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Redwood City considering tax measures for the November ballot

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Redwood City voters might see new tax measures on the November ballot.

Public outreach is set to be conducted by the city on proposals for a quarter-cent sales tax increase and a transit occupancy tax increase. The revenue proposals are aimed at stemming projected future budget deficits, according to City Manager Melissa Diaz.

A five-year budget forecast shows the city headed to a nearly $1 million deficit in fiscal year 2019-20 that could grow to nearly $3.7 million in 2021-22 and to $5.7 million in 2022-23. The projected shortfalls are due to rising expenses and declining revenue sources including the statewide problem of growing public pension costs, as well as decreasing sales tax revenue, city officials said.

The city must also prepare for the possibility that the local economy might contract in the coming years, the city said.

In response, the city has identified $6 million in annual cost reductions that will be phased in over the next two fiscal years. The city also aims to identify $6 million in annual revenue increases. Last year, City Council approved $2 million in annual development fee increases. Currently, the city is looking to voters to address the remaining $4 million.

“If we do not have new revenues…we will very quickly have operating deficits,” Diaz told council.

A poll conducted by EMC Research from March 5 through March 13 surveyed 434 likely voters and found sufficient support for a sales tax measure.

Businesses and residents will soon hear more about the proposed tax measures with a public outreach campaign moving forward. City Council is expected to vote on whether to place the measures on the ballot at its July 23 meeting.

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Splitting California into 3 states divisive in several ways

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Political Climate with Mark Simon: Splitting California into 3 states divisive in several ways

If splitting California into six states was a loopy idea, is splitting it into three states half-loopy?

Splitting up California is the brainchild of Tim Draper, a third-generation venture capitalist who apparently thinks smaller is better, although I suspect that is not the lesson he is teaching the budding entrepreneurs enrolled at San Mateo-based Draper University of Heroes, which puts on a nice street fair.

He has plenty of money, having invested early in Skype. Being smart at one thing appears to make him feel smart about many other things, although, it must be said, there is quite a long history in California of business executives failing miserably at politics, it being a little more difficult than it looks.

Anyway, he is willing to spend some of that money on his pet projects. In 2000, he spent more than $23 million on Proposition 38, a measure that would have allowed the state to spend $4,000 per pupil enrolled at private and religious schools. It also restricted the state from applying academic standards to these private schools. By the way, his dad also spent $2 million on the measure. It’s nice to see a family stick together. The measure failed.

In 2014, he spent $5 million trying to get a measure on the statewide ballot to divide California into six states, but roughly half the signatures he collected were invalid and the measure never was put before the voters.

Now, he’s back with what might be called a half-measure: dividing California into three states.  It would be easy to call it silly, but it makes sense to take it seriously.

Not the proposal – it is silly. Draper’s measure, if it qualifies for the ballot, will lose, but it can still do a lot of damage. The debate it will touch off has the potential to be seriously harmful and divisive at a time when our politics are badly divided.

What we need are our leaders – in government, politics and business – to look for ways to bring us together around common values and concerns.

The proposal was dismissed for just these reasons by Paul Saffo, who was the keynote speaker Saturday at the Redwood City-San Mateo County Chamber of Commerce’s 49th Progress Seminar, the annual gathering of San Mateo County leaders, who meet in Monterey to discuss the leading issues affecting the county and, oddly enough, seek consensus solutions. Saffo is a renowned futurist from Stanford, an engaging and thoughtful thinker about society, change and the dynamics that impact human behavior.

Saffo called Draper “the clown prince of Silicon Valley” and an example of “folks who get too rich too fast and decide to make everyone else unhappy.”

The three-states measure is “extraordinarily dangerous” because it undermines “our most valuable resource: our social cohesion,” Saffo said.

There are a wide number of interests around the country and the world “who love to see California get into a fight with ourselves,” he said.

There are parts of the state – largely the more rural eastern and far northern counties — where splitting off from California long has been advocated and signs calling for the creating of the State of Jefferson are becoming more prominent. The Draper proposal will only fuel that sentiment and embolden those who want their differences to become codified, rather than resolved.

California works in many ways, and it works best when we listen to one another, “not by insulting people,” Saffo said. “The stakes are really high.”

Saffo asked the audience members to show their support for a unified California by the simple act of putting on their cars a sticker depicting the Bear Flag Republic state flag.

Draper’s principal argument is that government is too large to be effective and that people are leaving California because it doesn’t work anymore.

In reality, the only problem Draper has with government is that he can’t get it to do what he wants, whether it’s put in place a draconian voucher system that would enrich private schools at the expense of public education or eliminate financial regulations and restrictions aimed to protect the American economy from abuse.

Yes, Draper spent $23 million on that failed voucher measure in 2000, and he spent $5 million in 2014 in an unsuccessful effort to put his first split-California measure on the ballot. Maybe he spent that much this time, too.

What we do know is this: He is likely to have more impact on improving California by spending his money on resolving the problems that face the state. Imagine what a local housing nonprofit might do if it had $28 million to spend. It might enable some folks to stick around.

