Back in the late 90’s I helped a candidate run for Burlingame City Council. The slogan for the campaign was, “You’ll miss it when it’s gone.” Referring to how Burlingame was rapidly losing its character. Every candidate for city council since seems to say they care about Burlingame's charm and character and that they want to protect it. With the exception of the candidate who so boldly stood behind the message, (and myself) it seems the message is simply lip service.
Cities don’t change overnight; their character is lost over decades. It’s been 20 years since the “you’ll miss it when it’s gone" phrase was coined and yet today it’s more evident than ever that the pace of the erosion of Burlingame's character has increased.
I watched as the pre fab components were delivered by giant crane yesterday for a home on Trenton Way. The photos illustrate, in part what I am talking about. Decades ago many were concerned about Mediterranean McMansions dominating our neighborhoods. Perhaps they were called that because McDonald’s typical architecture at the time was of Spanish influence. Today, take a look at any number of McDonald’s remodels. They are postmodern in style. Perhaps we just need to look to McDonalds to see what Burlingame is trending toward?
For the record, I like postmodern architecture, but we have to examine whether our neighborhoods can support it. The planning department has a tool called "neighborhood consistency" yet they rarely use it to argue that the architectural style simply does not fit into the character of the neighborhood. I made this argument before the commission suggesting that not everyone has the right to add a second story. Especially if that request is the only house on the block that will have a second story. Approving it sets the stage for changing the consistency of the street.
Some might argue that Burlingame’s charm is its eclectic housing stock. If you use that argument I believe you have to, pardon the pun, dig a little deeper. You have to compare the stock of the street, compare heights, widths, rooflines, etc. On streets the have not yet been disturbed by new construction, a rare fined, you will notice that while the architecture from one house to the next might be different, the mass and bulk, the set backs, the roof heights are similar.
It’s not up to me to decide on who can build what or how it can be built. I have expressed my opinion before the city council and as part of the city council that one simple way to begin is to examine the Floor Area Ratio to determine if houses are being built too large for their respective lot size. In the last 20 years there has been no political will to examine the issue in any real way.
Clearly I have felt that this discussion should have taken place long ago. However it is now that I once again remind our city leaders that it is time to put in place real policies that truly do protect Burlingame’s character or else, we will all miss it when it is gone.