Political Climate with Mark Simon: Redwood City’s ‘attitude’ emerging

in Featured/Headline/PoliticalClimate

Perhaps you have noticed that your friends at ClimateRWC World Headquarters are holding a contest in which you are encouraged to nominate the absolutely very best stuff in this City of the Redwood – best late-night eats, best barber, best coffee shop, and so on.

This is a great idea and an unabashed effort to market all things Climate, an effort that I respect for its directness and because I’m hoping it means good things for Political Climate, which is not just a column but an attitude.

Speaking of attitude, I’ve been combing Google for the date a billboard appeared along Highway 101 that said something like: “Palo Alto Without the Attitude – Visit Downtown Redwood City.”

It was a fascinating, multi-layered billboard.

Really, there is no other place that has Palo Alto’s attitude. Only Palo Alto officials would call into question whether one of the city’s major downtown employers is even allowed to do business in – you know what’s coming – downtown.

Only Palo Alto has decided to insist that high-speed rail run through town underground, a proposal that now is estimated to cost $4 billion, and a notion every other neighboring city (except Atherton, which really doesn’t count because it’s a town) has abandoned as impractical and too expensive. A tunnel carries with it the possibility of destroying the root system of El Palo Alto, the tree for which the city is named. (At least Redwood City is named for a type of tree and not one measly tree.)

Actually, Palo Alto’s attitude is similar to San Francisco’s – they think people love the city so much it doesn’t matter what officials do to it, or don’t. It is a good example of being born at third base and thinking you hit a triple.

Anyway, when the billboard appeared, a much younger columnist was prompted to conclude that Redwood City, indeed, did not have Palo Alto’s attitude. Or its downtown restaurants. Or its schools. Or its income level or housing values. Or its well-known private university. In short, at the time of the billboard, there was no reason to go to Redwood City unless you liked a skyline dominated by the county jail and a nightlife dominated by empty streets and vacant storefronts.

The billboard would have been an ideal example of satire in that there was little in Redwood City about which to have an attitude, except that the people who put up the billboard were earnest and irony-free.

That was then. Now, Redwood City has all the things it didn’t have when that billboard first appeared. Much better schools, driven by a new generation of well-to-do parents who wanted something better for their kids. Downtown businesses. A staggering array of restaurants. A nightlife. A courthouse square unmatched as a regional gathering place. That well-known private university is expanding substantially into Redwood City, perhaps because the welcoming attitude of Palo Alto is characterized by momentum-deadening process.

And we’ve got Millennials by the Uber-load, packing the restaurants, crowding into bars, enjoying our sidewalk dining and filling up the downtown housing.

Some people in another venue have opted to rail against the techies. I say get to know one. It’s true, they can be skittish, but if you approach quietly, perhaps offering a free hoodie, they will be willing to eat out of your hand. They are as scared of you as you are of them.

In other words, Redwood City has attitude and we get to be on the ground floor of deciding what it’s going to be.

So, I’ve decided to supplement the Climate Best Contest with a few categories of my own, all in the interest of developing our own attitude about our on-the-go community.

Best Parking Space – It’s a complaint among those who don’t like how Redwood City has changed – there’s no place to park. We know that’s not true, but, unlike the old Redwood City, you can’t just pull up right in front of the one restaurant open after 7 p.m. any more. There are certain conditions: It has to be a space where you don’t pay and where you’ve never gotten a ticket. The Caltrain lot after 6 p.m. doesn’t count because they allow free parking there at that time. This is your best, most secret, sacred spot.

Best New Building – There are many complaints about all the new buildings in town. They can’t all be bad. Well, maybe they can, but which one is the best? And why? Better looking than the old buildings? More environmentally efficient? Better than what it replaced?

Best Old Building – What’s been saved that was worth saving? And an associated category:

Best Building That’s Been Torn Down – There’s a temptation to remember the past as better than it was. There is a difference between historic and old, however. What building are we better rid of? I’m thinking of the Mexican restaurant where someone died of food poisoning. That might have been a few owners ago, but the place is gone anyway.

Best Techie – Come on. You’ve met one, at least. They’re hard working. They travel in packs – usually three guys, one woman, at least one beard among them, and all sporting those envy-causing plastic ID badges. What was his or her name? What are they doing here? Do they like us? Oh, I hope so.

Best Friday Casual Outfit – In my prior job, I used to wear a necktie to meetings at Facebook, just to be different. Isn’t it great that they’re judged on the quality of their work and not the cost of their wardrobe? One day last summer, I saw two guys in shorts, T-shirts and flip-flops, wearing ID badges. I assumed they were executive vice presidents.

Best Online Publication Devoted To Redwood City News Named After The City’s Slogan – I’m thinking we win this one. I have noticed when I tell people I work for Climate that they think I’m an environmental writer. Depending on the context, I allow that to continue for a while.

Best Best Category – This one is for you. Send me your ideas for the best categories. And, what the heck, enter the Climate Best contest. It doesn’t cost you anything and you might make your barber happy.

Best Attitude – And finally, what is the Redwood City attitude? The city is on the verge of becoming the capital of the Peninsula – if it isn’t already. What should we say about us?

In the print edition of Climate Magazine, I incorrectly state Christina Umhofer supports rent control. She has taken no such position. I regret the error.

Contact Mark Simon at mark@climaterwc.com.