Contact Mark Simon at mark@climaterwc.com

When Main Street Was Literally Redwood City’s Main Street

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By Jim Cifford

Movie lovers in Redwood City have plenty of choices at the Century 21 Theater, which lures them with multiscreen offerings. Decades ago, the cinema “menu” was pretty well limited to what was shown a block away on a single screen at the Fox, which today features live productions. Both theaters are on busy Broadway, but there was a time when all the action was on adjacent Main Street.

The Alhambra Theater opened on Main in 1896 with stage shows upstairs, a debut that came shortly before motion pictures revolutionized the entertainment industry. The building designed by noted architect A. Page Brown, whose resume included the Ferry Building in San Francisco, was billed as the finest entertainment site between San Francisco and San Jose. On the street level below the stage was a popular restaurant and bar where the patrons included Western legend Wyatt Earp could meet and eat. Today a photo of Earp standing at the bar and gazing into the camera adorns the wall at Martin’s West, a popular dining spot that occupies the same space where the famed lawman tossed back a few while his actress wife performed in plays upstairs.

The first movie house in Redwood City was the Bell Theater, which opened in 1910 a few doors down from the Alhambra, according to researchers at the Redwood City Library’s history room. Newspaper clippings of the time said the Bell was little more than “a corrugated building with a stucco front.” The advertisements for the opening promised “continuous performance. Latest Eastern and European novelties. Moving pictures and illustrated songs.”

In 1914 the Bell was bought by a dynamo of an entrepreneur named Ellis J. Arkush, whose name would become linked to most entertainment offerings on the Peninsula. Arkush remodeled the Bell by adding a lobby and bringing in 150 chairs. A year later the Bell was showing films that starred such luminaries as Theda Bara, known as “the most beautiful wicked face in the world.”

The Bell wasn’t enough for Arkush. In a few years he joined forces with West Coast Theaters to form a new corporation called West Coast Peninsula Theaters that embraced movies houses in Burlingame, San Mateo, Palo Alto and Redwood City. The Redwood City showplace was the Sequoia on Broadway, just a block or so from today’s Fox and Century 21.

Both the Alhambra and the Bell were located in what would be today’s Main Street Historic District, which takes in several pioneer buildings, among them the Sequoia Hotel on the corner of Main and Broadway and a brick building at 726 Main that was the Diller-Chamberlain Store when it opened in 1859. Still standing, it is San Mateo County’s oldest commercial building.

The Masonic Order bought the Alhambra building in 1921 and used the upper part for meetings. The bottom was leased out for retail stores. At one time there were so many antique stores on Main Street the area was dubbed “antique row.” In 2001 a fire gutted the upstairs but the building was saved and today serves as office space.  Recently, The Acclaim Companies announced plans to add nearly 80,000 more square feet of office space in the 800 block of Main Street.  The company hopes to revitalize a street it called “the birthplace of Redwood City.”

The numbering system for buildings on Main Street can get tricky because the original address numbers changed over the years. For instance, the Alhambra address today is 831-835 Main, but the 1912 City Directory lists it at 235 Main. The 1916 directory shows the Bell at 263-265 Main, the location of today’s Angelica’s Restaurant, which boasts dinner theatre – but no movies.

 

Spring Sips: Three Ways to Rosé

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Growing up, “rosé” was a bad word in my house. My dad loathed the stuff, calling it “the bastardization of wine.” In fairness, he developed his bias honestly. Like so many Californians in the ‘80s and ‘90s, he had fallen for the misconception that rosé is white and red wine mixed together. Rosé’s bad reputation wasn’t all based on ill-informed rumors. I recently sat down with French winemaker Julien Fayard and he told me, “Even ten years ago, “quality” and “rosé” really didn’t go together in the same sentence.”

Thankfully, the times have changed and rosé is no longer shunned. That’s not to say that all are created equally. Like any wine, there is a decent amount of swill masquerading as the real-deal. To sidestep the pink-hued landmines, follow these two simple steps.

  1. Choose wisely. Pick a rosé that is made by an actual Frenchman, or at the very least, an ardent Francophile who was trained in France. Even in France, rosé is considered a “fun wine” – but it should still be made with grace and intention. I have yet to find a decent “table” rosé, so gauge your price point expectations accordingly.

This is a good time to address the current trend of canned wines. I did my fair share of research on canned rosés for this column; my verdict is simple: Don’t do it. I won’t name names, but I cannot in good conscience recommend any of the ones I tried.

  1. Drink wisely. By this, I mean drink like the French. Rosé in France is sipped in the warmth of spring and summer. It’s a light, carefree wine meant for light, carefree moments. Pair it with a fresh tuna nicoise salad, or enjoy it as a pre-dinner, al fresco sip in the sun.

Still need a little direction? Here are my top three, in alphabetical order, because simply put, I could never rank these beauties.

