Since the election there has been a great deal of analysis around why our most recent election turned out as it did. While it will probably be years before we truly know the real reasons, it does appear that the blurring of news and opinion (and downright misinformation) was a contributing factor. These days we seem to have fewer and fewer trusted sources of actual hard news, and the ones we do have no longer seem to command the degree of attention and respect that they once did. Today, more and more people are getting “news” from outlets such as Facebook, where it’s up to the consumer to try to separate fact from fiction.
When I was growing up, there were countless newspapers, radio stations, and television stations broadcasting hard news stories that were written and presented by trusted reporters and commentators. News-gathering organizations took their responsibilities very seriously, and were careful to ensure that they had multiple sources for each piece of information. My father read two newspapers (one in the morning, one in the evening), listened to the news on the radio during his commute, and occasionally watched one of the major network news programs. Back then, separating fact from fiction was easy: if Walter Cronkite said something on his evening news program, you could trust that it was true. And it wasn’t just the content of the stories themselves: editors used to give a great deal of thought to which stories were included. Just watch All the President’s Men to get some idea of the kind of agonizing the once went on in this nation’s newsrooms—but seemingly no longer does.
Gathering and presenting the news was and is an expensive business, but a business that was respected and valued not only by the viewers and readers but also by the news organizations’ parent corporations. Although the news division was typically not profitable, other divisions made up for that, and the value of the news department was calculated in other than dollars. The lure of profits is strong, however, and over the years has likely affected how modern news organizations are run. News programs today seem to have more “human interest” pieces, and what hard news they do deliver often seems to be accompanied by opinion that can get tangled up with the factual parts of the story. And these days, with news organizations in a rush to be the first to deliver breaking news, increasingly we see poorly researched stories that are inaccurate or flat-out wrong, at least initially.
Lately even well-respected organizations such as the New York Times are getting tripped up by stories that originated from a tweet or Facebook post. If CNN or the Wall Street Journal can be fooled by an intentionally or unintentionally fake story on social media, how are we readers, who don’t have armies of professional researchers, expected to tell the wheat from the chaff?
By now you are probably wondering what this has to do with Redwood City. Just this week I caught wind of two rumors about this place we call home, rumors that are somewhat easily debunked yet appear to be believed by the people who passed them on. Myself I find neither to be particularly believable, but I thought it might be instructive to run through the process of debunking them.
The first was from a neighbor my wife and I ran into in a local coffee shop. We were told, as if it were fact, that our City Council was pushing to double Redwood City’s population from its current 75,000 to 150,000. Leaving aside the fact that our current population is more like 82,000, some simple math would show the absurdity of such a statement. What would it take to add another 75,000 residents to a city such as ours? Clearly it would involve the construction of quite a few new homes. In order for this to be even remotely possible, those homes would all have to be in high-density housing—assuming an average of four residents in a single-family home, we would need to build 18,750 such houses to accommodate everyone, which is simply inconceivable. So instead, let’s see what it would take if we built high-density housing along the lines of our newest and largest apartment building: Indigo Apartments, at 525 Middlefield.
The Indigo Apartments complex (shown above) is organized into three ten-story towers; altogether the complex takes up nearly all of a large city block. Indigo contains some 463 apartments in sizes ranging from studios to three-bedroom units. If we assume an average of three residents per apartment, when fully leased just under 1,400 people will call Indigo home. 1,400 new residents barely puts a dent in our 75,000 figure. Indeed, to double our population we would need to build more than 53 Indigos. Given that each would take up the equivalent of a city block, that means that we would need to construct 53 blocks worth of giant apartment buildings. Although they certainly could be scattered throughout the city, there is no way this or any other City Council would allow it. And then there is the expense and effort; this kind of effort is simply inconceivable.
Really, the only way to make any kind of dent in a figure as large as 75,000 new residents is something on the scale of the Saltworks project. That project has gone quiet over the last couple of years, due largely to the public outcry that was raised last time it was proposed. Personally I don’t think it stands a chance of ever being approved (and note that there isn’t even a proposal on the table at this time), but even so the last proposal was for some 8,000-12,000 homes, which would translate into roughly 25,000 new residents. Thus, we would need three projects of that size in order to double our population. (I should note that when they withdrew their last proposal Cargill stated that they would scale back the project, so even if the project managed to gain our approval it wouldn’t be 25,000 people.)
