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Bicycle signage, pavement markings coming soon to ‘interim Peninsula Bikeway’

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Bicycle signage and pavement markings coming soon to 'interim Peninsula Bikeway'

Soon, branded bicycle wayfinding signage and pavement markings will be installed along a pathway in Redwood City from San Carlos to Atherton as part of a broader plan to create a safe multi-city bikeway on the Peninsula, the city announced today.

Construction will take about a month and have minimal impacts, the city said.

“The signs will help people stay on the route, point out key destinations off the route (like Downtown and Red Morton Park), and let you know how far away various destinations are,” city officials said.

The current Peninsula Bikeway route through Redwood City is temporary. Right now, the city is teaming with Atherton, Menlo Park, Palo Alto and Mountain View to build a longterm Peninsula Bikeway that is “direct, safe and comfortable,” officials said.

On Sept. 8, a Peninsula Bikeway Launch Event will be held at Burgess Park, 701 Laurel St. in Menlo Park, where community members will join elected representatives and staff from the five cities to learn more about the bikeway, and to help shape its future. The event will begin with bike rides on the interim corridor meeting at Burgess Park, and will include fun events for the family.

For progress reports on the upcoming construction, go here.

For more information on the launch event and updates on the Peninsula Bikeway planning efforts, go here.

Developer Jay Paul gives additional $1M to Magical Bridge Playground in Redwood City

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Developer Jay Paul gives additional $1M to Magical Bridge Playground in Redwood City

The Magical Bridge Playground’s opening at Red Morton Park has been delayed by a few months — pushed to summer 2019 — following a “small setback” in identifying a contractor for the project, according to city officials.

Despite the minor setback, the project also received some very good news: Jay Paul, owner of Jay Paul Company, increased his financial commitment to the Magical Bridge Foundation by $1 million, in addition to the company’s existing sponsorship of the Swing ‘n’ Sway zone.

Phase I of the project was recently completed,  which included undergrounding overhead utilities, moving the PG&E transformer and adding new parking spaces next to the site (at the National Guard Armory). The city is now moving forward with Phase II: construction of the innovative, all-inclusive playground.

However, on July 23, the city rejected the lone bid by local contractor Level 10 Construction to build the playground. Despite Level 10 offering to waive all construction management fees and profit to build the specialized playground, the bid exceeded the original engineer’s estimates from early this year.

The “hot construction market with its rising material and labor costs brought many of the sub-contractor’s bids in higher than anticipated and forced the decision to re-bid the playground,” according to a statement by the Magical Bridge Foundation, which is developing the playground in partnership with the city.

“In order for the City to re-issue the bid in hopes of securing better pricing and more bidders – something everyone is confident will occur – it was necessary to reject the current bid,” the statement added.

A contractor is expected to be announced in September, and the foundation and city are securing material discounts and other contributions from potential bidders to reduce construction costs, according to an update from City staff.

For more about the Magical Bridge Playground in Redwood City, go here.

August edition of Climate Magazine hits news racks

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The August edition of Climate Magazine at locations throughout the community.

The latest magazine, which hit news racks Wednesday, features an in-depth cover story about that challenges brought by significant economic growth in our region, a report on Cañada College celebrating its 50th anniversary, and the latest take on Redwood City’s budget woes by political columnist Mark Simon, among many other great reports about our community.

Don’t forget to grab a copy!

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Giselle Hale has big lead in campaign fundraising

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In the hotly contested race for the Redwood City Council, where candidates are predicting a campaign that could cost as much as $90,000, Planning Commissioner and first-time candidate Giselle Hale has raised more than $48,000, nearly double that of her nearest competitor.

Labor and housing advocate Diana Reddy raised more than $28,000, including a $5,000 loan she made to the campaign. In addition, she spent $1,870 on items to get her campaign up and running.

In terms of direct, non-candidate contributions, Hale out-raised Reddy $48,946 to $14,681, more than three times as much.

Hale, a director at Facebook, relied heavily on contacts within the technology industry and colleagues and top executives at Facebook for the majority of the contributions she received, according to campaign finance disclosure statements for January 1 through June 30.

Hale raised more than $19,000 from individuals with ties to the technology industry, more than 40 percent of her donors.

It would mark the first time individuals from the technology sector have played such a substantial role in a city election. Hale is the first high-profile city council candidate directly tied to an industry that rivals property development as the dominant economic influence in Redwood City.

