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Victim interrupts attempted burglary at San Carlos home

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Man exposed self to teen

An attempted residential burglary in the 100 block of Highland Avenue in San Carlos was interrupted by a resident of the home on Saturday night, according to the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office.

The suspect was wearing a mask and holding a flashlight and was attempting to enter the home by prying open a side door at about 10 p.m., the victim told deputies.

The suspect was startled and immediately left the residence and fled in an unknown direction,” the sheriff’s office said.

Deputies saturated the area but were unable to locate the suspect. The investigation is ongoing.

Anyone who has information regarding this incident may call the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office Anonymous Tip Line at 18005472700.

Photo: Getty images

Bay Area health officers say Johnson & Johnson vaccine is safe

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Bay Area health officers agree with lifting pause on Johnson & Johnson vaccine

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is safe and its administration should resume in the Bay Area, local public health officers said in a joint statement Friday.

Health officers representing nine Bay Area counties and the City of Berkeley released a joint statement Sunday about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which had been paused due to rare cases of blood clots. The pause was lifted by federal regulators this past Friday. The joint statement by health officers follows in full:

“On Friday, the CDC and FDA announced they would accept the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices’ (ACIP) recommendations to lift pausing on the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine for all adults. The Bay Area Health Officers, representing the counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and Solano and the City of Berkeley, concur with the findings of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and Western States Scientific Safety Review (WSSSR) that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is safe and that Bay Area health providers should resume its administration to prevent community spread and severe illness and death from COVID-19.

The region’s Health Officers agree that the risk of developing the rare clotting disorder is extremely low. According to the CDC, to date there have been only 15 confirmed cases of the rare clotting event among nearly 8 million total doses administered in the USA, all in females, which translates to a risk less than 2 cases per million doses overall, and 7 cases per million doses among women between 18 and 49 years of age. For those who have a confirmed case of COVID-19, the risk of dying from it in the United States is 1 in 56.

The region’s Health Officers also support the addition of a warning label and the WSSSR’s recommendation that culturally and linguistically appropriate informational materials in an accessible reading level be made available, so that the members of the public can make an informed decision.

The public is strongly urged to get vaccinated as soon as possible. All vaccines are proven to be highly effective at preventing hospitalization or death from COVID-19, and people who are fully vaccinated are also much less likely to be contagious or transmit the virus to someone else. The longer you wait to get vaccinated, the greater the risk of contracting COVID-19, and infecting a friend, loved one, or coworker.

People who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should contact their primary healthcare provider if they have concerns or if they develop severe symptoms of headache, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath within three weeks after vaccination. COVID-19 vaccine safety is a top priority for the Bay Area’s Health Officers, and we will continue to monitor the situation and look to the CDC for any additional future guidance.”

Photo by Mohammad Shahhosseini on Unsplash.

21-year-old killed in San Mateo stabbing; suspect in custody

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A 21-year-old man was fatally stabbed in San Mateo Saturday night, and the suspected killer is in custody, police said.

At 11:26 p.m., San Mateo police were dispatched to Cypress Avenue at N. Bayshore Boulevard on a report of a stabbing and found the victim stabbed in the upper chest. He was transported to a local trauma center, where he succumbed to his injury, police said. The victim’s name was not immediately available.

After interviewing witnesses, detectives learned the stabbing “was an isolated incident between people who knew each other,” police said.

The suspect, identified as Carlos Ramirez, 26, of San Mateo, was found hiding nearby and arrested for the homicide.

Anyone with information or security footage related to this stabbing is encouraged to contact Det. Sergeant Paul Pak at (650) 522-7660 or  Anonymous tips can be submitted to here. or by calling (650) 522-7676.

Photo courtesy of the San Mateo Police Department

PHS/SPCA says rare Golden Pheasant available for adoption

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Meet Lord Pheatherington, a Golden Pheasant who is available for adoption at Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA.

The adult male Golden Pheasant was found as a stray in San Mateo. A Good Samaritan reported him after noticing he was injured and unable to fly in her front yard. The PHS/SPCA rescue staff came and safely netted him and brought him to their shelter on April 13.

