It’s over. The year 2020, that is. Certainly, for a number of reasons the year 2020 is one that most people are happy to have behind them. But before we try to put it out of our memories altogether — something we’ll never really do, of course, because even when COVID-19 is no longer something we have to consider when going about our daily lives, we’ll remember back when it was, if only to tell our kids and grandkids about it — I want to use this post to sum up some of the most significant changes that that I witnessed within Redwood City over the past year. Because my blog also covers San Carlos, North Fair Oaks, and Menlo Park, towards the end of this post I’ve included sections for those as well — but there I’ve just hit the highlights, and focused mainly on commercial and residential development. While I acknowledge that this post is on the long side, that’s only because while most of us where sheltering in place, a lot continued to go on in our communities.
When COVID-19 began to spread throughout the area, and our first shelter-in-place order came down, life pretty much came to a halt. But as scientists and the medical community learned more about it, and as our leaders started to understand the implications of a shelter-in-place order, modifications began to be made. Construction resumed fairly quickly, for one. And although dining in or even just outside of a restaurant was prohibited at the beginning (as it is again, as I write this), most of our area’s restaurants pivoted to takeout and delivery. And eventually, our leadership realized that outdoor dining wasn’t as risky as dining indoors, and so made accommodations to enable more restaurants to seat their patrons outside. Accordingly, our cities streamlined the necessary permitting processes, blocked off some street parking to make more room for outdoor tables, and even in some cases closed off streets. At least in Redwood City, the barriers and street closures meant to aid local restaurants and retailers remained until shortly before the end of the year, when they were removed. One restaurant, Angelica’s, managed to build a deck over the parking in front of their restaurant and use it for outdoor seating.
Closing streets to help restaurants (and a few retailers) do more business out-of-doors certainly helped. Following on this, Redwood City, at least, went on to implement a “slow streets” program in which a number of quieter residential streets had temporary barricades erected to discourage (but not entirely prevent) through traffic in order to let residents walk and play in the streets in relative safety. Providing more places to play was important, especially given that our municipal playgrounds were off limits until October.
With so many people staying at home due to COVID-19, area traffic was noticeably lighter. It appears that Redwood City, at least, took advantage of this fact by having work crews implement a number of street repair projects throughout the city. For a period it seemed as if you could hardly go anywhere without running into, or going by, at least one such project. Perhaps it was just coincidence, but throughout the year 2020 a lot of infrastructure work seems to have gotten done.
Redwood City lost a number of businesses during the year 2020. Some were likely due to COVID-19, and some could likely be chalked up to a changing economy. For instance, Pier 1 Imports closed in January. Their space in the Sequoia Station shopping center remains empty, although during the Halloween season it was used as a Spirit Halloween Superstore. In February, Kmart closed. We lost a funeral home on Woodside Road (Redwood Chapel) that month as well, although it has been repurposed, at least for the moment, as a church. Carnamic, an internet-based used car operation on El Camino Real at Whipple Avenue, closed in May. That month we also lost EBikes, Etc. and Joby Aviation. (This last, a company working on air taxis, is actually based in the Santa Cruz area but had an office in Redwood City that relocated to San Carlos in May 2020.) Finally, Brick Monkey 2 closed their doors in October, Mattress Firm pulled out of Sequoia Station in November, and Antiques Then & Now (on Veterans Blvd) closed up sometime in the last three months of the year.
As for restaurants, we lost Kristi Marie’s, Thaibodia Restaurant (on Woodside Road), Nam Vietnamese Brasserie (although they may be coming back once indoor dining is safe again), Ghostwood Beer’s tasting room (they continue to make and see beer from their local brewery), and Alana’s Cafe. We also lost the first incarnation of BottleShop, although in October new owners opened an updated version of the popular wine bar in the existing space.
We may have lost a lot of businesses, but as BottleShop illustrates, we gained a few as well. In July, Outdoor Supply Hardware opened their OSH clone in the old Orchard Supply Hardware space on Woodside Road. And just a couple of days before the end of 2020, Zu Tarazi opened his latest Redwood City venture, JuiceBox in the old Kristi Marie’s space. I’ll write more about this place in a future post, but JuiceBox is a “carefully curated” wine shop. My wife and I have already bought some wine from them and are excited about the possibilities. I recommend exploring their website and giving some thought to joining their wine club.
