. I, for one, would really like to hear your opinions on the issue.
Those are my thoughts. Tell me what you think. Share your ideas with me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at (650) 286-3504.
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