“A Golden Pheasant is an extremely rare animal for our shelter, and it’s actually quite exciting to have such a beautiful bird available for adoption,” said PHS/SPCA Communications Manager Buffy Martin Tarbox. “His name, Lord Pheatherington, is inspired by the popular show Bridgerton. He’s certainly good looking enough to be a main character on the series.”

When he arrived at the shelter, Lord Pheatherington was “missing most of his tail feathers and several of his primary wing feathers were broken, rendering him unable to fly,” according to Tarbox.

“Based on his injuries, we believe he may have been attacked by another animal but escaped. He’s a very lucky pheasant,” she said.

No one came forward to claim the bird, so PHS/SPCA have made him available for adoption.

His exact age is unknown and his feathers will grow back in a few weeks’ time.

“Lord Pheatherington is quite social and has especially enjoyed the company of some female chickens he’s been temporary housed with at our shelter,” said Tarbox. “His ideal new home would include an outdoor predator proof, fully covered enclosure and another Golden Pheasant flock, or even a group of female chickens. We are committed to securing him in a home where he will be kept as a pet, not a source of food.”

Photo courtesy of PHS/SPCA

‘Conversation with Kevin’ to focus on local climate change efforts

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Want to learn what’s being done to address climate change locally?

On Wednesday, April 28, at 6 p.m., Assemblymember Kevin Mullin is hosting a Conversation with Kevin segment where he will speak with key individuals in the Bay Area who are working and collaborating to address climate change issues.

Mullin’s guests will include Warner Chabot, executive director of the San Francisco Estuary Institute; Len Manterman, CEO of San Mateo County Flood and Sea Level Rise Resiliency District; Davina Hurt, Belmont City Councilmember and member of the California Air Resources Board and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District; and Hilary Papendick, program manager for Climate Change/Adaptation with the San Mateo County Office of Sustainability.

The event will be streamed here and on Facebook Live.

“Whether it’s our stewardship of San Francisco Bay, sea level rise, air quality or creating a more sustainable county, all of our San Mateo communities are impacted by the effects of climate change,” Mullin said.

The public can submit questions here in advance.

Photo courtesy of Assemblymember Kevin Mullin’s Office

San Mateo amends code to enable cops to seize fireworks

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Ahead of Independence Day celebrations this summer, San Mateo police have been granted the explicit authority to confiscate fireworks, and also to issue infraction citations for cases that may not rise to the level of misdemeanor or felony offenses.

California Fire Code adopted by the city deems it illegal to use, sell, store and possess all fireworks in San Mateo. But the fire code grants authority only to the fire chief or their designee to seize fireworks. That language has made it difficult for police to enforce fireworks possession and use cases that are less serious than misdemeanor or felony offenses, police said. When officers respond to calls for service about fireworks, they “must actually witness the firework being set off in order to cite an individual for use or possession of fireworks.”

At both the April 5 and April 19 meetings, City Council approved an ordinance adding a section to the city’s Municipal Code to clearly indicate that the Police Department is authorized to seize fireworks, as well as to issue infraction citations to offenders. A $100 fine will be imposed for a first offense within one year, a $200 fine will be imposed for a second offense within a year, and the fine will rise to $500 for every offense thereafter within a year. The ordinance takes effect 30 days after its enactment.

Depending on magnitude or frequency of the fireworks use, offenders could still be charged with a misdemeanor, which carries a fine of up to $1,000 and potential imprisonment. Large quantities of dangerous fireworks can also be charged as a felony, police said.

San Mateo has not been immune to a nationwide spike in their use, particularly last summer when annual Independence Day events were cancelled by the COVID-19 pandemic. During the two weeks leading up to and including July 4, there were 294 fireworks-related incidents logged into SMPD’s computer-aided dispatch system. This is compared with 109 incidents logged in 2019 and 175 in 2018, police said.

