A CONTROVERSIAL PLAN to convert a La Quinta Inn and Suites in the city of Millbrae into permanent supportive housing for formerly homeless people has been approved by the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, despite pleas from the city’s mayor and dozens of residents who spoke against the project at the meeting. 

The proposal when it became public in April drew widespread community opposition from residents who objected to what they said was a lack of community engagement by the county. Many opposed the project as originally proposed, which would have included housing for single adults. Supervisors altered the proposal to restrict potential residents to families and seniors. 

But that did not assuage the concerns of residents or the city’s mayor, who raised several objections such as the loss of property taxes from the hotel and the hotel tax known as the transient occupancy tax, as well as the fate of the employees of the hotel and a restaurant that is also on the property. 

“The citizens of Millbrae do not want this,” said one commenter. 

Others said they supported the project and admonished the project’s opponents for being apprehensive about housing formerly homeless people. 

The plan, which would use funds from the state’s Homekey program, calls for the county to acquire the property at 1390 El Camino Real for $33 million and renovate the hotel to create about 75 units of affordable housing for families and seniors. The renovations would cost about $8.1 million and maintaining the property will cost about $2.2 million annually, which would be covered by the county.  

The plan presented Tuesday included new components to address some of the concerns raised by residents, including a pledge to have a nonprofit employment organization, NOVAworks, help the affected employees find new jobs and offer the restaurant owner a new five-year lease. 

Close to 100 people spoke at the meeting, either by Zoom or in-person, in a packed board chambers that forced some commenters into an overflow room. 

Flawed process ‘since the beginning’

About 60 people urged supervisors to reject the proposal, many citing their concerns about safety, a nearby school, and the tax hit Millbrae would take. About 36 spoke in favor of the housing project, arguing that the hotel’s owner was a willing seller and that families and seniors did not justify the concerns about the school and community safety. 

The county’s lack of engagement and notice to city officials in Millbrae added to the confusion and distrust among residents. Millbrae Mayor Ann Schneider spoke during the public comment period and objected to the county’s process.

“I ask you to vote ‘no’ today. Postpone it, bring it back. Frankly, your process is bad. The process is wrong from the beginning.”

Millbrae Mayor Ann Schneider

“You blindsided us,” Schneider said during an impassioned speech, during which she praised the residents who had shown up to engage in the democratic process, despite what she said many believed was a done deal. 

“I ask you to vote ‘no’ today. Postpone it, bring it back. Frankly, your process is bad. The process is wrong from the beginning,” Schneider said. 

She said Millbrae had long felt taken advantage of and that this represented a line in the sand. Many members of the public present in the chambers gave her a standing ovation when she concluded her comments.

Supervisor David Canepa agreed and had spirited back-and-forth discussions with County Executive Mike Callagy and Supervisor Ray Mueller, urging the board to delay the decision. 

Worth purchasing

But all other board members said that the change in potential residents to seniors and families and the county’s responsibility to create more affordable housing made the hotel worth purchasing. The supervisors voted 4-1 to approve the purchase, contingent upon approval from the state. 

Addressing residents who said they were fearful of how the potential newcomers would change the community, many of whom said they were lifelong or decades-old residents of Millbrae, Supervisor Noelia Corzo urged the community not to reject the people who would live there and pay rent. 

“I want to remind folks, how welcomed and safe you felt when you came to this community and ask you to please, treat your new neighbors in that way.”

Supervisor Noelia Corzo

“I want to remind folks, how welcomed and safe you felt when you came to this community and ask you to please, treat your new neighbors in that way,” Corzo said. “Remember the experience you had when you first came to this community.” 

The sale could be finalized in four to five months, Callagy said, during which time a memorandum of understanding could be finalized with the city of Millbrae that would likely cover three years of lost transient occupancy taxes, rather than the one year originally proposed. The county will also cover the cost of two sheriff’s deputies for three years and a mental clinician for two years, both starting in 2024.

One the sale is finalized, the hotel can be converted into affordable housing in 12 to 18 months, according to Callagy.