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New attendance policy for BCCs accommodates new parents

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Redwood City Council meeting roundup for April 8, 2019

Redwood City Council on Monday adopted an attendance policy for members of city boards, commissions and committees (BCCs) that accommodates new parents.

The council sought to create an attendance policy for BCCs because there was no existing mechanism to remove and replace members who fail to show up to meetings or are consistently tardy. When the policy was discussed at a council meeting earlier this month, its members were divided on the acceptable length of leave offered to new parents, particularly mothers.

On Monday, council unanimously approved a revised attendance policy that provides a mechanism to remove oft-absent or late BCC members from their seats, but also accommodates members who are new parents.

The policy vacates seats when members are absent from three consecutive regular meetings or from more than 25 percent of all regular meetings in a year period, but allows members to request a leave of absence for any reason anywhere from one regular meeting up to a period not to exceed three months, pending approval by the city clerk and mayor. It also states BCC members must be present for at least 50 percent of a meeting in order to be counted as present.

Parents under the new rules can automatically take a leave of absence of three months from a board, commission or committee. The policy also requests staff to assess how to support breastfeeding mothers who serve on council or a BCC.

The policy also allows the mayor and clerk to grant extensions for any leave of absence of up to an additional three months for a total of six months.

Twice annually, the clerk will provide council with a BCC Attendance Report.

Mayor Ian Bain said establishing an attendance policy is important to ensure government business isn’t delayed over a lack of quorum and other matters affected by lack of attendance.

“Quite frankly we’ve had a few committees…where the committee’s business has been impacted by those members [who fail to show up],” Mayor Bain said. “Without a policy in place, we have no enforcement mechanism to ensure people who volunteer and make these commitments do attend.”

Councilmember Giselle Hale, who proposed adding accommodations in the policy for new parents, said the new rules are in keeping with the council’s focus on children and youth as top priorities.

“This really does work its way into how that priority comes to life and how parents are able to participate in government,” Hale said.

Several cities are now looking at Redwood City’s policy to see whether they should implement something similar, Councilmember Shelly Masur said.

The city currently has nine Boards, Commissions and Committees whose members are appointed by the City Council.

Volunteers invited to 1st annual Stulsaft Park Clean-Up

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Grassroots Ecology is inviting the community to participate in the first annual Stulsaft Park Clean-Up Day this Saturday, June 8 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Volunteers will meet at Stulsaft Park, 3737 Farm Hill Blvd., at the picnic tables by the bathrooms. Come prepared to walk across steep, hilly terrain while pulling invasive plants and enjoying the scenery. Gloves, tools, and light snacks will be provided.

Participants must register and approve the online waiver found here.

Grassroots Ecology is a nonprofit organization that summons volunteers to create healthy lands.

Family of man fatally shot by RWC police call for changes

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The family of a Redwood City man who was fatally shot by police last year is calling for the City Council to enforce changes at the Redwood City Police Department.

The Hart family and their supporters are planning to advocate at Monday’s City Council meeting at 7 p.m. for expanded crisis intervention training, M40 bean bag guns in every patrol car along with Tasers and body cameras for all patrol officers.

The family’s campaign has asked residents to copy, paste  and send this note to

In March, the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office, which investigated the officer-involved shooting that killed 33-year-old Kyle Hart, decided not to pursue criminal charges against the officers involved, saying its investigation revealed that the use of lethal force was justifiable under the law.

The fatal shooting occurred just before 9 a.m. on Dec. 30. Hart, a teacher and father of two young children, had been attempted to commit suicide by cutting himself with a large kitchen knife when his wife called police to their Lincoln Avenue home, according to a report by investigators. Two arriving officers, Roman Gomez and Leila Velez, encountered his wife covered in blood in the front yard. She pointed them in the direction of her husband toward the backyard. Velez pulled out a Taser gun, and Gomez pulled out a firearm, the DA’s report states. During their encounter with Hart,  Hart didn’t respond to officer calls to put his knife down, and then reportedly charged at the officers with the knife raised. Velez fired the Taser, but it didn’t work, and then Gomez fired his gun five times, striking Hart three times.

The officer believed there was no time to exchange words or back away from Hart, according to the DA’s report.

The Hart family expressed dissatisfaction with the DA’s finding, calling into question whether the officers managed the scene optimally, and whether alternative deescalation options and equipment could have been used.

“As a family, we are civic-minded and have dedicated our lives to public service, which is why we have taken the approach to partner with Redwood City to evaluate opportunities for growth together,” the Hart family states.

