I’m doing a bit of traveling this week. My brother-in-law has a conference in San Diego, so my wife and I decided to drive down and hang out with him and his wife. Because we’ve been hoping to catch sight of the wildflower “super bloom” that some parts of California are just now beginning to experience, we decided to take a less-than-direct route that enabled us visit two of the more likely spots where the fields of California poppies should be blooming.
Our first stop was in a place I’d never heard of before: the Antelope Valley California Poppy Preserve State Natural Reserve, which is just west of Lancaster, CA. Although we were about two or three weeks too early to really catch the poppies in bloom, we paid the entry fee (a reasonable $10) and went in anyway. We ended up having a really nice hike on the trails throughout the 1,745-acre Natural Reserve, and saw plenty of poppies — although these were individual early blooms. We were told that if we came back in a couple of weeks the hillsides would be covered with the bright orange flowers, but I’m afraid we’ll have to miss that sight this year. (California poppies can be red, orange, yellow, and even pink; the ones we saw were pretty much all orange.) We did see a number of other interesting wildflowers, plus some birds, and a whole host of not-yet-dried tumbleweeds. The tumbleweeds were all bunched up, trapped at the head of a couple of small valleys. And their undried (or partially dried) colors — a host of blues and grays — were a beautiful contrast against the green grasses and other small plants:
The next day we stopped in at Lake Elsinore (on Interstate 15, due south of Riverside) where we had better luck. Although it was a cold, somewhat rainy day, and thus the poppies hadn’t fully opened when we were there, they looked pretty impressive nevertheless. These poppies are located within a Riverside County Wildlife Conservation Area (just to the east of I-15, at Lake Street, if you want to visit); no entrance is required. In fact, you could just drive by on the freeway and admire them. But to get the best views, you’ll want to pull off the freeway and take a walk up the dirt (muddy, in our case) road that winds up the hills and through the fields. I’m guessing that in another week or two these fields will be truly impressive, but we were happy enough with what we saw.
Although orange California poppies are the main attraction right now, there were plenty of other flowers mixed in as well. Yellow, white, and violet were the other predominant colors. We came around one bend in the road and discovered a large patch of violet flowers embedded within the poppies:
Absolutely beautiful, and well worth the drive.
This week the Planning Commission met and unanimously approved the latest proposal for a new hotel on Broadway at Beech Street. Currently home to the 18-room Garden Motel, the owners have been planning for a couple of years now to replace the old, tired, essentially single-level motel with a modern multi-story chain hotel. Their initial plans were for a four-story, 90-room Holiday Inn Express and Suites. That building would have had a two-level parking garage (with one level underground) that would have accommodated 80 cars and four motorcycles. After receiving Planning Commission approval for the design back in 2017, though, the hard work of crunching the numbers and drawing up the construction plans began, and apparently in the process the developer realized that things just weren’t going to pencil out. Accordingly, they reworked the design and came up with something that wasn’t too different from what was originally approved — but of course was different enough that it had to be re-approved by the Planning Commission.
The new design crams 90 cars (and four motorcycles!) into a single, ground-level parking garage. In order to make this work, they had to employ a high-tech solution: the garage utilizes 32 stackers to fit 64 cars into the space normally required for 32. To operate the stackers, and to fit the remaining vehicles into the somewhat tight garage, a 24-hour valet will be on site to ensure that cars can come and go as needed.
By not having to dig an underground parking level, the developer was able to cut costs. They were also able to improve the income side of the ledger by increasing the number of hotel rooms from 90, in the original design, to 112 in the current one. In order to accommodate the additional rooms the height of the building was increased from four stories to the present five. Otherwise, though, the two designs look somewhat similar — although at least one of the Planning Commission members noted that the new design looked even more attractive than the one that had been approved back in 2017.
Redwood City’s new hotel — which would be the first one built in or near downtown since the Downtown Precise Plan was approved — would be located about two blocks from the edge of the Downtown Precise Plan area, and about eight blocks from Courthouse Square. While that distance may be a bit far for some, the added foot traffic that such a hotel would undoubtedly bring would provide a badly needed boost to businesses along Broadway, especially those between Beech and Main streets.
Although many of Redwood City’s existing hotels are fine for leisure travelers, business travelers prefer to be near where they are working. Given the large number of companies who now have a presence in downtown Redwood City, we need a downtown hotel at which people visiting those companies would consider staying. And then there are conventions. Lately Redwood City has begun to attract a few conventions, such as the two-day Startup Grind Global Conference that recently took over Redwood City’s Fox Theater and Courthouse Square. A supply of nearby lodging is one factor that convention organizers consider when deciding where to locate, so if the city wants more such activities, a downtown hotel or two is a must.
Of course, the Transient Occupancy Taxes (TOT) that a new hotel would bring will be a welcome boost to a city budget that is projected to turn red in just a few short years. Redwood City expects to take in $6.7 million in TOT this fiscal year, about equal to what it took in last year — and this new hotel would add to that figure. Plus, some of the people who stay in this new hotel would shop and eat nearby, which not only would provide a small boost to our downtown restaurants and retailers, but would also generate additional tax revenue for the city.
Technically Redwood City already has two downtown hotels. One, the Pacific Euro Hotel, is a small “European style” budget hotel that requires many of its guests to use shared bathrooms down the hall, and thus is not what the typical business traveler is looking for. The other is the Sequoia Hotel. The Sequoia Hotel building is historic and has a beautiful façade, but serves more as a low-income housing option than as a conventional hotel. While that may change in the future, for now serious travelers don’t stay at the Sequoia Hotel.
Although I wish that this new hotel was going to be closer to the center of Redwood City’s downtown, it is a substantial upgrade to what is there today, and just may spark a revitalization of the section of Broadway between downtown and Woodside Road. Plus, it may well be close enough to downtown to serve as a proper downtown hotel, something that I believe the city badly needs.
Although I have yet to get downtown to see it, we apparently have a “pop-up” miniature golf course in Courthouse Square. Dubbed Putt’n Around…Downtown Redwood City, it will be open Tuesdays through Sundays for the entire month of March. It is located inside the giant tent, so we can enjoy it rain or shine. Eighteen holes of miniature golf for people aged 12 and older costs $9; ages 11 and under pay $6 to play. And that fee also gets you a discounted admission to the San Mateo County History Museum, which of course is located inside the historic courthouse. The web page devoted to this activity has a link that enables you to book a tee time in advance; I don’t know if that is necessary or whether you can just walk up and expect to be playing without too much of a wait. I’ll be sure and check it out at my next opportunity.
While I’m on the subject, I just wanted to highlight the irony of getting people excited about playing miniature golf in Redwood City when we once had a perfectly lovely miniature golf course over on Blomquist Street. Unfortunately, that Malibu Golf and Games (along with the next door Malibu Grand Prix go-cart track) was torn down more than four years ago, after the property was acquired by a developer hoping to build a large office complex on the property. The property has been pretty much empty and unused ever since, which seems to be a tremendous waste. The family fun center could have stayed in operation until the project is approved (if it ever is) and construction is ready to get underway, extending the life of the place by a good couple of years. Instead, we have to settle for a large empty lot along Highway 101, and a month-long “pop-up” miniature golf course on Redwood City’s Courthouse Square. Which is certainly better than nothing, of course, but a mere shadow of what we once had.