Azur Rosé 2016 ($32): Frenchmen Julien Fayard makes this aromatic rosé under his Azur label, at his winery, Covert Estate in Coombsville (Napa’s newest appellation). He uses the traditional method known as “direct press,” which means instead of using leftover grapes, he grows and harvests Syrah fruit specifically for this wine. The light salmon hue is a byproduct of his deliberate process – the grape skins are left on for a mere hour, imparting a light tint that alludes to the fresh, bright flavors.

Tasting notes: “Delicate bouquet of white flowers with seductive peach accents. Fresh and focused, the sophisticated palate offers elegant layers of raspberry, strawberry and watermelon. An alluring mineral finish completes this purely harmonious wine.” – winestreet.com

Ehlers Estate Sylvian Rosé 2017 ($36): Described as a classic, old-world rosé, Francophile winemaker Kevin Morrissey had to convince Sylvian LeDuc, his French boss and owner of Ehlers Estate, that this was a wine worth making. Kevin retold the moment to me: “She said to me, you know Kevin, rosé is not a serious wine, and Ehlers is very serious.” Kevin’s reply? “Well if it’s the best, then it’s serious, right?” One sip and she was convinced.

Tasting notes: “Aromas of watermelon, raspberry and cotton candy mingle with orange sorbet and fresh red cherries. Sparkling acidity, low alcohol.” – ehlersestate.com

Viver 2015 Rosé of Pinot Noir ($19): Like many French winemakers in Napa Valley, Stephane Vivier fell in love with the American girl and the California sun, but missed a taste of home. For him, home tastes like Pinot Noir—even more specifically—Rosé of Pinot Noir. “I grew up with Rosé of Pinot Noir in Burgundy. I would come home and sit outside with my parents. My mom would bring in things from the garden, and my dad wine from the cellar. We would talk about the day, and most everyday have a bottle of rosé.”

Tasting notes: “The floral result offers notes of citrus fruit and plum, and a fine, harmonious nose. Red fruit brings an almost flinty power to the palate, while the structure is fresh and sophisticated with concentration at its core.” – vivierwines.com

À votre santé!

Entertainment Galore, But… How can downtown Redwood City become a shopper’s paradise?

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By Scott Dailey

Two years ago, the City of Redwood City asked 476 residents where they shopped. Guess how many patronized stores downtown. How about 200? Too high? Maybe 100? Try 15.

That’s right.  In a downtown district that one local merchant describes as “hopping,” with crowded restaurants, bars and coffee shops, a huge cinema complex, a well-attended regional theater, new high-rise apartments, a major employer such as Box and a central gathering place that attracts thousands of people for summer concerts and other events, just 3 percent of the survey’s respondents said they shopped there.

It might sound surprising – but the reasons turn out to be pretty simple.  In comparison with downtown Burlingame or Laurel Street in San Carlos, for example, there’s just a handful of stores.  And instead of being clustered in a single location, those shops are sprinkled throughout the area.  That makes it difficult for customers to stroll, compare goods and window-shop.  In addition, regional malls such as Hillsdale and Stanford soak up potential shoppers, as do nearby downtown districts that offer major retailers including Apple, The Gap and up-and-coming chains such as Lululemon.

Then there’s competition from other retail zones in Redwood City, principally along El Camino Real, Woodside Road and Veterans Boulevard.  There, reported rents for retail storefronts run approximately 30 percent cheaper than downtown, attracting business people and their customers to such locations as Woodside Plaza, Kohl’s Center and other open-air malls.

Indeed, even with the relative lack of shopping downtown – that is, principally along Broadway and nearby thoroughfares from El Camino to Veterans Boulevard and Brewster Avenue to Maple Street – retail business in general appears healthy in Redwood City.  Because of the way business categories are grouped together, sales tax revenues represent an imprecise measure of retail shopping; that said, the city government received nearly $19.5 million in sales tax revenues in 2017.  Of that, around 30%, or nearly $5.9 million, came from general retail sales (as opposed, for example, to business-to-business sales, car sales and sales in construction and other sectors).  In turn, that translates to roughly $590 million in business for the city’s retail shops, restaurants and other such establishments (cities receive one percent of gross sales as their share of California’s basic 8.5 percent sales tax).  According to city economic data, the largest geographic contributor to Redwood City’s sales tax revenues was Redwood Shores, which generated $2.3 million.  Downtown was second, with more than $1.3 million.

Catherine Ralston, the city’s economic development manager, reports that even with the downtown district’s higher rents, the retail vacancy rate there is just 2.5 percent.  (“Retail” in this sense refers to everything from shops to restaurants, nightclubs, dance studios and hair salons.)  Although she counts herself among those who wish for more shopping downtown, she cautions it may not happen soon.

“In downtown, rents are very high,” she observes, quoting average monthly rates of $4 to $5 per square foot for retail space.  “Restaurants are able to support those rents, but not necessarily retail.  You have to sell a lot of items to keep that rent up on a regular basis, versus a restaurant or a bar, where you get a lot higher customer turnover and sales happening.”