Hale spent more than $8,800 in the first half of the year and had $44,281 in cash on hand as the campaign began in earnest. Reddy had $18,620 in cash on hand.

Community activist Christina Umhofer and former Planning Commissioner Rick Hunter and raised nearly identical amounts. Umhofer raised $10,773 and Hunter raised $10,652. Umhofer had $9,279 in cash on hand as of June 30; Hunter had $9,891.

Of the five candidates who raised money during the period, incumbent Diane Howard raised the least — $4,165. That’s 10 percent of what Hale raised, but as the incumbent, Howard starts with considerable advantages in name recognition. She finished the reporting period with $8,217 in cash on hand.

Neither community activist Jason Galisatus nor Planning Commissioner Ernie Schmidt reported raising any money, both of them having announced their candidacy after June 30.

PARDINI ANTES UP: One individual was the single largest donor combined in this fundraising cycle — Julie Pardini, founder and moderator of the busy Facebook page “Redwood City Residents Say: What?”

Pardini gave a total of $6,970 to three candidates – Reddy ($3,970), Umhofer ($2000) and Hunter ($1,000).

Pardini has done this before. In 2015, she gave more than $12,000 to unsuccessful council candidate Tania Sole. She donated that much because “we were expecting more contributions and I kept picking up the slack,” Pardini.

She said she is supporting Reddy, Umhofer and Hunter this campaign because they are “good candidates” with a grassroots approach to running for office.

She said she has worked with Reddy for four years on a host of issues and “I’ve stood by her and seen her work.” Umhofer “has done some wonderful things for housing.” She doesn’t know Hunter as well “but I trust his judgment” as demonstrated during his tenure on the Planning Commission.

Asked if she thought the city is going in the wrong direction, Pardini said, “I don’t know what the right direction is. I know we have a lot of problems. … Some of the problems are regional, but I’m thinking some of them are the result of decisions that were made innocently but have led to an imbalance in the city.” In particular, she is concerned that rising rents are driving residents away or into economic distress.

JUST AMONG FRIENDS: None of the candidates says he or she is running on a slate, but some of them seem to like each other.

Hunter received $100 from Umhofer and $250 from Schmidt. Reddy received $100 from Umhofer. And Umhofer received $100 from Reddy.

THERE IS OTHER STUFF GOING ON: With San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine’s recent decision not to run for termed-out Jerry Hill’s state Senate seat, the scramble already is on for that 2020 election. Redwood City Councilwoman Shelly Masur is already running, as is ex-Assemblymember Sally Lieber. Rumored to be looking at it are Josh Becker, venture capitalist and CEO of a firm that provides data analytics for the legal profession, and an unsuccessful Assembly candidate in 2016; and Palo Alto Mayor Greg Scharff.

SHOWING UP: The same group of high school students who put together the massively successful anti-gun March for Our Lives on March 24 are planning another event Saturday, also at Redwood City’s Courthouse Square, to register new voters and inform students about how to vote, particularly when away at college. The event is from 6 to 9 p.m.

FAREWELL: It was my distinct pleasure to get to know Jack Bunzel in the latter years. Former president of San Jose State University when I was a student there and subsequently one of the token liberals at the Hoover Institution at Stanford, Jack was many things – social scholar, political scientist, civil rights advocate, baseball lover — but he reveled in being the quintessential raconteur. He performed regularly at local venues in a well-honed comedy act that harkened to the great stand-up social commentators of the 1960s. He died a few weeks ago and I will miss our luncheons and his gentle swipes at the political condition.

Contact Mark Simon at mark.simon24@yahoo.com.

*The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Climate Online.

GROWING PAINS: City leaders face competing pressures amid jobs boom

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GROWING PAINS: City leaders face competing pressures amid jobs boom

By Cassandra Sweet

Throughout the Peninsula and into the South Bay, an anti-growth backlash appears to be gaining momentum. It has emerged in a variety of venues and jurisdictions, in many cases in the form of ballot box urban planning. The efforts have put local leaders in a position of trying to placate residents who are actively resisting change, while working to speed development of much-needed housing and responding to the constant demand for more office space.

Growth and all the issues that spin off from it will loom large in the coming Redwood City Council election. But the city is far from alone in dealing with the contending forces that are bringing so many good things – and so much controversy – to community after community.

