NEIGHBORHOOD SPOTLIGHT: CENTRAL NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATION
"Neighborhood Spotlight" is a column highlighting the many diverse neighborhoods of San Mateo and the issues that are important to them. Our first Spotlight is on Central Neighborhood Association (CNA). Lisa Diaz Nash spoke with CNA Board President, Michael Weinhauer, and Special Advisor, Laurie Watanuki, to learn more about CNA's history and how it has worked on behalf of its neighbors for enhanced safety and neighborhood quality of life.
Lisa: What is the vision and mission of the CNA?
Laurie: We envision a safe, clean and attractive residential neighborhood. CNA’s mission is to preserve the quality of life and safety in our residential neighborhood.
Lisa: What are CNA’s priorities?
Michael: We promote a cleaner and litter free neighborhood, sensible and compatible development, and the reduction of environmental impacts of development, traffic, pollution, vibrations and noise.
We also advocate for more open space and recreation for our neighborhood. We support pedestrian and bicycle safety, neighborhood preservation and beautification.
Lisa: What is the size and location of the CNA neighborhood?
Laurie: CNA has about 400 homes and 1,200 residents within our borders. CNA is bordered on the North by the south side of 4th Avenue; to the south by 9th Avenue; to the East by So. Amphlett Blvd. and to the West by Railroad Avenue.
Lisa: How did the two of you get involved in the CNA and why do you think it is important?
Laurie: My family has lived in San Mateo for 3 generations and my grandparents were very active in the Japanese Community in San Mateo and SM County. The house I live in today was built by my parents in 1958. The Central Neighborhood Association grassroots go back to 1991 when 23 neighborhood residents petitioned the City unsuccessfully to prevent the widening of 1 street. Neighbors continued to meet informally. in 1991, the seeds were planted to start an association for 5th Avenue. Four of us met in a coffee shop we introduced a “slow street” campaign for 5th Avenue at a City Council hearing. The Director Public Works encouraged to put together a plan for the entire neighborhood. So we put our plans on hold. Our neighborhood started a project with the City in 1997 to put in 10 four-way stop signs in our neighborhood because we had a high number of traffic accidents (123 injury and hit and run accidents within a 38 month period). Residents had waited 10 to 20 years for their requests for the stop signs. The project took five years to do, but we were successful. We took it to the Public Works Commission (now the Sustainability & Infrastructure Commission). We spoke about it at 2 or 3 meetings. We had ten block captains and they had everyone sign petitions for these stop signs. We also did a survey that showed residents were 3-to-1 in favor of the four-way stop sign plan. The Stop Signs were installed in 2002. Maurine Killough, who had already managed 3 or 4 neighborhood associations, and Dan Swetlik, a musician who helped us with our CNA Block Parties, were crucial in expanding our association and getting people excited to get involved.
Our efforts for stop signs originally started on Fifth Avenue. Once we started, Public Works wanted us to do a stop sign plan for the entire neighborhood. The City asked us to extend the organizing effort and so we expanded from the south side of 4th Avenue to Ninth Avenue. That’s how the CNA came into “official being.”
Michael: I moved to Central in 2016 with my wife and children. In January 2017, I joined
the CNA to clean up the blight of used car sales transactions on 3rd, 4th, 5th, and cross
streets which were impacting safety and traffic on 4th Avenue. At a City Council open
comments session, we asked for the Public Works Department to deploy the Residential Parking Permit Program (RPPP) in Central. Installing the residential permit signage has turned the area around. Ben Portusach initiated our 501-C3 non-profit status and Maurine Killough has assisted us though the process with her persistence and knowledge.
Lisa: What are some of the projects the CNA has worked on?
Laurie: One of our earliest projects was a neighborhood lighting audit we did in 1998. We have many dog walkers who walk at night, residents who like to walk to Downtown, residents who walk home from the Transit Center at night. A lot of San Mateans also bike through Central and these lights will keep them safer as well.
So, four of us went out at night and walked the neighborhood with flashlights. We then put together this plan of all the dark areas in our neighborhood and listed all the addresses where they were and placed dots on a map. We came up with 35 dark areas. We have been working with the City since then to develop engineering plans and to get funding to install the lights. Funding for the green street lamps has been a very slow process, but this always will be a high priority for us.
We also had the City’s first traffic circle project at 5th at El Dorado. We always wanted to expand this further and add more traffic calming devices to reduce the cut-through traffic on 5th and9th Avenues and all of our streets. That was the pilot for what became the City’s Traffic Action Program (TAP), where neighbors identified top traffic issues in their areas and the City used that to prioritize their traffic efforts. It felt good to help start that Citywide change!
We received 3 small neighborhood grants from the Peninsula Community Foundation and one neighborhood grant from the City. We defeated 2 Big Box proposals - Smart & Final and Beverages and More (both included a fast food drive through) at the current MidPen housing location. We also have 12 Neighborhood Watch blocks. We have worked with the City on the Duplex Design Guidelines to help preserve the historic characteristics of our single family homes and our neighborhood. Our most recent project was to assist Downtown businesses with CNA-funded gift cards during the Covid impacts. We also try to enhance the attractiveness and safety of our Central neighborhood and to encourage our neighbors to work together to improve our community.
Lisa: What is the impact you feel that CNA has had?
Michael: We have worked hard to be the voice of our neighbors to ensure that our needs are understood by the City. We have built a strong working relationship with City staff where they can reach out to us on issues affecting our neighborhood, and we can engage them on our projects. We are frequent participants at Planning Commission, Sustainability & Infrastructure and City Council meetings. We have worked with Prometheus and Windy Hill developers to obtain safety, infrastructure and aesthetic improvements on their residential developments in our neighborhood. As part of The Metropolitan project, Prometheus made contributions for green pedestrian lamps on 4th, 5th, and the entry areas of Idaho, Humboldt, Grant, Fremont, Eldorado, and Delaware Streets. Windy Hill provided funding for Sunnybrae School playground paving improvements, curb enhancements for storm drain improvements at 5th and 9th Avenues, more lighting on 4th, and a speed feedback sign. We would like to see them do more.
