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July 30, 2008



For any "latecomers" to this discussion, the San Mateo Daily Journal also weighed in against high rises:

Heights, but at what cost? (Daily Journal)

Seventy-five feet is too high for downtown Burlingame. There is no other way to describe what may happen in this city which is known for its quaint and unique personality. There are high buildings, particularly at Burlingame Avenue and El Camino Real, that have been here for years. However, expanding such a notion in nearby areas is not, despite a citizen advisory committee recommendation, what the community is looking for in the area.

Howard Avenue has continued to be an area of concern for its lack of development, but no one can argue downtown Burlingame is suffering from any lack of interest in development.

In fact, there are a number of new stores and developments downtown that would not necessarily benefit from 75-foot buildings on Chapin Avenue, which is between the retail area and City Hall. Any new development in the southern end of downtown near City Hall would ruin the pristine nature of the city's downtown. It would forever change the very nature of the city.

Burlingame should take a certain solace in the fact that it is well designed overall with a train station near a large park and a main retail core that is bordered by a civic center that not only includes a city hall but a library, one that many from elsewhere marvel upon. The idea of public plazas is one thing upon which we all agree. As once called upon by this newspaper, the idea of a public gathering place at Highland Avenue and California Drive is an appropriate use of space and worthy of consideration. Creating a gathering place for people at the Post Office may be more problematic since dealing with the United States government and its employees is less than desirable.

There is a need for more housing on the Peninsula and specifically in Burlingame. Everyone knows that. We all know that. But if the notion that we as a people should create opportunities for greedy land owners and developers to create housing without a recognition of the actual need of those who make less than the average resident, then we as a populace are becoming misguided. It is essential that we have studies, particularly around downtown areas in which there is a potential for development. However, such studies should be based upon, in fact charged upon, the ideals of the people who ultimately are paying for it immediately and eventually.

The idea of 75-foot buildings in downtown Burlingame is an obscure reference to a time in which such ideas would solely benefit a small group of people who held property and not the ones who live and die in the city. Such a discussion is worthy of serious consideration and concern. But in fact, the notion itself should perish.

From the July 16, 2008 edition


Thanks, Joanne, for sharing these. I am glad to see that there are others who have retained their sanity out there!

Oh those greedy land owners and developers? Shame on them, destroying the life we love so much. This is said with some irony (for the irony-impaired).

At least they admit more housing is needed. We can either send them somewhere else (Millbrae anyone? the other side of Burlingame anyone?) or perhaps we should start the Burlingame Rabbit Burrow Housing Complex and put them all underground? Its absurd.

The almost paranoid obsession over those naughty developers continue with our eyes blinkered, living in the past and not looking forward, "smaller (minds) being better", our brains closed off, our ostrich necks in the sand and the drawbridge pulled up tight around our "hamlet".

Hoh hum.


where's the "positive, christian" Fiona?

Posted are peoples opinions..Horgan, smdaily journal, Joanne...

I don't see any paranoid..just good clean reporting and opinions. Talking about rabbit burrows, ostriges, drawbridges, and closed off small minds etc. seems rather disrespectful.

Thank you Joanne for posting additional information for us to consider. It's always good to look at all angles.

By the way, what's the other side of Burlingame? Sorta sounds like there is a part of this small town that you consider less desirable. Please let us know the undesirables or "the other side" in Burlingame. I would be interested in knowing those locations, and learning from the folks that live there what they think.

thank you.

Thank you to you and I would be happy to answer your question.

I am not a proponent of pushing those people who want to live in downtown Burlingame somewhere else like Millbrae or - heaven forbid - the North End (as I have heard from others) or anywhere else in our "hamlet" - thats called nimby-ism.

I am very happy that new residents who want to live in downtown Burlingame are able to do so where they will enjoy the wonderful amenities we have and the cherry on the top is this would be forward thinking sensible town planning.

So no rabbit burrows or North End or Millbrae or anywhere else (less or more desirable in Burlingame) but welcome to our downtown - "my side of town".

I hope that helps you.


I do appreciate the response, but didn't really get an answer to: What is "the other side"? What part of our city is, heaven forbid, considered undesirable.

You definately state "millbrae anyone? or the other side of burlingame". So, from your response, I assume the North End is the undesirable area as you have "heard from others".

It's a yes or no: is the "other side" of Burlingame the North End?

Your side of town is "downtown". I think it's disrespectful to lump other areas of Burlingame into a black hole of rabbit burrows on the "other" side of town. Your words.

Just a yes or no on the question. If it's a no...please just identify "the other side".

Jean, dear, I will say it more slowly.