In November, voters in Mountain View will decide whether Google and other large employers will have to pay a “head tax” on their employee head count, while San Mateo residents may be asked to approve or reject a proposal to restrict the size of all new buildings for years to come. These initiatives follow an ordinance the Palo Alto City Council adopted last April to limit new office development. That action, in turn, spurred a residents’ group to propose a further reduction, which may also appear on the November ballot.

The growth that some view as cause for concern and others see as cause for celebration isn’t slacking off. Far from it; hence, the backlash. Amid the noise is a growing concern that people may be taking the economic good fortune for granted and could hurt low- and middle-income families and kill the proverbial golden goose.

Indeed, the San Francisco Bay Area’s white-hot economy is growing faster than the U.S. economy as a whole, and it shows no signs of slowing down. The economic boost is creating a new world of jobs and opportunity, but it also is putting pressure on people who live on the Peninsula – or want to. Policy makers are grasping for ways to fix a housing crisis that has been decades in the making and seems to get worse by the day. Fierce NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) opposition to development adds a layer of difficulty to the problem.

If the San Francisco Bay Area were a country, it would be the 19th largest economy in the world, with a gross domestic product of $748 billion, just after the Netherlands, and ahead of Switzerland, Saudi Arabia and Argentina, according to a recent report by the Bay Area Council.

Since 2011, the Bay Area’s nine counties have added 630,000 jobs. During the same period, however, local governments issued building permits for just 146,000 new homes. That’s 4.3 jobs per housing unit, far short of the 1.5 ratio that experts say is necessary to ensure everyone has a place to live.

Bay Area housing prices have skyrocketed out of reach for most people over the last few years. The median home price in San Mateo County is $1.6 million, up 8 percent from a year ago, according to the California Association of Realtors. Just 15 percent of the county’s residents can even afford that amount, because it requires annual income of at least $326,000 and monthly payments of more than $8,000, according to the group.

The average rent in the county for a three-bedroom apartment is more than $4,250, according to rentcafe.com statistics.

Rapid economic growth also has affected commercial office space, for which demand vastly outpaces supply, with only a 7 percent vacancy rate. Commercial rents in Menlo Park and Redwood City were nearly $6 per square foot earlier this year, 26 percent higher than nearby cities, due to high demand and a lack of available supply, according to a recent report by Avison and Young.

The shortage of available office space has put tremendous pressure on rents and has had impacts on small businesses that have seen dramatic rent increases, just as in the housing market.

In San Mateo County, 72,800 new jobs were created from 2010 to 2015, but only 3,844 new housing units were built, exacerbating the housing shortfall and creating a 19-to-1 ratio of new jobs to new housing, according to the group Home For All.

These pressures formed the backdrop July 16 for a highly charged San Mateo City Council meeting, where council members deliberated in front of a packed room over how to handle a residents’ proposal that would extend a 27-year-old height limit for new buildings for another 10 years.

Supporters of the measure collected enough signatures to qualify the proposal for the November ballot, but the measure had several legal and technical problems that prompted the City Council to defer action until the issues are resolved. The council plans to take up the proposal August 6, its last meeting before the deadline for deciding whether to approve it for this year’s election.

A few anti-development activists in attendance spoke about the need to keep San Mateo from changing. They were largely older, whiter and more housing secure than the dozens of young people who also attended the meeting and asked the council to kill the measure.

Susan Shankel, who supports the height-limit proposal, said she and her husband have lived in San Mateo for 26 years and don’t want it to resemble Manhattan. She and other development opponents repeatedly compared proposed developments to high-rise buildings in New York City and warned against the “Manhattanization” of San Mateo.

“Continued growth is unsustainable and building taller buildings is not the answer,” Shankel said.

The younger folks, many of them renters and “YIMBY” activists, (Yes In My Backyard), spoke passionately about how the lack of housing has ravaged their generation. They spoke of family and friends who have had to leave the area because of housing insecurity and how buying a house – at a median price of roughly $1.5 million – is out of reach. Rather than stop growth, the young speakers asked the council to address traffic by encouraging development of housing, offices and retail in areas that are well suited for growth, such as near transit hubs.

“My brother, my sister, my fiancé’s sister, the best man at my wedding, and three of my friends moved out because we’re not building enough housing here,” Kevin Burke, a young San Mateo resident, told the council. “If we don’t build more housing, more of my friends and more young people are going to be displaced from our city.”

Jordan Grimes, a lifelong San Mateo resident and member of Bay Area Forward, said that even though he works “in our booming technology sector, I can barely afford to live in the city that I grew up in.”

