Get Real

I am not a big fan of reality television. I’ve tried, at least a bit. I watched one of the early seasons of The Apprentice, and I watched some random episodes of Jon & Kate Plus Eight, but neither show really hooked me. As for Survivor and its ilk, I’ve never even tried them: I watch little enough television as it is, and I didn’t want to invest the time. Reality television purports to show unscripted, real-life situations. However, some such shows in fact do have scriptwriters on staff creating, at least, a general arc that the participants are expected to follow. This is done in part to ensure that there is sufficient drama and personal conflict to retain the audience. I don’t really have a problem with this; if the show is entertaining to its viewers, whether it is “reality television” or simply a regular scripted drama seems immaterial. For me, though, if I want to see the kind of personal conflict and drama that a typical reality television show provides, I just look around: our world is real enough. Case in point: just attend (or watch online) a City Council or Planning Commission meeting. While they are occasionally quiet and without rancor, often the council or commission is dealing with an issue that brings out passionate feelings; feelings that makes for fascinating viewing.

Such was the case at last Monday’s City Council meeting. This was a long one, with a number of really interesting agenda items. Two were potentially explosive, but only one—Farm Hill Boulevard Oral Update on Pilot Program—really drew the passionate public comment of the type I’m talking about.

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If you haven’t been up Farm Hill Boulevard lately, my post Changing Lanes outlined the details of this pilot project (you can also learn much more, here). At the time that I wrote that post, the lane changes were just being made. Four days after I published it, however, the changes were unveiled and area residents and Farm Hill Boulevard commuters alike found themselves dealing with the impacts. Everyone agrees that the first day—September 8, the day after Labor Day—was just awful, with confusion and backups galore. After regular drivers began to get used to the changes (or altered their routes or commute times), and after the city make some minor tweaks, things settled down somewhat. How much they’ve settled down, particularly during commute times, is a subject for debate, however. And that debate is what we in the audience, along with the City Council, witnessed on Monday night.

Aaron Aknin—our interim City Manger—presented the update. Some people have gotten the wrong impression about why the city re-striped Farm Hill Boulevard, so Aknin made sure to point out that the project was all about safety: there has been an increase in speed-related accidents in the last couple of years (22 in 2014 alone!) that the city feels it must deal with. Those speeders present threats to other drivers, to parked cars, to pedestrians crossing Farm Hill (many of whom are children going to Roy Cloud School or to Stulsaft Park), and to cyclists. I can certainly attest to the feeling of danger you get as a pedestrian trying to cross Farm Hill Boulevard: even at the signals you wonder if some drivers are going to stop.

Similar projects around the city, where the lanes were re-striped in this fashion, have had a dramatic effect, reducing collisions between 30% and 77% (depending upon the project). Thus, the city has reason to believe that this project could achieve its goals. Where the problems came in was in how the pilot project was implemented, something at Aknin was not shy about admitting. In his presentation to the Council he noted the following:

  • Households in the immediate vicinity of Farm Hill Boulevard were given notice regarding the project, but since many (most?) commuters on Farm Hill Boulevard don’t live in that area, signage plus direct mailings to a much larger area should have been used to notify people of the upcoming changes.
  • The project had originally been proposed back in 2012. The city didn’t do enough to re-engage the community when the project finally moved to the implementation phase.
  • The timing was terrible: the project should have been scheduled to happen during a time when traffic volumes were lower. Although that indeed was the original plan, due to the amount of time needed to get the project approved, and the sequence of the various contract elements, striping didn’t occur until the very end of summer, on the worst possible day.
  • The police should have been on site from the start of construction to help with the traffic changes. As it turns out, they weren’t called in until some two days after the new configuration was unveiled.

Shortly after interim City Manager Aknin’s presentation, the Council began to take public comments. Thirty members of the public got up to speak. For my part, I was surprised to see how balanced the comments were: I expected them to be almost entirely against the project. I counted them up, however, noting whether they were for or against the project, or whether they expressed no clear preference. By my count, there were 11 speakers in clear opposition to the project, 12 who were clearly in favor, and 7 who didn’t indicate an opinion either way (they spoke about related subjects, such as how traffic volumes have increased in general, without regard to this particular project). Many of the speakers seemed quite passionate, but they remained civil and stayed within their alloted time. The passion came through more clearly in person, but you can see much of it for yourself by watching the video of that portion of the September 21st City Council meeting (select the Video link on the line showing a duration of 4 hours and 12 minutes).

