Filling Vacancies

In my last post — which was, yes, two weeks ago — I mentioned that the Harbor View project was to be presented to the City Council as part of a study session. In truth, it wasn’t the project itself that was being studied, but the project’s “proposed housing and recreational community benefits” that were being studied. In any case, that meeting took place (on July 25, 2022), and it was a doozie. But before I get to that, I want to talk a bit about two other agenda items from that meeting that made pretty much all of the meeting’s six hours worth watching.

First, in its prior meeting (on June 27) the City Council appointed a large number of people to a variety of boards, commissions and committees, two of whom were appointed to the Planning Commission. Subsequently, though, one of the appointees to the Planning Commission withdrew from their appointment after it was determined that they were ineligible to serve on that commission. In this recent meeting, then, the council considered their options for filling the vacant seat, one of which was to simply appoint the one remaining candidate who qualified for the position but had not been appointed. Instead, though, the Council decided to reopen the recruitment process for that seat, and include that one remaining candidate in the pool. Thus, if there is anyone out there who is interested in serving on the Planning Commission and is qualified to do so (you must be 18 years of age or older, must be eligible to vote, must be a resident of incorporated Redwood City [those outside the city limits — those living in Emerald Lake Hills or North Fair Oaks, for instance — are not eligible], and must not hold any other public office or position in the City), you have until Wednesday, August 31, at 11:59 p.m. to apply. Given that a lot of you reading this blog likely qualify, and presumably are more interested than the average person in the direction the city is taking, do give this some serious consideration.

If joining the Planning Commission isn’t your thing, how about joining the City Council itself? If you live in districts 2, 5, or 6 within Redwood City, the nomination period is open for seats from those districts for just one more week: through Friday, August 12. Wondering what district you live in? Enter your address into the City Council Election District Map page. For information on qualifying, and instructions on how to get started, see the city’s Municipal Election Information webpage. Just don’t wait too long: the process for getting on the ballot (for the election that will be held on November 8) involves scheduling an appointment with the City Clerk to obtain the necessary nomination papers, and apparently has a couple of other steps as well.

If you aren’t from one of the three districts that will have seats on November’s ballot, but happen to live in district 4, have I got a deal for you! Michael Smith, the councilmember from that district, has had, for personal reasons, to resign their seat. Thus, the Council is now taking applications from people living in district 4 who are interested in being appointed (not elected) to fill out the remainder of Councilmember Smith’s term, which runs through the end of 2024. For legal reasons, any appointment to this position must be made by September 18 of this year; if no one is appointed, the City will have to go through the time-consuming and very costly process of holding a special election to fill the seat. Thus, it is very important that at least one qualified person from district 4 step forward in time to be appointed. Interestingly, although Redwood City just went through the process of drawing new district boundaries based on the 2020 Census, Councilmember Smith was elected back when the old district boundaries held sway. And because an appointee would be replacing a councilmember who was elected using the old district boundaries, anyone qualifying must also come from district 4 as defined by those prior boundaries. Thus, anyone interested in applying should first ensure that their residence falls within district 4 as defined by the 2019 City Council Election District Map. Fortunately, an interactive version of that map is embedded in the web page that provides detailed information on qualifying and applying for the council appointment. So talk to your friends and neighbors, and let’s get that seat filled.

With all of the election-related business taken care of, July’s City Council meeting finally reached agenda item 9, which concerned the Harbor View project. As I noted earlier, the council’s study session focused on the project’s community benefits, the largest of which would be the $36.1 million that Jay Paul Company, the project applicant, would spend to acquire 64 existing residential units and deed-restrict them, limiting them to those who earn at or below the Extremely Low Income level. These units would then be given to St. Francis Center, who currently owns and manages a number of affordable housing units. There was also some discussion around the second-largest community benefit, a $13 million contribution to the city’s Parks and Recreation department for whatever park improvements the department deems appropriate. (In total, Jay Paul Company calculated that its benefits package totals out to $56.65 million.)

If you watch the recording of that part of the meeting, you’ll see that there was a great deal of discussion about the number of housing units that would provided as a benefit, and whether it is enough. There was some talk about whether the number should be 392, which is the number that city staff originally proposed, or 116, or something else. This latter is a number calculated based on a ratio generated by a consultancy firm the city hired that purports to specify the relative value of a market-rate housing unit as compared to a unit deed-restricted for an Extremely Low Income household. Based on much of the back-and-forth that I observed, though, it isn’t clear that the ratio used has much basis in actual practice. Much of the discussion among councilmembers and a representative from the consulting firm was about the validity of that ratio. In the end, there didn’t seem to be any universal agreement.

In any case, Jay Paul Company stated that the benefits package on the table at the July meeting — one that had been negotiated between the company and a subcommittee of councilmembers (Diane Howard, Giselle Hale, and Michael Smith) — was their best and final offer. So it’ll be interesting to see if the city can push the company any further. If not, some councilmembers seemed inclined to vote against the project based on this package, while others seemed more positive. But of course that’ll be left for a future meeting, when other aspects of the project — in particular, its environmental impacts — would be considered. Assuming we get to that point, that will be a very interesting discussion indeed, especially when you consider the massive traffic impacts that from my reading of the project’s Environmental Impact Report appear “significant and unavoidable,” at least until the Woodside Road/Highway 101 interchange is rebuilt — which is something that is not under city control (those are state highways) and thus may or may not ever actually happen.

