One of the great things about working for oneself (as I have for the last couple of years) is not having to attend a lot of meetings. For most of my life I’ve worked in the software field. Throughout my career I had a wide range of duties, including writing software, writing technical manuals for other programmers, supporting software developers, and managing people who wrote software and technical documentation. Regardless of what I was doing, however, there always seemed to be meetings. While I recognize that meetings are often necessary, I was always glad when they were done and I could get back to whatever I was theoretically being paid to do. While I did enjoy working with others, I don’t really miss going to meetings.
Thus it amuses me that an important part of gathering material for this blog is attending, or at least watching, a lot of meetings. In particular I spend hours and hours watching City Council meetings and Planning Commission meetings. Fortunately, the city records them and puts them online, allowing me to watch the ones I don’t physically attend at a convenient time. The recordings also allow me to skip the parts that are of no interest, pause when I need to take a break, and back up and rewatch parts when I need to study a PowerPoint slide or make note of a speaker’s exact words.
City meetings cover a wide range of topics; I always look at the agendas beforehand to decide whether I should attend, watch online later, or perhaps skip entirely. I rarely skip an entire meeting; there is almost always some portion of interest, even if the bulk of the meeting doesn’t catch my fancy.
The last City Council meeting (October 24, 2016) was largely focused on a topic that is of great interest to me: housing. In particular, affordable housing and how we can deal with our current housing crisis. I had hopes for the meeting, and although I did get a lot from it, I must confess that the most interesting bits came during public comment, rather than from the council members themselves. Not that they didn’t try, but this was a meeting, and not a lot of real work seems to get done in meetings. Even in this one, which contained a nearly two-hour “study session” between the City Council and the members of the Housing and Human Concerns Committee (HHCC). A lot was discussed, and good issues were raised, but a “study session” is one in which the Council provides input but otherwise takes no specific actions. Hopefully some of what was covered in the meeting will translate into action soon…
Now that I’ve probably dampened your enthusiasm for watching the October 24 meeting, I’d still recommend it if you want to know more about the subject and perhaps why nothing ever seems to get done. The wheels of government turn slowly, but they do turn, and watching them do so can still be quite instructive.
There is always a part of each City Council meeting set aside for public comments not pertaining to any particular agenda item, and during that part of this meeting two speakers said something that really caught my interest. Both are residents of One Marina, which is on the bay side of Highway 101. After thanking the Council for the Highway 101 Pedestrian Undercrossing project (which is in the permit phase; it isn’t scheduled to be complete until early 2018) they got to their main topic, which is the fact that the only way to drive to and from the development is via the Whipple Avenue overpass. They both put in a plea for the Blomquist Bridge and Street Extension project, which is on the list of possible projects but has not yet even reached the design phase. This project would result in a road bridge over Redwood Creek (paralleling Highway 101) and a new street that together would connect the roundabout in front of the Boardwalk Auto dealerships to the intersection of Blomquist and Maple streets, near the Redwood City police station and new county jail. This would allow residents and visitors alike a second way into and out of a part of Redwood City that is rapidly adding new housing units.
One Marina consists of some 231 condos, while the next-door Villas at Bair Island has some 155 apartments. Add in the 411 apartments being built at Blu Harbor, and you get to about 800 housing units with those three projects alone. There is also a small townhouse development on the northeast side of Bair Island Road between One Marina and Villas at Bair Island that adds more (I haven’t walked through there to count them, but there are a couple of dozen at least), plus the 177-room One Marina Hotel that is soon to open by the Boardwalk Auto Dealerships. Altogether there are a lot of people—and a lot of cars—needing to get in and out of the area each day, and only one small street by which they can access it. This must be difficult during normal times, but could be catastrophic during an emergency. Up until now such an event may have only been theoretical, but recently we had an incident that highlighted just how much of a problem this can be.
I remember being at home on the late afternoon of Thursday, October 20 when the news started reporting on an RV fire on Highway 101 in Redwood City. That fire caused the freeway to be shut down in both directions between Woodside Road and Whipple Avenue. The traffic reports quickly began to paint an alarming picture of the resulting traffic snarl, which caused jams on El Camino Real, Alameda de las Pulgas, and routes to and from Interstate 280. My kids, who were visiting at the time, got caught in the mess, and spent about an hour making the 4.5 mile round trip between our house and the Office Depot in San Carlos.
