The Redwood City Council green-lighted a new 16.6-acre Transit District in the downtown area Monday night, nearly three years after the redevelopment was first proposed.
The council voted 6-0-1, with Council member Jeff Gee recused due to conflicts, to adopt amendments to the General Plan and Downtown Precise Plan and certify the final subsequent environmental impact report to pave the way for a new transit-oriented district.
Mayor Giselle Hale said that the plan’s vision for improved housing, multimodal transportation, revitalized local business and pedestrian and bicycle accessibility added up to a larger goal for Redwood City, which she called “placemaking.”
“This really feels like the missing piece of having an incredible gateway that we can all be proud of that welcomes people into the city,” she said.
The region, which is a major subdivision of the Downtown Precise Plan, encompasses the Sequoia Station Shopping Center, the Caltrain-owned transit center and the surrounding public parking.
The new Transit District will include a remodeled Caltrain station with four elevated train tracks; a renovated Sequoia Station; roughly 1.2 million square feet of office space; 1,100 new residential units, including up to 343 affordable units; a minimum of 25,000 sq. ft. of public open space; and improved connectivity with pedestrian and bike-friendly routes through the downtown area and surrounding neighborhoods. Amendments to the city’s General and Downtown Precise plans raise the cap on office and residential space and modify building design, parking and other land use standards.
During an hour and a half-long public hearing, the council heard from city staff as well as more than 20 local housing advocates and members of the public also voiced arguments both in favor and against the now-approved Transit District.
While acknowledging the plan’s potential impacts to housing demand and affordability, Council member Lissette Espinoza-Garnica said they were still very much in support.
“I don’t believe this project will make or break us in our housing crisis,” they said. Envisioning the future Sequoia Station as a Santana Row for Redwood City, Espinoza-Garnica said they’d like to see it become a walkable and safe venue for all residents. “I think the benefit of the Transit District is major and big enough to approve this plan to go forward with it.”
Vice Mayor Diana Reddy expressed some reservations about the amount of office space being proposed as part of the project.
“To think that this level of housing would mitigate the impacts of one million square feet of office cannot be done,” she said. “I know from previous reports that it takes four to five low income employees to support a high-income tech worker or other high-income workers.”
Council member Diane Howard said the proposal was a good start and that it should be considered “a living, breathing document that can change over time.” However, referencing the increase in storefront vacancies since the pandemic, she asked staff whether they were confident in their ability to fill all the new retail spaces. According to city staff, Redwood City’s retail vacancy is around 3%, which is lower than most neighboring cities.
Redwood City resident Jim Recker called on the city to delay the vote, raising concerns about insufficient data supporting the need for an expanded Caltrain station. He also wondered about the impact of the elevated train tracks, which he described as a “massive 20-foot wall dividing our downtown,” and said the plan failed to address the needs of businesses on the “other side of the tracks,” along Arguello, Broadway and Winslow.
“I ask, with the new post-COVID realities impacting the way we work, live, shop and commute, who will benefit most from the new Transit District?” Recker said. “I do not believe it is transit users.”
Several residents of the nearby Perry Street Studios said they were concerned that the project might affect their housing.
While city staff assured the public that those apartments were not within the bounds of the Transit District and would be unaffected by any development, residents feared that new developments might price them out of their currently affordable housing.
“There are only three complexes in Redwood City with rentals under $2,000 and Perry Street is one of them,” said longtime resident Phil Boxley.
“The city seems to be concerned about homelessness, and I’m here to tell you, I’m 71 years old. If I lose my place of residence since 2004, I’m going to be homeless,” he added. “I think the city…contributes to that problem with redevelopment and displacement.”