Crossing Over

Every once in a while I get in the mood to walk out on the bay and see what’s going on out at Pete’s Harbor. The first time I ever tried this I took the most direct route: I walked down Whipple and went up and over the freeway. Having made it to the Boardwalk auto dealerships, I decided then and there to return home via the Maple St. overpass, and to never again cross the freeway on foot at Whipple.

We’ve all made countless trips down Whipple to get on 101. What you may not have noticed, however, is that there is actually a crosswalk traversing the 101 onramps and offramps, and that there is a pedestrian path on the south side of the Whipple Ave crossover:

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The above picture shows the onramp to 101 southbound. Note the crosswalk and the somewhat overgrown path leading up over the freeway alongside Whipple. This isn’t actually where the issue lies: visibility here is very good, and simply by waiting for the signals at Veterans Blvd to provide a gap in the traffic, you can cross here with relatively little difficulty. No, the problem becomes apparent when you cross over 101 to the bay side. Here, you have to contend with traffic sailing along Whipple and then turning onto the 101 northbound onramp. Although there is a painted crosswalk, there are no other traffic controls and cars are moving very fast, working their way up towards freeway speeds. They most definitely aren’t expecting to encounter a pedestrian on the onramp. At best you can hope for a gap large enough to allow you to run across the two lanes of traffic.

Having survived traffic getting onto 101 north, you then get a bit of a reprieve from the northbound 101 traffic exiting at 101; here the crosswalk is protected by a signal so getting across isn’t a problem. Finally, however, you come to one of the scariest parts of the journey: getting across to the other side of the street. Whipple makes a sharp curve to the right where it hits the bay, where it becomes E. Bayshore Rd. At this curve, the sidewalk ends and you need to get across to the bay side of the street. The city has graciously painted a crosswalk onto the street and put in a pedestrian crossing light, but it isn’t a standard traffic light and isn’t something drivers expect to see being used. Since most drivers are moving along pretty quickly here, and are mostly focused on navigating the sharp curve, they often don’t see you until they are right on top of you. Even with the pedestrian light here I felt it gave me no protection, and I treated the crossing accordingly. I obviously made it across, eventually, but even for me I felt that the crossing was too dangerous and not worth the effort. Crossing at Maple St. requires me to take a longer walk, but given that there are no freeway onramps or offramps at Maple, the fact that it is so much safer makes the choice a no-brainer for me.

On my most recent trip across the freeway—along Maple, naturally—I first paused to watch the pile driving going on for the new Maple Street Correctional Center (the “new jail”). You may have seen this from the freeway, since the site is right on 101, just north of the old Malibu Golf and Games (aka Malibu Grand Prix). The site is on the south side of Maple; just across the street on the north side is the Redwood City Police Station.

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Planning and site preparation for this 260,000 square foot building has been going on for some time; the official groundbreaking took place in early July. As you can see from the above picture, the site has been leveled and pilings (for the building’s foundation) are being driven into the ground. It doesn’t look like much, yet, but if the building is built according to the published designs, it should be a fairly attractive one:

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Not bad for a jail, eh? Actually, they’re calling it a “correctional center” instead of a “jail” for a good reason.  At this facility the focus will be on rehabilitation: it will offer job training and education (with a culinary training kitchen and a dog training program!), and will have computer labs. For up to 640 inmates at a time (both male and female) it will serve as a re-entry step between the Maguire Correctional Facility (the San Mateo County main jail, in downtown Redwood City at Marshall and Warren) and the community. Expect it to be complete—assuming all goes according to schedule, of course—by mid 2015.

I mentioned that the correctional facility is being built just north of the old Malibu Golf and Games. In fact, it is immediately adjacent to it. But Malibu Golf and Games is no longer with us, unfortunately: it lost its lease and subsequently closed in August. Last week a San Francisco-based developer—the Jay Paul Co., who built the Pacific Shores Center at the end of Seaport—purchased the 20-acre site from its former owner, Graniterock, for an estimated $34.85 million. They hope to build as many as three eight-story buildings in a development they are calling Harbor View Place on the site where we once played miniature golf with our children. This will require rezoning, however, and there are no specific plans as yet. For now, the castle, golf courses, and go-kart tracks are locked away from public access.