Grateful that I wasn’t trying to drive home from work on Highway 101—the incident took place during the evening commute—I assumed that the impact was little more than a lengthened commute for a lot of people. But as I learned from the speakers at the City Council meeting, it was much worse than that for the residents of the Bair Island Road communities. It seems that in an effort to keep people from getting on to Highway 101 southbound at Whipple, the police elected to bar all traffic from the Whipple Avenue overpass. This meant that the residents of Bair Island were prevented from using the only road that provides access to their community; those not already at home had no way to drive there.
The first speaker related how she had to park in the Park-and-Ride lot at the intersection of Whipple and Veterans, and walk the mile or so to her One Marina condo—while carrying her baby. The second speaker managed to make his way to Docktown; he parked there and walked over the “bridge to nowhere,” the pedestrian bridge that spans Redwood Creek. He also mentioned that someone apparently tried to drive over that bridge, which is a terrifying thought if you’ve ever walked over it. Apparently the intrepid driver made it over and then found their way blocked, at which point they had to drive back over the bridge—in reverse.
Eventually the flaming RV was dealt with and the Whipple Avenue overpass was reopened, but not before a number of people were severely inconvenienced. This was just a taste of the havoc that could result if a serious incident actually takes place. For instance, in a major earthquake the need to get emergency vehicles out to the area while simultaneously evacuating residents, all along two-lane Bair Island Road, would be a nightmare.
Returning to the topic of the number of people out there, if we count each hotel room as a “housing unit” and add in Blu Harbor, there are potentially going to be some 1000 housing units on Bair Island sometime next year. And that doesn’t count the proposed “Syufy Site” project that would see the old Century Park 12 theaters out there converted into a mix of housing and a giant sports club. While that project is only in the proposal stage and has a lot of challenges to overcome before gaining approval, the developer has recently taken a big step towards approval by drastically downsizing their earlier proposal. This project, which I’ve written about before (in my post “A New Century”), was originally going to consist of a 100,000 square-foot “Villa Sport” club plus 550 apartments. In the new design the sports club remains, but the number of apartments has been pared back to 336. Also, the layout has changed so that only half of the water frontage would be occupied by buildings (in the original design, apartments essentially spanned the entire length of the property facing the water). There would be some 575 parking spaces, some below the apartments but most in a large surface lot.
The current design, while still adding more people than is probably safe to an area served only by a two-lane bottleneck, at least seems to be much less imposing, particularly for those of us who enjoy walking along the trails between the Syufy property and the slough separating it from Inner Bair Island. Because of the safety issues I’m guessing that the project isn’t likely to receive approval without the Blomquist Extension being built. The City Council would be the body to review and potentially approve this project, and that won’t happen for at least six months. But keep an eye out for this one.
The challenges that the residents faced as a result of the RV fire was something I had not expected to hear during a City Council meeting—which is why in reality I tend to watch all of each meeting, not just the topics I think will interest me. Certainly not every City Council or Planning Commission meeting surfaces an issue like this, but one never knows, so I continue to watch. That way I won’t be surprised if I see one of these little beauties roaming our downtown sidewalks:
(See item 6.3.A [“Adoption of a pilot program allowing the use of autonomous robots for delivery of goods in Redwood City”] in the agenda for the November 7 City Council meeting.) No, I won’t be missing too many meetings; there is just way too much going on of interest in Redwood City these days.
Our new Starbucks Reserve Bar, which is located downtown at the corner of Broadway and Hamilton, opened on October 29. I have yet to check it out but plan to do so very soon. Also, the Cru Wine Bar and Merchant is apparently open, in the Crossing 900 (“Box”) building and spilling out into North Plaza. I’ll try to get to that one soon, too, and let you know what I find. Finally, it seems that we’re getting a pedicab service downtown. Third Wheel Pedicab is a new service that hopes to ferry people between our parking areas and our downtown merchants (and between merchants, of course). I don’t yet know what their rates will be, or when their service will start, but keep an eye out for them.
There are a couple of city meetings coming up that I hope to attend and provide input; if you are interested, consider putting some or all of these on your calendar:
- El Camino Real Corridor Plan – Citizens Advisory Group Meeting. Thursday, November 10 at 7 p.m. in the City Hall Council Chambers
- El Camino Real Corridor Plan – Community Meeting. Wednesday, November 16 at 7 p.m. in the City Hall Council Chambers
- Red Morton Park Westside Renovation Project – Community Workshop #1. November 14 at 7 p.m. in the Veterans Memorial Senior Center, Redwood Room. (A large component of this project would be the Magical Bridge Playground that I wrote about in Of Parks and Parking.)