How much does a retailer need to sell in order to justify a given rent?  Michael Berne, principal of Berkeley-based retail planning and real-estate firm MJB Consulting, says sales need to be approximately 10 times the rent.  Throw in additional overhead such as insurance, utilities and other expenses, and the multiplier grows to perhaps 12.  At a monthly rent of $4.50 per square foot, that comes to minimum monthly sales of $54 per square foot.  If business owners can afford those rates, Berne says, they can consider a class-A mall where their stores can cluster with others of their ilk.

“Rent is a very big factor,” confirms Scott Dewar, whose consultancy, Site Perfect Solutions, helps businesses select locations.  “It’s huge in terms of people making their decisions.”

Even more than rents, however, the lack of clustering may be affecting downtown Redwood City’s shopping prospects.

“When there are large clusters, more retailers want to be there and the clusters get even larger,” says Berne, who gave a presentation about retail business to the Redwood City Council last August.  “So you see these concentrations, whether it’s at Stanford Shopping Center or Valley Fair (in San Jose) or Burlingame Avenue or Union Square or Fillmore Street (in San Francisco).

“Downtown Redwood City right now doesn’t have an existing cluster to play off of, at least with stores selling goods,” Berne continues.  “If it had 15 clothing stores, for instance, that would be one thing, because the sixteenth would want to be there.  They’d want to be able to take advantage of all the people who were coming there to shop.  But since it doesn’t have 15, it’s not as much of a shopping destination as retailers aren’t as eager to be there, and you’re fighting something of an uphill battle.”

Ralston agrees with the clustering concept, but says, “The other piece is, I don’t have vacancies right now to put a cluster of retail stores in.  It’s one here and one there.  Ultimately, we can get to that goal.  But it’s going to take a really long time.”

Berne says building a successful retail shopping district is an evolutionary process that has stages in which retailers start to arrive, prosper and attract others.  Those phases, Berne says, include drawing first not major retailers such as Apple and The Gap, but “maybe boutiques or small, local chainlets, so that you’re starting to build that cluster.  And if boutiques and small local chainlets start to perform and do really well, larger chains will start to take notice.  And then you’ll get interest from the early adopting chains, and then, over time, you could become another Burlingame Avenue.”

Burlingame Avenue.  That’s what people often say when they’re asked how they want downtown Redwood City to look.  So how did downtown Burlingame become what it is today – a thriving retail district with more than 500 businesses, from mom-and-pop stores to major chains such as Apple, J. Crew, Pottery Barn and others?

Cleese Relihan, Burlingame’s economic development specialist, points to numerous elements, including steady foot traffic, a large streetscape project completed in 2014, the presence of supporting professionals such as attorneys, business advisors and accountants, the city government’s relationships with present and potential business owners, and, not least, a variety of store sizes.

“There’s a lot of flexibility on Burlingame Avenue for larger and smaller spaces,” Relihan says.  “That’s come up in a lot of discussions I’ve had with brand names.”

With its retail vacancy at just 2.5 percent, downtown Redwood may lack that type of available space.  And what Relihan doesn’t mention is the concentration of wealth in Burlingame and especially neighboring Hillsborough, which has no commercial district of its own.  Redwood City, on the other hand, is more economically diverse.  That said, it’s not poor, either, and Atherton sits just next door.  But downtown Redwood City does face significant competition on the Peninsula from other places that attract retailers who decide rationally about where to set up shop.

Dewar, the location expert, says those decisions tend to focus on several factors.  Included are the service area, demographics and their fit for a particular business (Neiman-Marcus and Target are looking for different customers), the presence of competition, and the site itself – especially how easy it is to get to and who else is around to help drive business.

“I think one of the differences between a downtown location and a (shopping center) is the draw potential,” Dewar says.  “You also have potentially a different proximate customer base.  Downtown, you might have more businesses with people from offices and such.  Is that appropriate (for a given business) – is that who you’re looking for?”

In a sense, Redwood City’s recent strategy for developing its downtown has been the opposite of the famous line from “Field of Dreams” – “If you build it, they will come.”  Instead, by seeking residents in large apartment complexes and employees at organizations such as Box and the coming headquarters of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, it’s been more like, “If people come, retailers will follow.”  So far, that’s worked especially for restaurants, which are indeed clustered along Broadway and Theatre Way, and whose patrons jam sidewalk dining areas even in winter.  Restaurants, in fact, benefit from two shifts – the lunch bunch from downtown offices and the dinner trade from nearby residents.  They also profit, Dewar says, from variety, because people often want to try something different.

Volker Staudt sees the service-versus-shops issue from both angles.  Along with his wife, Mary Ann, he owns Gourmet Haus Staudt on Broadway – a combination German restaurant and grocery-and-gift store.  With more people coming – and living – downtown, both businesses are flourishing.

“It’s no longer Deadwood, it’s Redwood,” Staudt says.  ”For a person owning a business on Broadway, everything’s been pretty positive, in my opinion.”

That said, Staudt adds, “I wish there were more retail.  But I get why there is no more retail.  It’s tough to be in the retail business, with Amazon and everything else going on, and the cost per square foot to operate in this environment.”

