When it Rains, it Pours

In my last post I mentioned that I thought that the new City Council would be sworn in on November 16. My guess was wrong: their official swearing-in, plus the selection of a new mayor and vice mayor, will take place at the December 14 meeting. It should be an interesting one, and I definitely plan to be there.

It’s raining! At least, we finally seem to be in a mode in which we are periodically getting small storms. Which is ideal, since smaller storms with gaps in between them gives the rain time to soak in and keeps the ground from getting saturated. I was out of town for our first real rain, but I checked my rain gauge on November 8 and it showed 0.96″. I emptied it, and then checked it again on Tuesday of this week (after the weekend rain had fully cleared the area) and it showed 0.44″. So although we are well short of normal for the season so far, we are finally getting significant rain. Our next rainfall was forecast to be here on Sunday, but unfortunately it now appears that it will bypass us.

Monday’s weather kept me at home, so I made it a point to get out and take a nice long walk on Tuesday. I just love getting outside after a good rainstorm has cleared the air and washed everything down. Redwood City looked particularly attractive, and although the day was cool my walking warmed me up in a hurry.

It seems crazy that although we are still very much in the midst of a serious drought, we find ourselves talking about El Niño powered storms and how to deal with heavy rains. Yet even with all the water that soon may be falling from the skies, we still have to think about conservation. And in some ways, conserving has gotten a bit harder. Why? Because we are being asked to save a percentage of a target—a target changes with the seasons. In my case, throughout the summer I managed to stay well under my assigned “water budget” by cutting back on our sprinkler usage and by collecting shower water for use on our plants. After making those adjustments, our sprinklers now appear to account for about 27% of our household water use. So when the rains start to fall a bit more frequently, my sprinklers will get shut off altogether, reducing our household water use by that 27%. But the state has already anticipated that, so my target is dropping as well—even more than that 27%, it seems. Thus, although I’m continuing to save water in absolute terms, my usage as a percentage of the target is actually going up. Oh, and about that shower water? When the ground is already wet from the rain, the plants don’t need it. So the couple of gallons per day that I was saving for my yard won’t have anywhere to go other than down the drain…

Because I’m technically inclined, a while back I switched our sprinkler controller to a smart one. Now our controller is not only Wi-Fi controllable, it also goes online and adjusts our watering cycles based upon the weather. With our microclimates, however, its tough to find a weather station that accurately reflects the conditions in my yard. Accordingly, the other day I took an additional step and bought a rain sensor that lets the controller know when it is actually raining in my yard and how much rain we are getting. With this, my “smart” controller should shut off the sprinklers automatically as necessary; I no longer have to remember to do it.

I bought my rain sensor at the Orchard Supply Hardware on Middlefield Road. I chose OSH over another retailer for two reasons: I wanted to pick up some rain barrels (I knew that they had them) and I wanted to see how Orchard’s remodel is going. As for the remodel, I’m pleased to report that it is nearly done: the garden center is complete, the interior is mostly finished (and is now pretty much fully stocked), and the exterior work is wrapping up:


Orchard had a couple of different rain barrels. I purchased a pair of 58-gallon barrels from Fiskars (you may recognize them as makers of scissors and garden tools). They hook up to our downspouts and effortlessly capture much of the rain that falls on my roof. Although the hookup process is not too complicated, it does involve cutting into a downspout and installing a diverter. This means that each barrel needs to be located next to a downspout, unless you have some other means of supplying water to the barrel. So if you plan to purchase rain barrels, do give some advance thought as to where you might place them.


Apparently, a tenth of an inch of rain falling on a thousand-square-foot roof equates to about 68 gallons of water. Thus I expect that my barrels will fill rather quickly. Once full, any additional water heads down the storm drain, so I’m hoping that our storms will be spaced out, allowing me to put the captured rain water to good use. But before I’ve even had a chance to use my two barrels I’m already thinking that I don’t have enough; I’m considering getting a third.

As to cost, well, the barrels aren’t cheap. I paid $150 for each of mine, which is a fair bit of money—except that I’m also applying for the rebate. You may recall that BAWSCA (Bay Area Water Supply & Conservation Agency) is running a rebate program to encourage San Mateo County residents to purchase and install rain barrels. BAWSCA will rebate $50 each for up to two rain barrels installed within the county, plus another $50 each if they are installed within certain service areas—one of which is Redwood City. Thus, I can potentially get $100 back for each of my barrels, reducing their effective cost to just $50. For information on the rebate, including the form you fill out to apply for it, go to Redwood City’s Programs and Giveaways page and click the icon under “Rain Barrel Rebate.” Do be aware that the rebate funds are limited and can run out. As well, you actually have to hook the barrels up and submit photographs along with your original purchase receipt to get the rebate. Finally, the rebate is limited to two barrels per household. I just got mine and have yet to install them, but just as soon as I get them hooked up you can bet I’ll be mailing in my rebate form.

