The San Mateo City Council is in a tough spot. The 7-Eleven convenience store chain has already started construction at 501 N. San Mateo Drive and the neighborhood is up in arms. The site is the former location of a small Italian deli, Stangelini’s, which closed shop in 2010.
The city changed the use to residential after the site remained vacant for several years. But there is still a question as to whether market use is a legal non-conforming use. That issue will be argued before the Planning Commission. Previously, the commission had agreed with residents that the zoning of the property should be residential and not commercial.
Problem is that modifications have already been made to the 2,100-square-foot building and 7-Eleven hopes to open soon. It already has a sign out on the former deli. This is not a little corner market but a big chain. And other 7-Elevens receive more police calls than other food stores. This particular 7-Eleven says it will not sell beer but it does at its other locations. In fact, food here tends to be more expensive than at a regular market. It is really a convenience store where one can make a quick trip for a beer, soda or ice-cream. For these and traffic concerns on busy and narrow north San Mateo Drive, the neighbors are upset.
Basically, the council has three options: allow 7-Eleven to remain for a few years and then require it to move; don’t allow the chain to open; and, allow the store to operate the full term of its lease.
If 7-Eleven does go into operation at this location it will be very difficult and expensive to remove especially if the store is a financial success. If the city decides 7-Eleven cannot remain in the neighborhood, there will also be legal costs. Either way, this is going to involve big bucks. And the city will be the loser. If the store is allowed to remain, the council will suffer the wrath of the neighborhood. The council is between a rock and a hard place on this issue through no fault of their own. But the buck stops with them.
Only four of the five council members can vote. Councilman Jack Matthew has to recuse himself. He is a local architect and his client is one of the developers of the project.
Last week, mayors, council members, transit officials and community leaders feted Richard Napier, the retiring head of the City/County Association of Governments. Napier in his 17 years at the organization turned it into a major player in the county and instrumental in funding highway, transit, shuttles, bike and pedestrian projects. Among the attendees at the San Mateo library were Assemblyman Richard Gordon, D-Menlo Park; Mike Scanlon, CEO of the San Mateo County Transit District; San Carlos Vice Mayor Bob Grassilli who is also chair of C/CAG; Hillsborough Mayor Tom Kasten; Millbrae Mayor Marge Colapietro; Redwood City Councilwoman Roseanne Foust and her husband, Jim Hartnett, a member of the High Speed Rail Authority; San Mateo Mayor Brandt Grotte of San Mateo and City Manager Susan Loftus (both had to leave early to attend the 7-Eleven meeting); former city managers Arne Croce of San Mateo and Jim Nantell of Burlingame; Brisbane Councilman Clark Conway; Atherton Councilman Jerry Carlson; Colma Councilman Joseph Silva; Half Moon Bay Councilwoman Naomi Patridge; South San Francisco Councilman Pedro Gonzalez; Caltrans District Four Director Bijon Sartipi; Ann Flemmer, deputy executive director of policy at Metropolitan Transportation Commission; and, many others.
Under Napier’s leadership, C/CAG won a national award for smart growth from the Environmental Protection Agency in 2002 for an innovative program which provided financial incentives for cities to build housing near rail stations. The program was so successful it was adopted as a regional program by MTC. C/CAG deals with many issues — transportation, air quality, storm water runoff, hazardous waste, solid waste and recycling, land use near airports and abandoned vehicle abatement. But what is unique about the organization is that it brings all of the mayors in the county and a member of the Board of Supervisors to work together as a team. The elected officials while sitting on C/CAG represent their own communities but also the county as a whole. Somehow, Napier managed to make this work with few disagreements.
Sue Lempert is the former mayor of San Mateo. Her column runs every Monday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.