San Carlos School District set to return full time in Fall, Trustee Carol Elliot Resigns

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The San Carlos School District School Board gave direction to return to school full time in Fall while also abandoning any additional advancement to return this school year. The District has opened up for some in person instruction this year, but far from full time and less than enough to satisfy parents seeking a full return.

Board President Neil Layton seemed to resign himself to the staff recommendations, but advocated that staff look to pilot some additional back to school to advance the progress made. Superintended Dr. Michelle Harmeier was less than enthusiastic about the possibility due to staff fatigue and equity concerns.

The take away from the meeting is that the District will go about addressing staffing levels, operational concerns and furniture acquisitions for a full return in the fall. The added expenses to the District will exceed $1 million for the next school year and could be paid for by a combination of state and federal school relief funds and bond money available for capital improvements.

While the direction has been firmly established, members of the parent group Reopening San Carlos Schools where less than satisfied with the outcome and were not giving up their advocacy in pursuit of a full return to campus this school year.

Earlier in the day, the District announced that Trustee Carol Elliott will be resigning from her SCSD School Board seat effective May 6, 2021. Carol has been a longtime member of the SCSD School Board, having served for nearly 11 years.

As a Board Member, Carol helped guide the District in its creation of a strategic plan through their Strategic Plan Committee and their design through its Strategic Facilities Master planning committee. Not only was Carol a Board Member, but she served as Board President twice.

Carol has been, “a lifelong advocate for public education and I have personally watched her push County and State leaders to properly fund public education and commit to equal access for all” said Neil Layton San Carlos School Board President.

“The simple way to put it is the San Carlos School District is better off for having Carol’s dedication to our kids and our schools. Carol will be missed, and the Board wishes her the best in her next endeavors, but knows she will always continue to play an active role in the San Carlos School District,” said Layton.

The Board, at its regular meeting on Thursday, April 22, we begin the process to fill the impending board vacancy. Per Education Code, the Board must either order a special election or make a provisional appointment within 60 days.

The California Texodus

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A wave of corporate departures raises concerns for Silicon Valley’s future.

In December 2020, as the curtain drew closed on an extraordinary year in Silicon Valley history, the region suffered a final shock when Oracle Corporation and HP Inc. both announced the relocation of their headquarters to Austin, Texas, in quick succession. When legendary investor Peter Thiel and entrepreneur Elon Musk also disclosed that they had decamped to Texas, some political and economic observers reacted with profound concern, seeing a “red tsunami” rolling toward the Lone Star State.

Others dismissed the moves as unimportant ripples in California’s vast ocean of economic activity. Could such significant corporate flight out of the Bay Area be explained by the boisterous election cycle, in which the sharp divide in economic and policy models of Texas and California came into sharp focus? Why did California state leaders fail to foresee these exits and take steps to prevent them? Does Silicon Valley face the start of a long-term exodus and decline? How should individual cities respond?

Answers to all these questions are complex and, it turns out, have been concerns in policy circles for decades. Competition between California and Texas long predates today’s battle of sound bites between the states’ governors, Democrat Gavin Newsom and Republican Greg Abbott. For progressive-minded California tech executives, Texas—formerly a slave state of the Confederacy, formerly an independent republic with a reputation for insular ruggedness, for decades solidly Republican in choices for most state and national offices—seems an odd choice to call home.

Yet between 2010 and 2018, at least two dozen large California companies moved headquarters to Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, or other cities, including the former Silicon Valley stalwart Raytheon. Texas was the top destination for corporate moves nationwide in 2019 and 2020.

Not a New Rivalry

Government professor Dr. Kenneth P. Miller of Claremont-McKenna College chronicles the states’ long rivalry in a 2020 book titled, aptly enough, “Texas vs. California,” pointing out that since 1990 a surprisingly large number of companies have left California, and not all in tech: Toyota USA; Occidental Petroleum; McKesson, the nation’s largest pharmaceutical distributor and sixth-largest company; Fluor Corporation and Jacobs Engineering Group, two major international design and construction firms; Charles Schwab & Co.; Jamba Juice; Omnitracs, a company that manages operations for the trucking industry; Core-Mark, a convenience store supplier; and at least two dozen more. As important as these companies were to California, the loss of an iconic name like Hewlett-Packard, and a local landmark like Oracle, hurts even more.