So: is Redwood City’s population going to double in the conceivable future? No. Not even close. Yes, these new apartments and condos will add to our population, but in total we’re talking about a single-digit-percentage increase.
The second rumor I heard was from a good friend. She had heard that Facebook was going to be taking over the property bounded by Broadway, Woodside Road, Bay Road, and Chestnut Street: the Big Lots, Foods Co, and CVS/Pharmacy shopping center space. While doing some investigation online I saw that someone asserted (on Facebook!) that Mark Zuckerberg had bought the property. I have no idea who will eventually occupy the three office buildings proposed for this site, assuming that the proposed project is approved (it could be Facebook, I suppose) but I checked the county records and as of today the owner of record remains The Sobrato Organization, who purchased the property just over one year ago.
While there is always a teensy tiny chance that Zuckerberg has agreed to purchase the property from Sobrato and the deal has not yet been recorded with the county, I consider that extremely unlikely. And then there is the fact that Sobrato has scheduled a public “open house” in December (see their flyer for details) to introduce the project to all who are interested—something which, if Sobrato was no longer the owner of the property, they likely wouldn’t do. No, I think we can consider the Zuckerberg/Facebook ownership idea a non-starter.
Sobrato has proposed the Broadway Plaza project for this site, which would contain a mix of residential, office, and retail. They are hoping to replace the aging shopping center with 400 for-rent apartments, 420,000 square feet of office space (split across three buildings) 18,800 square feet of retail space, and a park that will be open to the public. At this point their application to the city is not yet complete, so it hasn’t even undergone the necessary environmental and design reviews, much less a public hearing and consideration by the city. All of that will presumably take place sometime next year.
In a recent post I noted that OfficeMax and Radio Shack, both of whom formerly had outlets in this center, have moved out. While digging online for information on the center I saw someone state that, according to store employees, this center’s Foods Co store would be closing in mid-January 2017. I walked around down there and while there is no visible evidence of an upcoming closing—no “we’re closing” signs on the windows and doors, for instance—this is one rumor that I suspect is indeed true (but to be clear, I don’t know this for a fact). Sobrato is likely hoping that it will come to an agreement with the city for some version of their proposed project, and thus probably wants nearly everyone out so that they are free to begin construction at the appropriate time. All but CVS, perhaps: the most recent project plans show two retail spaces on the property, the largest of which is labeled “CVS.” The other retail space is shown to be out on Broadway, near the current Jack-in-the-Box (which would remain; both it and the Denny’s restaurant are not part of the project). Except for the CVS store, no tenants are called out for either the other retail space or the three office buildings.
When I write for this blog I for the most part stick to the facts, and I try very hard to get those facts right. When I pass on information obtained second-hand that I cannot independently verify, I try to make that clear. And on the rare occasions that I express an opinion, I am careful to note that I am doing just that: expressing an opinion. But I rarely express opinions and instead simply try to be a reliable source of information about the goings-on in Redwood City. What you choose to do with that information I leave up to you, the reader.
Wherever you get your news from—whether it is from me, from a commercial news organization, from social media, or from your next-door-neighbor—question what you read and hear. When something can easily be sanity-checked, do it. If it is something to do with Redwood City, poke around the city’s website and look for verification—there is a lot of good information there, including project proposals and video recordings of City Council and Planning Commission meetings. Perhaps together we can put a stop to unfounded rumors and made-up news stories that simply get people worked up for nothing. We have plenty of real issues to get upset about without having to chase after rumors.
As I write this post, on Friday, December 2, Lovejoy’s Tea Room has just held their ribbon-cutting ceremony and is now open for business. They are open Thursday through Monday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. You’ll find them at the corner of Main Street and Stambaugh Street, directly across Stambaugh from Savers. Although you might get lucky by walking in, they recommend making a reservation either by phone (650.362.3055) or via the web (http://www.lovejoystearoom-redwoodcity.com/reservations).
Although I have yet to try their tea and sandwiches, Lovejoy’s looks really nice; I expect that they will be a terrific addition to Redwood City’s restaurant scene.