He urged the council to host a “thoughtful, intelligent discussion regarding our future, which all San Mateans deserve to be a part of,” and not let a small group of residents set policy. “Groups that routinely hold our council hostage to the whims of a few do not deserve your attention.”

Kelsey Baines, a young psychologist at the Palo Alto Veterans Administration Hospital, asked the council to allow higher-density housing, to combat homelessness. “The cause of homelessness is poverty and a lack of housing,” she said. “The solution to homelessness is housing.”

A San Mateo homeowner and mother of three spoke about the need to stem the outflow of teachers from city schools.

“Our district is bleeding teachers because they do not make enough to be able to afford the cost of living in San Mateo,” Jennifer Mayman said. “Building more housing is key in bringing down the cost of housing, and building high, dense housing close to transit is the smartest way to do it. When we impose restrictions on housing by measures such as height limits, we’re effectively saying that we want to exclude people from our community.”

Opponents were unpersuaded.

“I hope that no one believes that housing in Manhattan and Tokyo and other cities that have extremely high-density high-rise housing is somehow cheap,” Cupertino Council member Steve Scharf told the San Mateo council. “If you want to build affordable housing, you don’t build market-rate housing that costs $8,000 a month. You actually go out and build subsidized housing for the most vulnerable: for the teachers, for the service workers.”

In Cupertino, where the average home price is $2.4 million, according to Zillow, Scharf is fighting a proposed development that would add 2,400 housing units and 2 million square feet of office space, at the site of a vacant mall.

Mountain View is facing similar issues. But a pending proposal to make big companies pay a new head tax on every employee is a dumb idea, Palo Alto Daily Post Editor Dave Price contends.

Only $600,000 of the $6 million that the city would collect each year from the tax would go toward housing, which isn’t enough to make a dent in the crisis, he argues. Worse, the head tax would hurt low-wage workers, as it would create a disincentive for companies to employ them and an incentive to cut back on low-wage jobs and outsource them to an outside contractor or to automation.

“Head taxes aren’t anything new,” Price wrote in a recent editorial. “Chicago had one but decided in 2011 to eliminate it because it was, in the words of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, destroying jobs.”

Seattle recently adopted, then repealed, a head tax. The City Council last May adopted on annual tax of $275 per employee on large employers. The money would have gone to help the city house the homeless. A month later, however, the council reversed course and repealed the tax, under pressure from Amazon, Starbucks and other large employers.

The pressure is on in Redwood City as well, where job growth – from large employers such as Oracle, Electronic Arts and startups such as Box and Evernote — has outpaced new-home construction. And it’s not just tech companies that are adding jobs. Stanford University is building new office structures to accommodate 2,700 employees.

Building new housing and other space near transit centers will be key to solving the housing problem without generating more traffic, according to Giselle Hale, a Planning Commissioner who is running in the November race for the Redwood City City Council.

“We need housing at all levels in order to retain the diversity in the city that we all value,” Hale said. “To get there, we have big questions to answer: What do we need from our infrastructure to make growth sustainable? Where should the growth go and how can we mitigate the impacts of traffic and parking? Whatever the solution, we must reduce traffic, it affects us all, daily.”

One example of this is the Greystar housing complex approved for construction along El Camino Real in Redwood City’s Downtown Precise Area, a swath of the city near the Caltrain station and far from single-family homes. The four Greystar buildings together would create more than 960 new housing units, thousands of feet of retail space and parking for several hundred cars and bicycles.

The new units will be nice, but pricey: studio apartments at Greystar’s 299 Franklin Street building start at nearly $3,000 a month. A two-bedroom can fetch nearly $7,000 a month.

The need for affordable housing is urgent, especially for low- and moderate-income families, said Diana Reddy, a social justice advocate who also is running for a seat on Redwood City council.

“The economic inequality causes me the most concern, not the growth,” she said. “When a city is not able to provide housing for its residents we need to consider out-of-the-box sorts of things to provide housing for people.

“Thousands of people have been displaced from Redwood City. The lower the income, the farther east and south they go. A lot of people who have had to leave are now living in Tracy, Livermore and Vallejo. People with lower incomes still have good jobs here, but their commutes are longer.”

Reddy noted the plight of low- and moderate-income parents who have been pushed out by high rents. Many of them work at big tech companies. Some who attend Cañada College sleep in their cars at school on weeknights so they can study rather than drive long distances every day to and from school.

