Doing the Math

I’ve always had a fascination with numbers. That doesn’t make me a mathematics whiz, though. No, it’s the numbers themselves and the patterns that they make that are of great interest to me. I’ve also had a lifelong interest in calculating machines, so when I finally got a pocket calculator of my own (this one, which I had to assemble myself!), I was in heaven. My affinity for numbers surely had a lot to do with my choosing to major in Computer Science in college. These days, even though I don’t write as much software as I used to, I still love to play with numbers. For instance, on long driving trips I run numbers in my head, figuring how many miles I still have to go and how long it’ll take me to get there. And every month I balance my checkbook—to the penny.

Given my love for numbers, you can probably guess that I enjoy keeping track of the numbers associated with development projects in Redwood City, and trying to reconcile them against the caps set out in the Downtown Precise Plan (DTPP). Particularly regarding the housing numbers, I spent quite a bit of time trying to rationalize the numbers I had with those presented by Aaron Aknin at the May 23 City Council meeting. Unable to make the numbers agree, I finally cried “uncle!” and turned to our city staff for help. They were great, helping me to see just what I was missing. The discrepancies arose from a combination of factors, including both the fact that the numbers are constantly changing as new projects are proposed and approved, and that I had been unaware of some minor alterations to one of the under-construction projects that slightly changed its numbers. After correcting my spreadsheets to account for those changes, my numbers finally make sense. And I now have that same satisfied feeling that I get whenever I balance my checkbook…

The DTPP was originally adopted in 2011 and then amended in 2012 and 2013 (and again at the May 23 City Council meeting, when limits regarding affordable housing were added). In its current incarnation it sets out development limits for a handful of categories. Those “Maximum Allowable Development” (MAD) limits can be found in section 2.0.4 (page 29), and are these:

  • 2,500 net new dwelling units (any combination of apartments, condos, single-family homes)
  • 500,000 net new square feet of gross floor area for office use
  • 100,000 net new square feet of gross floor area for retail use
  • 200 net new guest rooms for lodging (hotels and motels)

Allow me to work through these numbers in reverse order. Since the DTPP was first adopted, no new hotels and motels have been built within the DTPP area. A 92-room hotel has been proposed nearby, for 1690 Broadway. If it is approved, it would replace the 18-room Garden Motel that is there today. Note that the hotel being built out on Bair Island Road is also not within the plan area and thus does not affect these numbers either.

[I have corrected the above paragraph; originally it stated that the 1690 Broadway project fell within the DTPP area, but in fact it is not.]

As for retail, I must confess that I haven’t actually been tracking the amount of retail being built. A number of the high-rise buildings constructed downtown have some amount of retail space on the ground floor, but I have yet to determine how much retail has been lost due to construction. Thus I won’t comment on this particular figure at this time other than to say we appear to be nowhere near the 100,000-square-foot limit.

Office use, on the other hand, is relatively easy to track. The key takeaway is that we’ve hit the cap of 500,000 net new square feet, and thus unless the City Council chooses to raise the caps (which don’t entirely preclude new development, but make it much more complicated and more risky for the developer), don’t expect to see any more office space built within the Downtown Precise Plan area any time soon. I won’t go into the calculations here, but the list of buildings themselves is interesting, so I’ve included it here:

  • 2114 Broadway. This is the Philz Coffee building; upstairs is some 9,300 square feet of office space, currently occupied by Shazam.
  • Crossing 900. These two buildings are complete, of course, and are almost entirely office space. There is a small wine bar coming, however, in the smaller of the two buildings.
  • 550 Allerton. This six-story office building is currently under construction just behind the Locale condominium complex. At this time the hole is being dug for the two-level underground garage.
  • 601 Marshall. This was approved fairly recently and is now under construction, on Broadway directly across from the Bank of America. Digging is just getting underway for the underground garage.
  • 889 Winslow (aka 815 Hamilton). Located directly behind the Fox Theatre, and across the street from the Crossing 900 buildings, the underground parking garage is currently being dug.
  • 2075 Broadway. Recently approved, this project will replace the Powerhouse Gym at the corner of Jefferson and Broadway. It is not yet underway.

