…and I sure hope you’re ready for the ride. I’m not sure I am.
Last night the Council authorized an environmental impact report “…for the Alexandria Life Sciences & Technology Project at 987 Commercial Street…”
For those not recognizing the address this will be a giant commercial development spanning most of the land between Industrial Road, Old County Road, Brittan Avenue and Commercial Street. It’s basically the Kelly-Moore site and the old L3 site. The item was approved on a 4 to 1 vote, with me voting no.
It’ll be the largest single development project in San Carlos’ history, and will increase our total commercial development space by 1,000,000 square feet…which is amazing given we currently only have 1.4 million square feet1.
This project, and some others already approved, will dramatically transform San Carlos. We’ll become, in just a few years, a major biotech site, home to thousands of new jobs, many of them highly-paid. Each of those jobs will support additional jobs in turn2. The project will also fund some new community amenities and improvements. That’s a given because Alexandria wants exemptions from certain zoning regulations3.
It will also significantly increase traffic and exacerbate the problem of there not being enough housing nearby for all the people who will be working there. Besides increasing freeway congestion for all of us that condemns increasing numbers of our fellow citizens to live with horrendous commutes. Granted, they chose to do so…but surely a community calling itself the City of Good Living doesn’t aspire to a reputation of “thanks for all those wages and purchases enriching our city, now please make sure you get out of Dodge by sundown”.
In short, whatever your views on increased development are4 this is a huge deal. An unprecedented-in-our-history event. So we’re no doubt actively debating our land use and development policies to be sure they’re up to the task, right?
That’s not happening. Yes, we have made a start. But the study won’t be done for years, and whatever policies might come out of it will take even more time to develop and implement5.
So we are embarking on the most historic round of commercial construction in San Carlos’ history…with rules and protocols mostly defined over a decade ago. At a time when we were desperate to attract whatever development dollars might maybe come our way.
I don’t think that’s a recipe for a good outcome. Sure, we have tools allowing us to negotiate terms with developers. But are those tools and protocols consistent with today’s challenges and desires? Unlikely. And our authority to modify the rules governing a project decline dramatically once a developer has submitted a complete package for review and approval…which is going to happen Real Soon Now.
The Council itself recognized last December the significance of these developments and their likely impact on San Carlos and our region. But Covid-19 intervened and the Council has been unwilling to buy itself more time, even for a hurried review-and-update of our development policies and regulations6. Meanwhile the clock keeps ticking and developers keep moving forward. Even the economic hiatus caused by the pandemic hasn’t slowed them down. Architectural work can be done remotely, and we’re so attractive the needed financial capital is still available.
Normally I try to end these warning articles on an action-oriented note, suggesting ways people can have an impact on how their community evolves. I’ve done that repeatedly on this topic for some time now, without seeing much reaction by the community.
I hope that means everyone is okay with what’s about to happen. If not, well, maybe it’ll serve as a reminder to engage earlier on future development projects.
Here’s hoping things go well.
Two million if you include the Meridian 25 project currently under construction by the freeway, also owned by Alexandria. ↩
Economists call this the multiplier effect. Every dollar of new money injected into an economy generally translates into four or five dollars of total economic impact when you tally up all the “add on” jobs, purchases, etc., that a new development sparks. ↩
Developers can and often do ask for such allowances, offering to pay more in fees or improving public infrastructure in exchange. The Meridian 25 project, for example, includes significant improvements to Commercial Street. Of course, such improvements enhance the area surrounding a development, increasing its value to the property owners. ↩
I’m a supporter provided it’s done right. And a big part of doing it right is improving, or at least maintaining, the jobs/housing balance. ↩
Maybe we can announce the completion of our efforts at the ribbon-cutting for one of these projects. Surely that would be worth a balloon or two. ↩
I’ve asked, repeatedly, for such. ↩