Heading for the Goal

Last week I took a walk with a specific goal in mind: 3401 El Camino Real. This particular parcel, which lies south of Redwood City’s borders in an unincorporated section of San Mateo County, was previously home to the Bonsai Japanese Cuisine restaurant. Bonsai moved out in early 2017, and between then and April 2019 the restaurant building — which was slated to be remodeled into a medical office of some sort — was slowly demolished. Since then, some progress has been made, albeit in fits and starts, with long periods of rather painfully conspicuous inactivity.

The last time I wrote about this building, back in May of this year, I noted that after some back-and-forth with the county due to some overzealousness on the part of the developer, new plans were submitted, new permits were issued, and all but the building’s slab foundation had been quickly demolished.

Since then I’ve noticed some activity on the site, but also long periods where nothing seemed to be going on. Thus, the reason for last week’s visit. In my previous post, I had said “You almost have to wonder why they didn’t just tear up the old slab and simply pour a new one.” Although I have no reason to suspect that the developer reads my blog, great minds do seem to think alike: when I reached the site this week, this is what I saw:

It does appear that the developer has started from scratch.

When I paid my visit there were no signs of any activity: the gates providing access through the construction fencing were closed and locked, and no one was working. At first I thought that perhaps the contractor was just waiting for a cement pour, or perhaps an inspection. But I’m pretty sure that a foundation slab like this needs an embedded rebar mesh, which would be installed prior to a pour. Thus, I don’t think they’re ready for either an inspection or a delivery of cement. Maybe they are having trouble getting the needed rebar; with all of the construction going on around the Bay Area at the moment I wouldn’t be surprised to find that certain construction materials are in high demand and are causing delays. In any case, I’ll continue keeping a close eye on the site. But for those of you who drive up and down El Camino Real and are wondering what is going on there, that’s the latest.

My route to the site was a simple one: I walked from my house (which is in the vicinity of Sequoia Hospital) down to El Camino Real, and then I followed El Camino Real south to the border and beyond. I didn’t have blinders on, though; along the way I encountered a number of things of interest.

First off, I had barely started down El Camino Real when I came upon this:

It seems that someone has decided that the disused Yumi Yogurt building, which has been surrounded by temporary chain-link fencing, is a great place to set up a small homeless encampment. Whoever it is sure has an impressive amount of stuff piled up there.

Just steps away, I checked on the progress being made on the new Chase Bank that is going into the Sequoia Station space where Max’s Café used to be. The construction crews really seem to be humming along now. Having virtually completed all of the necessary exterior work, they now seem to be concentrating their efforts on the interior, which still has a way to go. But the exterior signs are already installed (they are temporarily covered up for the moment), so once the interior is complete this place should open quickly.

While I was at Sequoia Station, incidentally, I noted that the Mattress Firm store, next to CVS, has moved out:

They opened in this spot just under four years ago, as Sleep Train (the company has since changed their name to Mattress Firm). I had wondered at the time whether there was a need for another Sleep Train in this space, given that Redwood City already had (and still has, as Mattress Firm) a store on El Camino Real just beyond Woodside Road, just before the Target shopping center. As for how long they’ve been gone from their Sequoia Station space, I cannot say; I haven’t been into this part of the center for some time now. Regardless, their leaving opens up a nice-sized retail space. It’ll be interesting to see who goes in there, and when. I didn’t see any “for lease” signs, so either the folks managing this center just haven’t put the signs up yet (most likely) or they already have a new tenant lined up. We’ll see…

Passing beneath Woodside Road and continuing to walk south, I went by another retail space that I have been curious about for some time now: the empty space next to the Mid-Peninsula Animal Hospital that used to be Ayar Produce Meat Market. Recently the space was remodeled and a sign went up proclaiming it to be Prenuvo:

Based solely on the name I was speculating that it perhaps was a childcare center or some sort of medical facility for kids. Close, but not quite. As it turns out, Prenuvo is indeed a medical facility of sorts, but something new. Prenuvo was created to do whole-body scans, using an MRI machine, as a form of preventative medicine. They aim to “tell you almost everything that is happening inside your body, often before you start to feel sick.” They suggest that people get annual scans, in an effort to provide early warning of things such as undiagnosed cancers. They say they can alert patients to brain issues such as atherosclerosis or “brain volume loss” (I didn’t know that was a thing), abnormal depositions in the liver, pre-kidney stones, gallstones, spinal issues, issues with large joints, muscle tears…over 400 medical conditions, in fact.

Pricing ranges from a torso cancer scan (that does not include a spinal evaluation) for an introductory price of $999 (regularly priced at $1,199), up to a comprehensive whole-body scan for an introductory price of $2,499 (regularly priced at $2,999). It appears that medical insurance won’t cover any of this cost, so this is all on the patient — although the company is hoping to get area employers to cover some or all of the cost as an added benefit for their employees.

