In Millbrae, $$ freedom is a condo awayBy Christine Morente
Everything is on the upswing in Millbrae, despite some challenges in the future.
Mayor Robert Gottschalk told community members and city employees Thursday during the State of the City address that he is excited about what has been accomplished.
"The state of the city is strong," he said. "We've turned our financial situation around," Gottschalk said. "Millbrae truly is a special place to live."
The city struggled financially after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but started to slowly rebound when hotel, sales and property tax revenues improved. Since then, the city has delved into development projects, sharing services with other San Mateo County cities, hired Police Chief Tom Hitchcock, and put more than $1 million into its general fund.
In the next two years, the city will have $400,000 to use for long-overdue capital needs.
However, the city has more than $10 million in street repairs, has to start paying long-term debt on pension obligation bonds in 2007, and deal with the five-year fire assessment district, which brings in $1.1 million a year and maintains the fire stations. It sunsets in 2009.
To add more income and enhance the city's quality of life, transit-oriented development projects will be built and expand the tax base, Gottschalk said.
Last week, the city broke ground for Park Broadway, an upscale 109-unit condominium complex. It will be a mile from the BART/Caltrain station and close to downtown shops and restaurants.
"With our city nearly built out, it's wonderful to see so many condominiums being constructed so first-time homebuyers and young people can have more affordable options to live here," he said.
This summer, construction begins for Friendship Plaza, a 25,000-squarefoot retail center on the corner of Murchison Drive and El Camino Real.
A potential project involves the Millbrae Station area that extends from Millbrae to Victoria avenues. Fancher Partners/Phoenix Property Company is expected to develop the area.
If completed, Millbrae will have 550,000 square feet of new residential, office, hotel and retail space, and potentially a 1,250-seat cinema complex. Gottschalk also hopes for a car dealership on Millbrae Avenue near Highway 101.
Also, Clarion/Westin is planning to demolish the Clarion Hotel on 401 E. Millbrae Avenue, and replace it with three new hotels with more than 400 rooms. One of them will be high-end.
Reaching out to the community is Gottschalk's other priority. He re-established the Asian Outreach Committee, wants a new sister city in China, and hopes to establish neighborhood watch programs.
He said block parties - where neighbors get together - will "meld neighborhoods into crime-prevention and emergency-preparedness groups." Community-based policing will also be strengthened.
Jeffrey Tong - who said he has his heart in Millbrae, but his residence in San Bruno - was impressed with Gottschalk's address.
"He offered a great vision for even neighboring cities to implement," Tong said. "The problem with many cities is that they are so paranoid about losing money. They're afraid to implement things."
He also agreed with the concept of block parties.
"You're reaching out to the community," Tong said. "If people don't feel a sense of community, they tend to withdraw and allow gang activity to encroach on neighborhoods."
Copyright ©2006 San Mateo County Times. Published 06/09/2006.