Developers have a right to propose anything at all. At the same time, the City Council has the right — the responsibility, actually — to thoroughly consider how the proposal would affect life in the city both for its current residents, the people who currently work here, and the people who would work and/or live here after the project is built. And if, in their deliberations, the council determines that the project is a net negative, the council needs to clearly stand up and say so, after which the developer is then free to either alter or withdraw their proposal. But there is much merit, I think, in what Mayor Hale said near the end of her comments, which is that the council also has a duty to render their decision in a reasonably timely fashion, something that one could argue probably isn’t being done with this project (by my reckoning, this project has been in the official pipeline for just shy of eight years now). I don’t claim to know all the ins and outs of why it has taken so long — I’m sure there that fingers can be pointed at both sides — but I’m looking forward to the day when this project gets a decision from the council, one way or another. That set of properties just east of Highway 101, from Woodside Road to just shy of Maple Street, have been sitting empty for far too long.

I haven’t walked over to the site in a couple of weeks — I’ve been on vacation, which accounts for me missing a post last week and for not including much in the way of pictures in this week’s post — but the last time I was there I came back by walking over the freeway via Maple Street. On the way I was struck by how much progress has been made on tearing down the old hospital tower on the Kaiser campus:

For reference, here is what the building looked like just after it was first wrapped in its protective drapes:

Very soon the old hospital building will be but a distant memory.

On that same walk, I spent a bit of time studying the rocks that Caltrans has added to the vacant parcels around the El Camino Real/Woodside Road interchange, where until relatively recently there were a couple of good-sized homeless encampments:

I think it’s a safe bet that these rocks have been placed so as to make the establishment of a tent camp nigh impossible. However, people have proven to be pretty tenacious, and I found myself wondering about the slope leading up to the Woodside Road overpass: some people seem to have no compunctions about building temporary structures on slopes like these. Here is a photo I took of the slope just above the rocky flats shown above:

I’m willing to bet that not long after the construction fencing has been taken down (if it hasn’t already; I’ve been out of town…), someone is going to try living on this little hill.

On the other end of the economic scale, there have been numerous complaints over the last several years about the TJ Homes projects that have sprung up in various parts of Redwood City. But we should at least be thankful that the city has seemingly limited the projects here to a size that, although large, aren’t what one might call enormous. As far as I know, all of them are under 3,000 square feet (just barely, though: I know of two that are 2,997 square feet), with four bedrooms and three bathrooms. But those limits don’t seem to apply in our neighboring community to the south: TJ Homes has signs up on a property in Atherton, of all places, for a five-bedroom, 5-1/2 bathroom, 3,700-square-foot home, with an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) integrated into the house (and accounting for one of the bedrooms and one of the bathrooms) plus a detached garage. You’ll find the site of this (not so) little beauty at the corner of El Camino Real and Stockbridge Avenue (the house will actually face onto Nora Way; its address is 1 Nora Way):

Somehow I suspect that, unlike in Redwood City, there weren’t too many complaints about this particular TJ Homes project. A house that size likely fits in rather well in Atherton…

8 thoughts on “Filling Vacancies

  1. Greg, you need to raise the community concern about Redwood LIFE, a 3.3 million square feet biotech campus with 15 high-rise buildings, a hotel, a 20 years constructions and 7,000 employees in Redwood Shores! Can you imagine this project would do to our traffic on 101 and our affordable housing shortage?
    Please go to our website and sign our petition to stop this project. WE NEED EVERYONE HELP TO VOICE OUR OPPOSITION TO THE RWC PLANNING COMMISSION AND COUNCIL.

  2. Thank you, Greg, for your always informative blogs. I wonder does anybody ever ask for city council why they keep building when we are supposedly in such a severe drought? I never can seem to get an answer to this question. Have you ever heard an answer to this question?

      • Thank you Greg. I didn’t know about those water saving measures that you mention. And they are a good start but one wonders will it be enough as we continue to see so much growth and development. I wonder if cities ever have their representatives say, in order to preserve quality of life for all of the citizens here, we are no longer building more units for more people. I know that the state makes the cities build but sometimes I think that would be the best solution of all Especially in light of the fact that virtually nothing has been done for traffic coming or having small neighborhoods turned into freeways. I feel we are becoming overpopulated to the detriment of the entire community

      • In response to that column I got a great letter from someone involved with our wastewater treatment plant with some very hopeful news for the future. I plan to follow up with that and write more about it soon, and I’ll try to remember to say something about it in my blog in addition to my column. Otherwise, it’s a tricky problem. Any ideas? If so, maybe you might want to join the City Council and implement them? 😎

      • IMO The ship has sailed and the city council and developers have ruined redwood City.

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