Redwood City is getting the word out about the upcoming wet winter that we all hope is coming, reminding us to keep our roof gutters clean and to help keep the street gutters and storm drains clear and ready for water. In my case I’ve also checked my sump pumps; they are essential to keeping the area under my house dry. Preparation is never a bad idea, and given what appears to be coming, weather-wise, the clear Fall days we are enjoying right now are an ideal time to get ready. Then, once the storms stop passing us by, we’ll be able to enjoy the rain, safe and snug in our Redwood City homes.

Although I was planning on taking a break from real-estate related topics this week, the article in Monday’s Silicon Valley Business Journal about Sobrato’s latest proposal is just too interesting not to bring to your attention:


The above rendering, taken from the article, shows the proposed project. Sobrato appears to have purchased the entire block that currently houses Broadway Plaza: the block bounded by Broadway Street, Woodside Road, Bay Road, and Chestnut Street. This eleven acre parcel currently houses CVS, Big Lots, Office Max, Foods Co., and a number of smaller retailers. Sobrato bought the property last June and has apparently been working on plans ever since. Last Friday they submitted a conceptual plan to the city. It proposes:

  • 400 apartment units in a set of six-story buildings. These would be one and two bedroom units averaging 922 square feet in size. They would all be clustered towards the Chestnut Street end of the property.
  • 420,000 square feet of office space split across two five-story buildings. For comparison, the two Crossing/900 buildings (the “Box buildings”) total some 300,000 square feet.
  • 19,000 square feet worth of retail. This would include a new building to house CVS, at the corner of Woodside and Bay. It doesn’t appear to include the Denny’s and the Jack-in-the-Box restaurants, both of which would remain as-is.

Most of the parking for the project would either be below ground or within the apartment buildings. As you can see from the rendering, there is very little room for surface parking lots.

Given our recent election, it will be interesting to see how the new slow-growth contingent on our City Council views this project. It does have some positive aspects: it isn’t within our downtown, the buildings aren’t terribly tall, it provides much-needed housing, and it sits right at the Woodside Road/Highway 101 interchange. Since many of the people driving to and from the new development would use 101, they wouldn’t be filling up Redwood City streets (and recall that the Woodside Road/Highway 101 interchange is in the process of being redesigned, which should improve the flow of cars through this area). Finally, if the proposed Broadway streetcar line comes to fruition—the city is currently studying it—the streetcar could service this project and connect it to our downtown and to our Caltrain stop.

The project is only in the concept stage at this point, and still needs environmental review. Assuming that it gets approved, we are still years away from actually seeing this built. But it is an interesting addition to our development mix, and may be a much better use for a block that these days is consumed by an old and somewhat tired shopping center.

3 thoughts on “When it Rains, it Pours

  1. When it rains if pours; I know everyone enjoys helping out saving water. Especially Grey Water but remember there are Draconian Health Depatment Regulations on the use of “Grey Water” all designed to control you and control your efforts. Don’t forget I’m talking about Grey Water not rain water. Its well meaning from a public health point of view, but ridiculos. Main problem is your not allowed to save it. Thats right you can’t save it. But saving it is the whole point ? Somewhere in the bowels of government is this person who came up with this idea. If I get the chance to boycott this idiot I will. Hold back my services in some small way. And let him or her or it or what ever know all things considered. That it ‘s just plain stupid, especially during a drought.

  2. Greg:
    Once again, great article. Have to wonder why the city would permit 420,000 of office space at this location. Although I am pleased to see a housing component the office space, coupled with the office development on the opposite side of 101, seems like it would be a disaster for traffic at the Woodside/101 intersection not to mention adding to the jobs-housing imbalance that is making housing such a scarce commodity in this area.

    • Well, perhaps they won’t approve it. The developer first has to do an Environmental Impact Report, which will discuss this very issue in depth. It’ll be interesting to read when it comes out. But we won’t see it for a year or two, I expect. And the developer may well alter the office/residential mix in the process. Until the EIR is done, though, the City Council won’t be discussing this one.

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