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South City to discuss downtown changes
January 21, 2013, 05:00 AM By Heather Murtagh Daily Journal Staff
South San Francisco officials will get an update Wednesday on efforts to rejuvenate downtown while deterring negative behavior by restricting smoking, adding cameras and working with the District Attorney's Office to keep trouble away.

South San Francisco's downtown has been marred by a variety of issues in recent years like homelessness and transients which officials say have been causing problems. In December, the South San Francisco City Council was introduced to four ideas Mayor Pro Tem Karyl Matsumoto put forward to curb challenges while promoting more activity. All ideas were met with enthusiasm for more study and to be brought back before the council in the future. On Wednesday, the council will get an update on the efforts.

Installing cameras was an equally intriguing idea to the council. The estimated $70,000 plan would include having cameras cover the city-owned breezeway between Grand Avenue and Third Lane, next to Starbucks, and the picnic area at City Hall on the south end of the city annex building fronting Maple Avenue, according to a staff report. If installed, the digital video would be reviewed periodically each day by the downtown bike patrol officers. Cameras could be moved to allow for different areas to be monitored if the wireless network was built out enough, according to the staff report.

The council will also consider approving a smoking ban in city-owned parks and walkways. It's a measure to deter people who chronically create problems downtown from hanging around the area. Another tool to help keep the area clear is the city's request to the District Attorney's Office to consider including stay away orders as a condition of probation.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Karen Guidotti said such requests are not uncommon from cities cracking down on quality of life issues.

Lastly, Matsumoto said work with the Chamber of Commerce regarding ways to increase positive activity is continuing. There is hope to include more events and a celebration of the chamber's 100th birthday. Partnerships to encourage more activities downtown will take planning but could include offering entertainment during lunch, offering events that support local schools or providing art to fill vacant storefronts.

At the same meeting, the council will consider extending a city-wide ban on large retail stores and grocery uses east of Highway 101.

In December, the council approved a 45-day moratorium to allow time to research if big box stores were a fit for the community. Now it will consider extending that ban for 16 months and contracting with Ascent Environmental to conduct a study about the change.

Conversations about big box stores started in South San Francisco late this summer when rumors began to circulate that Walmart was interested in moving into the Lowe's location east of Highway 101. As a result, the council conducted an analysis of the impact the opening of a superstore would have on other retail establishments in the city. While both Walmart and Lowe's have denied the rumors, a representative from Lowe's did previously submit a letter opposing the proposal.

More recently, Costco submitted a letter wanting to work to make changes to the ban to allow for a new business center the company had hoped to open in South San Francisco. While the company isn't sure the moratorium would prohibit such a business, it wanted to work with the city before moving forward, according to the Jan. 7 from Tim Rose, executive vice president of Business Centers.

Costco currently has nine business centers, the closest to South San Francisco is in Hayward. The businesses are designed to function as distributors for food service, convenience stores and post office industries working as a business-to-business operation, Rose wrote. About one-third of the business is done through deliveries. Such a center, he wrote, would generate tax revenue and create about 250 jobs.

The council meets 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 23 at the Municipal Services Center, 33 Arroyo Drive.

Heather Murtagh can be reached by email: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 105.

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