Measure R and Measure Y: General Plan

San Mateo voters considered two ballot measures that relate to building heights and densities, affordable housing, and land use policies within the City’s General Plan. While there are similarities between Measure R and Measure Y, there are also distinct differences. 

Review the language of the ballot measures, the City Attorney’s impartial analyses, and ballot measure arguments on the Ballot Measure Documents web page.

Below are answers to frequently asked questions. These statements are informational and are not arguments in support of or against either ballot measure. 

What is a General Plan and how can it be changed? What are the current building height and density limits in San Mateo?

The General Plan is the overarching policy document that serves as a blueprint for the future of San Mateo. The plan covers a wide range of topics throughout the City including land use, transportation, housing, safety, parks, conservation and more. The City is in the midst of a multi-year process and community engagement effort to update the General Plan called Strive San Mateo General Plan 2040. 

The current General Plan has voter-approved limits on how tall and dense new buildings can be constructed within the City. In most areas planned for higher-density development, the limits for new building height is 55 feet or about five stories and residential projects are limited to 50 units per acre. Some areas (usually located near transportation corridors, major streets, commercial areas, downtown and train stations) are allowed to go up to 75 feet or about seven stories under certain conditions. Areas zoned for single-family homes have lower limits. These limits were first adopted by voters in 1991 and were extended in 2004 through Measure P until at least Dec. 31, 2020. Learn more about current land use types and density limits and view the land use map. Learn more about building height limits and view the building height map.  

While Measure P expires at the end of the year, there is a process that must be followed before any changes to the General Plan can be made. The City must do an environmental analysis of any proposed changes, host public hearings before the Planning Commission and City Council, and consider public input before approving any changes. Learn how to participate in the current Strive San Mateo General Plan update process.

How many votes are required to pass the measures? What happens if voters approve both measures?

Measures R & Y: Both measures require a simple majority (50% +1 vote) to pass. If both measures pass, then the measure with the most yes votes would take effect. 

How would the measures affect the City Council’s ability to increase height and density limits?

Measure R: If Measure R passes, the Council through the General Plan update process could increase heights and residential density limits in certain areas designated by the measure. View pages 8 and 9 of this resolution for a detailed description of the areas, which are generally near the three Caltrain stations within the City. Before the Council could take such action, the City would need to prepare and consider environmental analysis of any proposed general plan amendments and hold public hearings before the Planning Commission and City Council. In the other areas of the City, the Council could propose increases in heights and densities but could not approve such increases without voter approval for the next 10 years. 

Measure Y: If Measure Y passes, the City Council would not be able to increase the current height and density limits without voter approval for 10 years. The council could propose increases in heights and densities during this period but could not enact such increases without voter approval.

What affect would the measures have on the City’s inclusionary affordable housing policies? 

San Mateo has an inclusionary housing program, which requires new housing developers to contribute to the City’s affordable housing stock. 

Projects with 11 or more units must build affordable units on site as part of the new development. Projects with 5-10units can satisfy the inclusionary requirement by paying in-lieu fees, which must be used for affordable housing purposes. 

In early 2020, the Council increased the City’s inclusionary affordable housing requirements. The Council adopted a requirement that new multi-family residential rental projects provide 15% of the units at rents affordable to low-income households and that new ownership projects provide 15% of the units at prices affordable to moderate income households. These requirements are higher than the minimum 10% requirement that applies to all types of housing including for-sale units, which was incorporated into the General Plan as part of the 1991 and 2004 voter-approved measures. 

Both Measure R and Measure Y maintain the 10% minimum inclusionary policy currently in the General Plan. The Council can adopt policies to increase these affordable housing requirements, but cannot go below the 10% minimum. Both measures would also allow the Council to amend the current policy so that it aligns with a new state law. The law requires cities to provide developers alternative means to satisfy inclusionary requirements aside from constructing affordable housing units on site. This may include, but is not limited to, options such as in-lieu fees, land dedication, off-site construction, or acquisition and rehabilitation of existing units. 

Measure R: Measure R allows the Council to develop alternatives for developers to comply with inclusionary housing requirements. This may include, but is not limited to, options such as in-lieu fees, land dedication, off-site construction, or acquisition and rehabilitation of existing units. If this measure passes, Council would not be required to create an in-lieu fee program, however if it did, the fees would be based on an economic analysis of the cost to provide affordable homes and must be used to provide affordable housing. 

Measure Y: Measure Y does not allow for in-lieu fees, but allows for off-site building and for the Council to develop other alternative means for satisfying the affordable housing requirement.

What happens if neither measure passes?

If neither measure passes, the height and density limits and the inclusionary housing policy enacted by Measure P will remain in effect. However, after Dec. 31, 2020, the City Council would have the authority to amend the General Plan to make changes to height and density limits, and to the inclusionary housing policy. 

Before any General Plan changes can be made, the City must do an environmental analysis of any proposed changes, consider public input, and host public hearings before the Planning Commission and City Council. The community can continue to participate in the current General Plan update process Strive San Mateo, which is expected to conclude in 2023.

Have a suggestion for another question about Measure R or Measure Y? 

These FAQs may be updated from time to time. Those with questions you'd like the City to consider answering may submit them to communications@cityofsanmateo.org.