County supervisors approve purchase of two hotels for homeless in Millbrae, South San Francisco

San Mateo County supervisors voted 4 to 1 on Tuesday to approve the purchase of two hotels along the Peninsula to be converted into housing for the homeless. 

One is a La Quinta Inn in Millbrae that will be purchased for $33 million. The other hotel for the homeless population is located in South San Francisco. Together, the combined effort will provide 120 permanent units for people who had previously experienced homelessness, county officials said. In addition, these locations will provide on-site services for residents. This includes case management, counseling, and health-care clinicians. 

"The acquisition of these facilities are an important step in our functional zero strategy to address homelessness," said Supervisor Dave Pine, president of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors. "Permanent supportive housing changes people’s lives."

The proposal has been a source of protest and controversy for months. The only county supervisor to vote against the purchase was Supervisor David Canepa. 

Early Tuesday morning, more than 100 residents met at Millbrae City Hall to board buses to Redwood City in order to attend the supervisors meeting and implore them not to buy the hotel.

The city's mayor, Ann Schneider, and a majority of the Millbrae City Council also opposed the sale.

Following the vote, Schneider said, "The responsibility of government at the City Council, Board of Supervisors and higher office is to solve problems and not to create new and more problems. The decision by the Board of Supervisors today is a total disconnect from what Project Homekey is designed to do."

Schneider previously said the county is taking a vital source of revenue for her city. She said Millbrae has poor roads and underfunded schools and a lot of other needs that should be addressed. 

"We're not anti housing," she told KTVU. "I see this as a fiscal issue." 

The hotel tax from La Quinta brings more than $600,000 a year to Millbrae. The mayor said taking the hotel away will mean a big hole in the city budget.

"I found out about this decision by the county, by reading the local paper," Schneider said. "To read about it in the paper that you're losing a hotel that brings in $600,000 is a big hit. Especially when we already approved our budget. We've already figured out how to pay for things."

After the vote Schneider reiterated what she perceived as a negative economic impact, calling the vote an abuse of power, "taking away more local control and not in keeping with Governor Newsom's vision of Project Homekey, i.e., to make communities better." 

Before the meeting, San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa said he hadn't decided yet how he'd vote. Top of mind for him, was the 35 workers and the employees at the sushi restaurant. 

"My main concern is what do we do with the employees?" he asked. "We're trying to solve a problem but are we creating a problem by displacing workers?"

The meeting saw plenty of local pushback against the housing project from dozens of residents. 

"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.

During a presentation of the plan to supervisors at the meeting, San Mateo County Executive Officer Mike Callagy said the purchase is needed.

It would "serve the most vulnerable in our community," he said, adding that the site would also provide additional social services for residents.

In previous meetings, Callagy explained that the county needs the Millbrae La Quinta Inn's 100 beds, to solve the problems of housing and homelessness.

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

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. 

"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. 

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," 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 health clinician for two years, both starting in 2024. 

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

Bay City News reporter Thomas Hughes contributed to this report.