A Drop in the Bucket

At this week’s Redwood City’s Planning Commission meeting, the commissioners heard a brief presentation, and then gave feedback on the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the 505 E. Bayshore townhomes project. This is the 56-unit development proposed for the Alan Steel site, the first thing you see after crossing over Highway 101 on Whipple Avenue and then making the turn onto E. Bayshore Road. This place:

The 56 townhomes (eight of which would be made affordable at the Moderate income level; these would be price-adjusted for households earning between 100% and 120% of San Mateo County’s Area Median Income) would be grouped into nine buildings, three of which would look out over Inner Bair Island.

During the meeting there was surprisingly little comment. Only one member of the public spoke, and the comments from the handful of commissioners who had any were fairly brief. This may be due to the fact that David J. Powers & Associates, Inc., the firm hired by the city to put together the EIR for this project, found no impacts that could not be mitigated, or it could be the fact that this is a smaller project when compared with many on Redwood City’s list of proposed development projects. Either way, the only comments of real significance were focused on two points: how the project deals with, and helps the city handle, sea level rise; and how the project does or does not facilitate commuting other than by car (mainly, by cycling or by walking).

The one public comment — which came from a member of the Sierra Club — and two or three comments from various commissioners focused on sea level rise. Unfortunately, all we have right now are some educated guesses about how high our seas will get, and thus how projects like this need to be built in order to withstand that future rise. According to the project’s preliminary plans, the San Francisco Bay Trail, which runs between this project and the waterway separating it from Inner Bair Island, sits at 9.8 feet above mean sea level (MSL). The floors of the units facing the water-facing units would be some 13.7 feet above MSL, putting them at 3.9 feet above the Bay Trail. (The plans show a walkway in front of those units that parallels the Bay Trail; that walkway would be a half inch lower, or 13.2 feet above MSL.) To achieve this, the developer plans to raise today’s site by almost six feet.

For reference, here is a picture showing the waterway between the Bay Trail (which I was standing on to take this picture) and the project site:

The project proposes a 14-foot-wide public walkway along this waterway, on the project side. It would extend from E. Bayshore Road (where you can just make out a car at the right edge of the picture) to the adjacent property, which today is the site of the disused Century Park 12 theaters, but someday might be the site of a 411-unit apartment complex. If that project is built, the walkway would be extended through the width of that site as well (where it would then dead-end into the next parcel, which is home to a mini-storage business).

Getting back to the issue of sea level rise, will it be enough to raise the site by around six feet? It certainly is for today, but the future is hard to predict. Using the interactive Sea Level Rise Viewer from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), it appears that by the year the bay will have risen around 4.5 feet (assuming their “Intermediate High” scenario). That’s less than six feet, so assuming that the site currently remains dry, it should continue to do so in 78 years (if the tool is at all accurate). Of course, as Rick Hunter, chair of the Planning Commission, pointed out, during King Tides and storms our water level is even higher. Thus, at times the level of our bay waters may be above the floor level of these townhouses even before the year 2100. Then again, the plans call for a seawall along the water-side edge of the development’s walkway; perhaps that will keep the waters at bay during those temporary periods of high tides.

Clearly, a proper analysis by qualified experts (which I am not!) will be needed to know for sure. Redwood City is working to hire a consultant to complete a Sea-Level Rise Vulnerability Study; bids were due in by the beginning of August (unless I missed it, the City Council has yet to accept a bid). Once a consultant is hired, it’ll likely take a year or more to complete the study, so unless the city wants to put off this project for at least another year, the city will just have to hope that the proposed mitigation measures are enough.

The other main point of discussion during the meeting was around traffic and alternative means of commuting. At least for now, SamTrans does not run any buses along this part of E. Bayshore Road, meaning that if a new homeowner in this project was hoping to catch a bus to Redwood City’s (or San Carlos’, for that matter) transit center, they’re pretty much out of luck. Thus, they’ll need to resort to a bicycle or a scooter or their feet to get to the transit center, where they can catch a train or a bus. Although the relatively new Highway 101 Pedestrian Undercrossing makes such a trip possible (technically one can ride in the bike lane over the freeway using the Whipple Avenue overdressing, but I wouldn’t recommend it), there is still the small matter of getting to the undercrossing. Today, the most direct route involves riding (or walking alongside) E. Bayshore Road.

