Update on Project Activities
Our team is having weekly meetings at 10:00am on Fridays, most usually in TDX. In this week’s meeting we got to know each other and worked on the warm-up exercises included in the scope of work packet. We also took a virtual tour of the B Street Corridor using Google Maps street view in order to help familiarize ourselves with the neighborhood before our first visit. We are still waiting on an email response from Mr. Samaro as to when and where we are meeting in the next two weeks. We would like to meet with him (either on campus or at his office) this upcoming week to discuss the specifics of our project involvement and determine how and when we can be most helpful and effective in collecting surveys. We would then like to be able to start collecting survey data on the week of the 25th, requiring us to go into San Mateo and start doing fieldwork.
Both Matt and Fidel speak Spanish, which will be particularly helpful for communicating with business owners for whom English is not their preferred language. Matt has a car and has offered to drive us to San Mateo for the fieldwork, but the Caltrain is also an option if we need to split up. Matt also has some experience working with urban planning as an intern for New Urban Communities, a small real estate development firm based in Delray Beach, FL. Madeleine will be primarily responsible for emailing Mr. Samaro, but all group members will be copied on each email.
What We Observed and Learned
Mr. Samaro introduced the class to the project and his involvement with Urban Habitat. He discussed the issues with gentrification in the B St Corridor in downtown San Mateo, and some of the strategies he and his colleagues were implementing to try to prevent some of the negative impacts on the area. We learned that four organizations - Urban Habitat, Faith in Action, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, and the San Mateo County Health Department - are collaborating to help the owners of small businesses in the neighborhood, but convincing the local government to amend legislature in favor of these businesses is difficult without hard data. In addition, surveying the owners proved to be a challenge because of either language barriers or lack of spare time. In some cases, they also felt hesitant to give personal economic information to strangers. We learned that small, often minority-run businesses in San Mateo are being pushed out because of the high rent and a diminishing number of patrons, also caused by increasing rent in the nearby residential areas. Moreover, small businesses have a difficult time hiring since many of the qualified candidates cannot afford to live near the downtown area of San Mateo due to the rising market price of housing. We learned that it is illegal to establish any sort of rent control over businesses, which makes business displacement even more difficult to address than housing justice.
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
Survey collection in San Mateo can begin as soon as Urban Habitat revises their survey, which is currently too long for many owners to fill out. Thought should also be given to the manner in which these surveys are presented, as in the past both length and content have been hindrances to successful data collection. Business owners are understandably hesitant to take an hour out of their work day to fill out the surveys, as the immediate need to work in order to keep the store afloat can outweigh the perceived benefits (or lack thereof) of the survey, especially if owners don’t believe the data will actually help create real change. We believe it will be important to establish more intimate relationships with local business owners in order to communicate their grievances more effectively to city officials. Mr. Samaro told us that Urban Habitat had more success when reaching out to business owners through their congregations, as religion plays a prominent role in many of these people's’ lives. In addition to helping with survey collection, we will plan to support the businesses directly by having a meal at one of the neighborhood restaurants or shopping at one of the convenience stores.