On to residential. At the May 23 City Council meeting city staff announced that of the 2,500 housing units allowed by the DTPP, 1,500 of them had been approved or were under construction. Since then that number has changed: we are now up to 1,699 net new units. Here, as with office space, the word “net” is important: any housing units within the DTPP area that were torn down since the plan was approved must be taken into account. Under the plan 1,725 housing units have been approved (and many have been built or are under construction), but in the process 26 houses or apartment were torn down, leaving us with a net of 1,699. Here is how that number breaks down:

  • 201 Marshall. This building, which contains 116 apartments, was finished some time ago.
  • Franklin 299. Recently finished, here you will find 305 apartments. To build it a couple of light industrial buildings were torn down, along with one house.
  • Marston. 196 apartments. It appears to be essentially complete.
  • Indigo. Our largest apartment building, this 10-story behemoth contains 463 apartments. It is just about complete.
  • 103 Wilson (Greystar II). This building, when complete, will contain 175 apartments. Clearing the site meant removal of a small apartment building and a little blue house—23 housing units in total—along with a couple of light industrial buildings. Currently the contractors are digging for the building’s foundation and underground garage.
  • 1305 El Camino (Greystar III). After Greystar completes Greystar II, they plan to begin construction on this 137-unit apartment building. It will be located on El Camino Real, on the site formerly occupied by Redwood Trading Post and Redwood Car Care.
  • Locale. Located at the corner of Brewster and Winslow, this recently completed building contains 133 apartments.
  • Classics. Near to Locale, at Brewster and Warren, is this 18-unit condo development. Formerly two houses and a small commercial building stood on this property.
  • 603 Jefferson. Recently approved for the spot where the Women’s Gym stands today, the building that has been approved for this site is projected to add 91 condominiums to our downtown housing stock. The project is currently being appealed.
  • 204 Franklin.  This 91-unit apartment project, although approved, may not actually get built since a larger project—Greystar IV—has been proposed for most of the block, including this project’s site. If Greystar IV is approved, the 204 Franklin project will be withdrawn.

That nets out to 1,699 apartments and condominiums either completed, under construction, or approved and awaiting the start of construction. Subtracting that number from the 2,500 allowed by the DTPP leaves 801 housing units that can still be built under the plan. However, four additional projects have been proposed that, if all were to be approved, would cause us to just about hit our residential cap. Complicating the situation is the fact that at the May 23 meeting the City Council approved an amendment to the DTPP mandating that 15% of the housing cap be reserved for affordable housing. Fifteen percent of 2,500 is 375, meaning that of the 2,500 housing units, only 2,125 can be market-rate housing. The remaining 375 must be reserved for qualifying low-income residents.

Given that, just how many of the 1,699 units already approved are designated for low-income residents, you may ask? The answer is four. Yes, of all of the developments listed above, only one—Locale—has any affordable units at all, and it has set aside just four out of its 133 total units for low-income residents. Therefore, of the 801 housing units remaining under the cap, at least 371 need to be affordable. Fortunately, the proposed projects seem to be picking up the slack. Here is how they pencil out:

  • 707 Bradford. Every one of this projects 108 apartments will be for seniors who earn less than 50% of the Area Median Income.
  • Habitat for Humanity. This 20-unit building, proposed for 612 Jefferson Avenue, would consist entirely of affordable units.
  • 801 Brewster. The apartment building proposed for the site at the corner of Brewster and Arguello is planned to consist of 250 apartments, 50 of which would be reserved for residents earning at the Very Low Income level.
  • 1409 El Camino Real (Greystar IV). This 350-unit apartment building would sit on El Camino Real, on the block shown below. Of its 350 units, 35 (10%) of them would be set aside for residents whose incomes put them at the Low Income level.

Total up the above numbers, and subtract out the 91 apartments from the 204 Franklin project, and you get 637 more housing units being proposed in addition to the 1,699 already approved. Of those 637, 213 would be affordable, and 424 would be market rate. Thus, if all are approved the grand total would rise to 2,336 net new housing units, of which 217 would be affordable and 2119 would be market rate. Remaining in the cap? A mere 164 housing units, at least 158 of which would have to be affordable.

