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Brisbane housing plan wins in landslide

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Baylands still a long way from actual construction despite outsized ballot box win

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

Despite years of arguing, animosity, and threats of annexation and de-annexation over the possibility of building new housing in Brisbane’s Baylands, when San Mateo County finalized the results of the city’s housing plan vote last week, Brisbane voters favored the plan by double digits.

Measure JJ asked Brisbane voters whether the city should consider “a range of 1,800-2,200 residential units and up to seven million square feet of new commercial development” in the Baylands, a 660-acre tract of mostly disused land just south of San Francisco.

Owner and developer Universal Paragon Corporation [UPC] has fought for over a decade to develop a potentially sprawling new Brisbane neighborhood on the site (which, among other things, is a former garbage dump and will need extensive cleanup before development).

Residential resistance to the prospect of Baylands building is so pronounced with some Brisbane residents that one outspoken critic at a meeting in January compared UPC’s plans to “living in an Upton Sinclair novel.”

Despite the years of animosity, the final vote for Measure JJ was 55.2 in favor versus 44.8 again, or 1,158 votes to 940.

Courtesy UPC

Measure JJ does not itself authorize Baylands development. But it does amend the city’s general plan to allow potential residential development on the site, something that was previously barred.

UPC will have to present a specific site plan to the city for approval. The 2,200 potential homes are less than half of what the developer hoped to build, but at the same time thousands more units than most Brisbane lawmakers previously wanted to concede.

In an email sent last week, Brisbane Mayor Clarke Conway said, “Brisbane is not part of the ‘just say no’ crowd when it comes to residential development. [...] There will be no development unless and until the landowner files a Specific Plan for the site that meets every requirement of Measure JJ, is reviewed and debated in public meetings, and wins approval from the City Council.”

At a city council meeting in July, Conway confessed, “It was always my hope we’d never put housing” in the Baylands. But the mayor eventually said that the city lacked any plausible political tools to put off development indefinitely.

Brisbane will officially adopt the election results in January. According to Brisbane City Manager Clay Holstine, a construction start date in the Baylands could be as far as ten years away.