A native of San Mateo County, Chris Sturken is intimately familiar with the region’s growing housing crisis.
Sturken, who was raised on the Peninsula in a middle-class family, speaks proudly of his father, an Amtrak employee of nearly 40 years, and his mother, who worked in retail and after-school care. While his parents still live in the same Belmont house where he was raised—which he acknowledged is “amazing”—he’s seen many of his other friends and family members driven away by the cost of living.
Sturken said that a desire to help those struggling to stay in their homes motivated him to get involved in politics.
The youngest of the three candidates for Redwood City’s district 2—Sturken, 28, is facing off against Margaret Becker and Alison Madden—he believes he has the first-hand experience necessary to make real change.
When it comes to housing, his primary goal, he said, is “keeping people housed in the first place. It's by far more expensive to rehouse people.”
A lifelong renter with an eye toward building more affordable housing, Sturken wants to leverage growing development in Redwood City to benefit low-income families. Through his work at HIP Housing, he’s been involved in everything from pre-development to construction to moving people in, and he said he has an intimate understanding of affordable housing financing and how to push developers to deliver more.
“That is something I bring that the other candidates don’t,” he said.
Sturken said he generally supports the ongoing development projects, which he believes are essential for meeting the city’s housing needs.
“It’s challenging because with that comes the traffic, with that comes an increase in our jobs-housing imbalance,” he said. “But it also comes with more revenue and community benefits…through impact fees, on- and off-site affordable housing,” as well as updated transportation infrastructure to meet the goals of the RWC Moves plan.
New development, he hopes, will be an important and ongoing stream of income for the city, which lost $83 million over the last two years.
Exploring new sources of revenue, such as cannabis retail, is also critical, he said. “And when necessary making smart cuts that maintain the quality and level of service of our city’s services.”
As to what he would bring to the council, Sturken emphasized his belief that public service is about mediation, moderation and “making sure people’s voices are heard.”
He said that local nonprofits are important resources for the community. “If there's a dispute between tenant or landlord,” for example, he said he “would work with local community-based organizations to come to a solution to those problems.”
He also touted his commitment to equity and making sure that “everyone has what they need to succeed.”
“How I want to address that on council, in terms of equitable delivery of city services, is by requiring that city staff participate in regular cultural humility training to eliminate as much bias as possible,” he said.
To that end, he said he was also “firmly supportive of community policing” and working with the neighborhood associations to address their concerns and moderate relations with local law enforcement.
In 2016, after graduating with a degree in environmental studies from San Francisco State University, Sturken said he “was working on a tenant protection measure in San Mateo, and I was struck by the severity of the housing crisis and people being displaced.”
Since then, he’s worked variously as a coordinator at local housing nonprofit HIP Housing, a community organizer for Menlo Together and an outreach specialist at Green Foothills. Sturken has served on the Redwood City’s Transportation Advisory Committee and was recently appointed to the Planning Commission. He’s also an active member of the San Mateo County LGBTQ+ community and has served as a local organizer and an inaugural member of the county Pride Center’s Community Advisory Board.
Now, as a candidate for city council, he has made it his mission to “make Redwood City a more safe, livable and affordable place to live.” Sturken, who lives in a ten-unit complex in Centennial, has seen the impacts that the pandemic have had on his district, which includes much of downtown as well as Bair Island and the surrounding bayfront communities. He sees restoring vitality to the downtown area, ending homelessness and building more affordable housing as the three top priorities for his district and the city at large.
Pandemic notwithstanding, Sturken said he was proud of his district—which he called a center of arts, business and culture—and hopeful for its future potential.
“We're really lucky,” he said. “Downtown Redwood City has come a long way—it’s thriving, a hub of the Peninsula, people come for our events, our music scene, our restaurant scene.
“We’re also a very diverse community with a high population of renters,” he added. “We are creating the most housing out of all the districts in the city, so we're really doing our part to help the city meet its RHNA [Regional Housing Needs Allocation] goals and address the housing crisis.”
And even if he’s not elected, Sturken has another four years to serve on the planning commission, and he’s committed to remaining an active voice in the city.
“I’ll still be an advocate in the community,” he said.
His endorsements include the Redwood City Firefighters Local 2400, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, Assembly member Kevin Mullin, Supervisor Warren Slocum, Mayor Giselle Hale, Council member Elmer Martinez, Council member Jeff Gee, the San Mateo County Democratic Party and the San Mateo County Labor Council.