Many discussions about where to put housing has been plain and simply about nimbyism and let's put them somewhere else - that includes other parts of Burlingame like the North End which, as I am sure you know, is zoned for higher density. Thats not about better or worse or undesirable areas. How silly.

Re rabbit burrow housing, I was thinking more about them underneath Burlingame Avenue perhaps connecting to the creek and/or "Mummys Gate"!

I welcome new residents - anywhere in Burlingame - but particularly downtown if that is where people want to live and as a sensible way for the future of city planning.

This is a very important discussion but talking to a brick wall(s) is rootin' tootin' high risin' skyrocketin' waste of my precious time.

So I'll say it again ...

I am open to change
These changes will not happen overnight
These changes will happen over the next decades
I am open to progress and good city planning
I have confidence in good design
I have confidence in our planning commission
I see this as a glass half full and not doom and gloom
I look forward not backwards
I look forward to how the next generation will live
I look forward to more housing options
I look forward to those who work here being able to live here too
I look forward to more retail options
I look forward to more business options
I look forward to more restaurant options
I look forward to more $$$ coming into Burlingame
I look forward to new and exciting residents


I don't think a seven storey mixed use building in Burlingame (especially on a street like Chapin or Howard which are wonderful and exciting opportunities)

will be the dramatic and slow excruciatingly painful death and demise of Burlingame.

On the contrary, I welcome those residents who want to be here for the long gestation of its re-birth!


thank you, fiona.


And I wonder, dear Fiona, if you would feel the same way if the "old boys" council were still in effect. You change your thoughts, wishes and dreams about Burlingame, as well as your feelings about people, like the wind changes direction. Simply amazing.


I'm sorry, but I work for a developer and I know that they aren't the big bad wolf that some seem to think they are, but I am not for the 75' height requirement move for the downtown area. I have a mother who lives in a condo downtown and the thing she likes the most is that she can sit on her balcony and see the hills, watch the sunset and look out at trees. If this passes, it'll make condo's like hers undesireable as it will cut off her light and her view to the hills. I also manage a building on Chapin and I can tell you that we have no desire to have 75' buildings surrounding our property. It will diminish the value of our property and make our space undesireable if we don't follow suit. Downtown Burlingame is already a traffic nightmare at times. I can only imagine what it will be like with 1000 more residential units on Chapin. Give up their cars, yea right...won't happen in California.

Kevin Hecteman

I'll get right to the point: What would be nice is if I could afford to live in my hometown without having to become a multimillionaire first.

Now then:

I've been following this and other threads about the future of Burlingame, the proposed change to height limits, etc. Seems to me emotion on all sides is getting in the way of rational discussion. That's understandable to a certain extent (see my opening paragraph), but at some point people need to calm down and discuss this in a calm, cool, collected fashion. Nothing less than the future of the town is at stake.

I see here a battle of sorts for Burlingame's soul between the neurotic nostalgics and the manic-progressives. (Thank you, Herb Caen, for both of those terms). Neither extreme is tenable. We can't freeze Burlingame in time for all time, nor should we turn the town over to those who couldn't care less about the town and are out simply to make a pile of money.

The challenge is to figure out how to accommodate growth and make it possible for us middle-class and working-class types to live in Burlingame without ruining the ambiance.

I'd suggest several books for those interested in town planning and livability:

* "Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream" by Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Jeff Speck

* "Home from Nowhere: Remaking our Everyday World for the 21st Century" by James Howard Kunstler

* "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" by Jane Jacobs

* "A Better Place to Live: Reshaping the American Suburb" by Philip Langdon

* "Charter of the New Urbanism," published by the Congress for the New Urbanism (www.cnu.org).

All present excellent viewpoints about town planning. How to accommodate all sorts of housing, from the apartment above the shop to the single-family house, in a sensible fashion; how to allow the automobile in without allowing it to dominate the landscape; how to provide easy access to multiple modes of transportation ... in short, how to create (or preserve) a human-scaled place where people can live, work and play, and where those who need to move about can easily do so without a car if they so desire.

I'd suggest anybody interested in Burlingame's future might want to look into the above books. And keep up the discussion here.

(What might work even better: the people on the forum ought to get together for lunch sometime and talk about all this in person.)