Cost per square foot – in other words, rent.  In interviews with merchants, the “R” word kept coming up.  Steve Goetz, who recently moved his family’s decades-old Goetz Brothers sporting-goods store from Broadway to the industrial east side of San Carlos, cited concerns that “we were going to be priced out” among the many factors that led to relocating his business.  (The others included a need for more space, more parking and freeway access for a regional customer base.)  Even so, he says, “Both communities have been really good to us.  We hated to leave Redwood City.”

Retailer Stephanie Kolkka also relocated her business, Brick Monkey2, to Theatre Way after the building on Broadway where she operated the original Brick Monkey store was sold in January 2017 and the rent increased dramatically.  Brick Monkey2 specializes in clothing and jewelry, and stays open late to catch the crowds coming out of adjacent restaurants and the Cinemark movie multiplex.

Although she felt forced to move, she says when it comes to rents, “I get it.  I understand that if I owned a building down there, I’d want to get the maximum out of it.”

And even with the relatively high retail rents downtown compared with other parts of the city, building owners are not necessarily maximizing their investments.  Ralston, the city’s economic development manager, says rents even for non-premium office space downtown are topping $8 per square foot, as opposed to the $4-to-$5 range for retail.  To promote retail business and prevent downtown from converting strictly to office space, the city has zoned the first floors of buildings on Broadway and Main Street as retail-only.

Even that move arouses suspicions among retailers who are skeptical of downtown landlords.  One merchant said he thought building owners would keep first-floor rents artificially high, and then, failing to rent to retail businesses, would ask the city to permit ground-floor offices again.

To that, Ralston says, “There may be a few landlords who may try that.  I think at the city, at this point, we’re seeing that there is enough interest in those spaces.  So we’re not going to quickly jump and let office uses go back in on the ground floor.

Ralston says, in fact, that the city government is seeing so much interest from potential downtown businesses that it’s currently not recruiting additional retail establishments to locate there.  At the same time, she’s aware of the desire for more retailers, and the city is now forming a retail task force to create a vision for retailing in Redwood City.  The group is expected to begin meeting this month, and should report its findings to the Council by year-end.

Rather than seek certain business types, Ralston says, “It’s really great to let that kind of naturally happen, because those are businesses that are ready to be a business downtown.  They can support those higher rents, they’ve done their market studies, they know that this is the place that they want to be.  And so those often times are your more successful businesses (rather than those that the city might try to bring in) that may not be ready for this market.”

Ralston says Internet-based sales may be part of the reason why brick-and-mortar retail stores aren’t at the top of the list of businesses looking at Redwood City, although she also says shop owners are adjusting to the challenge posed by e-commerce.  For example, Jim Hornibrook of outdoor-gear supplier Redwood Trading Post notes that his business is developing a website that will lead customers into the store after they find what they want online.

Another necessity – as vital as adjusting to the Internet – is parking.  Ralph Garcia, the owner of Ralph’s Vacuum and Sewing Center on Main Street, notes its importance for retailers, especially those who serve customers from around the Bay Area, as he does.  Garcia’s business includes a parking lot, but, he says, “I feel for the other folks who don’t have parking, or whose customers may have difficulty finding parking or may have to pay for it.”

Ralston says gripes about a perceived lack of parking downtown – a common grievance of shoppers and business people alike – disappeared after the city installed electronic signs showing the number of spaces available at garages.

“Several years ago, people would have said there’s no parking downtown,” she says.  “Within a week of those signs going up, we stopped hearing complaints that there was no parking.”

That notwithstanding, shoppers still may not be able to park on the same block as the store they’re visiting.  That, Berne says, offers an advantage to shopping centers, whose parking lots can more easily cater to what he terms the “in-and-out” shopper.  Downtown shopping districts, on the other hand, are built more for the strolling shopper who may want to accomplish many things in one trip.

That’s the sort of customer who drops into Holly Hill, an upscale women’s clothing and jewelry store on Laurel Street in downtown San Carlos.  The shop sits on the same block as a card store, a kitchenware shop, a pet-supply-and-grooming outfit, a shoe-repair shop, a dry cleaner, a jeweler, a barber shop, several restaurants and a bank.

“I think what really works for this town, at least just from how we see customers, is that people here have many errands they run when they’re downtown,” says owner Holly Hill.  “They go to the dog-food place, they get their shoes repaired, their husband gets a haircut.  They stop at Hallmark and buy a card.  They pick up their coffee.  So it’s a real walkable, errand-running downtown.  We fit right into that, and we’re a regular stop-off for many, many women who live here and around here.”

Hill says the multitasking nature of the downtown San Carlos shopper results in a high volume of foot traffic, and Laurel Street’s popular restaurants lead to what she calls “nose prints on the windows” from passers-by in the evenings.  Her prescription for downtown Redwood City, where her sister and store manager Shelley Hill resides, is for three or four stores to go in simultaneously – to which Shelley Hill asks, almost rhetorically, “And where would that be?”

One location that will offer approximately 12,000 square feet of retail space is the new headquarters of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, currently going up on the corner of Broadway and Jefferson Avenue.  (The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is a philanthropic organization started by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan.  It will occupy the building’s more than 100,000 square feet of office space.)  Scott Smithers, managing partner of the building’s developer, Lane Partners of Menlo Park, told the San Francisco Business Times in July that he had received “a ton of interest” from retailers.

