1. A Note from Fred Blackwell, CEO
  2. Community Conversation: World Café
  3. Strengths and Hard Stuff
  4. Trends
  5. Bold Steps and New Opportunities
  6. Messages to TSFF
  7. Participants
  8. Keep the Conversation Going

VOICE: San Mateo County

The San Francisco Foundation

VOICE: San Mateo County
The San Francisco Foundation
A Note from Fred Blackwell, CEO

At VOICE: San Mateo County, we met with over 125 residents and service providers, public officials and advocates, congregational leaders and teachers from San Mateo, Redwood City, Burlingame, East Palo Alto, San Carlos, Daly City, San Bruno, Menlo Park, and South San Francisco. To understand the county, is to understand the diversity of the county.

Affordability, community and opportunity were the resounding themes of the morning. This generation is seeing an exodus of people across income and wealth brackets who have lived in San Mateo County for decades. The imbalance between where people are working and living is putting tremendous pressure on the infrastructure of the region, and in many instances, the people who are most passionate about the county can no longer live there.

Community and collaboration across sectors are a tremendous source of pride and opportunity, yet with the great spirit of collaboration, the way resources get allocated to do the work sometimes creates tension and at times undermines that spirit.

Central to the day was a conversation about access to opportunity: that while there is great wealth, job creation, and educational opportunities, there are many barriers – barriers of race, language, immigration status and geography across cities and within – to accessing that opportunity.

Collectively, these listening sessions are an important part of setting the course for our work at The San Francisco Foundation in the short and long term. For our work to be effective, it must be grounded in community, in the voices and lived experiences of the residents. And, the stories that were shared illustrate the very heart of our purpose at this moment in our region, and in our nation.

Below you'll find more information about what was shared with us at VOICE: San Mateo County. We also encourage you to check out more photos and notes, and visit bayareavoices.org where you can continue to #ShareYourVoice with us online by submitting a story about your personal experience living and working in the Bay Area.

Community Conversation: World Café

VOICE: Bay Area is a listening series taking place across the five Bay Area Counties, hosted by The San Francisco Foundation’s new CEO, Fred Blackwell, and his team to hear firsthand about the daily struggles, challenges, inspirations, and successes of residents as TSFF moves into the next decade of its work.

The topics of the day were discussed using the World Café method. This format brings participants together in groups of four to five for meaningful conversations around a specific set of questions, and participants' deep understanding of the issues facing the community, as well as creative thinking about how to address them. Participants had the opportunity to engage with many other attendees as part of the Café, both in small group conversations and as a whole. Below are the themes and deeper questions experienced in the small group conversations that participants shared with the larger group and a graphic recorder. A Café conversation is a creative process for leading collaborative dialogue, ensuring that everyone's voice is part of the conversation.

Strengths and Hard Stuff

We asked participants, "If a friend was moving to this county, what would you tell them about its strengths and treasures and the hard stuff?" 

Participants shared the following:


  • We are known as one of the most collaborative counties. Why? Because we are also known as a "drive through county," and often resources go to either side of us. We've made the most of this dynamic, creating a powerful network to work together.
  • Collaboration between community organizations and government is a strength of San Mateo County. 
  • Innovation in education, through community schools, has become a powerful means of tackling inequality.
  • Tech companies in the area have a lot to bring to the table, and want to work with the community.
  • The county has so much to offer, from its geography, there’s so much to do here, there’s so much opportunity.
  • San Mateo County is rapidly becoming the hub of the global tech community, and has a chance to set a global example for how to ensure equity during the transition.

Hard Stuff

  • There is rapid change happening right now, and Redwood City is a major hub of the tech industry and the center of the county and the justice system. How we figure out the equity of these dynamics is so critical, and can be a model for the country.
  • There are extremes in wealth in San Mateo County, which means different interests are being represented. Tech and business have brought wealth but many residents are left behind.
  • Lots of opportunity, but the barrier to entry is high and getting higher. Prices escalate, and low-income communities are pushed out.
  • Need to increase diversity in education, housing and also in addressing climate issues.
  • There are 20 cities in San Mateo County, which is a vast amount of cities. How do we connect the collaboration between cities, and cities like Pescadero which are unincorporated and have a huge agricultural community. There are huge economic struggles and a lot to be done to change lives.
  • Low-wage jobs have proliferated in the area and it's hard to move up into middle wage jobs.
  • Rental vs. ownership housing issues: many people who want to work to improve in San Mateo County simply can't afford to live in it. Driving out the middle class.
  • One big barrier to income, livelihood, housing and health is immigration status.
  • The aging population in the area are also facing tremendous economic strains; lots of people having to choose between buying medication and buying food. 
  • Increase in unsafe housing conditions, and lots of families are piling in together.
VOICE: San Mateo County

VOICE: San Mateo County


We asked participants, "What have been the biggest changes (patterns, trends) you have seen in the last 5 years? Which changes are the most concerning to you? Which are most encouraging?" Participants shared the following:


  • We live, per square foot, in the most innovative and opportunity of anywhere in the world. How do we find the intersection between communities and the tech industry so that we can self-determine?
  • Lack of collaboration between nonprofits and larger corporations and tech industry in our backyard. At the same time, the lack of investment in housing has forced a lot of organizations to be innovative, think outside of the box, and provide services that circumvent the different issues we face.

