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Baylands housing measure leads in Brisbane election

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Brisbane voters favor development, but only by a few dozen votes

The Baylands as seen from the air, a long, flat, grassy brown area next to the bay. Photo courtesy of SFHAC

Early Wednesday morning, Brisbane’s Measure JJ held a small but significant lead in early election tallies, suggesting that the city may finally approve thousands of new homes in the contested Baylands site just south of San Francisco.

According to San Mateo County, at the end of the night on Tuesday Measure JJ led with 54.6 percent of the vote.

While that appears to be decisive, keep in mind that in Brisbane that amounts to a lead of fewer than 80 ballots. The count presently sits at 452 votes for and 376 against.

If passed, Measure JJ would spell the beginning of the end for the years-long drama of what to do with the Baylands, a 660-acre plot of bayside property that sits mostly vacant at Brisbane’s northern tip.

Owner Universal Paragon Corporation [UPC] has vied for years to develop the area, proposing thousands of new homes in addition to commercial and office space and parkland.

Much of the Baylands formerly served as a garbage dump, meaning that UPC would have to commit to significant decontamination of the site before building. It also means that Brisbane must agree to change its General Plan before residential construction can begin.

If it passes, Measure JJ will make several changes the General Plan, including but not limited to:

-Allows for a range of 1,800-2,200 residential units and up to seven million square feet of new commercial development [in the Baylands]. Under current City regulations, at least 15 percent of the residential units are required to be affordable housing units.

-Limits housing to the northwest corner of the Baylands. [...]

-Require that future development be revenue positive for the city. [...]

-[Require that development] address flood protection and sea level rise.

The measure represents just a fraction of the housing UPC once hoped to build on the site, and it includes numerous concessions to the city.

But it also represents a significant compromise on the part of Brisbane lawmakers who put it forward, most of whom said repeatedly in city council meetings this year that they ‘d prefer to build nothing there at all.

If Measure JJ fails, most of the work done trying to broker a deal between UPC, Brisbane City Hall, Sacramento lawmakers interested in the fate of the site, and Brisbane residents will falter too.

Significantly, UPC is exercising its rights under state law to potentially move forward with development no matter the outcome of today’s race.

But voter approval will seal the deal and serve as a marketing boon for the company, removing essentially the last real obstacle to a potentially groundbreaking Baylands deal.

City of Brisbane.