Another prospective location sits on Main Street, between Ralph’s Vacuum and Sewing Center and Angelicas Bistro.  Dubbed “851 Main Street,” the proposed four-story development would offer nearly 79,000 square feet of office space and close to 7,000 square feet for retail and parking for 246 vehicles.

More retail space – even if filled by competitors – would be a welcome sight to Elizabeth Strumpell, owner of downtown linen and gift store Pomegranate Seeds.

“We would love more competition, we would love more people here, we would love just to have more retailers on the street,” Strumpell says.

Like Kolkka, a member of the coming retail task force who describes herself as “way-pro-Redwood City,” Strumpell is high on the community.  She wishes the city government would do more to attract retail stores because, she says, “Redwood City’s a great spot.  I really like the town.  I like the people.  I like the feel.  I think (the city government) has done a really nice job of balancing the residential and the office space component of things.  I think it’s a nice, growing community, and kind of the heart of the Silicon Valley.”

When it comes to the importance of a vibrant downtown, Ralston gets it.

“The downtown is really the heart of the community,” she says.  “I like to refer to it as the living room of the community.  It’s the spot where the community can come together and gather for special events and occasions and fun things to do.  And so when you have a lively downtown, it becomes that part of your home … a great, thriving downtown increases property values, and it becomes a quality-of-life piece for the entire community.”

As Staudt says, there’s no doubt the downtown district has traded “Deadwood” for “Redwood.”  The new residents and employees have helped turn the area into a throbbing hub of dining and entertainment.  To turn “Field of Dreams” on its head, the people have come.  Now the question remains:  Will the retail shops follow?

Authorities seek to identify other possible victims of accused Redwood City rapist

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Authorities seek to identify other possible victims of accused Redwood City rapist

Authorities are encouraging possible additional victims of an accused Redwood City rapist to come forward.

Juan Ramirez Ruiz, 25, of Redwood City was arrested Wednesday in connection with a woman’s report in April 2017 that he raped her inside her apartment, according to the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office.

Following a year-long investigation, Ruiz was arrested on suspicion of forcible rape and oral copulation, the sheriff’s office said.

“Based on the ongoing investigation and information gathered, it is believed that there could be additional victims,” the sheriff’s office said.

The Sheriff’s Office is encouraging anyone “who has similar reports Ruiz, or any unsolved sexual assaults with his description,” to contact Det. Sgt. Cang at (650) 363-4881 or jcang@smcgov.org or contact Det. Sgt. Berberian at 650-363-4051 or sberberian@smcgov.org.

SamTrans riders will soon be able to purchase their bus fare from their smartphones

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SamTrans customers will soon be able to purchase their bus fare and plan their trips from their smart phone devices after the SamTrans board of directors approved a $478,000, two-year contract for a mobile app on Wednesday.

Seattle-based Bytemark, Inc. was contracted to launch the SamTrans Mobility App Solution, which is expected to go live on Sept. 1, according to the transit agency.

The app will offer One-way and Day Pass tickets for adults, youth and eligible discount (senior, disabled and Medicare cardholders) riders, and will also provide real-time arrival/departure information for SamTrans and other transit systems.

“The Mobility App will run on iOS and Android operating systems and will accept major credit and debit cards, the transit agency said.

Shortly after the September launch, the Mobility App will also allow for the purchase of parking tickets for the Colma/BART parking lot.

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Fear descends upon San Bruno

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Political Climate with Mark Simon: Fear descends upon San Bruno

Fear came to our house.

It came seven weeks after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and 10 days after high school students led the nation on a march to end gun violence.

Nearly 50 years to the day, our nation’s greatest proponent of peaceful change, Martin Luther King Jr., was gunned down — an unfathomable act that left me devastated as I began to emerge from the safe, suburban upbringing of my youth in San Bruno.

San Bruno has always been an insular little town – quiet (except for the ever-present jet noise from neighboring SFO), self-contained and preoccupied. Its politics don’t tend to extend beyond its own borders and the people who live there love their town in a way that is unique among Peninsula cities.

It’s a modest town and many of the people who live there like its small-town identity.

And it is home to YouTube, in a small industrial park tucked into what was once a canyon in a northwestern corner of the town. YouTube’s presence is something of which the city is immensely proud, a company that put little San Bruno in the mainstream of the modern world of technological interconnection.

Now, San Bruno is added to the rollcall of places where someone with a gun just started shooting.

It’s a handgun this time and the number of those wounded or dead is mercifully brief, which is no consolation, of course, to those whose lives are forever changed by these immutable circumstances.

And, again, we are left with the same reality: It is just too easy to buy a gun and to use it in the most dangerous and harmful way.

As we once again are forced to confront the gun-based facts of modern America from which even high-tech companies with security checkpoints are not immune, the rally that overflowed Redwood City’s Courthouse Square a scant 10 days ago still lingers in the consciousness, even though 10 days ago now seems like a far distance.