“I am deeply concerned about corporate flight,” said Jim Wunderman, President of the Bay Area Council, an association of local businesses formed in 1945. “This is not the way to go in a strong economy, and it’s hard to tell how deep and how far it will go. Post-pandemic, all bets are off, and no one can say whether companies will continue to value California’s advantages or pursue growth elsewhere. The decision to move a headquarters is huge for a company, and it means not only direct losses of employees, but also movement of growth and philanthropy.”

According to Wunderman, the council has responded by starting to build a statewide coalition to address policy changes to improve the California business climate. While the council has not traditionally advocated for changes in state tax policy or labor policy, now those concerns loom large.

A Cycle Repeated

Countering Wunderman’s concerns is California’s remarkable overall economic resilience in the face of losses of entire industrial sectors. Oil and gas, aircraft and aerospace, auto manufacturing, and financial services all once dominated the California economy. Lockheed Missiles & Space in Sunnyvale and General Motors in Fremont once were the area’s largest employers, long before Google and Apple. But virtually all auto plants and aircraft plants have closed, energy production is weak compared to other states and continues to decline as a target of the progressive politics of Sacramento. Even semiconductor development and fabrication, which bestowed the Silicon Valley moniker on the region, have moved offshore. Is information technology the next industry that California will lose wholesale?

People are right to worry, says Wunderman. “We are in a new era and the post-pandemic world will be different than the Fourth Industrial Revolution that we thought had just started. California took 10 years to recover from the 2001 dot-com bust and lost 400,000 jobs over the next two years. We needed six to eight years to recover from the 2008 mortgage meltdown.

“It is far easier to lose jobs than create them,” Wunderman continued. “We face tremendous competition from Texas and others and with remote work, it’s not clear that California’s geographical, climate, and cultural differences will win out. So why would we be our own worst enemy?”

Backfilling for Losses

One reason, Miller suggests, is just because the state can be. “California has seen constant reinvention in response to the loss of industries,” Miller said. “Policy makers, having seen this time and again, seem willing to stress-test the economy in ways that other states would not attempt.” Simply stated, the governor and other state leaders may think they can ignore the issue and other businesses will fill any gaps.

What’s the root cause of corporate flight? In interview after interview for this story, commentators all mentioned the same thing—housing—because when workers can’t afford to live near their employer, the business must go elsewhere to find talent.

As Miller observes in “Texas vs. California,” the state housing market has become profoundly stratified—accessible for the top-paid tier of workers who can afford to buy at what would be luxury prices in any other state, somewhat available for the lowest working class who may benefit from government support or affordable projects, but virtually impossible for the middle class.

No wonder city streets up and down the Peninsula are lined with recreational vehicles as drywall workers, tile installers, cooks, cleaners and other trade workers have been forced into non-traditional but affordable quarters.

There’s no question that housing units have failed to keep pace with Bay Area job creation. In 2019 the median cost of a home in San Francisco hit $1.7 million, a stunning amount in any market. And the region has made land use choices over decades that artificially constrain supply Every acre bought and warehoused by the Peninsula Open Space Trust, for example, has become another acre on which affordable housing can’t be built.

Lowering Housing Costs

The mention of housing problems gets Wunderman up in arms. “We need to build what we need. We need to totally reconsider whether all existing housing regulations are appropriate. We have to create a clear path so builders don’t face endless lawsuits whenever they want to build. We’ve got to revamp cost structures to slash all the exactions and fees that impose such high costs before a shovel ever reaches the ground.”

Corporate flight could benefit the housing situation, of course, by reducing demand. Renters may see a long-term decline in lease rates. Rental costs in San Francisco already have dropped about 15% in the past year, and while the primary effect has been employers’ long-term willingness to accept remote work and keep offices closed, job losses attributable to corporate moves will have to have some effect eventually.

