As you might guess from the title of my website, I gather a lot of the material I write about simply by walking around the city and taking notes and photos. I then supplement my observations by making reference to the Internet. Doing that, most of the time I’m taking advantage of the gold mine that is Redwood City’s own website.
I can’t speak for other cities—I only live in this one!—but I have to say that Redwood City seems to be doing a very good job both of providing high-tech ways to connect us with the city’s goings-on, and of providing “goings-on” with which we can connect. Even without the Internet its hard not to be aware of some of the events promoted by the city, such as the summer concerts and Movies on the Square; there are numerous signs and banners throughout our downtown area. But if you haven’t been downtown lately, or want to know more, information on these is also posted on the city’s website. There, at http://www.redwoodcity.org/events/, you’ll find a complete list. There you’ll find out about not only the concerts and movies, but also Shakespeare in the Park, the Zoppé Italian Family Circus, various cultural events, art festivals, and our Farmer’s Market.
The events section is just one tiny part of the entire Redwood City website. There is a lot going on in Redwood City, and the city uses not only its website but other electronic means to get the word out about other interesting or educational activities. It also uses these mechanisms to notify us about ways in which we can make our opinions known and our voices heard. Throughout the remainder of this post I’ll introduce you to a couple of these, in the hope that you’ll use one or more of them to make a tighter connection with this city we call home.
The other night my wife and I went to a terrific “Laundry to Landscape” class that provided tips on managing grey water (much of your household water that has been used once, such as laundry wash water or shower water). It gave us practical instruction on how to capture and reuse it, for instance in parts of the garden. Although put on by BAWSCA (Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency), the class was hosted by the city in the Redwood City Public Works building at 1400 Broadway.
How did we hear about this particular event? Through the “Redwood City Enews”. If you haven’t already subscribed to one or more of the many electronic newsletters put out by the City of Redwood City, run, don’t walk, to http://www.redwoodcity.org/newsletters.html and sign up for those that look interesting. I, of course, am subscribed to all of them—but I do that so that I don’t miss anything that I should be reporting on or checking out in service to my blog. While you could just keep an eye on Redwood City’s Events Calendar (http://www.redwoodcity.org/calendar/), the newsletters are a great way to have things regular brought to your attention. And while you may have missed the “Laundry to Landscape” class, if you are interested in that kind of thing that class was just been one in a series: the latest copy of the Enews lists a two-part workshop on “Do-It-Yourself Lawn Be Gone” training, to be held on September 13 (part 1: drip system installation) and September 20 (part 2: planting California natives). Interested? Register at http://bawsca.org/classes/. And while you are at it, check out the classes being held in nearby cities; as a resident of Redwood City you needn’t only attend classes held here.
Around large, complex topics of interest, such as the Inner Harbor area or the Woodside/Broadway/101 interchange, our City Council often forms a commission, task force, or working group to study the issue and recommend a plan of action. While you could get yourself appointed to one of these task forces (if you are really passionate about the subject) most of us don’t have the time or energy. Fortunately, these groups work in public and usually hold a number of working sessions that you can attend. Often the first couple of sessions will be dedicated to information gathering: the issue at hand is presented to the public in attendance, and we are given the opportunity to submit our ideas and feedback. Then, subsequent sessions review and refine those ideas, eventually settling on a recommended solution or plan for presentation to the City Council. While the City Council isn’t obligated to follow the task force’s recommendation, of course, they give the recommendation great weight, taking into account the time and effort put in by the members and the public—time and effort that City Council itself cannot devote to the subject.
The electronic newsletters are a great way to find out about these task forces. One that caught my eye was the Inner Harbor task force, and I ended up attending a number of their meetings. Although the final plan has yet to be formally presented to the City Council, I found it fascinating to see that the committee was made up of people representing an extremely diverse set of interested parties, from landowners, to developers, homeowners (in this case, from Docktown), commercial tenants, and even ordinary citizens. Because I am interested in much of the activity in the area (the new correctional center, the fate of the Malibu Grand Prix site, and the future of Docktown), I found the meetings a very valuable way to spend a couple of hours each month for a handful of months.
I also attended some of the meetings on the Woodside/Broadway/101 interchange—meetings I again had learned about through the Enews.The first was a community meeting to gather information about how people use the interchange. Then, after a set of private meetings with property owners, developers of nearby projects, and other interested parties such as the US Postal Service, the team held a public meeting to present possible reconfigurations and solicit our input on which of them made the most sense. (In case you haven’t been following this issue, don’t expect changes anytime soon: they are still in the “community engagement and visioning process” that precedes any actual design and implementation. And funding, which is the tricky bit for a project like this… Assuming that all goes smoothly, we may not see a finished project until 2022.) If you want more information, Redwood City’s website has a page dedicated to this project: http://www.redwoodcity.org/bit/transportation/101.84.Interchange/101.html. And if you want to explore the proposed alternatives and express a preference, it isn’t too late! Go to http://redwoodcity.mindmixer.com/route-101-84-interchange-improvement-design?utm_source=Email&utm_campaign=Weekly_Email, review the alternatives, and then respond to the survey you’ll find there.