In reaction to the San Bruno shooting and in honor of Dr. King’s memory, it is worth revisiting the numerous speeches by eloquent and passionate young people, all of them memorable, none more so, perhaps, than Francesca Battista, a sophomore at Menlo-Atherton High School whose remarks were equal parts speech and prose poem.

Her focus was on the names of the victims, noting that the names of the shooters often seem to be more often and more widely remembered.

“Names are powerful,” she said. “Names are mirrors – they reflect our experiences as human beings. … people make use of the enactor’s given names, when instead their names are murderer, terrorist, coward, evil and … shooter. … When we repeat the given names of those who inflict damage at this magnitude, we inadvertently dignify them.”

Later in her remarks, Francesca said: “We need gun reform. We need politicians who do what they are elected to do and advocate for the protection of the people, instead of slimily slithering away from that which diminishes their status as a lobbyist’s pawn – those whose campaigns are funded by the NRA’s blood money. We need insurance, through multiple strategies of fixing this problem, that these tragedies will happen never again. Otherwise, we tell those who have died that their name is now obsolete.”

It is a long battle, Francesca acknowledged, and she said she is prepared for such a fight and for what she might tell her own grandchildren when they ask “what it was like to live through the political tumult of the 2010s, I will proudly share that, together with my peers, I exercised my American rights to ripple the waters of public attentions, by marching, by standing, by sharing and by speaking. … And when they ask whether we were afraid, I will look them directly into their eyes and say, yes, we were afraid and that’s exactly why we did it.”

As the name of the San Bruno shooter is added to the roster, Francesca’s speech brings to mind a frequent refrain of Dr. King’s: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

WHAT WE WANT: It seems simple, admitting that simple is not always easy: We want to be safe.

We do not wish to infringe on the rights of those who want to own guns because they are hunters or enjoy target shooting.

But those Second Amendment rights should not infringe on our unalienable right to be safe at home, at school, at work, on the street. None of our rights in the Constitution are absolute. They all have been modified and reinterpreted as the nature and state of our times have changed. There is no reason the Second Amendment should be immune to the changing times.

ON THE FRONT LINES: If U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein is associated with any single issue, it is the effort to restrict the free availability of the deadliest automatic weapons. She was widely excoriated some months ago for saying that she wished President Trump would do a good job, an innocuous comment that elicited the kind of partisan hostility that seems all too characteristic of these times.

In an interview published in the San Francisco Chronicle, she admitted she is growing increasingly discouraged by the unreliability of President Trump, particularly his willingness to change his positions on issues on a moment-to-moment basis.

Still, she concluded, her job is to get things done, an expectation we should all have for our elected officials.

“I’m not a name-caller. I don’t call people names. All people want to hear, it appears, are epithets about him,” Feinstein told The Chronicle. “My job is to get legislation passed or get problems solved or find money to help solve those problems.”

Contact Mark Simon at mark@climaterwc.com.

One Man’s Quest to Keep Redwood Creek Clean

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Upon arriving at Docktown 18 years ago, David McCallum was shocked by the amount of trash he found floating along and up the banks of Redwood Creek. “It cascaded down the banks like a waterfall. There was so much garbage that ducks wouldn’t get their knees wet when walking on it,” McCallum remembers. So, as a lifelong steward of the environment, he enlisted some of his Docktown friends to help clean it up. By the time they had finished, eight tons of refuse had been fished out of the creek.

McCallum grew up in Boulder, Colorado, and he and his whole family enjoyed hiking and camping. They loved spending summers camping in national parks all over the United States.  His father operated by one basic rule: leave the environment cleaner than you found it.

“When we broke camp, we went out and picked up trash in and around our camp,” McCallum recalls.  “It was disturbing to see how much of other people’s garbage we collected.”  The experience left such an impression that he became an unofficial garbage collector wherever he lived — which tended to be by the water. While he was living in St. Croix in the American Virgin Islands, hurricane Hugo came rumbling through and left in its wake mountains of debris. McCallum helped clean it up. When the locals would hold a celebration on the beach, he’d return the next day to clean up.

“The lack of concern for the environment by the locals was appalling,” he says. “It was a Third World culture and these people would leave every bit of trash they had on those pristine beaches. It just wasn’t on their minds to clean up after themselves.”

Returning to the U.S., McCullum found himself in Redwood City and discovered the  small floating community called Docktown. He built a two-story houseboat and bought a secondhand skiff which he christened “Tidely-Idley.” His first ride up Redwood Creek was an eye-opener: “There was a piece of garbage every square foot, from the water to all the way up the embankment.”

McCallum decided to investigate. His first stop was Creekside Plaza, which backs up to Redwood Creek. When he asked about the garbage in the creek he says he was told “it’s not our garbage. It comes from up stream.” Though there was some truth to that, he suggested putting in some garbage cans but was told that would attract more. Ultimately, though, they did.

McCallum then went to the city’s Pride and Beautification Committee. “By this time I’m a little upset,” he admits. “I asked, ‘What about all this garbage in the creek?’”