I’ve made that walk many times, and one of my biggest frustrations is the fact that between the point where Whipple Avenue turns in to E. Bayshore Road (right about where this project’s driveway would be) and Boardwalk Chevrolet, there are no sidewalks. This project will help, a bit, in that it proposes a ten-foot-wide sidewalk along E. Bayshore Road for the length of the property. But that still leaves a gap, where Toyota 101 used to have their dealership (they’ve moved across the freeway, but continue to use this site for some repair work).

Until someone comes along with a new use for the old Toyota 101 property, or unless the city decides to step in and pay for that segment of sidewalk itself (which would involve taking a good chunk of those parking spaces you can see in the above picture), those heading downtown will still find themselves having to navigate the Toyota 101 property or riding along E. Bayshore Road. And given that E. Bayshore Road is not terribly wide, with a concrete barrier along the freeway side, it doesn’t seem like an ideal place to ride.

At least this project isn’t likely to add a lot of cars to E. Bayshore Road. Currently, I believe there are more than 840 housing units (not counting the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel, and its 177 rooms) in that part of Redwood City, all of which can only be driven to by using E. Bayshore Road. Adding another 56 only increases the total by 6.6% (5.5% if you do count those hotel rooms), which, traffic-wise, would be a drop in the bucket. Of course, the Century Theaters development is a whole ‘nother ball game: it would not only add 480 housing units, but also a massive fitness club that would add quite a few cars to the road. But for the moment we’re just talking about the 56 townhouses that would be built at 505 E. Bayshore Road.

No one mentioned it, but one item in the EIR caught my eye: as part of the effort to minimize impacts on the salt marsh harvest mice and salt marsh wandering shrews that apparently hang about nearby, the developer is proposing that “outdoor cats and off-leash dogs will be prohibited on the property following project construction.” Presumably that’d be a rule enforced by the development’s Homeowner’s Association, and something that will be disclosed to any prospective homeowner.

This project has been in the works for some time, having been proposed back in June of 2019. It still has a way to go: the city is accepting comments on the project’s EIR through Monday, November 7, after which the consultant will add those comments, and any responses to them, to the EIR itself. Then, the project will go first before the Planning Commission, and then before the City Council, ideally sometime early next year. Add another year to get everything ready to go (final plans, financing, etc.), and we’re probably looking at mid-2024 before they break ground on this site — assuming that the project is given the go-ahead, of course.

The circus is back in town! I had to be at the downtown library on Sunday, and caught the Zoppé Italian Family Circus setting up their “big top” in the library’s parking lot:

Their first performance was at 4 p.m. today, October 7 (along with an evening performance at 7 p.m.); they’ll be putting on shows throughout the month (Wednesday-Sunday), with their last being on October 30. See their schedule here. Tickets can of course be bought online, right up to the point where either they are sold out or the performance begins. Or you can buy them at the tent starting 45 minutes before the show gets underway. Given the popularity of this circus — they’ve been coming to Redwood City for 13 years, and apparently they love performing here — buying tickets well ahead of time is the best way to ensure that the show you want isn’t sold out.

1 thought on “A Drop in the Bucket

  1. Nobody should be surprised by the lack of public comments at meetings like this. At any given time over the past five years, we have had dozens of active projects in the pipeline. Residents are overwhelmed and they are burnt out over all this development. They are given 2-3 mins to speak during public comment and their voices are not heard. Developers and their unlimited resources get more mindshare with council and City staff than any residents ever will. We have a Councilmember who works for one the Bay Area’s largest construction firms and has benefitted personally and professionally from projects here in RWC. City staff is no longer the honest broker they should be. Public comment? Pffft!

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