Jobs, Youth, and Housing

  • Jobs, especially jobs for young people, have come to be at the center of a county-wide conversation. We need a comprehensive plan for the next generation of young people to thrive. We need collaboration well beyond what is currently taking place. Belief that if you can test and succeed in East Palo Alto, it can become a model for the world.
  • Housing prices have skyrocketed over the past five years and an exodus of people from the community.
  • People are living further from their families which means they often have less of a support network.
  • A grassroots movement for more affordable housing has gained ground, but political will is still necessary to move the issue forward.
  • The national trend of militarization of police forces is happening in San Mateo County. This connects to our justice system, and connects to how we serve youth.

County-Wide Approach to Services

  • With cities unable to afford services – fire, police, etc – we saw the county take this on and it’s been very effective. The way that the Board of Supervisors has reached out to the community – public safety, non-profits, and other organizations – to figure out how to spend Measure A money is commendable.

Climate Change

  • Global warming is a serious issue for San Mateo County, the county most vulnerable to sea-level rise in California. Cities are responding, creating climate action and disaster resiliency plans. It's very encouraging.

Funding and Resources

  • We’ve become a society of contractors – wealth privilege, white privilege – of unbridled capitalism and losing vision of a common good. There's not an understanding of a what a living wage really is, and the money made here does not stay or get reinvested here. Moneymakers should invest in the community and start giving back.
  • Lots of nonprofits in San Mateo County are vying for the same resources – how to find ways to collaborate further to cut down on costs? 
  • State and federal funding for services have been retracted, and at the same time, investment from companies means that previously public goods are being privatized.
  • More money is coming in for treatment, less money is coming in for prevention. 
Bold Steps and New Opportunities

We asked residents, "From what you've heard today, what bold steps or new opportunities do you feel might make a difference in your community?" 

Participants shared that:

  • Create a childcare facilities trust fund, or development intermediary, to create the spaces young children need. It’s not part of our infrastructure, corporations don’t address it, and we’re left with very poor-quality places for children.
  • Rent control for the county and innovative design for high-density housing that reduces overall maintenance costs with renewable energy, so the initial investment would be paid off in a couple years on a zero-energy property. Reducing the cost of building can reduce the cost of rent.
  • We didn't always live in this crumbling infrastructure. San Mateo County would look different with revamped tax structures.
  • Create a general trust fund to support non-profit capacity building, staff members and benefits.
  • PRI's are an important model that we’re looking at for investments in affordable housing – not just giving money to a non-profit but getting a return on that investment.
  • Consolidate and scale services like payroll, accounting, etc. for nonprofits so that they are more effective and can align funding to do more, bigger, better, incentivize.
  • The tech industry could help create a usable database for exchange and services from cradle to career, from early childhood to job services, so that we have a comprehensive way of organizing those services for people to get from one stage to the next where needs are being met.
  • We are a global jobs center – we need to get businesses to look inward and commit beyond transactional opportunities. There needs to be a sustained relationship established across cities and county responsibilities.
VOICE: San Mateo County

VOICE: San Mateo County

Messages to TSFF

Throughout the day, there were a number of ways for participants to share with each other and TSFF. One of those included an opportunity at the end to share one message that they wanted The San Francisco Foundation to hear that they hadn't yet had the opportunity to share.

On a big board with post-it notes, participants shared a number of reflections and messages with The San Francisco Foundation.

Below are some of the notes that were shared with us:

  • Immigrants and low-income people must be central to conversation.
  • Providing safe and healthy housing for everyone, where we are not just building new housing, but preserving existing housing and keeping people in the communities they grew up in.
  • Affordable transportation.
  • We need to be able to live in the community we work in.
  • Community schools are an effective approach to partnership and collaboration to support the success of our students, fmailies, and communities - and they need support!
  • Artist-educator facilitated youth-led arts workshop job training for law enforcement.
  • Bring interfaith spiritual leaders to the table to address critical issues.
  • Help tech industries to understand the problems in the community. Help them to create decent paying jobs for locals, and not just in tech.
  • Economic justice requires inclusion, equity, job creation, pathways into good jobs, standards to ensure quality jobs.
  • Educate business leaders to the issues/problems in our community, like poverty.
  • Consolidate administrative aspects for nonprofits that increases quality and reduces cost.
  • Localize and radicalize philanthropy of donors.
  • More jobs and paid internships for youth.
  • Promote redistribution of wealth.
  • Challenge the industry leaders.
  • Dental services for immigrants and people who have a low-income.
  • Commitment to services for elders.
  • Agreement about affordable housing, but not rent stabilization.
  • TSFF, host a forum that brings together the tech sector with county-wide nonprofits.

We also asked participants to fill out evaluation surveys of the event –­ here are some additional suggestions and comments we received:

  • Thank you for taking the time to listen to issues in San Mateo County.
  • We need follow-up events to ensure that we take action on issues discussed today.
  • Tech and business communities are such a big part of this conversation – they could have had a bigger presence.
  • This was a great networking opportunity – lots of people who hadn’t met before got the chance to connect.
Keep the Conversation Going

#ShareYourVoice at bayareavoices.org