What a year, eh? Just when the year looked to be one that we would all want to entirely forget — thanks to COVID-19, the drought, and, of course, the nonsense that took place in our nation’s capitol on January 6 — we wrapped up the year with a deluge of rain and snow (that by no means will end the drought, but undoubtedly will put a small dent in it), and we’re starting to see some positive signs regarding the pandemic, even amidst the Omicron-fueled increases in spread (Omicron may not be as deadly as previous strains, and if South Africa’s experience proves true, our case rates may decline as fast as, or even faster, than they are increasing). Do be careful and stay safe, though — even though our pandemic conditions may improve, right now we are clearly in a dangerous time: stay safe out there!
Here in Redwood City, the year proved to be surprisingly normal (when compared with the last dozen or so years). Much of the interruption that we experienced here in Redwood City occurred in 2020, back when we were in lockdown and then for a time afterwards while our employers and our various service and retail businesses figured out how to continue operating while keeping everyone involved safe. The year 2021 saw some refinement in those areas, as restaurants in particular continued to adjust. But for much of the year, it seems, they figured something out. Our restaurants, retailers, and service businesses may not be making huge (or any) profits, but for the most part, they are still open and serving their customers. Most of us are back to getting our hair done, and our nails, and most seem to be enjoying our local restaurants, whether we are eating in, eating in the “outdoor dining rooms” that so many have constructed, or employing some form of takeout. We are so fortunate that — the last couple of weeks excepting, perhaps — our weather is such that we can dine outdoors almost all year round, enabling us all to choose how we can continue to support our local restaurants while maintaining whichever level of safety we feel is appropriate. My wife and I, for instance, mostly do takeout, but we have eaten outdoors at a number of places. We hope to get back to indoor dining soon, but given that we have other options, we are in no rush to do so.
While I try to keep track of all of Redwood City’s restaurants, I can only do so much. However, from what I can tell it appears that Redwood City didn’t lose more restaurants in 2021 than it would have in a normal year. Some of the losses we did experience can undoubtedly be blamed at least early on the pandemic, but restaurants are a high-turnover business even in normal times; they come and go for a number of reasons. While we did lose some that now sit empty — Lovejoy’s Tea Room being one — in many locations a new restaurant opened in 2021 where a previous one closed. For instance, in Roosevelt Plaza, Summit Coffee gave way to Masala Desi Cafe, a purveyor of Indian food, and Rolled Up Creamery (on Broadway between El Camino Real and the Caltrain tracks) has been replaced by SF Gelateria.
We should celebrate (and, to the degree we can, patronize) all of the new restaurants that made Redwood City their home in 2021. This includes the Michelin-listed Warung Siska (a “fine casual” Indonesian restaurant), the Michelin-starred Sushi Shin (a Japanese restaurant), Supreme Crab, Curry Pizza House, and La Fonda de Los Carnalitos. It seems that the dining options in a city already known for its wide variety of places to eat continued to increase, even during a year that many would rather forget.
Redwood City isn’t all about dining, of course. On the retail front, the Chase Bank branch in Sequoia Station, which was constructed in the old Max’s Café space, finally opened in 2021. As did, just barely, Wells Fargo’s new downtown branch at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Broadway:
Note that the other two retail businesses slated for this building — Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream, and Aili Ice Designs — have yet to open the doors on their new spaces, although Aili Ice Designs, at least, looks to be just about ready. Elsewhere in Redwood City, a retailer of Japanese Maple trees opened up just across Willow Street from Sigona’s Farmer’s Market — but when I last checked, he didn’t have hours when he was open to the public, but instead was working with people by appointment. He sure had some lovely trees, though…
Redwood City does a lot to promote community, and I was delighted that in 2021 the city brought back its many summer concert series, Movies on the Square, and Pub in the Park. After a year (2020) where all of those kinds of things had been canceled to keep people safe, it was nice to have people out communing with one another again, even if in somewhat smaller numbers. The city also held second-annual versions of both its Halloween and Christmas home decorating contests, which was fun. And on a more serious note, the city fully reopened (masking still required) its public libraries, which I regard as a big step back towards normalcy. Encore Books — the terrific little bookstore beneath the San Mateo County History Museum in Courthouse Square — also reopened in 2021, although only on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. for now.
On the art front, the city gained some lovely new murals this past year, including the large one that takes up nearly the entirety of the parking-lot-facing side of the building at 55 Perry St.:
I also love the giant image of a pickleweed plant “growing” up the side of the Arroyo Green apartment building on Bradford Street, as well as the nifty mural also facing a parking lot on the side of the Rockn Wraps restaurant. And as I noted in last week’s post, the Port of Redwood City was spruced up this year with a couple of nifty works of art. So Redwood City’s public art scene remained alive and thriving in 2021, something also worth celebrating.
On the development front — residential and commercial development projects being such a large part of the Redwood City story over the last decade or so — 2021 can be summed up as “full steam ahead.” The number of major new projects (not counting single-family home projects) that were proposed over the year may be the highest the city has seen for quite some time: I count at least 17 of them, not including the still-nascent proposal by the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board to elevate the Caltrain tracks through at least a portion of Redwood City. Projects were proposed in all portions of the city, including downtown, the Woodside Road corridor, the waterfront area, and Redwood Shores. They range in size from the relatively small — a proposal to add 16 units to the Gordon Manor senior care facility, or the relatively small R&D building proposed for 2966 Bay Rd. — to the gigantic: the Harbor View office project, the Sequoia Station mixed-use project, and the Redwood LIFE 16-building office campus.