Then-Mayor Diane Howard, who has led the committee for 25 years, pointed out that garbage flows from many sources and it’s impossible to recover it all. The committee was doing something about it but its efforts were not concentrated in a single area.

Now there are two annual cleanup days in Redwood City, one on Earth Day and the other is Coastal Cleanup Day. Three or four sites along the water are selected, and  McCallum has been a crew captain every year.

So when it came to Redwood Creek, McCallum enlisted his Docktown friends and proceeded to do what he knew best: collect the garbage, averaging six tons per year for the first eight years.  The haul has included some amazing items. Automobile engines. Bicycles. A motorcycle and a 20-foot-wide plastic swimming pool. The volume of trash that ends up in the creek has been reduced by the ban on plastic bags, according to McCallum, and the clean-up crews typically collect a mere three tons per year.

Not one to let up, McCallum came up with the idea to construct a trash boom that could gather the garbage as it floated downstream and proposed it to the city. Then-Councilman Ian Bain brought the idea to Terrence Kyaw of the Public Works Department. Kyaw understood the concept of installing a such a device upstream near the Bradford storm water pump station or near Veterans Boulevard. But when Kyaw passed the idea on to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, agency officials voiced concern that fish and other wildlife would be trapped in the net and die.

In addition, Kyaw recognized that a net could trap unpredictably large items in the storm drainage system, which could lead to flooding.  Instead, smaller trash-capture devices have been installed in storm drain inlets throughout the city. More than 500 are in place, with more scheduled. These, along with regular street sweeping, help minimize the amount of trash ending up in the waterways. However, no one can keep up with the tonnage of garbage that keeps being thrown or swept into outlets like Redwood Creek.

Eight years ago, McCallum and his wife, Judi, had an idea to raise awareness by inviting the Redwood City community to help out and established an event called “Romancing the Creek.”

“We scheduled it around Valentine’s Day,” Judi notes, “basically saying, ‘If you love your creek, help clean it up.’”

According to McCallum, over 120 volunteers showed up for their first effort and in two hours fished out almost 4,000 pounds of garbage, much of it metal. This year some 80 volunteers collected 2,300 pounds of trash. Most of that was plastic.

Redwood Creek isn’t the only one that McCallum has tried to clean up. Working all over the Bay Area as a self-employed welding equipment maintenance and repair man, McCallum would continue to take his skiff on garbage-collecting rounds whenever he had the energy and time.

Collection requires two people: one to operate the boat and the other to pull in garbage. “I have twisted arms so often it came to the point that my friends at Docktown would run the other way when they saw me coming,” he says with a laugh. “But after the rains especially, the garbage keeps coming. It’s relentless, and frankly, it has worn me out,” he adds more seriously.  With the impending closure of Docktown, the McCallums recently relocated to Fremont – but that won’t stop him in his mission to keep Bay Area waterways clean.

Why should anyone even care about collecting the garbage that so many want to disown?

One might be lulled into thinking Redwood Creek is an isolated issue. Floating trash flowing from Redwood Creek and other outlets finds its way to the Pacific Ocean and contributes to the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.”

The name conjures images of a floating landfill in the middle of the ocean, with miles of bobbing plastic bottles and other miscellaneous synthetic household items. But it is only one of many such “patches,” and is very large (think the size of Texas). The patch consists of microplastics, small bits of plastic; broken down bits of garbage that become suspended throughout the water column, trapped within a swirling current.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Marine Debris Program’s Carey Morishige says, “A comparison I like to use is that the debris is more like flecks of pepper floating throughout a bowl of soup, rather than a skim of fat that accumulates—or sits—on the surface.”

Morishige is not downplaying the significance of microplastics or their ecological effect. Even though much of the impact on marine life remains unknown, it is acknowledged that the ocean life that ends up on people’s dinner plates is eating this stuff.

Bain, who is now mayor, acknowledges the problem and recognizes McCallum’s efforts, but admits, “We just don’t have a whole lot of resources to throw at Redwood Creek alone. This is a big city to keep clean. Our best bet is to find a group of volunteers to lead the effort Dave McCallum has started.”

“David has made a tremendous impact on Redwood Creek,” says Howard. “He has been the guardian angel of that area.”

How to fill the void left by McCallum? Howard believes it will be tough, but feels education can play a big part. “We need to raise awareness,” she says. “This all starts with everyday people and must be ultimately be controlled by everyday people.”

 

Local swim school offering 6-month scholarships for low-income residents

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La Petite Baleen Swim Schools, which teaches kids to swim and has four Bay Area locations including one at 60 Fifth Ave. in Redwood City, is encouraging low income families to apply for 6-month scholarships with the swim program.

The program is accepting applications from now through April 30 for the July-December 2018 scholarship period.

Find the scholarship application and guidelines here. To qualify, family income must be less than $40,000 per year. Applicants are asked to hand deliver or email the application along with one of the following documents: copy of your most recent pay stub; copy of recent tax return; copy of federal lunch program card or federal food assistance voucher.

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