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General plan 2040

San Mateo has a wealth of historic resources that can be found in every corner of the city, from homes to storefronts, parks to public works, individual buildings and intact districts. They reflect important themes in the city's growth and development, including architecture, city planning, social history, ethnic heritage, and commerce.  Collectively, they tell the story and define the character of our community, adding to the quality of life for all.  These oft neglected community assets are recognized by our current 2030 General Plan as providing “economic, cultural and aesthetic benefit to the City of San Mateo,” yet many remain unidentified and most are unprotected.



SMHeritage believes that economic growth and heritage protection are not mutually exclusive, but partners in a more prosperous future.  New development that respects the contributions of the past enriches the entire community.  We believe that strong, comprehensive historic resource protections are necessary to ensure the long-term health of the city.  Unless Historic Resource policies are strengthened, the unnecessary loss of irreplaceable historic, architectural and cultural resources is inevitable.  San Mateo Heritage Alliance has therefore submitted to the City a Recommended Alternative Historic Resources Element



The San Mateo City Council has voted to proceed with General Plan Land Use Alternative C, an unprecedented growth scenario projecting 21,960 new homes, 15,255 new jobs and a 50% increase in population with 55,790 new residents in the next 18 years. 

What does this magnitude of growth look like?  It would be the equivalent of adding the populations of San Carlos and Burlingame to San Mateo.  It would mean building over 3,200,000 square feet of office space, enough to fill 2.2 Salesforce Towers.  It would require constructing 100 more Peninsula Regent housing towers.  But more importantly, this level of growth would demand - at a modest 42 gallons per person per day - more than 850,000,000 additional gallons of water per year.  Water we do not have now and may never have.

The City's own Land Use & Circulation Alternatives Evaluation warns that Alternative C will have the most impacts on historic resources in or near the study areas:

"Impacts to the [Downtown] Historic District could come from change within the district or from development outside of, but adjacent to, the district.  New construction replacing historic buildings could introduce incompatible site design, height and bulk, or materials and features adjacent to historic buildings.  This could effect the integrity of the buildings and the Historic District as resources even if the historic buildings themselves are not changed."

"Alternative C allows Mixed Use High (6-10 stories + state density bonus of 2-3 stories) throughout much of Downtown, including properties immediately next to the Historic District.  Alternative C would be most likely to result in development incompatible with the existing historic fabric surrounding the Downtown Historic District."

"In Study Area 5 along San Mateo Drive and North Ellsworth, Alternative C would be most likely to lead to redevelopment on or next to the site of existing historic buildings.  The cluster of historic buildings on the northwest corner of 25th Avenue and El Camino Real" are also likely to be impacted by Alternative C because of more intensive development.



The historic preservation policies we have today in the current 2030 General Plan will change in the 2040 General Plan revision.  That is why San Mateo Heritage Alliance believes current policies must not only carry through to the 2040 General Plan, but must be strengthened and supported with additional policies.


Current policies regarding historic resources are located in the Conservation and Open Space Element (pages VI-28 through VI-30) of the current General Plan, as follows.

C/OS 8.1: Historic Preservation. Preserve, where feasible, historic buildings as follows:
a. Prohibit the demolition of historic buildings until a building permit is
authorized subject to approval of a planning application.
b. Require the applicant to submit alternatives on how to preserve the
historic building as part of any planning application and implement
methods of preservation unless health and safety requirements cannot be
c. Require that all exterior renovations of historic buildings conform to the
Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation and Guidelines for
Rehabilitating Historic Structures.
d. Historic building shall mean buildings which are on or individually
eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, California Register of
Historical Resources, or Downtown Historic District contributor buildings
as designated in the 1989 Historic Building Survey Report, or as
determined to be eligible through documentation contained in a historic
resources report.

