Choosing What Kind of Community to Be

Last night we agreed to roll back the changes made in 2011 to the rules governing residential lot splits in San Carlos. I made the following comments out of concern for something I didn’t hear during the community dialog, and from my colleagues: that San Carlos is the people who come together to form our community, and we need to embrace newcomers as a source of enrichment, not just a source of more traffic, changed homes and increased stress.

What follows is slightly edited from the original.


I appreciate the concerns voiced by those who want to roll back the lot split rules. I will be supporting the rollback, because, while I think there are better ways to achieve the same ends, on balance the proposed change is not unreasonable.

As I thought through this issue, I saw a number of factors that have to be balanced, some of which relate to community, as opposed to individual, interests. Let me touch on a few of them.

The Council is duty-bound to protect the health & welfare of all our residents. Which is why, as a general rule, we try to let people enjoy their property as they see fit. The challenge comes when different types of enjoyment collide. Rolling back the lot split rules will limit some people’s enjoyment of what they own. We heard several people tonight say just that. But reversion will take away a source of discomfort for others.

The Council is also duty-bound to protect the community’s health & welfare. That sometimes involves going beyond what individual residents might choose. In the case of residential housing, it means seeing that our housing stock is maintained, without the use of public funds. Which in turn means keeping San Carlos a desirable place to build and remodel homes. Given the hot housing market, rolling back the lot split rules is unlikely to do the community much harm in that regard.

So while there are trade-offs involved with the reversion, I am okay with it and will vote for it.

But protecting the community’s health & welfare involves something else, too. Something that I didn’t hear much of during our community dialog, but gets right to the heart of keeping San Carlos the kind of place we all want it to be.

Change of any kind, whether it’s a bigger home being built next door or a favorite local business moving or closing, can be difficult. It’s natural, when faced with change, to focus on the downsides, the negative. But almost all changes produce benefits, too.

How we choose, as individuals, to react to change very much affects what our community is like. Is the change caused by newcomers good or bad? If I choose to focus on the negative, I will inevitably come to dislike them.

And that will be the beginning of the end for what San Carlos means, and has been, for many years: a welcoming, community-spirited town that people love to live in, precisely because it is tolerant and accepting.

Not, mind you, just tolerant and accepting of newcomers doing what we already do. Tolerant and accepting of different ways of living, too.

We’ve all been newcomers, many times, throughout our lives. We owe it to ourselves to welcome newcomers, and their different ways, just like we were welcomed.

Because what really makes San Carlos special is not the nice homes and the cute shops and the fun parks and the great schools, all of which are wonderful in and of themselves. They are only the stage we share, and on which we are privileged to act out our lives.

Tonight I’ll be saying “aye” to the rollback because it’s important to people whose views I respect. But I hope all of us will also rededicate ourselves to two simple goals. welcoming anyone and everyone who wants to make our community a better place. And making room for newcomers, and their different ways, in our increasingly busy lives.

Because pursuing those goals is what what defines the beautiful tapestry that is San Carlos, and makes it truly The City of Good Living.

3 thoughts on “Choosing What Kind of Community to Be”

  1. Sorry, this left me a bit confused re ‘lot splitting’. I understand the city’s philosophy about community, but if you are going to reference a particular decision, I suggest a little more detail to that decision would be desirable. I’m left wondering if now the city’s larger lots will all be sought after by developers who want to improve their profit margins by building two homes in the space which was originally designed for one. Please note, I am all for change when change means improvement. However, I resist change for change sake.

  2. Julia,

    You can get more detail from the Planning Department at City Hall — try calling Al Savay, the Director — but, in a nutshell, the Council action made it harder for a property owner to split lots (it had been made easier to do by way of an earlier Council action in 2011).

    I agree that change for change sake isn’t usually a good thing to pursue. On the other hand, most change isn’t pursued “just because”. It’s too hard to change most things to make that worthwhile.

    We all tend, however, to view any change, whatever it might be and for whatever reason being considered, as “bad”. We need to be cognizant of the tendency, and careful about engaging it, or the long-run impact on our community will not be good.

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