So there you have it. Although the numbers will change as plans are finalized and new projects are proposed, when you do the math the picture of where we stand relative to the Downtown Precise Plan becomes clear. I for one find it very satisfying to track our development this way, and I’m glad that, at least for the moment, my numbers present an accurate snapshot of how we measure up relative to the DTPP. And what does it all mean? Well, they certainly can’t call us “Deadwood City” any more…

18 thoughts on “Doing the Math

  1. If we are thinking of the same building, I lived there before the fire and thus have followed with interest.

    The building is complete and currently renting, but I don’t think there was any significant change in the number of units offered. The leasing website says there are 76 units, and I know there were 70-something when I lived there.

    • I’m pretty sure that W. Andrew was referring to the Hallmark House Apartments, which burned earlier that same year and is across Woodside and a couple of blocks down towards El Camino. But I was very glad to see 926 Woodside finish up and once again open for leasing! It appears that Hallmark House is finally making some headway: they hope to resume their rebuilding efforts, with plans to be done by the end of next year.

      • One very important distinction between the two apartment buildings that were destroyed by the fire. The one at 926 Woodside was naturally affordable prior to the fire and is now market-rate housing. The Hallmark Apartments (531 Woodside) are deed-restricted affordable which contributed to the long reconstruction delay.

        The fire did not have any impact on the deed restricted affordable housing requirements for Hallmark, the requirements are still in full force and effect. The affordability was and will remain at the very low income limit for the term of the deed restriction that expires in December of 2062.

  2. Greg,

    A couple of points regarding the property at 1690 Broadway–(1) the property is not in the DTPP area, therefore a new development at that site will not have any effect on the cap on allowed net new development of hotel rooms in the downtown district and (2) even if the property were in the DTPP area, the proposed project’s 92 rooms would not all count against the development limit, which is based on the net increase in rooms (for example, demolition of a 50-unit project and replacing it with 200 rooms would be a net gain of 150 rooms, not 200).

    • You are absolutely correct – I have it in my spreadsheet as not in the DTPP area (and indeed it is not, as you noted) but for some reason when I wrote the above I got that wrong.
      And you are right about the net number of rooms. For the record, the Garden Motel that would be replaced by this proposed Holiday Inn Express & Suites has 18 rooms, so the net add would be 74 rooms.
      Good catch! Thanks for letting me know.

  3. Quite the ratio of affordable units required at the end of the DTPP! This probably restricts developers to nonprofits and others happy to lose money? Do we know of any current candidates?

    • It certainly makes things challenging, but given the City Council’s interest in promoting affordable housing, they may well be willing to subsidize another affordable housing project. They’ve been helping with both the 20-unit Habitat for Humanity project proposed for 612 Jefferson and the 117-unit project proposed for 707 Bradford Street. While I don’t know of any specific candidates, the Bradford Street project had seven different proposals, as I recall, and the non-winning proposals may well be interested in future opportunities of this sort. The trick is in coming up with the land (as the Council did in the case of the Bradford Street project) or money to purchase land (the council helped Habitat for Humanity buy the property for their project site).

  4. Greg, thanks so much for all your effort in “doing the math”. Combine all this with the millions of square feet outside the DTPP and it’s a little mind-numbing given the implications on traffic and affordable houdsing.

    In order to keep all these projectsstraight, I also had to put together a spreadsheet to track all the major projects throughout our city. If anyone would like a link to the spreadsheet, please send me an email at

      • Adrian, is that you?? I recognize that snarky tone a mile away. Only you would hide behind a pseudonym like “reality check”. At least I have the guts to use my real name. What are you afraid of?

  5. Hi Greg, love your blog. Do you know anything about the building on Woodside near Hudson that burned a few years ago, that is still sitting there half finished? It seems like that could have become quite a few housing units by now! Is there a plan in the works to do something with it? Thanks!

    • I just realized I had never responded to this. Hopefully you saw my latest post (“Along the Way”); in it I mentioned that Hallmark House got the approval they needed to issue bonds, the proceeds from which will go towards the rebuilding of this much-needed apartment building. They hope to restart work on the building soon, and plan to be leasing their apartments again by the end of 2017. I’m keeping my fingers crossed–we really do need the 72 low-income apartments that this building supplies.

      Thanks for reading!

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