Nam Vietnamese Brasserie may have closed in August, but before that they had opened in February of 2020 — so they get counted as both an opening and a (hopefully temporary) closing. We also gained a Chick-fil-A (causing traffic backups that are even now not entirely sorted out), Dunkin’ (donuts), La Cocina de la Abuela (Mexican), Vons Chicken, and Zareen’s (Pakistani and Indian food). Finally, Ohana (on Woodside Road) morphed into Redwood City BBQ.
I mentioned that construction was one of the first industries given the green light to resume after our shelter-in-place was enacted, and it shows in the number of construction projects that started, finished, or just made substantial progress during the year. Among the affordable housing projects that made noteworthy progress in 2020 are:
- The Habitat for Humanity project on Jefferson Avenue in downtown Redwood City got underway at the beginning of the year. Here is what it looks like today:
- In January, Arroyo Green was framing their first residential floor (above the two-story garage/lobby/childcare center). The building topped out in April, and began accepting applications for its affordable apartments in October. Today, this is what the nearly completed building looks like:
- The Hallmark Apartments building, which has been sitting idle for a number of years now, finally got back underway in April after the needed funding was finally arranged. This building, too, began accepting applications in October, and should open in just a few short months.
- The Redwood Oaks apartments at 330 Redwood Avenue were substantially remodeled in 2020.
- The affordable apartment project at 353 Main Street sat idle as of April, but by November it was finally getting the first walls for the ground-level garage. Today, the project looks like this:
- Finally, just before it began leasing to the public, the Elan Redwood City apartment building across Jefferson Avenue from the Sequoia Station shopping center was sold to Stanford University, who renamed it The Cardinal Apartments and promptly began leasing the apartments to staff and students, giving priority to those working at Stanford’s Redwood City campus.
Those are just the affordable housing projects. There was, of course, plenty of activity throughout the year on the market-rate housing front as well.
- The 17 townhouse-style condominiums being built at the corner of Cleveland Avenue and Harrison Street were worked on throughout the year, and are now nearly complete.
- Work on the long-planned 10-unit condominium building at 910 Woodside Road (where Thaibodia Restaurant used to be) finally got underway in May. The Thaibodia building was torn down in June, and a great deal of progress has been made since then. Here is the site today:
- The Broadway Plaza project (which also includes one affordable apartment building and three office buildings) saw activity as the streets all around the project site were torn up in order to ensure that the site has the utilities that will be needed by this enormous project.
- The 350-unit luxury apartment building at 1409 El Camino Real made great strides throughout the year, and a name for the building was announced: Highwater.
- Some of the 33 condominiums being built on the former site of Honda Redwood City at the corner of El Camino Real and Hopkins Avenue (Link 33) were completed, and the units were put on the market. The remaining units are close to finishing up as I write this.
- Numerous homes being constructed by builder Thomas James Homes were getting underway by mid-summer; all are at various stages of development now.
- A prefab home from Connect Homes was installed at a site on Virginia Avenue.
- One20 Towns (a twelve-unit townhouse-style condominium development) is finally showing signs of getting going at 120 El Camino Real.
- The giant Strada project, which will build some 131 townhouses on the shores of Redwood Creek east of Highway 101, spent much of the year raising the site in preparation for construction, which is expected to commence in early 2021. Here is what the site looks like today:
While much of the construction that occurred in Redwood City during the year 2020 was housing-related, there was plenty of commercial construction as well:
- Kaiser’s new medical office building at the corner of Maple and Marshall streets largely wrapped up, at least from the outside. While the building looks complete, and the adjacent sidewalks have been reconstructed, work continues on the building’s interior.
- The large office building going up at 1180 Main St. appears fully framed:
- The office building getting tucked into the ‘L’ made by the Marston Apartments building at 610 Walnut St. is slowly rising:
- The large office (with a retail space on the Main Street ground floor) being built at 851 Main St. continued construction throughout the year.
- The major remodel of the former Young’s Auto Parts building at 929 Main St., after many months of inactivity, resumed under a new contractor.
- The transformation of the old Pizza and Pipes building (821 Winslow St.) into a small office finished up in 2020, and a tenant promptly moved in. This building is now where AvidBank has one of their loan production offices.
- Over in Redwood Shores, serious remodeling went on during at least part of the year at both 1100 Island Dr. and 1200 Bridge Pkwy.
