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Merchants Oppose School at Charter Square

Local business owner sounds off to SM-FCSD school board against moving into shopping center.

A local merchant concerned about the future of his business spoke out Thursday night against a proposal by the San Mateo-Foster City School District to build a fourth Foster City elementary school in the Charter Square strip mall.

Jason McComb, a manager at United Studios of Self Defense and president of the Charter Square Merchants' Association, said that his business and others nearby did not support the district building a new campus in the shopping center located at 1050-1064 Shell Blvd.

The school board is slated to vote March 2 on whether to ask voters for approval on a $130 million bond measure in the June election.

The money would be used to build a fourth elementary school in Foster City, which administrators claim is necessary in order to facilitate future enrollment growth.

But at Thursday night's board of trustees meeting, McComb said that he and other like-minded merchants would not willingly shutter their businesses, should the district move forward with its effort to build at Charter Square.

"We wont have any choice but to oppose it," said McComb.

He also acknowledged the need of the district to expand in order to accommodate the growing student population in Foster City, but said the district had not reached out to local merchants to discuss how that may impact the businesses in the site that has been targeted for building. 

McComb's comments came a couple days after the San Jose Mercury News broke a story about the unwillingness of Westlake Asset Realty Group, which owns Charter Square, to sell the site to the school district.

But regardless of the will of ownership and local businesses, the district maintains the ability to stake claim to the site through the power of eminent domain.

Trustee Audrey Ng acknowledged the concerns of the local business community, and suggested that perhaps the city government could help the displaced merchants, should the district elect to go forward with moving into Charter Square.

While City Coucilmen Steve Okamoto and Art Kiesel sat in the audience, Ng said that the city leadership should consider giving priority to the businesses forced out of the shopping center with the opportunity to move into city-owned property that will be developed for retail purposes.

Before any such action can be considered, the school district trustees must approve going to voters with the bond measure, and then it must pass.

Trustee Ellen Mallory Ulrich, who claims to be the lone voice of opposition on the school board against the bond proposal, said the local community does not need to be burdened with another tax increase at a time when residents also face existing debt from the elementary school district, as well as from similar bonds from the high school and community college districts.

"I don't think this is the time to add $130 million of debt to the community," she said.

She added that students from San Mateo should also be allowed to use the new elementary school if the bond is approved, since the entire district will be required to pay for its construction.

But as the March 8 deadline looms for adding measures to the June 5 ballot, board president Lory Lorimer Lawson said the district will need to soon make a decision which direction to go.

"We need to make a tough decision," she said. "We need no make a brave choice, and we need to move on."

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