San Mateo County experienced a net loss of more than 7,600 people from mid-2016 to mid-2017, accounting for more than half the county’s total net loss of residents since 2010, according to the U.S. Census. This happened even as births far outnumbered deaths and as more than 5,600 people from outside the U.S. settled in the county over the past year.

Adding affordable housing has been tough going, as neighbors fight to either block construction entirely or to reduce the size of new apartment buildings.

Habitat for Humanity’s proposal for a six-story apartment building at 612 Jefferson Ave. is a recent example. The project is planned with parking for 20 low-income families on a downtown lot zoned for dense housing and buildings up to 12 stories tall. Attorney Geoffrey Carr’s office is in a small building next door to the planned apartments, and he had filed an appeal to block the project. The City Council rejected his appeal and found that the project is consistent with the city’s Downtown Precise Plan and with state environmental rules. Carr sued to block the project, arguing that it violated the California Environmental Quality Act. The parties came to a settlement last month that will allow the project to go forward, but, prior to that, Habitat for Humanity had said the construction delays had increased the cost by nearly one third, to $17 million.

Promoting housing near transit is seen as one way to combat traffic congestion while helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. California is making headway in meeting its aggressive goals for reduction, according to a July report by the state Air Resources Board. But emissions from cars, trucks and other vehicles jumped by nearly 2 percent in 2016, after rising every year since 2013. At nearly 40 percent, rising emissions from transportation – the state’s biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions – could prevent the state from meeting its 2050 reductions goal.

The August issue of Climate Magazine is available to pick up right now at locations throughout the community.

A major cause of this is vehicle miles travelled, or VMT, a new metric used to evaluate the impacts of building projects. Enabling more people to live near transit hubs is one way to reduce VMTs and fight the rise in gasoline use. Many millennials don’t own – and don’t want to own – a car. Living near transit is important for the next generation, and it dovetails with local leaders’ choice to in-fill sparsely used land in downtown areas and near bus stops and Caltrain stations to simultaneously address the housing, traffic and greenhouse gas problems.

Older residents who bought their homes or small office buildings years ago benefit from the current scarcity of supply because it drives up the value of existing homes and commercial real estate. That, of course, leaves young people and newer transplants with fewer options for an affordable place to live.

The real estate market loves the Bay Area and its rising prices. With such a huge gap between supply and demand, prices are widely expected to continue to rise.

The greatest price pressure is on the lower end of the market. Since early 2016, the values of low-price tier houses have jumped 21 percent, compared to just 16 percent for mid-price tier houses and 12 percent for high-price tier homes, according to a May report by Paragon Real Estate Group.

Grouped together as “Silicon Valley,” Peninsula cities ranked second, behind San Francisco, in a global ranking by real estate market analysts Jones Lang LaSalle of cities considered the most likely to succeed in the short and long terms. The two Bay Area regions have the world’s largest number of startups and have also created the most tech unicorns — startups valued at more than $1 billion. They also have other qualities, such as innovation capability, talent, world-class higher education, and public infrastructure that will enable them to manage and benefit from the current rapid technological shift in the global economy.

Younger people and newer transplants are finding it tough going, and the high cost of housing is driving people away. In the last few years, migration patterns have turned negative and in 2017, the Bay Area lost more than 35,000 people, who left for other parts of California and the U.S, according to the California Department of Finance Demographic Research Unit. Some of those people are driving right back to Bay Area counties to work, in what are now called “mega-commutes,” journeys that take 90 minutes or more each way. Others are simply living in their cars.

“We don’t want to kill the goose that laid the golden egg,” said Rosanne Foust, president and CEO of the San Mateo County Economic Development Association, who also is a former Redwood City mayor and City Council member. “We want to keep the economy humming. That requires more housing and it requires everyone to be willing to give a little. It’s not going to get solved with one project, one development, in one community. It’ll require all folks to recognize that we need more supply at every income level.”

The upcoming November election could be pivotal for Redwood City and neighboring cities, as policy makers grapple with how to advance responsible growth against objections from residents who aren’t comfortable with the changes that have already been increasing densities on the Peninsula. City leaders will also be faced with the daunting task of trying to address a clear need for accelerated housing production at a time of a decidedly challenged city budget.