One thing you won’t hear by watching the video are the muttered comments from various audience members reacting to the various speakers. But you will see the comments from and the discussion between the various City Council members, which is well worth watching: it’s a great way to get a sense of how the various Council members think.

In the end, the council took no specific action—after all, this was just a project update from the interim City Manager—but there did seem to be general sentiment that the Council should receive progress updates in the future. The first should occur in late October or early November, so watch for that.

The other item that could have been contentious, but wasn’t, concerned final approval of the Finger Avenue project. This project is one that I have been watching for quite some time now. It seems to have changed quite a bit over the nine years(!) that it has been in the works, and has become far more acceptable, both to the city and to the neighborhood. Whenever this project came before the city in the past it elicited a great deal of comment (and a lawsuit or two), but over time the developer has made changes that have satisfied nearly all of the concerns that were raised. On Monday the City Council finally gave the project a unanimous thumbs-up.

For this project, the developer will be combining three existing parcels (50, 80, and 88 Finger Avenue) and then building a small subdivision consisting of eight new homes and a one-way, U-shaped road to service them on the 1.5 acre property:

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[click for a larger view]

Note how the development wraps around one existing property, partially tucks in behind another (at the top right). This development backs onto Cordilleras Creek, which posed a number of environmental challenges. The required creek setbacks account for the large backyards behinds lots 2-4, and the rather unusual shape of the house on lot 2. Setbacks also seem to have had an effect on the shape of the house on lot 6, although these are from the new road as well as from the neighboring property.

The three houses that are there now are old, with lots of character. For instance, here is the house at 50 Finger Avenue:

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None are designated as historic resources, although one adjoining property, 90 Finger Avenue is: it may well be the oldest house in Redwood City, having been built in 1855. The three project properties are very large, deep lots that all stretch from Finger Avenue to the creek.

Helping to maintain the character of the area is the fact that the eight new homes are fairly large (ranging from 2,498 to 3,794 square feet in size, not counting each house’s two car garage), and will be done in a variety of styles.

I’ll write more about the Finger Avenue development once it gets underway. I did want to note a couple of other highlights of last night’s meeting, though:

  • Before the meeting there was a party for the city’s newly redesigned website (http://www.redwoodcity.org), and during the meeting we were given a walk-through. I’m still getting used to the new website organization, but it should be much easier to use. I can say that I do like the look of it.
  • Early in the meeting the city recognized a number of volunteers who staffed this year’s “Mexican Mobile Consulate.” For Mexican nationals who need a Mexican ID and/or a Mexican Passport but cannot make it to the Consulate in San Francisco, once each year they can go to the Fair Oaks Community Center (by appointment) and walk out with the needed documents. A number of volunteers work to make this happen, along with staff from the Mexican Consulate. This has been going on since 2002, and is not something most communities have: Redwood City only has it because one of our residents came up with the idea and made the effort to bring it about.
  • The second mural facing the Perry Street parking lot—this one on the back side of the Redwood City Underground Pub, adjacent to the wonderful mural on the back of the Crouching Tiger restaurant—is underway. When I was there the other day the back wall of the building was getting repainted with a base coat, upon which the mural will be painted:

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After this mural is done, my understanding is that we’ll get yet another on the back of the Pickled clothing store and the Revival Upscale Resale store.

All of this from one meeting! Drama (a bit), education, and culture… a reality TV show couldn’t give me more. And this stuff directly affects our lives, so it’s particularly worth paying attention to. No, I don’t need reality television: I have Redwood City!


One last note: the former Le Boulanger storefront at 2225 Broadway Street will be transformed into a Starbucks starting in mid-October. As of last Wednesday, however, through October 10, it will serve as a “pop-up” art space. Check out their current exhibit online at http://thefrankart.org, and give them a visit at their (for now) location at the corner of Broadway and Hamilton. They’re open to the public Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

3 thoughts on “Get Real

  1. Pingback: New Business | Walking Redwood City

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