Prenuvo is based in Vancouver, BC; their first clinic is in that city. Their second-ever clinic is…in Redwood City! (Technically, it is in North Fair Oaks, but the Post Office has assigned them a Redwood City address.) They plan to open a third clinic next year, but that one will be in Toronto, so ours is the only one in the United States for the foreseeable future. Given that they refer to ours as their “Silicon Valley” location, they seem to be guessing that some of the many technically minded, well-paid people living in our area will not only be open to this type of service, but will also be willing and able to pay for it. I suspect that they’re right about that…

Although I don’t plan to take advantage of their services, I wish Prenuvo well — and am certainly pleased to have this new venture associated with Redwood City. I only wish they were actually located within the city boundaries, so that the city, rather than San Mateo County, would receive tax revenue from the service.

Continuing on I passed the essentially complete Fair Oaks Commons affordable housing project at 2821 El Camino Real. I wrote about this project just over a month ago (in Openings and Reopenings) so I won’t go into it here. But now that the project is in the wrapping-up stage, the next-door site that was being used to stage construction vehicles and materials — which has been empty since the “Eco Green Auto Clean” waterless car wash went out of business — is being emptied of vehicles and materials:

I plan to keep an eye on this site. I can’t imagine that it’ll be used as-is, but instead is likely to be demolished and redeveloped. Although this particular parcel is smaller than the next-door site (visible in the background) where Fair Oaks Commons was built, it still would make a great place for some additional affordable housing.

I encountered little new of interest between Fair Oaks Commons and the Bonsai Japanese Cuisine site with which I began this post. On my return journey, though, I took a detour up Center Street (which begins on the west side of El Camino Real directly opposite the main entrance to the Target shopping center) in order to check in on Linden Park. That little park is unusual in both its shape — long and narrow, to mirror the Hetch-Hetchy right-of-way upon which it is built — and in the sort of amenities it provides. Perhaps the most unusual amenities it originally included were a pair of shelters made from woven grasses:

Unfortunately, some months ago some idiot decided to set fire to these structures, and the park had to be closed while they were replaced. I went by to see what the replacements looked like, and was delighted to see these (presumably fireproof) new structures:

This delightful little park has a “natural” theme, so these fit right in. If you haven’t yet visited Linden Park, you’ll find one entrance on Center Street just a block and a half up from El Camino Real. (The park forms a diagonal across the block, with the other entrance on the corner where Linden Street rounds into Park Street.)

Finally, although I didn’t pay it a visit on this particular trip, at long last we are just days away from the opening of the Magical Bridge Playground! This playground, which is located in Red Morton Park (at the Valota Road end), will open its gates to the public next Tuesday, December 1, at 11 a.m.

Understandably, due to COVID-19 the playground will have some restrictions at this time. In particular, visitors will only be able to enter the playground from the main entrance off the Valota Road parking lot, or from a single entrance on the Veterans Memorial Senior Center side. Playground capacity will be limited to 75 persons. (When that limit is reached, safely spaced lines will form outside of the gates. If people are waiting, people within the playground will be limited to 30 minutes in order to give others a chance. Staffers within the playground will help to enforce this time limit, while others will monitor playground capacity and keep the outside lines orderly.) There will be hand washing stations onsite, and the new bathrooms in the Valota Road parking lot will be open. But note that staffers will not be cleaning the playground equipment; visitors are encouraged to bring their own wipes. Finally, visitors age 2 and older must wear face masks (exceptions will be made for those who, for medical reasons, cannot wear one, but they’ll need to talk to one of the city staffers prior to entry and obtain a sticker signifying their exemption). Oh, and no food, beverages, cardboard boxes (for riding in on the slide mound) or personal toys will be allowed within the playground at this time — although the rest of Red Morton Park is pretty much wide open, of course.

Those restrictions might sound like a lot, but if that is what it takes to get this long-overdue playground open to the public, they seem sensible. And of course these are temporary restrictions that will only be in place as long as the county deems COVID-19 to be a significant hazard. With any luck, by the start of next summer we’ll be at a place where some or all of these restrictions can be lifted and the playground can be enjoyed freely by all.

Finally I need to point out that the Magical Bridge Foundation, in conjunction with the Redwood City Parks & Arts Foundation, is currently recruiting their crew “Kindness Ambassadors” (community volunteers) who will keep things safe and orderly at the playground. Interested persons must be 18 years of age or older, and must be able to dedicate at least four hours a month for at least six months (shifts are two hours long). If this sounds like you, head to this page on the Parks & Arts Foundation’s website for more information and for a form you can fill out in order to apply.

End goals are well and good — I certainly learned something by visiting the property where Bonsai restaurant once stood — but if anything my walk served to emphasize the need to keep one’s eyes and ears open while heading for that goal. Sometimes, what you learn along the way turns out to be more valuable — or at least more interesting — than the end goal itself.