It’s common to hear long-time residents remark about how much San Mateo County cities are already changing, particularly as higher density projects have altered familiar landscapes. Though opponents may resist higher densities along transit corridors, the new buildings are helping to close the housing gap.

While there are good-sized redevelopment sites along the Peninsula, housing proposals near transit hubs often end up being whittled down to fewer units than the market demands. Redwood City, South San Francisco and Millbrae have upzoned areas around transit hubs, allowing taller buildings to be built in these areas. But proposals like the one in San Mateo would do the opposite: They would restrict the size of new buildings, constraining cities from gaining ground on the housing shortage.

Station 1300 is a mixed-use complex developed by Greenheart Land Company that is under construction in Menlo Park. The complex will include restaurants, shops, offices and 183 rental apartments on 6.5 acres, all near public transit.

The developer originally wanted to build a taller structure, with a lot more apartments. But local opposition stripped the building down to just four stories.

Opponents also organized a ballot initiative, Measure M, that sought to downzone the Downtown Plan to block construction of Station 1300 and other new developments, including Stanford University’s Middle Plaza mixed-use project on El Camino Real. Voters rejected Measure M. The ultimate cost of the fight shows up in higher prices that consumers ultimately pay.

Further north, in Brisbane, a developer wants to build 4,400 new homes and 7 million feet of new commercial space on a former railyard and landfill along the Caltrain tracks in a development called Brisbane Baylands.

Brisbane residents, who have expressed mixed feelings about the plan, are set to vote in November on a ballot initiative that would amend the city’s general plan and allow for up to 2,200 homes to be built at the site.

If voters reject the proposal, the developer, Universal Paragon Corporation, may have other options, including invoking a recent state law that allows developers to maneuver around restrictive local policies if half of their housing development is affordable.

Senate Bill 35, passed last year, streamlines the permitting process for proposed housing developments in most California cities that include at least 10 percent affordable housing.

The bill’s author, State Sen. Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco), is now pushing a second piece of legislation that would overhaul the state’s process for setting housing goals in each city.

“To reduce housing costs and end the displacement happening throughout our state, we need systemic changes in how we plan for and build housing in California,” Sen. Wiener said recently. “Too often, some cities manipulate our current laws to reduce their housing obligations to avoid building badly needed new housing, including affordable housing. Creating a more equitable process for setting housing goals ensures that all cities plan for and build the housing we need.”

Back in Redwood City, meanwhile, the decision by veteran Councilman Jeff Gee not to seek re-election means there will now be at least two new faces on the council. (John Seybert also chose not to seek re-election, and Vice Mayor Diane Howard is the sole incumbent who is running.) Both Gee and Seybert had faced criticism from people unhappy with the pace and nature of change in Redwood City, and Gee was targeted over his pro-growth votes.

Incumbents may be bowing out but growth — and all the benefits that come with it — are here to stay. Along with the challenges.

Can you take the heat? Chefs sought for Redwood City salsa competition

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The deadline is Aug. 31, or when spaces fill up, for amateur and professional salsa chefs who want to compete in the Salsa Tasting & Competition in Redwood City.

The competition will take place at the 11th annual Redwood City Salsa Festival set for Sept. 29 from noon to 8 p.m., a family friendly event that features live music, activities and salsa throughout the city’s downtown.

Teams make a minimum of 10 gallons of salsa for the competition.

“The festival goers will be able to purchase a tasting kit in order to cast their vote for the “people’s choice award” organizers said. “A qualified panel of judges will judge entries equally based on the following criteria: aroma, consistency, color, appropriate heat level, taste, and after-taste. This panel will also judge each team booth for Best Decorated.”

First place winner for the People’s Choice Award get $750, while second place is $500 and third $300. You’ll get $400 for winning the any of these three awards: Best Hot Salsa, Best Mild Salsa and Best Decorated Booth.

For more information, contact Albert Romero at albertromero@redwoodcity.org.

To enter the competition, these three forms must be submitted: Contest ApplicationHealth Department Form, and Food & Safety Quiz.

SamTrans announces new route from Redwood City to SF

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SamTrans says new route will increase service to SF

This Sunday, SamTrans will combine the 398 and KX routes into a new route known as simply 398.

The current route 398 runs between Redwood City Transit Cener and San Bruno Caltrain, while the current KX from Redwood City to San Francisco runs just four buses per weekdays.

Those two routes will be replaced by Route 398, which will travel from the Redwood City Transit Center to downtown San Francisco along El Camino Real and Highway 101, with small detours serving San Francisco International Airport and the San Bruno BART station, according to SamTrans.