Meanwhile, selected Bay Area cities have adopted far more business-friendly tactics than others and have not shied away from incentivizing housing. Both Miller and Wunderman note that cities have limited options because they are incapable of directly changing tax policy or labor policy—yet they have a key role to play in creating housing, changing land use policy, and reducing rules and costs that hold up development.

Redwood City Housing

Redwood City Mayor Diane Howard commented that the city has seen over 2,000 residential units added in recent years and has aggressively required commercial developers to concurrently build housing units as conditions for large office projects. “We continually talk with developers about the need to build middle-income and lower- to very-low-income housing.”

She pointed to the Sequoia Station project, which was significantly revamped when the city pushed back against the developer’s original proposal for only a small number of low-income housing units. Howard also noted that a city’s pursuit of different industry sectors can significantly affect quality of life.

“The city has been clear that it needs more housing and less office, and more life sciences companies,” she said. “The life sciences sector requires fewer employees for the same square footage, which means fewer cars and less congestion.” Abbott Laboratories is a notable pharmaceuticals company with a large presence in Redwood City.

Permanent Changes

Even if large company departures have grabbed the headlines, Howard pointed out that small business starts have remained strong. “In 2020 we issued more business licenses than we saw businesses close,” she said. The city continues to explore several business-friendly tactics such as the permanent closures of selected downtown streets to support dining and other services and permanent outdoor parklets.

In February the city held roundtable business meetings in the interest of improving dialog with business owners, resulting in strongly positive response and a request to hold similar meetings more often. “Maintaining communication appears to be the key to retaining companies in the area,” Howard said. Incentives also may help: The city is developing a “shop local” marketing campaign that appears to target consumers’ large-scale shift in basic shopping to powerhouse online sources like Amazon.

While these steps sound positive, Miller noted that some cities may need to consider a far broader change in attitude, providing a reminder that pre-pandemic, San Franciscans showed a measure of outright hostility to the technology sector—protesting gentrification, changing neighborhoods and cultures. Miller suggests that cities may have to become more accommodating in response to the sting of a corporate loss.

Thorny Labor Issues

Beyond addressing housing costs, Miller thinks California labor policy represents the major inflection point for corporate relocation decisions. As the state attempted to advance Assembly Bill 5, to force gig-economy companies like Uber to classify workers as employees rather than independent contractors, organized labor faced off against high-tech in an uncomfortable conflict between institutions that otherwise are aligned with progressive values.

AB5’s author Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzales, a strong ally of organized labor, escalated a personal conflict with tech sector leaders including Musk, on Twitter. In so doing, the Oceanside Democrat pitted the state’s dominant political force against one of its best-known technology leaders. Only Musk knows if a dispute of that sort catalyzed his Texas move. As the tech sector faces increasing pressure to make changes in labor policy, it may become increasingly dissatisfied with California.

More Than Prestige at Stake

The loss of a headquarters can have cascading consequences. Losses are reflected when the federal Office of Management and Budget changes the government’s list of “metropolitan statistical areas,” or MSAs. The greater the number of large employers and employees, the higher a city may rank in MSAs. Cities that can tout their position in a growing MSA can have a marketing advantage in attracting conventions, new businesses, and relations into the community.

Those reclassified as “micropolitan” areas look weaker and less competitive. And several housing, transportation and Medicare reimbursement programs are tied to communities being metropolitan statistical areas, or MSAs, so a change designation can cause direct losses to future city budgets.

And is Texas really the Western Shangri-La that Thiel, Musk, and corporate CEOs apparently believe? Two recent visits to the Austin area revealed an imperfect paradise. People in the airport, retail stores, and other public areas reflect a friendliness, optimism, and level of community concern that seem hard to find in the hyper-competitive, locked-down, tech-focused Bay Area.

But during a weeklong series of winter storms starting near Valentine’s Day this year, much of the area lost power as ice took down power lines, froze wind turbines, and burst cooling pipes across Texas. Utility regulators, who control a grid not connected to the rest of the nation, saw wholesale rates skyrocket, saddling some consumers with massive bills just for maintaining basic services.