This last link—to redwoodcity.mindmixer.com—brings me to a new way that Redwood City is trying to engage with its citizens. Using the services of a company called “mindmixer”, Redwood City has created an online forum that they hope will facilitate communications between the community at large and the city’s leaders. Sign up for a free membership and make your voice heard! This is a fun and easy way to share your ideas for making Redwood City a better place, and to provide feedback on the ideas of others. Its early days yet for this online forum, but it seems to have great potential.
If the forum is a little too “touchy-feely” for you—maybe you don’t go in for all this social media stuff, or maybe you just have some more immediate issues you want to have addressed—there is yet another electronic avenue you should check out. Did you know that Redwood City has an app? Indeed, if your smartphone is either an iPhone or is powered by Android, you can install the “myRWC” app and have rapid access to a number of services provided by the city. With this app you can:
- report issues such as potholes, abandoned vehicles, flooding, graffiti, broken parking meters, and the like
- pay your utility bill
- see the events calendar
- register for classes at the Red Morton Community Center
- view information about development projects within the downtown area
- look up building permits
The “myRWC” app is available from the iOS App Store or from Google Play. If you don’t feel like searching for it, once again the Redwood City website has a page dedicated to the app, at http://www.redwoodcity.org/myrwc/.
Lastly, if you haven’t already figured it out, the Redwood City website itself has a ton of great resources—although admittedly you may have to do some digging, as not every topic is easy to find. Start at the home page: http://www.redwoodcity.org. At the very top you’ll find links for “Calendar”, “Newsletters”, and “Events”; all of these may be of interest to you. Next, there are a set of tabs across the top that divide the website into broad topics. For most of us, the “Residents” tab is of primary interest. That is where you’ll find out about events and activities, schools, neighborhoods, and the like. The “Online Services” tab provides links to the kind of things supported by the myRWC app: if you don’t have a smartphone, just click on this tab to report problems, pay a utility bill, etc.
For those of you who really want to know what’s going on in our city, you’ll need the “Government” and “Departments” tabs. The Departments tab lists, as you might expect, the various city departments: click on one and you’ll get information about who runs that department, what they do, and links relevant to it. If you need to contact a city department, this tab is a good place to start. I, however, tend to spend most of my time on the “Government” tab. There is a ton of good information buried under here, as long as you have the patience to find it.
One of the most interesting entries under “Government” is “City Council”. Here you’ll find Meetings, Agendas, and Minutes. Click this, and you’ll be presented with a list of City Council meeting agendas, supporting materials, and (after the meeting has been held) video of the meeting. This is a veritable treasure trove: when an issue comes before the City Council there are often numerous documents relating to that issue that you’ll find here (click the title of the agenda item to see a list of any supporting documents). And if you don’t want to or cannot attend the meeting in person, you can watch a video of the City Council meeting (skipping all the parts you aren’t interested in!). Long after a City Council meeting has been held, you can go back and watch it, seeing the presentations and discussions in living color.
If, like me, you are interested in proposed and in-progress building projects, check out the Planning Commission link under “Advisory Boards, Commissions, and Committees.” Here again you’ll find meeting agendas, supporting documents, and video from Planning Commission meetings. Of course, there are numerous other boards, commissions, and committees: if you are interested in the Parks Commission, for instance, or the Housing and Human Concerns Committee, you’ll find record of their activities here too.
The Current Projects link under the Government tab is a good one-stop shop for basic information on most of the various large-scale projects going on within the city. (Incidentally, if you are having a hard time keeping all of the downtown construction projects straight, there is a nice map here.) Mostly you’ll find commercial and residential building projects listed on this page, but you’ll also find infrastructure projects (paving, sewers, etc.) and transportation projects. This page, for instance, not only has a link to the US-101/Woodside Rd Interchange Improvement project, but also the Hudson St. Pedestrian and Bike Improvement project, the Brewseter Ave. Street Improvements project, and others.
If you know what you are looking for you can of course search the website: the city provides a handy search box in the upper right corner of the main web page. Personally, I do a lot of browsing since often I am not searching for a particular item but am instead just trying to figure out what’s new. Do whatever works for you.
Searching or browsing, you’ll find that Redwood City’s website truly is a gold mine of information. Redwood City is putting a lot of effort into making information available; it is up to us to avail ourselves of that information. Too many times we hear rumors or only one side of an issue, and don’t go the extra mile to find out all the facts. Together Redwood City’s Enews, Forum, and website leave those of us who live here with no excuse for being better-informed citizens. Information is power: let it empower you. Make your voice heard, and join me in helping make Redwood City an even better place to live.