San Carlos to Consider Buying Black Mountain with $45MM Bond Measure

By Jack Stubbs

As rents and housing prices continue to rise in San Francisco and the Bay Area, the subsequent shortage of housing and space is being pushed into sharper focus—residential developers are considering options further down the Peninsula. However in one such city, there is a push to retain some of its natural habitat and preserve land that could be redeveloped with new homes. The City of San Carlos is considering buying Black Mountain, a 25-acre wildlife and nature reserve that comprises some of the last undeveloped residential land in San Carlos. If the city does not purchase the land, residential developers could instead.

Discussions regarding Black Mountain have been ongoing for the past several months. However, in the next few weeks, the San Carlos City Council will push its community to help make a decision.

Jeff Maltbie, the San Carlos city manager in charge of community relations and the Black Mountain decision, discussed the timeline for the issue. During the month of July, the City Council will hold two meetings—one on the 13th and one on the 27th—to decide whether the issue should be part of the November ballot. “The ordinance would be introduced by the City Council during the first meeting in July and adopted and voted on during the second meeting of July,” Maltbie said. The City Council will have to notify the county by August 8th whether or not they would like the Black Mountain issue to be included as part of the November ballot.

Today, the vast 25-acre property is scarcely used at all, but that might just be the way the community intends to occupy it. “On the entire property, there are currently four homes. All but one of [them] is vacant,” Maltbie said. However, this dynamic could all drastically change in the near future: If the city of San Carlos decides not to buy Black Mountain, developers could convert the area into residential space, changing the fabric of the preserved land forever. “A developer could potentially develop up to 100 homes there, although they might end up only developing 20 houses there,” Maltbie stated. Although the exact outcome regarding potential development may still be uncertain, it is clear that the future of the Black Mountain property will come to a head in the next several weeks.

Several residents of San Carlos oppose the city’s potential purchase of the land. “The opponents [of the potential preservation of Black Mountain], of which there have been relatively few, have been individual residents throughout the community,” he said. Opponents of the decision to purchase are in the minority—however, one of the primary concerns voiced has been the issue of taxes. “There are tax measures on the November ballot, and our tax bill is pretty low for the residents,” Maltbie said. Other opponents have claimed that the asking price for the property is too high. Commenting on this, Maltbie said, “We’re doing appraisals and starting to negotiate a purchase option, but this would be contingent on the election. Twenty-five acres in San Carlos is not a cheap proposition.”

Indeed, the financial concerns voiced by the residents appear to be valid. If the city decided to buy the land, it would have to raise the funds to do so. San Carlos is therefore contemplating a $45 million bond measure with an estimated annual cost per household of approximately $100 per year for the next 30 years. This estimate is based on the average city-wide assessed property value of around $500,000. Maltbie also believes that the potential bond measure considered would adequately cover the expenses associated with Black Mountain. “The $45 million bond measure would be enough to acquire the land and to make the physical infrastructure changes necessary,” Maltbie said.

Even in spite of the heavy financial considerations, residents’ feedback about the city’s potential Black Mountain purchase has been largely positive. “The support that we’ve heard from people has been overwhelmingly strong. This idea came from the community. A bond measure would require a 2/3 majority from the voters for it to pass,” Maltbie added.

Considering the heavy financial figures of the transaction, the city is making a pointed effort to involve the community in the decision-making process by conducting extensive public outreach. Residents can visit the City Council’s booth at the Farmer’s Market on the first Thursdays of June and July or they can visit City Council’s booth at San Carlos Airport Day on June 27th. Residents can also express their concerns about the decision via Shape San Carlos, an online forum.

The Black Mountain decision is more than a purely financial or economic one, both for present and future residents. “It’s a quality-of-life issue for the community. We felt that because this opportunity was unique and fleeting, we really should reach out to the community to find out their opinion about it,” Maltbie said. The option to buy Black Mountain wouldn’t be available in the future. Although no firm verdict will be reached until the November ballot, the decision ultimately rests with the residents. Considering the extensive public outreach currently being conducted on behalf of the city, residents would be wise to offer their opinion, Maltbie suggested. “This is a unique moment in time where the community can step forward.”

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