Lots of Land

The supply of flat, buildable land with water is huge, so opportunities for enlarging key Lone Star cities abound. Even so, demand in Austin far outpaces supply as highly paid California workers rush in and compete for purchases. One property recently offered at an upper-middle price point received what the listing agent could only guess to be “80 to 100 offers,” leading her to advise a hapless buyer, “Don’t bother submitting another.”

Lacking an extensive freeway or rail network, Austin is struggling to build out transportation options to keep pace with growth. Now the nation’s 11th largest city, in normal times Austin suffers difficult commute-hour traffic jams. It isn’t free of homelessness driven by drug culture; groups of tents and have appeared near many highway intersections and other chunks of open land.

Still, Texas has succeeded in forming at least two significant clusters of related companies, in petrochemicals (centered in Houston) and aerospace (Dallas-Fort Worth). These clusters trace roots to the Texas oil boom of the early twentieth century, and the need for massive numbers of aircraft to fight the Second World War. And they are similar to the Silicon Valley ecosystem—exchanging labor talent over time, spurring innovation followed by spinoffs, and attracting a concentration of capital that ensures new ventures can invest in emerging technologies. If Texas can sustain two non-tech engines of industry, why not a high-tech one?

Miller writes that Texas has clear cost advantages as California’s high tax rates and regulatory costs long ago became comparatively non-competitive. When California grabs 13.4% of corporate capital gains, and Texas takes nothing, incentives to invest in Silicon Valley are diminished.

A Tale of Two Cultures

Yet at the state level, Miller notes—in likely an understatement—”there is an imperfect fit between California tech culture and Texas statewide culture.” Others have characterized Austin progressive politics as “a blueberry floating in the tomato soup of Texas.” The cultural clash of Silicon Valley and conservative Texas came to the forefront when Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook personally lobbied the Texas legislature to kill a law confining the use of public restrooms by transgender persons to the facility associated with their birth gender, with Cook threatening to pull Apple labor relocation and capital investments. According to Miller, battles like this could cause central Texans to question “whether our values are more important than their dollars.”

So the failure of Texas to manage cultural changes could be the one way for the state to fumble the opportunity presented by corporate moves. And maybe the persistent refusal of California progressive politicians to cut taxes, reduce housing impediments, and address labor policy problems will continue to drive business movement out of state.

Or, perhaps both states have a unique moment for synergy, or even that most elusive of political goals—unity. Say California’s true-blue progressives bend a little on taxes and regulations, and red-dyed Texas conservatives give a little on social issues, with the result that workers across classes achieve housing affordability and businesses draw from a broad available labor pool. The state making the best choices wins.

Two Paths Forward

Refocusing on moderation in this manner, or seeking replacement industrial clusters if December’s departures are the harbinger of a broader Silicon Valley exodus, look to be California’s main choices. For Miller and others, the loss of HP and Oracle wasn’t surprising, looking only at cost of living and cost of labor. California always will have a superior climate, great cultural amenities, and the proximity of like minds culturally and professionally.

But the Golden State may have become, in the words of Elon Musk, an overconfident sports team. “If a team has been winning for too long, they do tend to get a little complacent, a little entitled, and then they don’t win the championship anymore,” Musk has said. “California has been winning for a long time… and they are taking it for granted.”

Leaders like Redwood City’s Mayor Howard appear dedicated to working to maintain a local edge, keeping businesses from feeling neglected or even unwanted. Without those steps, and others at the state level, more departures seem inevitable.

And the moves by HP and Oracle spurred a vocal backlash: Just a day after those announcements, CEOs at Airbnb, DoorDash, and Twilio all recommitted to staying in the Bay Area, including two who acted after concerned calls from Gavin Newsom. For now, Silicon Valley is left to wonder to what extent policy emanating from Sacramento threatens the economic prosperity of the state, and to what extent California’s industrial engines will continue to generate.

Christopher J. Palermo is a Silicon Valley native who works as a patent attorney in Palo Alto and has worked with high-tech clients for 30 years.

