In our Element

I’m traveling this week, so I don’t have the usual set of photographs to guide my writings. However, there is still plenty to write about! This week, I want to call attention to the city’s Housing Element, a draft of which it recently updated, and for which the city is still very much interested in collecting opinions from the public (but not for much longer!). In order to provide feedback, though, we all need to have read as much of it as we can. Don’t let the document’s length (487 pages) put you off; much of it can be skimmed, and a fair amount of the document consists of supporting material in the form of appendixes. If you have gone through it before, the changes made in this latest draft are clearly highlighted (added text is shown in light blue, and removed text is shown in red with strike-outs), so it is easy to focus in on just the latest changes, if those are what you are interested in.

Because Redwood City is being tasked with ensuring the creation of 4,588 new housing units (houses, apartments, condos, etc.) by the year 2031, and because the city is aiming much higher, with an internal goal of spurring the creation of 6,882 of them, this document, which “specifies ways in which the housing needs of existing and future resident populations in Redwood City can be met,” provides a pretty clear vision of what the future of housing in Redwood City may well look like. So, for those of us who live here, commenting on this document is our best chance to provide feedback to the city and to the City Council on how we feel about the proposed directions. Of course, there will be plenty of opportunities in the future to provide feedback on individual project proposals.

Because new housing, for the most part, is not created by the city directly, but instead is created by private developers with guidance from the city, in reality things may or may not go as anticipated by this latest version of the Housing Element. But because this document expresses the city’s intent, and will help guide approval of new development projects over the next eight or so years, getting it right is critical, and thus it needs as many independent opinions from the likes of us as possible. Think of this document as similar to the Downtown Precise Plan (DTPP), which was adopted in early 2011 and has been singularly responsible for almost all of the development that has occurred in Redwood City’s downtown since that time. Many folks were not aware of the existence of the DTPP until Redwood City found itself engulfed with a wave of development proposals, and by then, it was too late to make any major course corrections (although the DTPP has been tweaked a couple of times since it was first adopted). Since the Housing Element has not yet been approved, it still can be changed, if that is the will of the people.

Of course, the fact that It can be changed doesn’t mean that it needs to. Many folks laud Redwood City’s goals for increasing its stock of housing, and for making much of that housing available to folks on all rungs of the economic ladder. I’m sure that city staff would welcome compliments as well as criticisms, so even if you have no real issues with the Housing Element as it stands, a show of support would surely not come amiss.

Whether or not you are not the type to read the entire thing and provide detailed, thoughtful feedback, I do recommend at least skimming through the document and looking for interesting little nuggets. I found plenty to pique my interest, starting with the age and population figures. While you could get this stuff by combing through the latest census data, starting on page H1-1 the document lays it out in a neat, concise form. A table shows that our population has increased markedly since 2010, up 12.9% (to 86,754 residents counted in the 2020 census) over the past decade. This exceeded the county as a whole, which grew some 7.6%. As for the future, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) predicts that Redwood City’s population will continue to outpace the county’s, and that it will grow another 19.8% through the year 2040, bringing our total population to a whopping 103,940.

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As for the development itself, the city really lucked out thanks to the fact that projects already approved but that weren’t completed by the end of last June will count towards the city’s goals. Thus, projects such as Broadway Plaza (at Broadway and Woodside Road), ELCO Yards (the large multi-block development currently underway where Towne Ford and Hopkins Acura used to stand), 353 Main Street (the large apartment building nearing completion along Main Street just north of Veterans Boulevard, shown in the picture above), and others add up to 1,406 housing units, which represents a large chunk of the city’s 6,882-unit goal.

In addition, there are a number of projects that have been proposed but not yet approved that are deemed “highly likely” to make it to the construction stage. If they all are indeed approved and subsequently break ground, they would account for another 2,078 housing units; together with the projects already underway they would then account for 3,484 new housing units (more than half of the city’s “stretch goal”), all in multi-family projects in and around downtown Redwood City.

I’ve written in the past about Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs); the city anticipates that about 60 of them will be built each year, for a total of just over 500 new housing units. And the city anticipates another 500 or so housing units could come from the construction of new duplexes, triplexes, and the like that will address the need for “missing middle housing.” These would be encouraged by the city through changes that would reduce the minimum lot size, minimum lot width, and parking requirements for such buildings.

Finally, there are the anticipated new units that would be constructed due to the (controversial in some circles) SB-9: duplexes and lot splits in neighborhoods on lots otherwise zoned for single-family residences. Given that Redwood City contains around 18,100 single-family homes, the anticipated new 275 units that could be created thanks to SB-9 would presumably be quite spread out. Of course, that isn’t likely to mollify the residents of the parcels adjoining (or near to) these new higher-density forms of housing. But we’ll have to see how many property owners choose to take advantage of SB-9’s provisions, and how they go about doing so to see what impact these new developments will actually have.

If you find yourself looking around at Redwood City and wondering just where all of this new housing would go, know that the city plans to change the zoning in certain areas, increasing development capacity within mixed-use zoning districts as well as changing properties currently zoned as “Commercial Office” to “Mixed-Use Corridor.” These changes will allow residential development (mixed with office, or otherwise) on 57 parcels that today cannot accommodate housing.

As detailed in the Housing Element, a substantial chunk of the new housing will be designated for folks earning at various different income levels, which should help alleviate some of the crisis Redwood City (and indeed all of the Bay Area, it seems) is currently experiencing. I was particularly intrigued by the mention of the county’s aim to develop what remains of the property that is currently home to the Maple Street shelter (where Maple Street dead-ends into Highway 101), after the Blomquist Extension is put through. The county has an option to lease this 1.5-acre parcel (now owned by Redwood City), and they’ve already selected MidPen Housing to develop the site with 108 extremely low-income units of permanent supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness.

Those are just a few of the highlights of the latest draft of Redwood City’s Housing Element; see the actual document for lots more. The city has already provided a number of opportunities to provide feedback, but as I noted at the onset, there still is time: the city will be hold virtual and in-person “listening sessions” at City Hall next Tuesday, September 20, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and on Thursday, September 22, from 1 – 5 p.m. You can sign up for a virtual session here, or you can apparently simply walk into the City Hall lobby to provide feedback in-person.