Those proposed projects have yet to be approved. A handful of others were approved in 2021, none of which are as yet showing signs of on-site activity (plenty of work is undoubtedly going on behind the scenes, though, such as drawing up full construction plans and filing to obtain building permits). These projects, too, range from the small — such as the 5-unit condominium project at 239 Vera Ave. — to the very large: the 8.3-acre mixed-use ELCO Yards project that will take the place of today’s Towne Ford and Hopkins Acura dealerships (which will presumably, hopefully, move elsewhere).
As for projects under construction, Redwood City saw a great many of those over the past year. Some made little visible progress, although for those — like me — who visit the sites regularly and watch for any signs of change, the projects did move ahead. One of the ones I’m glued to right now is the little project to rebuild 10 small dwelling units (arranged as five side-by-side duplexes) at 112 Vera Ave., just in from El Camino Real. I went by earlier this week and was delighted to not only see three or four people on site, but also some small signs of progress:
I also checked on the parcel that the County of San Mateo received in trade with the City of Redwood City, a parcel where they plan to build a homeless navigation center. I was delighted to see some real signs of progress, only weeks after that trade was made:
As I hope you can tell from the above picture, the site where the navigation center will sit is being raised up in an effort to protect it from sea level rise. I don’t know if this site will be raised as high as the site of the 131-unit townhouse project, which is locate just across Maple Street from the county’s project and was raised to an incredible height, but I’ll keep an eye out and will let you know. Given that the navigation center is to be assembled largely from pre-fabricated components (I believe), the county hopes to get it open by the end of 2022. That means that the site will see a lot of activity in 2022, which means that I’ll be visiting it a lot next year. Which I can now easily do, thanks to one of the projects that Redwood City finally completed in 2021, the Highway 101 Pedestrian Undercrossing (see my post On the Path for more about that project). But getting back to projects that were under construction (but not completed) in 2021, I count about 23 major ones, again not counting a couple in areas that are often thought of as being in Redwood City but aren’t — such as the Wika Ranch housing project being built along Jefferson Avenue near Fallen Leaf Way, or the small dental office building being constructed on the site of the former Bonsai Japanese Cuisine restaurant at 3401 El Camino Real:
I’ve been following so many under-construction projects this year that I cannot list them all (this post would go on way too long!) but I should mention a couple of noteworthy ones:
- The new CVS Pharmacy that is being built across from the Broadway Plaza project site now has something resembling a foundation! And on the Broadway Plaza site, between the existing CVS Pharmacy and Woodside Road, there is now a large above-ground piping system that has me thinking that they are doing some sort of soil remediation work:
- The Habitat for Humanity project at 612 Jefferson Ave. appears to be very close to welcoming its new residents.
- The “Holmquist Hardware” building (it was actually a machine shop; the hardware store was separate) on Stambaugh Street had its brickwork re-pointed, and appears to have had, or is having, its roof shored up.
- Work is now moving at a fairly rapid clip on the County Office Building #3 (COB-3) on Marshall Street at Middlefield Road. More and more structural wood beams are being installed.
- Redwood City’s new downtown parking guidance system appears largely in place, although the system seems to still be getting tweaked. But for those heading downtown and looking for parking, the new electronic signage should already prove helpful.
- The new California Water Tank (at the corner of California Way and Tum Suden Way, in Emerald Hills — but thanks to the vagaries of Redwood City’s boundary, lies within the city borders) visibly appears to be complete, although the project technically isn’t scheduled to wrap up until early next year.
- Kaiser Permanente’s old hospital — the “Tower Building” — is slowly being taken down, and one of the Redwood City campus’s medical office buildings — the Oak Building — has been demolished.
In addition to the roughly two dozen major construction projects that were worked on did not finish in 2021, I count at least 19 that were worked on and did finish in the year 2021. I should note that I am counting two or three that the city may not technically count as complete, but for all practical purposes — meaning that there are no construction fences, no sidewalk or road obstructions, and no significant visible activity beyond what might be needed to customize the interior for a specific new tenant — have wrapped up. In this particular category, I count the office building with the small historic retail component at 855 Main Street, the heavily remodeled building just down the street that was once home to Young’s Automotive, and the medium-sized office building built in the shadow of the Marston Apartments building, at 610 Walnut St.:
In the “finished in 2021” category, I also need to include the 350-unit Highwater apartment building at 1409 El Camino Real, the 33-unit “Link 33” townhouse complex at the corner of El Camino Real and Hopkins Avenue, the 17-unit Harrison Townhomes development at the corner of Harrison Avenue and Cleveland Street, Kaiser’s “Medical Office Building #2” (the completion of which allowed them to tear down the old hospital and medical office buildings I mentioned earlier), the Arroyo Green apartment building, the office building at 55 Perry St., and the long-awaited rebuild of the fire-damaged Hallmark House apartments building (now leasing to qualifying low-income households, for occupancy in January of 2022). The city also completed a number of infrastructure projects, not the least of which are the reworked intersections along Jefferson Avenue at Cleveland and Clinton streets, and the Whipple and Veterans Overlay Project, which put a bike lane down the center of Whipple leading over Highway 101.
The year 2021 was a busy, busy year as far as development and infrastructure projects went. Of course, with so many projects still underway, and so many more in the pipeline eagerly hoping to gain approval from the city, 2022 is going to see this trend continue. Hopefully, along with all of that new development will come new restaurants, new retailers, new art projects, and new infrastructure that makes life better not only for motorists, but for cyclists and pedestrians as well. Especially for pedestrians — this is Walking Redwood City, after all…
That about wraps up Redwood City for 2021. But allow me to wish you a Happy New Year! I expect that 2022 is going to be an interesting one for Redwood City…