With Foster City’s annual budget shortfall reportedly approaching $5 million, city leaders and residents are understandably concerned, enough to consider a wide range of potential solutions. This week, amidst cries of “taxation without representation” from one resistant city official, the council met and agreed to place on the June election ballot a proposal to increase the occupancy tax on Foster City’s two hotels by 2%. If passed the proposal could generate $300,000 a year in new tax revenue, which is nice… and accounts for a massive 6% of the total gap.
This leaves Foster City 94% short, thanks to a series of dominoes whose toppling can be traced to the real estate crisis of the past two years – most obviously personified by the stuttering progress of ambitious local redevelopment projects, whose projected property tax revenue could go a long way toward pulling Foster City out of its budget ditch.
The good news is that the “Mirabella site” is back in play. The 15-acre parcel located between City Hall and the Peninsula JCC is where Pacific Retirement Services had planned to build 420 units of senior housing, BMR units, retail space and a public plaza called “Mirabella San Francisco Bay” before pulling the plug on the project last April. On January 29, Foster City Community Development Director Rick Marks told the Bay Area News Group that the city “is prepared to send out a request for for qualifications to roughly 25 development firms that have expressed interest in the property over the past several months.”
Successful development of this land could bring up to $2 million, annually, into city coffers – leaving it “only” a couple of million dollars short. What’s next?
It hasn’t gotten to the point where Foster City, like neighbor San Carlos, is considering jettisoning its fire and police departments, but everything else is on the table, including the annual July 4 fireworks show, the last of its kind in San Mateo County.
Why would it be a huge error to shut down the fireworks show? It’s not a vital city service and does not generate revenue. Even though Mayor Linda Koelling was quoted in December as saying, “I’m absolutely in favor of the fireworks,” Vice Mayor Art Kiesel and Councilman Charlie Bronitsky (who, along with Rick Wykoff, voted against adding the hotel tax to the November ballot) demurred, pointing out that, with the city planning to lay off seven full-time employees by the end of 2013, spending money on a fireworks show is a bit frivolous.
And then, on Monday, the council voted to continue the fireworks show. Somewhere between the city’s Arts and Wine Festival and Summer Concert Series, the Lion’s Club and private partnerships, Foster City will scrape up the money for fireworks; and they’re absolutely correct in doing so.
Because it was planned during the suburban utopia of the 1960s, Foster City needs community-wide events more than other, more traditional Peninsula cities. Its mostly residential layout was designed isolation and solitude, not interaction. The city does its best to bring residents together through activities, classes and small-scale events but the it lacks a pedestrian-friendly center, a place where locals can shop, dine and simply hang out, a place where interaction is effortless because it’s designed into the landscape. The July 4 party is an unquantifiable benefit; though it costs the city money – and thus will be one of the first items on the agenda when it comes to lopping off a few superfluous budget items – its value to Foster City’s quality of life is immeasurable.
Need proof? Watch how people step up to help save the event, like Gold Medal Martial Arts owner Herb Perez, who has agreed to foot the $17,000 bill for the fireworks themselves. This is how communities protect their property values, an intangible not guaranteed by open floorplans and canalfront decks.
Open House of the Week: Whoever next buys 962 Diaz Lane, a “sun-filled” townhouse located in Winston Square, might want to buy Herb Perez a dozen roses. The three-bedroom, two-point-five-bath home, built in 1975, has a view of the July 4 fireworks from its backyard patio. For the other 364 days of the year, they’ll be content to enjoy the unit’s open floorplan and living room fireplace. It’s open this Sunday, pre-Super Bowl hours (1 – 3:30 PM) and is listed by Ronald Kahn of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, J. F. Finnegan Realtors.