FOURTH DISTRICT SUPERVISOR Warren Slocum recently began his first term as president of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, and has outlined several challenges he says the county should tackle in the coming months and years.
Those include the housing crisis, homelessness among veterans, and flooding exacerbated by sea-level rise.
And to help alleviate chronic traffic congestion, Slocum supports a hypothetical project that would create a new commuter rail line crossing the Bay, from the Peninsula to Alameda County.
The county has already made progress when it comes to housing homeless veterans, Slocum said. A housing development for homeless vets was recently constructed on the Veterans Administration’s Menlo Park campus, the supervisor noted, adding the “gorgeous” 63-unit apartment complex went from planning to completion in just three years.
Slocum says 2016 should be the year San Mateo County ends homelessness among veterans. While a precise count is pending, the supervisor estimates there are about 125 homeless vets currently on the Peninsula, and he says getting that number down to zero is a readily attainable goal. “I served in the Army in Vietnam, and that experience has been with me ever since,” Slocum said, “I always wanted to give back something to my fellow vets.”
Addressing the eviction epidemic and housing crisis affecting middle class and low-income Peninsula residents might be a bigger challenge. Supervisor Dave Pine has previously broached the idea of enacting a just-cause eviction policy for the unincorporated areas the county has direct authority over, but powerful landlord and Realtor groups have recently succeeded in squashing such measures at the city level.
Slocum acknowledged passing rent stabilization or anti-eviction ordinances might be “an uphill battle.” And while the supervisor has not taken a position on such measures, he said lawmakers must come up with some solutions soon.
“I’m with Dave Pine in that we need to do something,” Slocum noted.
The need to upgrade water and flood-control infrastructure might be less controversial, but as flooding becomes more frequent and severe on the Peninsula, the county could face challenges paying for the needed upgrades, Slocum said.
The Board of Supervisors might hire consultants next month to study the issue, Slocum noted, but the county’s flood control district is poorly funded.
The proposed study should provide a way forward, however, and the consultants will likely help the county identify possible funding sources, Slocum said.
Slocum’s most ambitious vision might be the creation of a new railroad that would link the East Bay to the Peninsula, via a bridge across the Bay. The bridge already exists. Just south of the Dumbarton Bridge, the Dumbarton Rail Bridge was built in 1910, and used by freight trains until the 1980’s.
The cost of restoring the bridge and tracks to serviceable condition would be significant, Slocum said, but the proposed rail line would connect BART stations in the East Bay to Caltrain stations on the Peninsula, and the resulting reduction in automobile trips might justify the expense.
“Everywhere I go, there’s more and more traffic, and I don’t see it changing,” Slocum noted.
The new rail service would run close to Facebook’s headquarters, and the social media giant has donated $1 million to a study of the concept, Slocum said.
The proposed service would likely be a public-private partnership, using light rail vehicles similar to Muni’s streetcars, Slocum noted, adding that a private train operator from Europe has shown interest in the project, saying he believes the proposal is feasible.
Note: Article Published in SF Examiner, January 16, 2016. Written by Brendan P. Bartholomew.