A Look Ahead at What the Future Holds for Redwood City in 2019

in Community/Featured/Headline

After back-to-back years of frenetic downtown construction, after a contentious City Council race that ushered in two newcomers, after convulsive meetings about school closures that left board trustees in tears, some might ask why the next big thing in Redwood City couldn’t just be a timeout.

In a sense, that is what Mayor Ian Bain is suggesting for the year ahead, in the form of a community-wide “vision process” so residents can weigh in on what they’d like for the city before the next wave of construction expands beyond downtown. Similarly, the Redwood City School District will be reaching out to parents at all schools in 2019 as the district downsizes to the “right size.”

“Part of the reason I want to do this,” Bain said of the visioning work, “is because we will face changes. That’s a fact.  It’s not a matter of ‘if.’ It’s not a matter of ‘We can’t freeze RWC as it is,’ although I know some people who would like to do that.  And there are a lot of developers who are interested in doing things. What I want to do is to get ahead of whatever the developers are going to come with and I want to make sure that the developers’ plans align with the city’s vision and not the other way around. I don’t think we can afford to wait until some big things are plopped on our plate and then try to scramble to figure out the path forward.”

The newly constituted City Council includes former Planning Commissioner Giselle Hale and community activist Diana Reddy, replacing incumbents Jeff Gee and John Seybert, who decided not to run. Vice Mayor Diane Howard emphasized the need for experience and history in her successful bid for re-election. Bain has been sounding out all six other council members about their interests, which will be used early in 2019 to develop priorities and a work plan.

Added to the political mix, Redwood City is slated to move from citywide to district elections in 2020. Next year, the community will be able to give input on where to draw the district boundaries, Bain said, adding that the work that has gone into redefining and reactivating neighborhood associations should prove beneficial. Four seats will be up in 2020, three in 2022, and in between a new U.S. Census will be taken in 2020. “So the districts will have to be redrawn between the 2020 election and the 2022 election,” Bain said. He also wants the council’s governance committee in 2019 to look at campaign finance reform and a rotation policy for the mayor. Bain is in his second in a two-year term as mayor.

In the visioning process he’d like to launch, Bain would involve neighborhood associations in a strong community outreach to project what the city’s infrastructure, transportation and quality of life should be like as long as 20 years out. He’d like to get some outside views from the private sector for some innovative fresh perspectives about possible ways to do things differently, pointing to energy-efficient retrofits as an example. “I want to look at more things like that that are good for the city and save us money.”

The Downtown Precise Plan, which set in motion the building boom downtown, is in the home stretch for the allowed office and residential space. In the heart of downtown, Lane Partners will be completing an office building at the corner of Broadway and Jefferson Avenue, which will become the home for the Chan Zuckerburg Initiative started by the Facebook founder and his wife. The 250 members of the nonprofit’s staff have already been working out of three other offices in the city in advance of the planned move in January 2020.

Hundreds of apartment and other residential units are being constructed near and along El Camino Real. Greystar’s latest development, Elan at 1 Franklin St. next to the Caltrain tracks, will be ready for tenants this spring. South of Woodside Road, the first phase of Stanford University’s Redwood City campus is nearing completion in the spring. Well over a dozen other projects around the city are in various stages in the process, from discussion to construction,  and sure to be grist for the visioning discussions.

Caltrain’s preparation work for the electrification of the rail line is becoming increasingly visible as a few hundred poles and overhead wiring are being installed. A total of 104 poles are going up next to the tracks in Redwood City, 56 of them in the North Fair Oaks area, and an overhead switching station will be installed in the track materials yard south of Woodside Road. Test trains are to run for about a year before service is to start in 2022.

Starting Jan. 1, Redwood City has a new local minimum wage of $13.50 an hour. A half-cent increase in the 8.75 percent sales tax that voters passed in November goes into effect April 1;  another half-cent increase for San Mateo County transportation kicks in July 1.

The tax increase avoided cutbacks that would have, for example, reduced library hours citywide by 23 percent. Instead, unfilled positions that had been in limbo pending the vote can now be filled. The popular Human Library Program will return in April. It allowed patrons to meet and query people outside their normal sphere (last year these included a Muslim, homeless and transgender persons, and, a seeming outlier in this area, a political conservative).

The installation of a sculpture called “The Pirate Ship” could take place toward the end of 2019 near the Redwood Shores Library, according to Librarian Derek Wolfrgam. Students from D-Tech High School on the Oracle campus are helping with ideas about how to update the library’s interpretive center and make it more interactive.

