On the evening of Tuesday the 13th of March, hundreds of people, including Millbrae citizens, local businessmen, unionists, and others filed into the auditorium at Taylor Middle School to witness a public hearing on the BART station project. This was the second hearing on the topic, the first one covering the Serra Properties proposal; Tuesday’s hearing was dedicated to the second proposal, from developers Republic Urban, who have deemed their proposal the “Gateway at Millbrae Station”.
The building was packed. Glancing over the crowd from the upper flight, one could observe large posters with slogans such as “Millbrae is our Home” and “More Retail Space”, held above a sea of brown hats with the slogan “Better Millbrae” glued onto them. Towards the door of the auditorium, a line of union workers from the Local 104 Sheet Metal Workers queued behind a petition, waiting patiently to sign. In front of the stage were two rows of tables. At one table sat four lawyers who made up the legal counsel for the evening, at the other, sat the Millbrae City Council. Just outside the doors were four police officers.
The evening’s proceedings kicked off with a quick runthrough of the agenda. The mood flared when Councilwoman Ann Schneider delivered a two minute speech refuting accusations that she took a $20,000 payment from project developers Republic Urban during her 2015 campaign. Such a donation would represent an enormous conflict of interest, and people were concerned and angry. Towards the end of her piece, she was gaveled by Mayor Gina Papan, in the interest of brevity and the timely continuation of proceedings; Councilwoman Schneider took it as an offense to her free speech.
The bulk of the hearing was made up of the “public comment” section. Person after person came up to the mic to voice either support or opposition to the sweeping plan. The support was made up of Local 104 union workers, local businessmen, middle class citizens and veterans; their support lied behind the promises of sustained work for the union workers, business opportunities, a new part of downtown, and preferential treatment for veterans in the real estate process for the new low-income housing the project includes. The opposition, however, was by no means quiet: educators, students, and average citizens voiced worrying concerns and outright disagreement with the plan. Their arguments were on the issues of the possible influx of students to the school system, traffic congestion, water management, poor emergency plans, and housing concerns.
The council ended up voting in favor of the project, and have selected the Republic Urban Plan to proceed with going forward.