Renovation proposal would restore historic Sequoia Hotel

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Alyn T. Beals realized a dream about 10 years ago when he became one of the owners of a building he’d admired since he was a small boy. Riding in Redwood City’s Fourth of July Parade past the Sequoia Hotel, the child—and future commercial contractor—told the grown-ups in the car that someday he’d like to own the place.

Beals got that wish all right, along with one of the biggest challenges in his 53 years in construction. In late February, the partnership he and his wife Dani Gasparini manage presented the city with a proposal to redevelop the 109-year-old city landmark, currently a single-room-occupancy hotel. They’d keep the exterior, build a supporting structure inside it, and add a basement and four new floors above, plus a restaurant, wine room and rooftop terrace and bar.

All on a 100-by-100-foot square footprint.

“It’s complicated,” Beals says. “It’s almost like building in Manhattan or building in downtown San Francisco. It’s tight quarters.”

That’s just the engineering and construction elements of the project, which will also involve obtaining two critical variances, providing relocation assistance to the hotel’s 17 current residents—and riding the economic waves as corporate life and travel patterns shift in a post-Covid environment.

Whither Corporate Travel?

“Now you can’t fill rooms,” says Beals, who knows whereof he speaks, having built a hotel in Sunnyvale 35 years ago. “So the big challenge is, where’s corporate travel going to be in three years?

“And by the same token (with) the office market in flux, there’s so many questions right now,” he continues. “They’ll be answered as we go through the process.”

He grew up in Redwood City the son of San Francisco 49er Alyn Beals, who had moved the family to town in 1949 and then, along with his wife, got very involved in community life. The football celebrity, who got into real estate, joined the Kiwanis Club and served for decades on the Parks and Recreation Commission. Betty Beals was PTA president at Lincoln School, where “Little Al” attended.

One year, father and son got to ride in the Independence Day Parade in the back seat of an antique Cadillac driven by Bob Frank, a local attorney who owned the hotel. Beals remembers his long-ago real estate epiphany this way: “We went by the Sequoia Hotel, and Bob said, ‘Little Al. This is my hotel.’ And I looked at it and I said something like, ‘Well I’d like to own it someday.’”

CEO of the Beals Martin, Inc. commercial contracting company he co-founded in 1973, Beals for all those years kept inquiring about the Sequoia Hotel. When it became available after Frank’s death, representatives of the family trust offered it to him, according to Gasparini. The couple assembled a group of investor friends for the Sequoia Main LLC. (Mayor Diane Howard and her husband, Steve, at one time were part of the partnership but have sold their interest. Six partners remain, Beals and Gasparini the largest single owners and the managing partners.)

Beals was determined that the property should be restored and redeveloped as a luxury hotel. A first-class hotel, in fact, is how the Sequoia Hotel presented itself when the doors of the grand establishment opened to guests in 1913. Every two rooms had a bath with hot and cold running water, and there were public restrooms on every floor. At least three comfortable parlors offered space for meetings and social events.

The city designated the hotel a historic landmark in 1981, as the only survivor of a grand era “when several impressive hotels graced the area around Main and Broadway.” Impressive it is no more, but the architects have presented concepts designed to regain that long-lost cachet.

Raising the Roof

An additional four stories would rise above the three-story hotel, which currently has 53 rooms. That number would increase to 82 and the total square footage to 71,500. The concept allows for retail on the ground floor, a restaurant and a bar, as well as another bar on an outdoor rooftop terrace. Once again, the hotel would have meeting space.

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

Two variances to the city’s Downtown Precise Plan rules which apply to historic properties would be needed. One is to raise the height limit (the new hotel would be about 79 feet high) and the other to eliminate a 40-foot setback requirement from the building. Because the hotel is on the corner and the setback counts from both sides, “We would end up with a 10,000-square-foot postage stamp on the top floor,” Gasparini says.

The hotel has no parking now and none would be added. Gasparini says it’s anticipated that weekday business travelers wouldn’t come in their own cars. The partners have leased 25 weekend spaces in the underground garage of a project proposed for the Wells Fargo Bank site across the street.

