Much Ado About Redwood City

If this week’s title doesn’t immediately bring something to mind, know that the latest of Redwood City’s terrific free community-building events is about to get underway: Shakespeare in the Park. This year the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival is bringing us six performances of Much Ado About Nothing, one of Shakespeare’s most delightful romantic comedies. These entirely free open-air performances will take place starting at 4 p.m. on August 13, 14, 20, 21, 27, and 28; they will be held at the Valota Road end of Red Morton Park, on the lawn adjacent to the Magical Bridge Playground. Although you are welcome to simply sit on the lawn, most people bring chairs and/or blankets, plus their own food and drink. Having attended Shakespeare in the Park in the past, I can attest to the quality of the performances, and highly recommend making the journey to the park in order to see one.

While at the park, consider wandering just a short distance away from Valota Road and checking out the progress of the Veterans Memorial Building/Senior Center project. I continue to be in awe at the rapidity with which the building’s structure has been erected. It appears that the basic structure is now complete:

The building’s exterior will largely be wood (much of it recycled) and glass, but I have yet to see any large quantities of either on site, so perhaps the building’s exterior will remain exposed for a time while the building’s interior is outfitted (this is what is happening downtown with the under-construction County Office Building #3 on Marshall Street; I’m able to watch the utilities being run and a few of the interior walls being framed). But now that we can see the extent of this new building, we can see for ourselves how it does or does not impact views and shading from neighboring houses and such.

Just a couple of blocks to the north, the fences are down and the landscaping has been installed: the large new Mandarin Immersion program building on the Orion Alternative School campus (formerly John Gill) is apparently complete, and looks quite impressive:

Although this building’s modern style clashes mightily with the architecture of the campus’s main building, it fits well with the other relatively new buildings that over the years have been added to the campus along Avenue del Ora. And anyway, there are very few vantage points where you can get a good look at both the old and new buildings at the same time, so the clash isn’t really that big of a deal. I do like that this new building appears to have been built using modern energy-efficient materials and techniques. Hopefully I’ll be able to tour this new addition to the campus at some point; I’d love to see what the actual classrooms look like, and compare them to the older buildings that used to stand on this spot. (My children started out at John Gill Elementary, in classrooms that were torn down to make way for this latest addition.)

Also nearby I noted that the city has made the “slow streets” signage a bit more permanent. No longer do the designated streets have temporary signs on easels that can be moved or knocked over. Now these streets are marked using signs mounted to plastic posts that are firmly affixed to the pavement:

As you can see, these new signs and posts more effectively block the lane than the temporary signs did. The above picture shows Katherine Avenue as viewed from Nevada Street, but I’ve seen similar installations in various parts of the city. Just today, in fact, while making deliveries for Meals on Wheels, I encountered one such “Local Traffic Only” zone, on Page Street down by Marsh Avenue. I actually paused and gave a moment’s thought as to whether I really needed to enter the local traffic zone, which of course is the point of these signs. In today’s case, I did, but I will continue to avoid them whenever possible while driving — just as I’ll continue to favor them while walking.

This week I spent a fair amount of time down at the ELCO Yards site, watching the action (I’ve just got to figure out a way to bring a chair along on some of my walks!). The work crews are making great progress on the two-level parking garage that will sit beneath building B (the four-story office building that also contains the project’s very large family friendly retail space — where we just might get a roller rink — and childcare center):

The technique for building these garages is an interesting one. Rather than digging a large hole, erecting the concrete walls, and then backfilling those walls from the outside, the contractor inserts the metal I-beams that support the wooden boards you can see in the above picture into the soil, and only then excavates the interior, adding the wooden boards as they go. These days, this is a fairly common procedure. But what hasn’t been so common, until recently, is the method used to insert those long steel I-beams deep into the ground. Traditionally, the contractor has rammed them in using a large, noisy pile driver. And as anyone who has been anywhere near a construction site where one of these pile drivers has been used (which includes some of the recently completed projects in Redwood City) can tell you, the process is incredibly noisy and annoying. Go by this site, though, and you’ll marvel at the fact that the process is almost completely silent. I spent a lot of my time this week watching the procedure, which, honestly, had me in awe.

To see what I saw, head down to parcel E, which sits between Main Street and the Caltrain tracks, and extends from Chestnut Street to the Main Street Dog Agility Park. There they are using a very tall piece of equipment (just visible in the distance toward the right edge of the above photo) to insert the I-beams. But rather than pounding the beams into the ground, this thing uses a giant hydraulic ram to press down — very firmly, and very slowly — on the beam, thereby shoving it into the ground. To help the beam deal with recalcitrant soils, a high-pressure jet of water is directed to the base of the beam; this water jet not only creates a pilot hole, but also keeps things lubricated, lowering the friction between the sides of the beam and the surrounding soil.

Here is a closer view of the machine in question:

In the above, you can’t see the I-beam; it has already been driven into the ground (the smaller machine to the right is holding the next I-beam to be inserted, though). Although silent, the process is somewhat slow: when you watch the machine, you really have to look closely to see it moving. But that yellow section on the driving post helps; I watched it get closer and closer to the blue arm near the bottom of the machine’s tower (which, as you can see, is quite tall). And all the while, there was no noise from the driver itself; just some mild noise from the engine powering the hydraulic ram.

For anyone who is really interested, this technique is apparently called “silent piling.” It may not be the most exciting thing to watch, but it sure works, and works well. My ears are especially thankful…

Finally, two final upcoming activities of note that may be of interest to some of you reading this:

  • The CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) Academy is soon to get underway. Residents of Redwood City, San Carlos, and parts of unincorporated San Mateo County who are interested in learning about disaster preparedness for our area’s hazards and who want to get trained in basic disaster response skills (fire safety, search-and-rescue, and disaster medical operations) can now sign up to take part in the Academy. This year’s classes, which are largely in-person, take place each Thursday from September 8 through October 15, plus Saturday, October 15. For those interested in volunteering to be part of this elite team, more information plus instructions on registering can be found at
  • Picnic en Blanc, the popular annual fundraiser for the Redwood City Parks & Arts Foundation, is scheduled for Saturday, August 27, from 6 – 10 p.m. Guests dress in white (“with a splash of color”) and bring a picnic dinner to a secret outdoor location, one that is revealed to those with tickets just 48 hours in advance. I’ve never actually attended, but I’ve heard it is quite fun, and of course it raises money for a good cause (this year, to fund local youth sports scholarships that will be managed by Redwood City’s Parks, Recreation and Community Services department). For information and tickets, or to volunteer, head over to

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