Behind the Scenes

On Wednesday Greystar hosted two community meetings for their 1601 El Camino Real project. Greystar scheduled two separate sessions to enable people to attend the one that was most convenient for them; for me, that turned out to be the 7 p.m. session. I’m told that the lunchtime session had a little over 40 attendees, whereas there were about a dozen at the one to which I went. Regardless, both meetings, which were intended to obtain feedback from the public on the proposed project and to elicit ideas for how the project site might best be used, appear to have been productive. Certainly, the meeting I attended had plenty of lively—and constructive—discussions, and based on the notes from the earlier meeting that were posted around the meeting room, the midday meeting must have been equally as good at generating feedback and ideas.

I’m very glad I went. While I didn’t learn a whole lot about the project that I didn’t already know, I did get a chance to contribute an idea or two, and I really enjoyed the conversations that we had around our table. While Greystar has submitted an initial project proposal to the city (see my post On the Beech), I learned that it isn’t as cast in stone as I had assumed: Greystar appeared genuinely interested in getting feedback and suggestions from those of us who live and work in Redwood City, and seemed open to adjusting their proposal to take some of that input into account. Given the size and location of this project (it would sit on what is today six city blocks which today are occupied by our local Ford and Acura dealerships, Main & Elm, the old Roller Rink, a small 23-unit low-income apartment building, and a couple of miscellaneous buildings), it is one that we should all weigh in on. Greystar plans to have additional public meetings on the project in the future, but I would also recommend that interested persons keep an eye on the project website at www.1601elcaminoreal.com. Have questions or comments on the project? Either send them to 1601elcaminoreal@greystar.com, or drop by their project office at 1526 Main Street in Redwood City during their public office hours (10 a.m. to noon on the second and fourth Thursdays of each month). There you’ll be able to speak with Troy Vernon and Jonathan Fearn, the two Development Directors from Greystar who are shepherding this particular project.

After the meeting I took the opportunity to introduce myself to the two representatives from Greystar, and to ask about another of their projects: the one at 1409 El Camino Real (“Greystar IV”). I haven’t observed any significant activity on the site since the construction fencing was first put up more than eighteen months ago, and I’ve been wondering if the project is still active. Troy from Greystar was happy to assure me that the project is indeed very much alive, and that Greystar is chomping at the bit to break ground. Apparently, ever since the project was approved, they’ve been doing behind-the-scenes work on it: drawing up detailed plans, getting them reviewed by the city, and pulling building permits. While that work has taken longer than I would have guessed, it sounds like they are finally about done. Thus, Greystar should soon be demolishing the handful of single-story commercial buildings that currently occupy the site, and will then begin construction on the planned 350-unit apartment building.

Note that this new building will sit next door to its 137-unit, under-construction sibling, “Huxley Apartments” (aka “Greystar III”). So I guess we can expect continued disruptions along this section of El Camino Real for some time to come…

Earlier in the week Redwood City’s Planning Commission met to review Tesla’s proposal for a sales and service center on the property at the corner of Whipple Avenue and Veterans Boulevard, in the building that most recently housed Crunch Fitness and Chef Peking Chinese Restaurant (it may seem as if there are two buildings that adjoin one another, but in fact it is all one building). Tesla’s proposal sailed through the Planning Commission approval process with little fanfare. The most interesting part was when the commissioners, along with those of us watching, learned that Redwood City likely won’t be getting as much tax revenue from Tesla as we had assumed. It turns out that sales taxes are rendered when (and where) you pick up your car, and although our center has “sales” in the name, it isn’t going to be one of Tesla’s designated “Delivery Centers.” Thus, although you’ll be able to order your car at the Redwood City location (something you can easily do online from the comfort of your own home, of course), Tesla will encourage you to pick it up at their nearest Delivery Center—which is in Fremont. So it seems that the sales taxes would go to Fremont (and Alameda County, and the State of California, I guess), instead of to Redwood City. Redwood City will still collect some taxes on other aspects of their business at the Redwood City site, I presume, but the lion’s share of taxes generated by a normal automobile dealership come from new car sales. Thus, while Redwood City will have the prestige of a Tesla Sales and Service Center, don’t expect it to in any way make up for the impending loss of our Honda dealership.