There is only one council person proposing 75 foot heights (Terry Nagel) -- so that idea will probably never happen.
Three of the other council people (Keighran, Deal and O'Mahony) are proposing 55 foot heights with no conditional use permits (against the recommendation of the Citizens Advisory Committee). That is a big change and one that should not be supported. A conditional use permit gives the city the ability to control the development (i.e. it can grant exceptions where it is in the city's interest and not grant exceptions when it is not). Many of our new condos (for example, the ones across from city hall and 1512 Floribunda) exceed the 35 foot height limit and needed conditional permits. Neither of those buildings, however, are 55 feet. So 55-as-a-matter-of-right-no-questions-asked will change the downtown dramatically. Couple that with a loosening up on parking requirements, which was also discussed at the last council meeting, and we will have a traffic nightmare as well as an incentive to destroy some of our older charming buildings. The planning commission has done a very good job over the last 100 years. Burlingame has always evolved and has always changed....but only incrementally and in a way that generally reflects community consensus. We shouldn't take away the city's ability to control its own growth.


Kevin, I'm not even close to being a multimillionaire. Started out slow in Burlingame after years of renting. Bought my first home in Vallejo before upgrading to a little 2/1 in Burlingame that needed a completed overhaul..cute place and perfect for my toddler. Sold it moved on to other parts of Burlingame that also all needed renovating. Lots of sweat equity in every home I've had.

But, that's attainable housing...those charming smaller homes should be saved for our children, not knocked down for a condo, or permitted to become multimillion dollare monster homes. Today, I can not afford to re-purchase my old 2/1, because it's now a 4/3.

The idea that our children can not afford Burlingame is something to ponder. My street is loaded with young families, little children, babies. The school district enrollment seems to be steady.

Agree on the lunch get together. Feel free to email me. good post.

Elizabeth, I'll bet your mom had a great view of the firework show for the centennial!!



Just to clarify -- as I read the CAC's recommendations (available online from the city) both sides of Chapin Avenue and the entire south side of Bellevue (in front of the Library to ECR) could go as high as 75 feet if granted a conditional use permit.

If we get rid of the conditional use permits, as some council members are suggesting, those three blocks could be 75 feet "as a matter of right." Imagine coming out of the library, or city hall and looking at an entire row of 75 foot buildings across the street.

By way of reference, the huge apartment building on Bellevue and ECR and the bank building on Primrose and Donnelly are 75 feet.


Another clarifying point -- The other area slated for very high heights is the area south of Howard. The CAC recommended that the area south of Howard could go as high as 75 too, but only if the planning commission granted a conditional use permit. (Essentially the CAC recommended that the height limit be kept at 35 feet throughout the downtown, but made exceptions to 45, 55 and 75 with conditional use permits in certain areas). Nagel would make this 75 with no conditional use permit required. Keighran/Deal/O'Mahony all felt this area could also be 55 without any conditional use permit required and 75 with a conditional use. Not as high as Nagel, but still a big change from what is currently down there (and from what the CAC recommended).

The recommendations of the CAC can be downloaded by going to www.burlingame.org, then go to Departments, then to Community Planning and then to Downtown Specific Plan. The stuff being discussed here is on pages 4 and 5.


Forgive me for the multiple postings of this editorial, However, the prior discussion on this topic, for those who are late comers to the discussion, was spread across several threads. The thread above contains the info for accessing the downtown specific plan recommendations as they exist currently.

From today's San Mateo Daily Journal

The downsides of big buildings

Your recent perspective piece by Terry Nagel, Housing for the Future,? promotes 75-foot tall buildings and elimination of conditional use permits. Visualize buildings twice the current allowable height, without the safeguard of public input.
We must be careful before we leap to a conclusion that 75-foot buildings will satisfy a need for affordable housing. The Housing Element of the Burlingame General Plan of July 2002, recapped affordable housing goals set in 1994 and has shown that we failed miserably at them. Yet as single family homes are torn down to accommodate high-density condos priced at $2 million, we are no closer to providing moderate housing in Burlingame.
It seems that the housing that was replaced was the truly affordable housing.
The article suggests that the high-density approaches of Portland and Seattle with populations of 500,000+, are a model for Burlingame, with a population of 28,000. I have lived in many U.S. cities, including 12 years in San Francisco, and loved every minute of city living. I would contend that Burlingame residents do not live here for the that big-city experience. Looking further into the U.S. census data, referenced in the article, I learned that the population density of Portland is 3,939 people per square mile of city land, and the population density of Burlingame is 6,503 people per square mile of city land. That sounds pretty dense to me.
I ask our government leaders to look at how other beautiful cities, that closely resemble Burlingame, manage their downtown areas, growth and housing issues. We need a plan with rigorous guidelines to assure that future building meets the community's needs and not just those of big development. Let's not simply assume that 75-foot buildings will solve a housing issue or that teachers, firefighters, police officers and their families will choose to live in a high rise.

Betsy McGinn


Thank you, Betsy for writing a perspective that I share.

Thanks to Joanne for posting the letter.

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