We also have held regular CNA meetings to help everyone in our neighborhood meet each other and work together on projects to beautify where we live. While projects don’t always happen as quickly as we would hope, we feel we have made real, positive, long- term improvements for our neighborhood. That is what a neighborhood association should be all about!
Lisa: What are your priorities for 2021?
Laurie: Traffic and speeding is our top 2021 priority. We want to reduce future cut through traffic on 5th Avenue with the Kiku Crossing - MidPen Housing Project and the 700-car garage to be built across the street from the apartments. We want to install speed cushions on 5th Avenue from Delaware to Amphlett as well as Grant Street. Idaho Street has waited a long time for traffic calming devices. We will work with City staff to try to install an electronic speed feedback sign on 4th Avenue and a bike box at S. Humboldt at 4th Avenue.
We need to reduce the noise, vibrations, and air pollution impacts of large 18-wheelers and heavy box trucks that drive through Central, and promote Urban Delivery Trucks, which are smaller vehicles. WAZE redirects truck drivers through our narrow streets off of the Truck Routes and this a big problem for our neighborhood. There is also a problem of loud vehicular and motorcycle noise impacts generated by incompatible businesses next to residential neighborhoods that we are working with the City to find solutions to.
Michael: We also would like to have the Coors billboard on S. Amphlett relocated to City-owned property. We will be following up with Public Works on electrical plans for pedestrian lighting and continue efforts to obtain funding for our green pedestrian street lamps. We are in the process of updating our CNA website. We also want to promote R2 housing on S. Amphlett from 5th to 9th Avenues as a way to support sustainable growth in our neighborhood.
But it’s not only big projects. It’s also about people helping people. We also will continue to help our neighbors get through the pandemic. We have offered rides to people to get their COVID vaccination shots and tried to help those who need errands run or have difficulty getting to doctor appointments. So, we have a lot to do in 2021!
Lisa: You all sure are busy! How do you engage your neighbors in the CNA? Tell us about some of your CNA-organized neighborhood events.
Laurie: We hold regular CNA meetings to let our neighbors know what we’re working on and get their input on what improvements they’d like to see in Central. We get many of our best ideas from our neighbors!
We promote our meetings by sending out emails and creating signs for meetings. We also post meetings on FACEBOOK and Nextdoor Central.
Michael: We have had black parties...and Laurie is a big reason behind that! Our first effort was a major block party with a grant from the Peninsula Community Foundation (now Silicon Valley Community Foundation), designed as a way to introduce our neighbors to our Stop Sign Plan and display pictures of a wide variety of bungalow homes. Maurine Killough made gift bags, and we had a raffle with gifts from the Downtown merchants. Dan Swetlik introduced his band at the party. The Police and Fire Department joined us. It was a big success, and we established block contacts from that event.
Laurie: We have held 3 National Night Out Block Parties in partnership with the San Mateo Police Department, 1 Ice Cream Social, 2 Neighborhood Walks with Code Enforcement staff to identify problem areas and get the City’s commitment to fix them. And we got together with our neighbors one year to plant 500 daffodil bulbs at Central’s 4 intersections and our traffic circle. It was gorgeous! When Larry Patterson (former City Manager) and staff came out to see them in bloom, we took the opportunity to talk about the traffic calming measures we wanted. We promote our meetings by sending out emails and creating signs for meetings. We also post meetings on Facebook and Nextdoor Central.
Michael: We also hold CNA Annual Meetings at Laurie’s house. At all these meetings, we try to include our Area Support Police Officer so that everyone can get to know them and they can get to better know our neighborhood. We find that’s a great way to improve the safety of our neighborhood and get greater City understanding of our traffic safety issues.
Lisa: What is the value you see in CNA's involvement in the San Mateo United Homeowners Association (SMUHA)?
Michael: When you are a smaller neighborhood, it helps to get additional support on issues like the state law AB1763 Density Bonus which increased the MidPen Project to 7 stories, with no additional parking. We always want to compromise with the City and the State, but we want to ensure that our concerns are taken into consideration and that the end solution reflects our neighborhood’s needs. SMUHA helps us with that.
Laurie: SMUHA also gives us Ideas for guest speakers for our own CNA Meetings. SMUHA also started the San Mateo-wide Outstanding Home Maintenance Awards to identify homes across the City that reflect the beauty and pride of our residents. CNA has proudly participated in 10 of these Home Maintenance Awards with other neighborhood associations and we are working on our selection for the 2021 Central Award right now.
Lisa: And, finally, what more would you like to see SMUHA do on behalf of all of San Mateo's neighborhoods?
Michael and Laurie: We would like to see SMUHA provide additional support on State Ballot issues and local regulations which will impact our neighborhoods. As an example, residential neighborhoods need to get an adequate portion of the Traffic Impact Fees for their traffic devices to address cumulative cut-through and speeding traffic impacts. The Traffic Impacts Fees have typically been used for grade separations in the past which promote more traffic flow but does not help the adjacent neighborhoods impacted by this flow.
Lisa: Thanks, Laurie and Michael, for this great interview! Keep up all the great work CNA is doing and keep bringing your ideas for change to SMUHA. Neighborhoods united make our City stronger!
Beautiful homes in Central San Mateo.
CNA Mid-block Street Light Audit Diagram
Mid-block Street Light