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Redwood City Council passes firearms retailer restrictions amidst controversy over buffer zones

Equitable Distribution of Gun Stores in Focus, Council Weighs Impact on Underprivileged Areas
Gun showcase in retail store

Redwood City council members last week restricted Redwood City firearm retailers with the passing of two ordinances, one which imposed limitations on the location of firearm and ammunition shops within the city and put more safety requirements in place and another which required them to obtain a permit from the police department.

The ordinances passed with a 6-1 vote, with council member Diane Howard as the lone dissenter.

Prospective retailers must now meet specific findings outlined in the zoning ordinance to ensure compliance with the underlying zoning district's purposes. They must also participate in a public hearing before they can get a green light from the city. 

Gun and ammunition retailers must be situated at least 600 feet away from so-called sensitive facilities— including schools, childcare centers, family childcare homes, youth centers, community centers, public parks, Courthouse Square, libraries and places of worship. According to the new ordinances, firearm retailers would also have to be separated by at least 1,000 feet from each other to prevent clustering. 

The approved staff recommendations differ from the "hybrid" recommendations proposed by Redwood City's Planning Commission last month. The Commission recommended a 1,000-foot buffer for locations where children may be unsupervised, including schools, public parks and youth centers, and a 600-foot buffer for all other designated sensitive areas. In contrast, the staff recommendation proposes a blanket 600-foot buffer for all sensitive facilities.

Redwood City Assistant City Manager Michelle Poché Flaherty presented the City's recommendations and defended the staff's blanket proposal. 

She said it was partly a reaction to community member concerns about the discrepancy in proposed buffer restrictions between sensitive facilities. City staff could not find data to support giving particular distances to some facilities versus others. Poché Flaherty said Redwood City categorizes many facilities as "sensitive." 

"We thought we were more inclusive than many jurisdictions in terms of the number of types of sensitive facilities we included in ours, so you have more dots, creating more areas," said Poche-Flaherty. "Again, our goal here is not to prohibit the sale of firearms but rather to regulate its safety." 

A parent to two Redwood City public school students, Katie Goetz opposed the staff's 600-foot blanket recommendation. Goetz commented that the staff's recommendation would mean that a gun retailer could open near her home, whereas the Planning Commission's recommendation would prevent that from happening. 

"My hope and my prayer is that you will go with the alternative that is before you that is at least as restrictive as what the planning commission asked for at their meeting back in May," said Goetz. 

Goetz noted she is a Housing and Human Concerns Committee member but was not speaking in that capacity. Her concerns were echoed by Redwood City resident Clara Jaekel, who urged council members to adopt more stringent regulations than those proposed by the city staff. 

"There is precedent for [the 1000-foot] distance as a reasonable balance between safety concerns and constitutional access rights. And with so much at stake, we should aim to put in place the strongest possible safeguards for all site," said Jaekel. 

Councilmember Diane Howard, the lone vote against the ordinances, expressed support for the Planning Commission's "hybrid" recommendation, citing community fears as a primary reason for her 'no' vote. 

"The hybrid I thought was something that I could would like to support, because I want to let the community know that we heard them and that we respect what they asked for. And we listened to not only to their recommendations about additional oversight, but that we're also listening that we understand there are sensitive areas that trigger fear in people," said Howard. 

The council's decision wraps up nearly a year of controversy over gun store regulations in Redwood City. 

The controversy began in the Fall of 2022 when a firearms and ammunition retailer was slated to open up shop within walking distance of multiple schools. After many community members expressed concern about the opening of the gun shop, council members adopted a temporary moratorium on new gun and ammunition stores and directed staff to study potential regulations for such retailers. Redwood City sought community feedback while developing recommendations— including how large the buffer zones should be between gun shops and sensitive facilities. Much of the debate has hinged around these buffer zones. 

Equity Concerns

The council's decision last week also sparked discussions about equity— a key factor in deciding the buffer zone restrictions. 

City staff noted their concern about the impact of a blanket 1,000-foot restriction on low-income areas. All council members agreed that a blanket 1,000-foot restriction could disproportionately burden underprivileged neighborhoods. 

According to a comparative table between the staff's recommendation and the commission's proposal, approximately 34.6% of potential locations for firearm shops fall within low Healthy Places Index tracts, characterized as low-resourced areas. In contrast, the commission's recommendation would place about 42.1% of these parcels in such areas.

Council member Kaia Eakin stressed the importance of avoiding the concentration of firearm retail facilities in already underserved neighborhoods. 

"Equity is important. It's not fair to burden already underserved neighborhoods with the responsibility of hosting a disproportionately large number of firearm retail facilities," said Eakin. 

Despite some community member concerns, the council ultimately decided to deviate from the Planning Commission's recommendation and adopt the recommendation presented by city staff, with the majority of council members considering it as the most practical and enforceable option. 

"I think it's probably the best outcome we could have expected in this kind of short period of time of a moratorium right? To study all this," said Councilmember Lissette Espinoza-Garnica. "But I truly am hearing the community when they say they want the most amount of distance. I just think that this will be something we know that we can for sure enforce and rely on to stay in place."


Avery Luke

About the Author: Avery Luke

Avery Luke, a Los Altos native, is a reporter at the Redwood City Pulse. She was formerly a reporter at KPFA Radio in Berkeley. Avery is also a newscast writer at KTVU FOX 2 and holds a bachelor's degree in Journalism from DePaul University in Chicago.
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