Redwood City is poised to finalize plans for the creation of a new Transit District in the heart of the city.
The transit-oriented housing and retail project received a strong showing of support Tuesday, when the Planning Commission voted unanimously in favor of the amended plan and final subsequent environmental impact report (SEIR).
“If there’s ever a place in the city for well-thought out density it’s right here,” Chair Rick Hunter said before the final vote.
First proposed more than two years ago, the Transit District is a multi-pronged effort to rebuild the train station, create new housing and job opportunities, and improve pedestrian and bike-friendly routes through the downtown area and surrounding neighborhoods.
The plan would dedicate over an acre of land for expansion of the train tracks; 1,100 housing units, including up to 343 affordable units; and a minimum of 25,000 sq. ft. of public open space. The Planning Commission considered recent amendments to the proposal, which included lowering the office development cap from 1.63 million to 1.23 million square feet, removing minimum parking requirements and prioritizing bike and pedestrian safety.
Several upgrades are coming to the Redwood City railroad corridor, one of Caltrain’s most heavily trafficked stations, according to the transit operator. To meet the needs of the Caltrain Business Plan, the redevelopment will include the addition of two tracks for a total of four running the length of the transit corridor. The transit center will be shifted north at the Perry Street parking lot to accommodate the wider track footprint, and the tracks and platforms will be elevated to allow the crossing street to pass underneath.
The region, which is a 16.8-acre subdivision of the Downtown Precise Plan, encompasses the Sequoia Station Shopping Center, the Caltrain-owned transit center and the surrounding public parking.
City officials and members of the public alike applauded the updated proposal. Several encouraged the commission to push the plan further and make the downtown area even more friendly to non-vehicular traffic.
Questioning the decision to simply expand sidewalks and protected intersections, which use a barrier to separate bike and pedestrian crossings from car traffic, along Hamilton and Franklin streets, Commissioner Isabella Chu raised the possibility of creating a fully protected bike boulevard instead.
“When I bike downtown, I go out of my way to wind around where cars aren’t allowed to go,” she said, urging the commission to consider closing Franklin Street to all private vehicles. “If this is meant to be a transit district, it can be the one island in Redwood City where you really are safe from being hit by a car.”
Several members of the public spoke in support of the suggestion.
Dylan Finch encouraged the city to create more car-free streets like Broadway and said that “anything to get people out of cars is a positive improvement.”
“Banning private cars and just allowing delivery vehicles and trash pickup would be great,” he said. “It might push more traffic onto surrounding streets but that’s even more of an incentive to not drive. If there's more traffic, then fewer people will drive.”
According to Transportation Manager Jessica Manzi, traffic and parking needs were major factors in considering whether to make Franklin a bike boulevard. Commissioner Kimberly Koch expressed concern that closing off the street might block out the senior community and residents with certain disabilities.
Commissioner Chris Sturken, who is also a candidate for city council, encouraged the city staff to “take bold action” and close Franklin Street to private car traffic. He argued that consideration would be given to access for elderly and differently abled residents with underground parking and elevators to the Transit District's ground level.
Vice Chair Filip Crnogorac said he shared the enthusiasm about closing the street but said more consideration at the “project level” was needed to accommodate emergency vehicles and other needs. The decision was ultimately tabled for future discussion.
More than a dozen residents, including several local housing and environmental advocates all spoke strongly in favor of the Transit District at the meeting.
Malek Jelassi, marketing and communications associate for Greenbelt Alliance, said the Transit District would provide both environmental and quality of life benefits to the community.
“This project is the kind of climate-smart development that we need in the Bay Area to meet our housing goals, reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and make sure local residents are able to grow and thrive in their own communities as housing costs rise,” she said.
Kalisha Webster, a senior housing advocate at Housing Choices, praised the district proposal for its potential to create a “more equitable and inclusive community” for people of all means. She said she spoke on behalf of the city’s more than 500 residents “with developmental disabilities who require deeply affordable transit-oriented housing in order to live independently and integrate into the community.”
Several people raised concerns about whether the updated plan would do enough to address the needs of commuters, particularly those seeking alternatives to cars.
Longtime resident James Clifford said the plan prioritized bikers and able-bodied walkers traveling north and south through the city but was unsure about his own ability to navigate the new district.
“I’m trying to give up my car because I’ve developed some vision problems. And believe me, it’s difficult to get around unless you have Uber or want to pay for a taxi,” he said. He recommended that the city consider a feasibility study on expanding bus options for greater connectivity throughout the city.
Finch agreed that an improved bus system would be a service to residents who are unable to walk or bike.
Environmental review for the Transit District began in 2021, and the final SEIR was released to the public on Oct. 14. According to the report, air quality and natural resources, such as gas usage and carbon emissions, are the only two environmental factors that will be “significantly and unavoidably” impacted by the development.
With a unanimous vote from the Planning Commission, the amended plan and SEIR will go to the city council for a final decision on Nov. 28.
Amendments to the city’s General Plan and Downtown Precise Plan (DTPP) will be required to create the new Transit District with additional office and residential space and to modify circulation and parking standards.
The Downtown Business Group, in partnership with the city, will host a community engagement session on Tuesday, Nov. 1, from 5:30 to 7 p.m.
The city has already conducted several rounds of outreach including presenting to neighborhood associations, nonprofits and the Chamber of Commerce, hosting public study sessions and sending out a survey that yielded more than 600 responses.