- The transformation of the long-empty machine shop at 55 Perry St. into offices (with what appears to be a lovely rooftop deck) finally got underway in 2020. The building now appears to be well on its way to completion.
- The old Signarama building on El Camino Real near Broadway is in the process of being transformed into a restaurant space; during the year 2020 it was worked on in fits and starts. Currently it looks like this:
- The Shell gas station at the corner of Woodside Road and Hudson St. was completely replaced. The new one has both a carwash and a “Loop” mini-mart.
- Work to convert the Max’s Café space in Sequoia Station to a Chase Bank branch had stalled in October 2019, but finally got back on track in mid-summer 2020. It finally appears to be approaching completion.
- In January, we were treated to some of the proposed ideas for a reworked Transit Center. Soon after, this “trial balloon” was reworked so that it no longer included a 17-story building. That project is still in the preliminary planning stages.
- The South Main Mixed-Use project got the thumbs-up from the Redwood City Council in November; we may start to see some project-related activity in that part of the city (where Towne Ford and Hopkins Acura are located) in 2021.
- Nine Gatekeeper Process projects were reviewed by the City Council. Six of the projects were initiated. They now have to be formally submitted to the city as proposed projects.
- The Planning Commission approved the 690 Veterans hotel project.
- The Veterans Memorial Senior Center project was put on hold.
- The Middlefield Road Phase 1 Underground Utility District and Streetscape Project made tremendous progress throughout 2020; all of the necessary conduits were installed to allow for undergrounding of the overhead wires, the street was resurfaced, and the sidewalks were substantially widened. In addition, new streetlamp and signals were installed.
- The Highway 101 Pedestrian Undercrossing project made some progress, although not nearly as much as one would have expected.
In business news, Toyota 101 took over the building on Convention Way that formerly housed Peninsula Infiniti. Some time later, Redwood City Infiniti opened at El Camino Real and Whipple Avenue, the former home of Carnamic. Adobu opened a showroom for their prefab backyard homes in the old Airport Appliance building on El Camino Real (and even squeezed one or two of their prefab units into their showroom!). Ralph’s Vacuum & Sewing moved from Main Street to a location on Broadway (near Main Street) that they hope is temporary. However, there seems to be trouble getting city approval for the plans for their permanent location in Woodside Plaza. By mid-summer, the old Aaron Brothers building on El Camino Real began getting prepped as the new home for Chain Reaction Bicycles; Chain Reaction hopes to open their doors at their new location on Wednesday, January 6. Finally, Yummly, who had to leave Redwood City when their headquarters building was torn down to make way for a new office building, moved back to Redwood City in 2020, taking up residence along Main Street.
Not everything last year was about buildings or businesses. In January 2020 the Youth Mural Alley project was unveiled, in the small alley behind the Sequoia Hotel (between Main Street and the mid-block parking lot). As well, a new mural was painted on a portion of the Roosevelt Center in July. After numerous delays, the Magical Bridge Playground finally opened in Red Morton Park, on December 1. Redwood City created a safe parking program for RVs, and instituted new limits on RV parking in certain parts of the city. This dirt lot at the corner of Maple and Blomquist streets is now a safe parking lot for RVs:
In October, Redwood City’s Parks, Recreation, and Community Services department unveiled their “1st Annual Halloween Home Decorating Contest.” I saw many decorated houses throughout the city. Thanks to COVID-19, though, there wasn’t much trick-or-treating. In December, the city followed up with their first annual “Holly Jolly Home Decorating Contest.” Again, I saw lots of decorated houses.
In June much of downtown Redwood City was boarded up in anticipation of a Black Lives Matter rally in Courthouse Square. Fortunately, the rally turned out to be a peaceful one. In July, the city turned down an offer from the county of a land swap between county-owned land at 1580 Maple St. (the location of the now-vacant Women’s Jail and the Maple Street shelter) and three acres of city-owned land at the corner of Maple and Blomquist streets (the location of the city’s RV safe parking lot, shown above). Negotiations continue towards some sort of deal; the city needs at least some of the county’s land for its planned Blomquist Street Extension, and the county would love some of the city’s land for a new homeless Navigation Center.
That about wraps up the year for Redwood City, but note that my list is by no means complete! Those are just the highlights as best I can remember them. As for our neighboring communities, what follows are some of the highlights I observed there throughout 2020.