The route will run hourly from 5:07 a.m. to just after midnight on weekdays, and 5:50 a.m. to 11:10 p.m. on weekends.

SamTrans said the change will increase service to San Francisco with 18 northbound and 19 southbound trips on weekdays, “allowing far more flexibility and frequency for riders.”

The agency was forced to reduce service to San Francisco during the recession, but has since heard from riders they want the service back, said Charles Stone, chairperson of the SamTrans Board of Directors.

The new route, which will ship riders between SFO and downtown in about 40 minutes, “is designed to serve the existing needs of riders on both previous routes while greatly expanding frequency of service in order to entice new riders,” the transit agency said.

SamTrans will also make 14 other minor service changes throughout the system. Riders should visit here for details.

Redwood City Fire Department hosting backpack drive

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Redwood City Fire Department's hosting backpack drive

Community members are encouraged to donate to the Redwood City Fire Department backpack drive that helps local youth in need be prepared for school.

“Bags and supplies will be distributed to children and teens struggling due to fire, illness, financial stress or other difficulties,” city officials said.

New backpacks (none that are solid red or solid blue) and school supplies can be dropped off in barrels at any Redwood City or San Carlos fire station. See a list of Redwood City fire stations here.

The drive is part of the Create-A-Smile program, which was launched by the Redwood City Firefighters Association in the early 1990s. It followed a horrific crime in 1993 in which a 4-year-old girl was kidnapped, raped, beaten, and thrown from a car in the parking lot of a storage facility on Hansen Street in Redwood City. The incident weighed heavily on firefighters, who felt the normal course of providing assistance to victims wasn’t enough.

“We decided to bring the victim a huge basket of toys to somehow start the healing process for the family,” Fire Capt. Meisenbach recalled.

That inspired the Create-A-Smile program supporting low-income victims of tragedy, violence and misfortune. Funds raised by the program have gone to surgeries for children with cleft palette, to providing bone marrow for children and adults, toward after-school activities, sports equipment for Sequoia High, funding horseback riding for disabled children and assisting families who have lost a spouse in public service.

Tax deductible donations can be made to:  Create-A-Smile Foundation c/o Redwood City Fire Department, 755 Marshall Street, Redwood City, CA 94063.

Grand jury on pension crisis: Time for hard choices

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Redwood City Council meeting roundup for April 8, 2019

The San Mateo County grand jury report screamed out in its title: “Soaring City Pension Costs – Time for Hard Choices.”

And yesterday, the Wall Street Journal’s headline broadened the grim picture: “The Pension Hole for U.S. Cities and States is the Size of Japan’s Economy.” The figure? $5 trillion.

It’s the reason why even economically booming Peninsula cities are finding it difficult to pay their bills. In Redwood City, where the downtown is bringing in $7 million more in tax dollars to city coffers than five years ago, all city departments were forced to shave $3.7 million from their budgets in fiscal year 2018-2019 to keep the city in the black. That’s in large part due to rising annual pension payments projected to increase by $10 million in five years in the city, and by more after that.

With the aim of maintaining services, Redwood City is pursuing a half-cent sales tax measure and a cannabis tax measure for the November ballot. The city also recently increased developer fees and negotiated pension changes for current and future employees.

Despite such moves, a lot more revenue will be needed in the coming years to pay the rising pension costs. The grand jury report decries a lack of longterm planning by many cities in the county in regards to public pensions.

“Public pension costs are already eating into city budgets and represent a serious threat to public services in San Mateo County’s cities,” according to the grand jury report.

In fiscal year 2016-17, the county’s 20 cities spent a combined $102 million on their pension plans, an average of about 13.6-percent of their general fund expenditures, the report said.

“As heavy a financial burden as this is, the cities’ pension costs are projected to double by FYI 2024-2025 if new actuarial assumptions made by CalPERS – the administrator of the cities’ pension plans – prove to be correct,” according to the report.

Some experts argue CalPERS’ assumptions “are unduly optimistic” and that costs could be even greater.

So where do these heavy pension costs come from, anyway?

Essentially, employees working for cities are provided a pension plan as part of their compensation package. The plans are administered by CalPERS, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System.

According to the League of California Cities, the “most prominent source” of skyrocketing pension costs stems from legislation in 1999 (SB 400) and 2001 (AB 616) that led to enhanced pension benefit formulas for state and local employees.