A basement would have to be dug out to allow for an elevator and for the heating and air conditioning, electrical, sewer and other essential systems. Preserving the red brick exterior—much of which has been painted over—is a priority for Beals and Gasparini, who are experimenting with how to get the paint off but save the brick, a very costly undertaking.

A concrete wall would be poured inside the existing hotel for the basement and the first three floors, and the exterior would become a decorative façade, not supporting the new upper levels. The construction will have to be done by going through an alleyway on the back side of the hotel.

“It’s very difficult because we have to preserve the bricks that are unreinforced,” Beals says. “Unreinforced masonry means there’s no reinforcing seal and there’s just bricks on top of bricks. It’s amazing that it hasn’t fallen down already since 1912.”

Notice to Tenants

There are five retail tenants, including Ralph’s Vacuum & Sewing Center and Gambrel & Co. butchers. All have known since they first rented space of the owners’ intentions, and they’ll get six months’ notice before they have to move, according to Beals.

By law, the owners are required to offer relocation assistance to the residential tenants, some of whom have called the hotel home for 10 years or more. The partners have retained a relocation specialist to help tenants locate options and put plans together. At Gasparini’s request, City Councilmember Diana Reddy, who is a tenant advocate, came to a March 4 meeting and offered the residents her personal help.

Gasparini says the tenants pay $700 to $850 a month and haven’t had a rent increase since the partnership bought the building. A typical room has space for a double bed and chest of drawers, a small closet and an adjacent bathroom. Tenants will likely need to find subsidized housing, which is why it’s important to get on waiting lists now, Gasparini says. A couple of tenants said they would just like to accept a check and go.

“The goal is to understand what their objectives and their goals are and try to devise a plan to help them get there,” she says. “And at the end of the day, we have a financial responsibility to help them get there.”

Depending on what’s required, Gasparini says the owners figure the approvals process could take 18 to 24 months

She too grew up in Redwood City, became the executive director of the YMCA right out of college and is a former mayor. The couple wants to be able to incorporate elements of the city’s history into the hotel, using local chefs and products. The rooftop bar might be named “The Eureka,” after the Eureka Brewery which preceded the Sequoia Hotel on the site.

“Did we buy the property so it might be a Holiday Inn? No,” she says. “We bought the hotel because we wanted to bring something of great value to Redwood City—and we also wanted to honor the design.”

“I want to be proud of it,” Beals adds. “I’ve got a lot personally riding on it. I just feel confident that it’s just what downtown needs—and do it right.”

BART to Return Land to Millbrae in New Agreement

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All SamTrans buses now equipped with free Wi-Fi

The City of Millbrae announced an agreement with the Bay Area Rapid Transit District to return several downtown parcels of land.

The agreement signed on April 5, returns land to Millbrae that BART had been holding as part of its extension into San Francisco International Airport. The agreement will turn currently underutilized land into a vibrant new development helping provide a catalyst for buildout of the City’s prime downtown land.

“This is terrific news and an important milestone for both the City and BART. New housing and a premier development on the transit corridor is one step closer to becoming a reality,” said Mayor Ann Schneider.

The agreement gives the City significant new opportunities to develop mixed-use housing and commercial units and to further leverage its demands that California High Speed Rail tracks be ungrounded.

The returned land located in four parcels located on the west side of the existing Millbrae transit station allows Millbrae to re-align California Drive to serve the already approved Serra Station project which includes 488 units of housing with 15% affordable units and 320,000 sq. ft. of office and commercial space.

The land agreement also gives Millbrae new leverage in its challenges to California High Speed Rail and its EIR and other approval processes, city leaders said. Millbrae is pushing High Speed Rail to underground its tracks because its current plans would pave prime real estate in downtown Millbrae and turn it into a parking lot.

The City of Millbrae has filed a strenuous objection to the environmental impact report filed by the California High Speed Rail Authority, noting that the document violates the requirements of California’s CEQA law.

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