With the Planning Commission’s blessing in hand, Tesla now goes before the City Council for final approval. After that, they will perform the usual behind-the-scenes work to finalize plans and get the required permits. I don’t expect that it will take all that long between the final City Council approval and the first shovels going into the ground: although Tesla will be remodeling the building to make it more suitable for their use, they won’t be expanding it. The building’s footprint will remain as-is, with the work being concentrated on adding new doors and windows, rearranging the interior to suit their needs, and unifying the building’s exterior so that it looks like one single building. According to the rough plans Tesla submitted with their project application, the majority of the “Crunch” portion of the building will be service bays, while the old Chef Peking restaurant space will become a (very small) showroom and offices.

As for Honda Redwood City, we now have an official move date: June 25, 2018. While their new location in San Carlos is scheduled to open on Friday, June 22, the official “move date” is the following Monday. After Monday, their Redwood City location at the corner of El Camino Real and Hopkins Avenue will close, and Honda automobile customers will be redirected to the new dealership in San Carlos. Because the dealership will no longer be in Redwood City, its name will change: at its new location it will be known as “Primo Honda.”

Once “Primo Honda” is in full operation, it likely won’t be long before the bulldozers move in and KB Homes begins construction on the 33-unit condominium complex that will take the old dealership’s place. Approval was granted by the Planning Commission last October, so KB Homes has already had seven months to get their behind-the-scenes ducks in a row. While they may not be fully ready to go by June 25, I expect it won’t be too long after that.

About five blocks north of the KB Homes project site is SummerHill Homes’ The Towns at Avondale, at 150 El Camino Real. I’ve reported on this project numerous times; construction has been moving at a glacial pace. But the foundations have been poured and new sidewalks along El Camino are being built, so progress, slow or not, continues to be made. SummerHill’s website indicates that the twelve condominiums being built on this site should be available late this summer; I for one will be watching closely to see if they can finish up by then. Regardless of the actual completion date, though, these two and three bedroom townhouse-style condominiums (“anticipated from the low $1,000,000s”) will be a welcome addition to Redwood City’s housing supply.

I was interested to see a tweet from Warren Slocum, Supervisor for San Mateo County District 4 (which includes Redwood City), indicating that the under-construction County Emergency Dispatch and Response building has topped out. This building, which is being erected on Winslow Street behind the 455 County Center building, appears to have indeed received the last of its steel framing:

While it has technically topped-out, it seems a bit funny to use the phrase for a two-story building. Nevertheless I was tickled to observe the presence of the tree that is traditionally placed at the top of a building when this milestone is reached. Once upon a time the tree was intended to “appease the tree-dwelling spirits displaced in [the building’s] construction.” In the above photo you can just barely see the small potted tree they used for the topping-out ceremony, on the white beam to the left of the American flag. Here in the United States tradition also calls for painting the final beam white, and then having the workers sign it. And indeed, if you zoom in on the above photo (click it for a version you can enlarge) you can just make out the numerous signatures that adorn that final beam.

This new “Regional Operations Center” will include (among other things) our 911 dispatch center, which is currently located in the basement of the Hall of Justice. The new 911 call center will be roughly twice the size of the current one, and should accommodate up to 350 employees (the current call center can accommodate no more than 100 people). It was supposed to have been completed by the end of last year, but for whatever reason it appears that they are about a year behind schedule. The project is clearly moving along well now, though, so hopefully it’ll be done by the end of 2018.

It took me a long time to understand that project approval doesn’t mean that shovels would hit the ground the very next day. You can’t build a building without construction drawings, and it doesn’t make sense to put them together until the project has been approved, since the path to approval usually involves many changes to the initial design. Thus approval simply starts the process of creating construction drawings, getting them reviewed by the city’s building department, and obtaining the needed building permits. As well, before work can actually begin, the developer needs to arrange for building materials, schedule direct labor and subcontractors, and so on. And the bigger the project, the more behind the scenes work that needs to take place before the visible part of the project—actual construction—can begin. So while a year and a half might seem a bit long for a project like 1409 El Camino Real, for a project of that complexity that much time “behind the scenes” is perhaps just right.