The usual round of entertainment and festivals on Courthouse Square and in the parks will continue as well. Meanwhile, construction on the accessible Magical Bridge Playground, which is under way at Red Morton Park, is expected to be completed by early winter, if not before, according to Chris Beth, parks department director. Depending on securing approvals, the first phase work on a combined Veterans Memorial/Senior Center and YMCA facility could get under way before the year’s end too.

On a cultural front, the historic Lathrop House is to be moved to the parking lot behind the San Mateo County History Museum on Marshall Street. Rotating Redwood City history exhibits are to be exhibited inside the old mansion. Meanwhile, a San Carlos-based nonprofit called Brave Maker is organizing its inaugural film festival June 1 and 2, featuring a wide range of indie films that will be shown in downtown Redwood City, according to founder and film maker Tony Gapastione. For information, go to www.bravemaker. com.

The Redwood City School District board will have a new look in 2019 with the addition of Cecilia Marquez, the first trustee chosen under the election-by-district system that replaced at-large voting. She represents Area 5, which includes Fair Oaks, Hoover and parts of the Hawes, Garfield, Selby Lane and Taft attendance areas. She is the only one of the five trustees who lives in the heavily Latino North Fair Oaks neighborhood, and she keeps the Spanish-speaking presence on the board at two. The district Latino percentage is 70.

Marquez, a McKinley Institute of Technology and Sequoia High graduate who is senior administrative secretary at Sequoia Union High School District headquarters, has her hands full as a trustee right away, as the Redwood City district implements the reorganization plan that calls for the closing of four campuses and the reassignment of some 1,900 students.

She is well backgrounded for the task, having raised three children in the district, including a current fourth-grader at Adelante, and serving for the past four years on Supt. John Baker’s advisory board. She came to Redwood City from Mexico at age 11 and has lived in North Fair Oaks for 20 years.  “When the board went to district elections, I saw the opportunity to play a role in helping parents get involved in school success for their children,” she said.

She takes a moderate’s view of the often-heard criticism that the reorganization burden falls most heavily on the Latino community. “The district serves a diverse socio-economic community, and there are disadvantaged students at every campus,” she said. Also, “closing smaller schools allows kids to have access at larger campuses to programs that they don’t have at smaller ones.”

She raised the issue of transportation for students who must change schools, saying she “looks forward to hearing Dr. Baker’s plan.”

In addition to transportation, Baker, Marquez and her colleagues will be dealing with other preparations related to the displacement of students resulting from the closing at the end of this school year of the Fair Oaks, Hawes, Orion and Adelante campuses and the moving of the Adelante Spanish Immersion program to Selby Lane and the Orion parent-participation program to John Gill. New boundaries will be drawn for several schools that will accommodate displaced students from Selby Lane, Fair Oaks and Hawes and affect incoming students.

Other projects on Baker’s blueprint for “a better, right-size district:”

• Forming committees with representation from all schools to help decide on K-8 vs. K-5/6-8 grade configurations, and to weigh options on the future of North Star Academy, the grades 3-8 accelerated learning alternative housed at McKinley Institute of Technology (grades 6-8).

• Renting the current district headquarters and moving the offices to a school campus; renting the closing Adelante, Orion, Hawes and Fair Oaks campuses.

• Moving the district’s three charter schools to one campus.

Baker’s top priority is meeting with every family that is being forced to move and helping them get their first choice of new school. He asks the community to stay involved and to promote enrollment in district schools. Parents are urged to bring their children to school unless they’re sick, and to write to state legislators about California’s funding formula.

“Our office has not received a lot of calls or e-mails,” said Susan Kennedy, media contact for Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, Redwood City’s representative. “While it hurts now,” Mullin added in an email, “it would hurt the district even more if they were to wait on the school closures.”

Mullin held out some hope for the future. “Recent state budgets have seen a steady increase in education funding,” he wrote. “There is a significant need for a restructuring of California’s tax structure, and when that finally takes place, the way we fund various programs and entities may change from their current format. Until that time, we are left with making our best efforts to fill in the gaps.”

Redwood City Education Foundation Executive Director Kathleen Harris said some of that gap was recently filled by a $50,000 grant from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. “We’ve structured it as a matching grant so we could encourage end-of-year giving,” she said. “So far we have raised about half from parents and friends and are aiming to get in the rest in before the end of the year.”

This story was published in the January print edition of Climate Magazine.