For several hours on Monday night, dozens of pro-housing advocates, each carrying signs that read in all caps, “Hear our cry, rents too high,” packed Redwood City’s council chambers and patiently waited their turn to speak in support of a controversial agenda item: the Harbor View development.
Harbor View, which came before the city council Monday, is a proposed large-scale science and tech campus that would be built along 320-350 Blomquist St. at the site of the now-defunct Malibu Grand Prix recreation center. While no official action was taken during the study session, proponents and critics of the development arrived to comment on it, and many, including council members, disagreed about whether the project sufficiently met the city’s housing needs.
More than two dozen low income residents also publicly affirmed their support for the project, which they said would create desperately needed housing for their neighbors. Some particularly powerful testimony came from local youths.
If approved, the project applicant and real estate developer Jay Paul Company has offered a multimillion-dollar community benefits package, including a donation of 64 already renovated, extremely low income (ELI) units to the St. Francis Center.
This would create permanent housing in Redwood Oaks for hundreds of residents, according to supporters who gathered outside city hall for a rally before the council meeting.
Sister Christina Heltsley of the St. Francis Center said the units would “immediately house 330 people.”
“Every day, I get calls from families desperate for housing. And I don't have anything to tell them. And that’s why I want our Redwood City Council to give me an answer,” she told a crowd outside city hall.
As a development, Harbor View would bring 765,000 square feet of high-tech office space, including three seven-story office buildings, two multi-story parking structures and an additional 35,000 square-foot employee amenities building to Redwood City.
However, city staff argued that the proposed housing benefits are not sufficient to offset the impact of a major office space development.
The main question the city is weighing, according to City Manager Melissa Stevenson Diaz, is whether there is an appropriate amount of housing expected “for community benefit when there is a request of the city to have a different type of development than what is currently allowed.”
The developer requested a General Plan and zoning amendment for Harbor View to designate the area for Commercial-Office Professional/Technology uses and enable a larger maximum floor area and allowable building stories and height.
In an equivalency analysis outlined in the staff report, the city looked at recent Gatekeeper projects, which created an average jobs to housing ratio of 7.8:1. With an estimated 3,060 jobs created through the Harbor View project, the Jay Paul Company would need to provide 392 market-rate housing units—or 116 ELI units—to satisfy the city’s needs.
“We believe that there’s a gap there,” said Community Development & Transportation Director Mark Muenzer.
Disputing the city staff’s analysis, Jay Paul COO Janette D'Elia said that the Harbor View project would generate “no significant impact on housing demand” and that “its community benefits package was superior to those of the city’s Gatekeeper projects.”
Touting their “significant and unprecedented” community benefits package, D'Elia described investments of more than $56 million in city infrastructure, new recreational space and extremely affordable housing.
In addition to converting ELI units and associated wraparound services, Jay Paul proposed community benefits in the form of new recreational facilities.
Instead of the original ice rink, which faced some safety and utility concerns, the applicant proposed giving $12 million to the city and another $1 million to be divided among three different school sites to construct parks and open spaces, including a new soccer field.
Since its initial proposal in 2015, Harbor View has undergone several rounds of review over the course of at least nine city council and committee meetings. The original design, submitted in January 2021, included a total of over 1.1 million square feet, with four office buildings and 3,855 parking spaces. The revised project proposal, which was received in April 2022, was reduced in size by roughly a fourth, with 42% of the site dedicated to open space and a total of 2,591 parking spaces—roughly split between structures and surface parking.
Over 30 residents spoke during public comment, most favoring the development. Heltsley was the first, calling on the council to act with expediency.
“Tonight at this meeting, I have heard no less than 30 times the word equity, the word inclusion, the word underserved,” she said. “This is our opportunity to do some of those things—to provide equity and to provide equality and to provide housing.”
Litzi Vasquez, a young girl who was born and raised in North Fair Oaks, said that “the breaking up of our community to really high rent prices is more than unfair. It’s unjust.” She called Harbor View a “great opportunity” to provide low income housing for her community.
“Rent is too high for basically everyone I know, and I know that many of my friends’ families go through a lot of hardship to provide basic necessities for their kids,” she said. “I also know that sometimes, despite their best efforts, my friends’ families have to move away.”
Another young girl named Sofia Marie Tibo recalled when she and her family immigrated to the area and spent months moving between hotels and living in their car.
“Having opportunities like this and having the support of the Harbor View project would help families like mine have a safe place to just settle and not worry about which hotel to move into and how small our car is,” she said.
While acknowledging the urgent need for extremely affordable housing in Redwood City, several residents and council members said that Jay Paul’s offer was insufficient.
Redwood City resident Kris Johnson said the price of Harbor View was too high and asked the council to demand more.
“We had lots of emotional stories and speeches tonight. But I ask council to filter through those stories and ask the question, what's the price of a general plan?
“This project creates a demand of over 1,400 housing units,” he said. “It’s impossible to predict the complete impact that this project will have on housing.”
Another speaker, Gita Dev, agreed. She pointed out that the city staff’s analysis found Jay Paul’s proposal to be insufficient.
“The community benefits need to balance the impact that the project will make on our city and on our housing demand,” she said.
During the council discussion, Vice Mayor Diana Reddy applauded the community members who shared their stories with the city. But, she wondered: “Why aren’t you asking for more?”
“This is a very large development and, statistically, for every high-paying job that comes into a community, four or five low-paying jobs are needed to support every one of those employees,” she said. “So when you look at the difference between the thousands of jobs that are coming in and the number of units that are being offered, it’s a drop in the bucket.
She added that the $13 million offered for recreational facilities wouldn’t cover the cost of building a new soccer field. According to the staff report, the price of constructing a new two-acre soccer field and renovating three schools’ existing fields would be approximately $23 million.
“Thank you…but it’s not enough,” she told Jay Paul Company representatives.
Council member Michael Smith said that everything hinged on how the city would calculate the appropriate ratio of jobs to market-rate, low income and extremely low income housing.
“What does it mean to create a standard of ELI to market units?” he asked. “From the other community benefits perspective I think there’s a lot of value, actually, in the amount that they’re giving in terms of soccer fields…and recreational square footage.”
For her part, Mayor Giselle Hale said she was ready to take action on the development, which has been under consideration for more than six years.
“This project has struggled with an analysis paralysis,” she said. “This project needs a vote. I agree that the time is now.”
Hale cautioned against conducting more studies and said it was time to move from analysis mode to decision making mode.
She asked the council to consider simply: “Does this project have merits or not? Is $56 million in exchange for this project fair? How do we want to allocate the $56 million?”
The project will return to the city’s Harbor View Ad Hoc Committee for a final round of feedback before coming back to the council for a vote.