Policy C/OS 8.1 confirms the City’s commitment that the protection, enhancement, perpetuation,
and use of historic structures are of economic, cultural, and aesthetic benefit to the City of San
Mateo. In addition, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires public agencies
to consider the effects of actions on historic resources
Under CEQA, a historic resource is any
resource that is listed in or determined to be eligible for listing in the California Register of
Historical Resources. Any resource that is eligible for listing in the California Register of
Historical Resources is considered significant for the purposes of CEQA. The California Register
of Historical Resources also includes resources listed in or eligible for listing in the National
Register of Historic Places. Properties that are designated significant in an adopted local survey
are also presumed to be eligible for the California Register, and are considered significant.

C/OS 8.2: Historic Districts. Consider the protection of concentrations of buildings which convey the flavor of local historical periods or provide an atmosphere of exceptional architectural interest or integrity, after additional study.

The City currently has two identified historic districts, the Downtown Historic District and the
Glazenwood Historic District. The Downtown area is of particular importance and interest with
respect to historic structures. Overall, the Downtown maintains a 1930's character. The
residential neighborhood of Glazenwood has remained a striking early 1920's development of
Spanish Colonial Revival homes. Other areas of the City may contain buildings of exceptional
architectural interest or capture the flavor of local historical periods. In consideration of future
historic districts, specific regulations to maintain historic character shall be developed
. To
preserve the integrity of the City’s historic resources, the Zoning Administrator may require a
historic report and a planning application for modifications and alterations to individually 
eligible or contributor buildings, and buildings that may be eligible for listing as historic

C/OS 8.3: Structure Rehabilitation. Promote the rehabilitation of historic structures;
consider alternative building codes and give historic structures priority status for
available rehabilitation funds. (Note: Related Safety Policy S 1.5.)
Historic buildings generally warrant special consideration when structural alterations are planned
(or required, as in the case of unreinforced masonry buildings) or the site is planned for
redevelopment. Policy 8.3 directs that alternative codes that have been developed by the State of
California and the International Conference of Building Officials be considered for application
with designated structures. Policy 8.3 also requires that such buildings be given a priority for
City rehabilitation loans or grants.


C/OS 8.4: Inventory Maintenance. Establish and maintain an inventory of architecturally, culturally, and historically significant structures and sites.


C/OS 8.5: Public Awareness. Foster public awareness and appreciation of the City's historic, architectural, and archaeological resources. The 1989 Historic Building Survey is the first and critical step in establishing and maintaining a record of the City's remaining historic resources. The Survey inventory provides a reliable source of documentation for City staff and the public when creating a preservation ordinance, reviewing development proposals in historically sensitive areas, and educating the community about its history. Without maintenance, the inventory becomes unreliable and unusable. Other direct measures of public awareness are available to the City particularly through the County Historical Association and interested groups of residents and business persons. An awareness among residents that preservation is important and possible is necessary for the City to maintain its special identity and its continuity with the past.


The General Plan update will guide the city's economic and physical development through 2040.  In addition to housing, circulation, parks and open space, it must address our urban environment, preservation of historic, architectural and cultural resources, and maintenance of the city's high quality residential neighborhoods.

To help focus the General Plan on these pressing issues, and to help ensure San Mateo's historic resources are part of the conversation, San Mateo Heritage Alliance asks you to participate in the General Plan Update process and let the city know that identification and protection of the community's historic resources is one of the community's top priorities. 


The City staff contact for the General Plan is Zachary Dahl, Deputy Community Development Director, email:  Let him know that you think identification and protection of our commercial and residential historic resources are General Plan priorities.

Link to San Mateo General Plans 2030 and 2040

Land Use & Circulation Alternatives Evaluation



"“Preservation is about ensuring that our urban landscape reflects more than just profit margins or the whims of developers and real estate speculators — that they address the real needs and concerns of communities. It is about working to see that we honor and reflect the full contours of our past, including the complex and difficult chapters.”

 - Stephanie Meeks, Past President, National Trust for Historic Preservation

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