Can San Carlos handle its own growth?

November 18, 2008



The article I wrote earlier this week about the Wheeler Plaza Development clearly struck a nerve with many residents who are concerned about the seemingly break-neck pace at which the City is adding residential living capacity.  While there were many positive comments about the development plans, there were an equal number of residents who are concerned that this development, along with the 1001 Laurel Complex and the San Carlos Transit Village, will create more growth than the City can really handle.

It's widely believed that this impact will be immediately felt at the school level.   After all, this comes on the heels of a special public meeting that was held on November 5 where the San Carlos School Board discussed the capacity problems that our school district is facing right now — even without the presence of new residential units.   If you weren't able to attend the meeting, here is the basis of what was discussed:

Managing Enrollment

White Oaks School seems to have a waiting list to get in every year, and there are now reports of students being diverted away from Arundel School this fall.  Clearly, the San Carlos School District will be facing some very tough decisions soon.

Seth Rosenblatt is one of the Governing Board Members of the San Carlos School District, and he has been extremely responsive and accessible to the questions and concerns of the citizens.  He has posted some valuable insight on his blog:  Seth Rosenblatt's Blog where he discusses his thoughts and preferences to possible solutions.    From my interactions with Seth, there are some key points to consider when linking the new development to the school enrollment issues:

  1. The impact of the Wheeler Plaza Development and 1001 Laurel are already factored into the enrollment projections in the attached report.
  2. Studies indicate that the introduction of multi-unit housing historically does not generate many additional student-age children.
  3. An “official” change in the enrollment policy (boundary change, restrict transfers, etc…) won't likely be ready until the 2010-2011 school year.

On the other side of this coin, the City of San Carlos is clearly looking for additional tax revenue to fill its depleted coffers.  More residents = more sales tax revenue, plain and simple.   They're motivated to keep the shops full, and to have more residents spending money downtown.   And believe me, if you think the Wheeler Plaza idea is big, you should see the “vision” they have for the multi-zoned areas east of San Carlos Avenue.

So…..what's your take on all of this?   Is all of this development that's being planned a good or bad for the “City of Good Living”?   Can San Carlos truly handle its own growth?   Look for a new poll on this topic in the next day or so on the site, but for now…let's hear your comments!

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  1. Michael on November 19, 2008 at 8:35 pm

    I am sure the city is providing studies that show “muliti unit housing does not generate many additional student-age children.” But where were these studies done? I highly doubt the studies take into account the unique aspects of San Carlos and the fact that families are attracted to our city because of our schools. I would be very leery of believing the studies because the city’s primary interest is generating revenue. Besides, we all know studies and statistics can be very easily manipulated to show the outcome you want it to show.

    I find it upsetting that the Wheeler Plaza Development has already been factored in for enrollment when it has not been approved. Is this a done deal? Do the people of San Carlos have any say at all? It is bad enough that the 1001 Laurel took away our alley and was built at such an inappropriate size for San Carlos.

  2. Chuck on November 20, 2008 at 10:07 pm


    Thanks for weighing in with your comments. I don’t know for a fact if Wheeler Plaza is a done deal or not. The fact that they are asking developers to submit proposals means they’re at the phase where they’re asking for some real work to be done — this obviously costs money.

    I have asked Mark Sawicki (Economic Development and Housing Mgr) from the City to chime in and help further explain what’s going on with the project, but no reply yet….


  3. Jim on November 20, 2008 at 10:15 pm

    I completely agree with you Michael. 1001 Laurel Steet is way too big for our city and I can’t believe the city sold the alley to the developer. Somebody had the right connection at the city.

    I don’t think Wheeler Plaza is a done deal or at least I hope it isn’t. I believe it is still in the planning stages with room for input from the community. I understand citizens were able to stop the Holly Street mulit use proposal so maybe there will be the same kind of support for stopping Wheeler too.

  4. Jill on November 21, 2008 at 2:01 am

    Are the plans for Wheeler Plaza anything like 1001 Laurel? It is really big and looks out of place in downtown San Carlos.

    Also, I believe the school district has planned to incorporate any new families into the system from 1001 Laurel. But depending on how many families move in, they might not get into their “neighborbood” school. I doubt the school district has plans to accomodate children from the other developments such as Wheeler Plaza or the Transite Station. I agree there will be many families moving the new developments. A friend of mine owns a large apartment complex downtown San Carlos and many of his tenants are families. Families are attracted to San Carlos for many reasons and will continue to move here.

  5. Chuck on November 21, 2008 at 2:42 pm

    Jim, Michael, and Jill,

    You might want to email Mark Sawicki (, who appears to be the lead on Wheeler Plaza, to get a position on where things are at and to understand if there will be any public hearings.

    The next step is to apply pressure on the City Council. Here are their email addresses — in general I have found them to be pretty responsive, so don’t hesitate to write to any/all of them:

    Mayor Brad Lewis:
    Bob Grassilli:
    Omar Ahmad:
    Matt Grocott:
    Randy Royce:

    If you find anything interesting, please let me know and I’ll post it on the site.



  6. Fred on December 6, 2008 at 10:50 pm

    I don’t like the idea of building housing at the Transit Village, wedged between El Camino and the Caltrain tracks. It could be hazardous for children living there when they wander onto the tracks or into the road. The area should be used for commercial or retail – perhaps a hotel near the Caltrain station.

    Also, has anyone given any thought to the high speed train (bond issue just passed on Nov 4) that will be built someday. The section of tracks between San Jose and San Francisco will be built (I assume) parallel with the existing Caltrain tracks. The high speed train tracks will either be elevated or placed underground to avoid grade crossings. Where will they find the land to build this thing? Will homes and businesses be removed to make way for the tracks?

    I have issues with building more housing at break-neck speed. San Carlos is not an infinite population sink. More traffic and crowded schools will result degrading the quality of life in “the city of good living”

  7. Kristin on December 20, 2008 at 8:41 am

    I have been reading and thinking about this issue for the past several months. I think San Carlos is going the wrong direction by adding a lot of new housing- big condo buildings such as the one on Laurel. I agree with Fred. One of the biggest reasons that San Carlos is a wonderful place to live is that it feels like a small town oasis in the midst of a major metro area. The SF bay area is full of urban sprawl- especially to the south. I always feel a bit of a shock, even driving into Redwood City. I shudder to think of San Carlos as another Sunnyvale. The city should continue to explore retail development in the logical location – the industrial corridor near 101.

  8. Chuck on December 20, 2008 at 3:42 pm


    You bring up a good point, and I’m not sure I made it clear enough in the initial article. In addition to the 1001 Laurel and Wheeler Plaza developments, the City has also scoped out 7 potential sites on the east side of the city that could be used for large-scale retail development (aka a mall) or a hotel. Those sites are identified on the City website at:

    With Holly and Brittan already overloaded with traffic, I can only imagine what kind of a burden a development of this scale would do to the traffic situation…

    Thanks for your comment, and Happy Holiday!


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