Those pension plans are paid for by employers that contract with CalPERS, workers receiving benefits under CalPERS, and earnings from CalPERS investments. CalPERs’ return on investments, which is expected to pay for the majority of retiree pensions, suffered great losses – nearly $100 billion — during the Great Recession.

The state has not fully recovered from the losses, and in addition CalPERS’ outside advisors “expect returns over the next decade will also be below anticipated returns,” according to the League of California Cities’ report.

When there’s lower-than-expected investment returns, cities and their employees have to make up the difference with larger payments into the pension fund.

In February, CalPERS’ board voted to shorten the amortization period for certain sources of unfunded liability from 30 years to 20 years, likely to cause even higher contributions by cities.

In its report, the San Mateo County grand jury identified several ways cities can pay steeply rising pension costs, with one being cuts to public services, reductions to employee salaries and benefits and layoffs. Another way is to negotiate with bargaining units to increase the employee share of pension costs, and a third strategy is to increase revenues through taxes.

A fourth way is having cities use “existing resources, if any, to pay down unfunded liabilities early,” saving on costs in the longterm, according to the grand jury report.

The grand jury recommended that cities develop longterm financial plans to deal with the rising pension costs. It also recommended that cities schedule public hearings about the issue and publish information about pension obligations on their websites for all to see.

Political Climate with Mark Simon: San Mateo and Santa Clara dispute over Stanford expansion plans heats up

in Featured/Headline/PoliticalClimate by
Political Climate with Mark Simon: San Mateo and Santa Clara dispute over Stanford expansion plans heats up

The fight is escalating between San Mateo and Santa Clara counties over Stanford University’s plans for expansion and now includes the threat of possible legal action.

San Mateo County wants more of a say in the university’s expansion plans, which would have regional impacts with the proposed addition of 2.275 million square feet of academic and academic-related development and 3,150 new housing units.

A letter from San Mateo County issued this week alleges Santa Clara County has ignored a prior series of comments from San Mateo County on the Stanford project draft environmental impact report. The revised draft “exacerbates the concerns expressed by San Mateo County” in a manner that appears to be disrespectful, according to the letter.

It is clear San Mateo County officials feel they are being shunted aside, and that has added an emotionally charged element to the letter.

Santa Clara County’s “failure to address San Mateo County’s prior comments … reflects poorly on Santa Clara County’s respect for the very serious and legitimate concerns of its neighboring jurisdictions.

“It has put San Mateo County in the unfortunate position of having to vigorously challenge the adequacy of these environmental documents,” the letter states.

It concludes that San Mateo County “will evaluate all available options,” an implicit threat that San Mateo County could sue its southern neighbor to challenge the adequacy of the environmental impact report and the assumptions contained within it.

The sharply worded letter is signed on behalf of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors by President Dave Pine to David Rader.

The proposal has been the subject of heated debate, focused largely on a proposal, led by Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, to impose a substantial housing impact fee on Stanford.

In advocating for the fee, Simitian has said it is necessary to mitigate the impact of Stanford’s proposal on the regional housing market, already struggling with a significant shortage.

The Pine letter specifically objects to the draft report’s focus on off-campus housing proposed throughout the region to accommodate the growth in the Stanford plan, which, the letter states, could have major impacts on adjacent communities in San Mateo County.

“The assumption that these impacts can be reduced in any meaningful way by constructing housing anywhere within the Bay Area, or within a six-mile radius, under an ill-defined methodology that provides little to no involvement by San Mateo County, is both incorrect and contrary to the need for the project to mitigate its impacts on San Mateo County,” the letter states.

The letter also asserts that the draft environmental report inadequately addresses traffic impacts on the San Mateo County communities adjacent to the Stanford campus and that it is replete with insufficient study and misguided assumptions.

The technical objections notwithstanding, it is clear that San Mateo County is angry on an almost-personal level that it is being treated as a nonentity in a regional matter.

“We urge Santa Clara County to give the above comments the consideration they deserve, and to cease conducting its analyses in isolation,” the letter states.

“Coordinating this review with neighboring jurisdictions is not only needed to comply with (California environmental law), but is consistent with courtesy and comity principles that we would expect Santa Clara County to honor.”

Calls are pending with the various parties to this dispute and as we hear from them, we will report on that.

Contact Mark Simon at mark.simon24@yahoo.com.

*The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Climate Online.

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