San Mateo County builds for the future 

in Community/Featured/Headline

What is going on at the San Mateo County Government Center in downtown Redwood City?  

Suddenly, structures like the familiar Traffic and Small Claims Court buildings on Marshall Street which had been part of the county government landscape for decades, are gone. Even the historic Lathrop House is no longer where it used to be. 

In their place, long stretches of blue construction fencing now encircle what some call “the pit” – the result of demolishing buildings that occupied land at the corner of Marshall Street and Middlefield Road. Before that could be done, in May, Lathrop House was moved across the street to a new location next to the San Mateo County History Museum.   

On the corner of Brewster Avenue and Winslow Street next to the County Parking Garage (only recently the site for jury and staff parking), more blue fencing walls off what looks like another “pit.” 

What’s behind this massive rearranging of the governmental landscape? 

The short answer is a new County Office Building, known internally as COB3, will go up on the Marshall and Middlefield site. It is to be completed by mid-2022. A new, larger County Parking Structure that will be located next to the current county garage, is slated for completion by early 2021. 

In 2018, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors approved a five-year Capital Improvement Plan that would use a combination of Measure K funds, bond revenues, and general fund monies to embark on the first capital upgrade project at the County Government Center Campus in 25 years.  With this money, three major structures were to be built at the County Center: a Regional Operations Center, a County Office Building, and a new parking garage. 

The first of these projects – the Operations Center – has been completed and is anticipated to open for business by next month. 

Referred to internally by the shorthand name “the ROC,” it was built first partly because the site for its construction was inside the current footprint of Government Center Campus so disruption of public access to county government offices during construction was minimized. Located at 501 Winslow St., directly across from the existing parking garage, the ROC will serve as a hub for public safety responders during major catastrophic events.  

Designed to operate for up to seven days without PG&E-provided power or city-provided water, the facility houses the Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Services; Public Safety Communications, which operates 9-1-1 dispatch and is currently operating out of the basement of the Hall of Justice; and a secure data center. 

“The ROC is constructed to Category F criteria, the most stringent seismic design category reserved for essential buildings such as hospitals, meaning it can withstand an 8.0 earthquake without sustaining serious structural or functional damage,” said Adam Ely, Project Development Director for San Mateo County. 

Supervisor Carole Groom, president of the Board of Supervisors, recently acknowledged the benefits the ROC will bring to the community and the staff who perform high-stress jobs during emergencies like the recent power outages experienced by thousands of county residents. 

“We will all be safer because of this modern facility and the fact that we now have a unified command center,” said Groom. “Among the highlights of this innovative building is a large, convertible, multi-use space that will be used for county trainings when the Operations Center is not on alert. Also, we can now provide a lighter, more relaxed, more supportive working environment for those folks who answer our calls for help, day or night.”  

The County Parking Structure is next up for completion. Already under construction, the garage will be located on the site of the former parking lot adjacent to the current garage, at the corner of Veterans Boulevard and Middlefield Road. When completed, the seven-level garage will address the current parking shortfall in the area by providing 1,022 additional parking spaces for county employees, potential jury members, and visitors to the government center. With the 982 spaces in the existing parking structure, that will bring the total number of parking spaces available to serve the County Government Campus to more than 2,000. 

In addition to providing substantial relief from the current construction-impacted parking around the County Center, the new parking garage will feature 62 electric vehicle charging stalls, an express ramp for quick access to upper floors, and vehicle occupancy signs to tell drivers how many spaces are available at any given time. 

As for the third and largest capital project, the County Office Building, construction site work began earlier this year with demolition of the former Traffic Court and Small Claims Court buildings and movement of the Lathrop House to its new site.  Although work on the building itself won’t begin until final bids are received, Ely anticipates that the $152 million structure will be completed by the middle of 2022. 

The five-story structure was designed by the famed Studio Gang architectural firm to allow in natural light and air while providing for landscaped outdoor space with three enclosed pavilions. There will be four levels of office, common and event space in the County Office Building that are elevated above the ground-level areas. 

Consistent with the County Municipal Green Building Policy, COB3 will target a rating of LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, using 21st century technology to operate at Zero Net Energy. With a LEED Gold certification, the new County Office Building will have a high rating in key sustainability criteria, such as water and energy consumption, materials used in construction, and indoor environmental quality. 

The new building will house 600 county staffers, including those from the Office of the County Counsel, the County Manager’s Office and the Board of Supervisors, many of whom will be moving from spaces the county currently leases, such as those in the Hall of Justice and Records. As a result, county courts will be able to expand their use of the Eisenhower-era structure at 400 County Center and begin a long-planned, much needed remodel and upgrade of that facility.  

Employees in the county’s Human Services Agency, who now work in leased office space on Davis Drive in Belmont, are also among those who are expected to be moving into COB3. 

Altogether, cost for the three new structures is projected to be nearly approximately $265 million. County Supervisor Don Horsley said the expenditure is necessary because of current needs as well as to be better positioned for the future necessity of upgrading other county-owned facilities in Redwood City and beyond. 

“With all the growth taking place in in the county, and particularly in downtown Redwood City, government facilities needed to serve the citizenry also had to expand,” Horsley said. “We all know about the parking crunch at the County Center, something that’s only going to get worse when employees currently housed at the County Medical Center (in San Mateo) have to relocate during that facility’s upgrade. 

So the new parking structure should ease that burden and the new County Office Building will provide more working space for these and other county employees as well as a beautiful new public space on the ground floor for community gatherings and walk-up access to the Board of Supervisors chambers, that will hopefully encourage more public participation in county government.” 

Board President Groom acknowledges that the construction projects around the County Center cause significant disruption and parking challenges. She hopes the public will appreciate both the need for, and the benefits of, the capital upgrades taking place. 

“Construction of the Regional Operations Center and the new County Office Building is a once-in-a-generation, if not more, opportunity to create a more sustainable, efficient and enjoyable environment for the public we serve and the employees who work here,” said Groom. “Bringing more departments together at a modernized County Center also lets us reduce lease costs for space outside of this campus. As a county, our goal is always to improve the quality of life for our community and to be strong fiscal stewards. These projects allow us to do both.” 

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

Correction: The story has been updated to reflect the correct approximate amount of cost for the three new San Mateo Government Center structures in downtown Redwood City