With a ballooning budget for child care services, South San Francisco officials last week adopted a comprehensive plan for how they intend to ramp up subsidies to provide day care, transitional kindergarten, after school care and other services to aid working parents.
In addition to state and federal funds, the city has more than $11 million of its own money for the effort, and expects millions more in coming years as a result of fees paid by developers building in the city. Since 2001, the city has been charging the fees, which have been used to construct two child care facilities, update playground facilities and provide grants to child care providers.
“South San Francisco was the first city in San Mateo County to implement child care development fees … and we are, yes, the first city in San Mateo County to complete a child care master plan,” Kathleen White, a consultant who prepared the document , said.
The plan outlines a wide range of goals, but key among them is addressing local staffing shortages in the industry, which are currently preventing expansion of the city’s efforts regardless of funding, according to the report.
“The shortfall in this early childhood education sector is actually preventing growth for programs whether you have facilities or rooms or the funding,” White said. “We had a workforce problem before COVID. COVID exacerbated this workforce problem, and now we’ve got quite a bit of new money coming in for expansion, so it’s kind of a perfect storm for a workforce shortfall.”
The document attributes the shortage to the county’s high cost of living combined with health concerns amid the pandemic. It recommends expanding the local pipeline to the industry, and sets out a “realistic and achievable goal” of at least 10% of high school graduates in the city to pursue local education paths. Workforce development and increasing pay in the industry are also noted as solutions.
Another key goal is continuing to use city funds to build child care facilities as well as coax developers to include them in new buildings as a community benefit.
“While we do have impact fees right now, we really need more developer participation around providing facilities and space,” White said. “There are a lot of cranes up in South San Francisco, really every crane should represent a child care opportunity.”
Other recommendations include expanding subsidies for infant preschool spaces, expand transitional kindergarten, close gaps in preschool service to neighborhoods west of El Camino Real and support the South San Francisco Unified School District in obtaining child care funding.
According to plan, there are approximately 9,500 families in the city with children aged 12 and under or that are expecting children in the next year. The city conducted a survey of 1,111 people, targeting residents in that group.
It found 85% of responders worked full time, and 74% reported child care costs as an issue. After-school child care was reported as the most difficult type of child care to find by 54% of respondents.
Additionally, the plan cites a national survey conducted by the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation in 2021 that found 75% of working parents had young children staying home with a parent during work hours amid the pandemic, and 50% of parents that had not yet returned to the workforce following said child care was the reason why.
“This is a very personal issue … I probably wouldn’t be able to live here if it weren’t for the subsidized child care that we provide,” said Mayor Mark Nagales, who said he had seen child care cost in the city for as much as $2,400 per month for three-day-a-week care for a toddler.
“That’s basically a rent payment,” he said. “I have two kids that use the [city’s] child care, I pay $700 per month… It’s helped me and my family tremendously.”
Vice Mayor Buenaflor Nicolas said child care was also a gender equity issue, as the task often falls on women, which can prevent them from entering the workforce.
“If we really do believe children are the future of our city, child care should be one of our priorities,” she said.
The child care plan is intended for use through 2030, and is part of the city’s general plan, which is in the process of a comprehensive overhaul. White emphasized the need for City Council action to implement identified policies.
“To me this plan is a starting point, there’s a lot of ideas here, a lot of recommendations. … The next steps are going to be determined by city leaders,” White said. “My only caution is that 2030 is right around the corner, so I wouldn’t delay.”