North Fair Oaks
Fair Oaks Commons, the affordable 67-unit housing project under construction at 2821 ECR for most of the year, finished up in time to open its doors to new tenants in December. Down the street, the project to build a small office building in place of the old Bonsai Japanese Restaurant at 3401 El Camino Real sat idle for most of the year, but by November it was finally making real progress. By the end of the year, the new foundation was fully in place and framing for the walls was beginning:
The large Sunrise Senior Living Center project, on El Camino Real at E. Selby Ln., is now fully framed and is rapidly being closed in. Not too far away, on El Camino Real, a Canadian company recently opened Prenuvo, which is a body scanning service intended to do early identification of cancer and other diseases.
San Carlos closed portions of Laurel Street and blocked off parking in other parts of the city in order to provide space for outdoor dining.
The small mixed-use building on San Carlos Avenue at Chestnut Street finished up in 2020. It has six high-end condominiums above a ground floor commercial space. Similarly, the mixed-use building at 520 El Camino Real (by the Shell station) finished up. This one has nine condominiums above two commercial spaces.
Work on the enormous “Alexandra District for Science and Technology” (on Industrial Road) continued throughout the year, with the glass exterior being applied towards the end of the year:
Not far away, at the corner of Industrial Road and Brittan Avenue, the two-story commercial building on the northeast corner was torn down and work commenced on a new a three-story, nearly 140,000 square foot life sciences building. Elsewhere on Industrial Road Joby Aviation moved into new digs from their former Redwood City location.
In numerous places throughout the city various condominium developments were approved. The six-unit condominium development at 1040 & 1052 Laurel St., which has been underway for some time, continues to make progress:
Menlo Park also instituted street closures and parking restrictions in order to facilitate outdoor dining, closing part of Santa Cruz Avenue.
At the beginning of the year, the Station 1300 (since renamed) project was fully framed but hadn’t gotten windows or siding yet. It is now under new ownership and has a new name — Springline — and is looking really good:
This large project, which is being built on the former site of a Cadillac, Buick, Pontiac, and GMC dealership, will ultimately have 183 apartments (ranging in size from one to three bedrooms) and two 100,000 square foot office buildings all above a two-level underground parking garage. Also tucked into the project will be a couple of retail and restaurant spaces. This project began in 2017 and hopes to begin leasing to office and retail tenants by this summer. Leasing for the 183 apartments should begin in the winter of 2021.
Across El Camino Real from Springline, the mixed-use (office/commercial/residential) building that replaced the Park Theatre wrapped up in 2020. Further along El Camino Real, the Guild Theater is also being replaced. But this one is being replaced by a music hall, one that will host live concerts. This project started later, and thus isn’t as far along:
Further down El Camino Real, close to the border with Palo Alto, Stanford’s Middle Plaza project began the year by digging the project’s underground garage. That garage has long been completed, and now the steel for at least one of the office buildings is in place. As well, wood framing for the residential buildings (the project will include 215 for-rent apartments) is underway. In addition to those apartments, this 8.4-acre development will include three non-medical office buildings and a large public plaza that will sport a 10,000 square-foot cafe/retail facility.
Middle Plaza is well behind schedule: Stanford had hoped to have the project wrapped up by now.
Near to Kepler’s Books, the three adjoining buildings at 505 and 556 Santa Cruz Ave. and at 1125 Merrill St. were, in January, framed and receiving windows and insulation. Today they appear to be largely complete.
The large project currently underway on the former site of Beltramo’s began the year digging for the project’s shared underground garage. Now the two-story office building that will face onto El Camino Real, and the three-story, 27-unit residential building that will be located along the back of the property and face onto San Antonio Street, are well into the framing stages.
Because this blog is created entirely by me, I unfortunately cannot follow the goings-on in North Fair Oaks, San Carlos, and Menlo Park as closely as I do in Redwood City. Hopefully, however, this brief summary of some of the development activity taking place in those neighboring communities goes to show that each of these smaller communities seems proportionally just as busy transforming themselves as Redwood City is. Construction is going on up and down the Peninsula, and Redwood City is by no means an anomaly. The year 2020 was a very active year for all of these communities, COVID-19 or no, and from what I can tell the year 2021 is going to be just as busy. The year 2020 might truly be over, but as we all realized upon waking up on January 1, the new year is going to be the same as the old one in a lot of ways. Fortunately, though it appears that we’ll be ushering some of the worst of 2020 out…