Blog Legalize Fourplexes in San Mateo

April 4, 2023



In Jonathan’s own words:

My letter to the editor urging San Mateo City Council to legalize fourplexes was published in the San Mateo Daily Journal. I had to cut it down to fit into SMDJ’s guidelines. Here’s the unabridged version that I sent to City Council.

Dear San Mateo City Council,

As you may have heard, Berkeley City Council voted unanimously to allow more affordable housing types—like duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes—in all residential neighborhoods. It is also currently being considered by our neighbors in Sacramento, South San Francisco, and Sunnyvale, and is already the law in Minneapolis and the entire state of Oregon. It’s clear that this is gaining some political momentum, and I would like to urge you to consider the same action for San Mateo’s General Plan.

A diversity of housing allows greater flexibility for people’s changing needs. Whether it’s the construction of additional units for rental income, or a duplex conversion to accommodate the privacy of an aging parent, this kind of housing helps fill in the “missing middle” that would enable more of our hard-working neighbors to stay in the city we love.

And of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that San Mateo’s single-family zoning is steeped in racist redlining policy which was the subject of a recent New York Times Op-Ed.

To be clear, I’m not against single-family homes; many people love them! I just don’t think growing cities should zone the majority of their land exclusively as R1. Often, young people find that taking care of a detached house and a yard is a burden, so we should offer flexibility in our zoning and let people choose the homes that best meet their needs. I think there’s a lot of unwarranted concern that neighborhoods will somehow become unrecognizable overnight. What’s more likely to happen is that gradually a few homes here and there will be retrofitted to accommodate an extra family, and the only obvious difference from the street will be that some buildings have an extra mailbox or two. This simple zoning relaxation will allow a grandparent to live closer to their family, or a young couple to live closer to their job. No, it won’t singlehandedly solve our housing supply shortage, but it is one of several small actions we can take to remedy the situation.

The alternative is to continue to push people farther from their jobs and families, requiring lengthy commutes which exacerbates our carbon footprint.

Personally, I live in a single-family home which is adjacent to a 3-story apartment, a house shared amongst roommates, a duplex, and a triplex. And honestly, it’s great! I love living in a diverse neighborhood where I’ve gotten to know several of my wonderful neighbors. The apoplectic rage about the destruction of our communities I hear in our public discourse just hasn’t come to pass here. If we’re more flexible about what kinds of homes we allow in San Mateo, it would go a long way towards preserving our city’s wonderful diversity.

Let’s be a part of this momentous change and legalize fourplexes everywhere!

Jonathan New

Peninsula for Everyone member