Former listeners of “A Prairie Home Companion” may recall Garrison Keillor starting his storytelling segment with “It was a quiet week in Lake Wobegon…”. Whenever a week comes along where I find I have little to write about, that phrase runs through my head. Although there are at least a few things worth writing about this week, I must confess that I haven’t been out walking to find them. And can you blame me? We were just starting to put the fighting of the CZU Lightning Complex fires behind us — as of this writing, Cal Fire shows it as being 85% contained — and starting to think about what we could do to help the many, many people who lost their homes, businesses, and even loved ones. But then the North Complex Fire and the Creek Fire started up with a vengeance, causing our air quality to deteriorate to an alarming degree. These days we are urged to stay indoors and not go out unless we must. Certainly we shouldn’t be doing anything outside that would cause heavy breathing. Thus, I’m having to curtail my walks for the moment.
Normally, in times like this, I turn to my old standby, any recent meetings of our City Council or Planning Commission. Given that there hasn’t been a City Council meeting for almost three weeks (their next meeting is this Monday, September 14, at 7:00 p.m.), or a Planning Commission meeting for even longer than that (their next meeting is this Tuesday, September 15, at 7:00 p.m.), however, I have little to say about any recent actions on the part of either of those bodies. Fortunately, there are one or two items on their agendas for next week that are worth commenting on.
The big ticket item at next week’s City Council meeting is an important one that will be of interest to a lot of you: item 7.A., a report from the council’s ad-hoc committee on policing. The city’s reaction to the Black Lives Matter protests and the input our various leaders received during the city’s six scheduled Community Dialogues will presumably be the subject of that particular item. Since I don’t generally cover politics in this blog, I won’t comment about it here. However, wanted to make sure that anyone who cares about the subject is aware of this particular agenda item. You can watch the meeting live starting at 7 p.m. on Monday using the link you’ll find on this page at that time (you’ll find it in the row labeled “Regular City Council/Successor Agency/Public Financing Agency” for September 14, 2020), or you can watch the recording of the meeting after the meeting is over by clicking the corresponding Video link that will appear in that same row once the recording is available.
It will go by in a flash — all of the items listed under “Consent Calendar” are generally dispatched with a single vote — but I’ll be rooting for item 6.D., “Vacation of easement for the project at 112 Vera Avenue.” I’ve been keeping an eye on this particular site, which is located on Vera Avenue just behind the Firestone Auto Care center on El Camino Real, for years. It once held five two-unit apartments, but years ago they fell into disrepair and became a major source of blight:
As work got underway to restore the five buildings to a usable state, the contractor discovered that the buildings were too far gone, and were simply not salvageable. Thus, the decision was made to tear the buildings down to their foundations and rebuild them from there. The tearing down part went quickly, but for months now the foundations have been sitting, untouched as far as I can tell:
(I took the above picture in mid-April; the site hasn’t changed since then). Apparently, back in 1946 the city was given an easement along the driveway that runs down the middle of this property, enabling the city to maintain the single water main and single sewer main that serviced the entire site. Building codes have changed since then, though, and all of the units now need private water meters and individual sewer lines. Thus, the easement is no longer needed and has to be vacated. Passage of this item does that. Presumably this is what the contractor has been waiting for, so once the item has been approved, I expect that work will soon recommence.
Also note item 6.F., “Temporary outdoor business activity program during COVID-19 emergency.” This item will extend the temporary street closures (and the blocking off of some street parking) made to help our restaurants and retail businesses. Currently the closures are set to expire on September 30, but assuming that the City Council approves this item, those closures will be extended until the end of January, 2021. For those wondering how well the street closures are working, the staff report on this item notes that “at the time of the writing of this report, forty restaurants and bars received permits for outdoor dining in the Downtown.” Certainly not all of the bars and restaurants who had received those permits are (or were) succeeding, and presumably no one is doing the level of business that they were doing prior to the shutdown, but 40 permits seems indicative of something. On a related note, San Carlo’s City Council is also meeting on Monday night (also at 7 p.m.) and they, too, will be considering revisions to their business-supporting street closures. And they’ll be discussing a possible end date or criteria to indicate when the closures should end. I’ll definitely be curious to see what they do.
Item 6.H. is the last step needed in order to clear the way for Redwood City’s safe parking site at the corner of Maple and Blomquist streets. RVs just may be using that empty lot for overnight parking as soon as the end of this month.
After the report from the ad-hoc committee on policing, I’ll be sticking around to hear the next item, 8.A. “Consideration of All-Electric Reach Codes (Reach Codes) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) through new building construction requirements.” Although the title is a mouthful, that item, if enacted, will, with some exceptions, require new construction to be all-electric. Given that the burning of natural gas results in significant greenhouse gas emissions, the city anticipates that the elimination of most gas appliances in new construction will help the city meet its climate goals. Note that this does not affect existing buildings in any way: you won’t be forced to give up your gas stove, or water heater, for instance. But most new residential buildings will be equipped with all-electric kitchens and will use electricity to heat water and living spaces. Note that the use of gas for some functions will still be allowed in certain cases, such as in restaurant kitchens. Also, projects that have already been approved won’t be forced to go all-electric, even if they have yet to be built.
That’s a lot of stuff for one meeting, but as I noted earlier, all of the lettered items under “Consent Calendar” (6.A., 6.B., etc.) will most likely be swiftly approved with a single vote on the part of each council member. So if you want to comment on any of those, be aware that you’ll need to make your comment early in the meeting, before the Consent Calendar item is reached.
The Redwood City Planning Commission’s upcoming meeting agenda shows two items that will be receiving a public hearing. The second is to allow (or not) cannabis retailers in Redwood City. City staff is recommending that the city classify storefront retail cannabis as “general retail,” which would allow cannabis stores to locate in any of Redwood City’s zoning districts that already permit general retail — with the exception that such retailers must be located at least 600 feet from schools, parks, libraries, youth centers, and childcare facilities.
Personally, I’m more interested in the commission’s first agenda item, in which the commissioners will consider approving a 4-story, 91-room hotel for the two parcels at the corner of Veterans Boulevard and Brewster Avenue currently occupied by a Shell gas station. This gas station:
The hotel would be 60 feet tall, and would have a courtyard patio and a rooftop deck. The building would have a check-in and loading area along Veterans Boulevard, while its internal ground-level parking garage would be accessed from Brewster Avenue. As is the trend these days with many proposed buildings, that garage is interesting. For one, normally a hotel this size would be required to have 91 parking spaces (one per room). However, the garage has 78 parking spaces for cars — spaces that are enabled by a mechanical stacker system operated by a full-time valet. It also has room for 18 bicycles.
The hotel would look something like this:
This hotel, although not actually in the Downtown Precise Plan area, would be as close as you can get without actually being in it (Brewster Avenue is one boundary of the DTPP area). People having business with the city or the county would likely find this hotel to be conveniently located. It would be a very easy walk to the county buildings, and a still easy walk to Redwood City’s city hall. So the location makes sense, and perhaps the reduced amount of parking does as well.
The smoke that is currently blanketing the entire Bay Area is depressing and is likely having a real impact on the amount of outdoor activity going on in Redwood City right now. But don’t let the relative quiet that the city is experiencing this week fool you: things are still happening, as the city continues to look to its future. Now if only the air would clear to the point where I can resume walking… In the mean time, stay safe.