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Only the vandals, who apparently have begun tagging the buildings, seem to be able to get in.

From the vicinity of the correctional center and Malibu, I followed Maple around to and then through Docktown. Where Docktown butts up against highway 101, there is a pedestrian bridge that crosses the creek and and drops you at the new One Marina condo development (just across the street from the Boardwalk auto dealerships). Turning right, I followed Bair Island Road out to the end, where it dead-ends into Pete’s Harbor.

If you haven’t been out to Pete’s Harbor in a while, be prepared for a shock. First the good: in April of this year the Bair Island bridge was formally opened. This walking bridge connects Bair Island Road to Bair Island, giving access to the island’s 3,000 acres of wetlands. Once upon a time Bair Island had been proposed as an area for residential development (by the owner, Mobil Oil; they wanted to put 20,000 homes there), but voters saved it. Today, when you cross the bridge (going through the gate; it isn’t locked), you find yourself at the beginning of a two mile trail that traverses part of the island. (The trail is still under construction: by early next year, when the trail is expected to be complete, it will be a seven-mile path with viewing platforms and informational displays.) Its a beautiful spot, and a lovely way to see the bay up close and personal. Note that there is some public parking out there (watch for the signs), so if you aren’t inclined to make the trek all the way out there, you can park near the bridge and just walk Bair Island itself.

That’s it for the good part, unfortunately. Once a vibrant place bustling with marine-related activity that hosted a wide variety of watercraft, Pete’s Harbor is just a deserted parking lot and a number of empty piers. Aside from a what seems to be a construction trailer (at least, that’s what it looks like; there doesn’t seem to be any activity there right now), Paula Ucelli’s house, and the former restaurant building, there just isn’t much left of Pete’s Harbor. Ever since Paula Ucelli evicted all of the boats and fenced off the property—with plenty of “no trespassing” and “no parking signs”—the harbor has turned from a place where we the public could enjoy a day on the bay to a place where we clearly are no longer welcome:

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At least part of Pete’s Harbor was a public marina, owned by the State of California and managed under contract by Pete and Paula Ucelli. Now, the fate of the harbor is being bounced around between the developer—the Pauls Corporation (not to be confused with the Jay Paul Co., who is developing the Malibu Golf and Games site)—and the State of California, as well as the City of Redwood City. The Pauls Corporation hopes to build 411 units of housing on the 13-acre site. Whether or not they eventually get the go-ahead, I’m with Save Pete’s Harbor in hoping that there is still a public component to the project: if part of Pete’s Harbor truly is a public marina, it should remain public.

If we lose Pete’s Harbor as a public marina, it just adds to a disturbing trend: Redwood City is losing many of the amenities that make it special, trading them for development and tax dollars. Mel’s Bowl, Malibu, and Pete’s Harbor in particular were all places where families could enjoy time together that are somewhat unique to Redwood City. I’m aware that there are still a few bowling alleys around (Bel-Mateo comes to mind) but there used to be one in San Carlos, too, and that one fell to the wrecking ball many years ago. Personally, I took my kids many times to Mel’s Bowl (my youngest even had a birthday party there) and we went countless times to Malibu to play miniature golf, to play video games, and to drive the miniature Grand-Prix cars (I can recall having a birthday party or two there, as well). Finally, my wife took sailing lessons at Pete’s Harbor, back when Spinnaker Sailing was still based there. Individually you might not miss these things, but collectively they start to add up. Redwood City has a thriving downtown—I’m grateful for that—and I can’t really argue with the idea of adding some additional housing (given available resources). But when we gain new housing and jobs at the expense of some of the unique amenities such as we have just lost, it makes one consider the tradeoffs and wonder: have we  irreparably harmed the unique character of our city? Are we becoming just another mid-peninsula city? Do we still have what makes Redwood City special?

2 thoughts on “Crossing Over

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