Man convicted in 1995 fatal beating of infant daughter in Redwood City granted parole

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Despite opposition by prosecutors, a 51-year-old man convicted in the 1995 fatal beating of his 4-months-old daughter at their Redwood City home has been granted parole.

Reynaldo “Rudy” Rivas was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter for the death of his daughter on Feb. 12, 1995 and sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. Prosecutors say the infant was beaten over 12 days for “crying and being upset” by a then 28-year-old father who had “no experience or training” in caring for a baby.

Rivas’ latest parole hearing at Avenal State Prison was his third. After a two-hour hearing, the parole board found that he no longer constitutes an unreasonable risk of danger to the public, and granted him parole. The case now heads to administrative review at the Board of Parole Hearings, and then to Gov. Gavin Newsom, who can reverse or affirm the decision.

The San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office opposes the parole hearing’s decision, saying “the prisoner remains a danger to the public.”

“We felt he needs to serve more time than he did,” said DA Steve Wagstaffe.

Wagstaffe said the parole board has been releasing prisoners at a higher clip, a policy he says doesn’t change his office’s position on public safety concerns.

At the time of the criminal acts in 1995, the county’s Child Protective Services had granted Rivas custody of his daughter because her mother had been serving time in county jail on a probation violation. Then on Feb. 12, 1995, Redwood City police responded to Rivas’ home in the 700 block of Charter Street after he called 911 to say his daughter stopped breathing. While Rivas initially told authorities he had tripped and dropped the baby while carrying her in her room, a coroner’s investigation revealed child abuse, according to a report from the San Francisco Chronicle archives.

After a 16-day jury trial in 1996, the jury returned verdicts of not guilty on a murder count and guilty on the lesser count of voluntary manslaughter and also felony child endangerment causing death. He was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. During the trial, Rivas was described as having been incapable of caring for a child, having had no experience or training whatsoever, according to prosecutors.

Ninth Annual Chanukah Festival

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Courthouse Square to host Juneteenth celebration on Friday

This Sunday, Dec. 2, join Chabad Mid Pen for the Ninth Annual Chanukah Festival at Courthouse Square.

Come out and watch as a giant glow in the dark Menorah will be lit. Guests can enjoy entertainment, music, latkes and donuts, and an amazing time for the whole family, including Ben Kramarz live and a Chanukah Gelt Drop.

The event includes children’s activities at 4 p.m. and the Menora lighting at 4:30 p.m.

For more information click here.

San Mateo County History Museum writes new page in Redwood City history

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San Mateo County Historical Association requests community stories related to COVID-19 pandemic

By Janet McGovern and Brian Douglas

The history of San Mateo County government in Redwood City has been a bit of a love/hate relationship. The jails, the bail bondsmen, the halfway houses, people complained, arrived courtesy of county government. Sure enough, so did scores of county workers to eat in Redwood City restaurants and shop at stores. On the other hand, when they went home at night, the sidewalks rolled up. But that’s history, really.

Anyone who’s arrived during the last 10 years would have to consult history to learn about “Deadwood City” and the time before the seat of county government emerged as the Peninsula’s entertainment and culture butterfly. And irony of ironies, the Cinderella transformation owes very much to a partnership among county government, the city and its redevelopment agency to repurpose the landmark San Mateo County Courthouse for a history museum fronting on a central plaza.

“I like to think of us as being at Ground Zero for that,” said Mitch Postel, the president of the San Mateo County Historical Association, which runs the museum that occupies the former courthouse. “When we moved in in 1998, it was pretty lazy around here.” He took a walk on a recent Thursday night and was stunned by how crowded downtown was. “We really did play a part to help downtown Redwood City to be as vibrant as it is now…

“In 2019, we will have been open to the public exactly 20 years,” he continues. The history museum was “a very willing and able partner, never questioned the mission and were right there in the corner when the city needed us.”

Built in 1910, after the 1906 earthquake devastated the latest prior courthouse, the spectacular domed edifice faces the Fox Theatre on Broadway, architectural and cultural bookends in a still unfolding story of change, rooted in history.

What to compare the courthouse with? Not much survived after 1906, certainly not major public buildings. There are some splendid private residences, including the Filoli Estate in Woodside and Ralston Hall in Belmont. South San Francisco has a beautiful, though smaller city hall, and San Francisco’s is impressive too but on a much larger scale.

“I can’t think of anything other than the City Hall of San Francisco that can compare,” says Ken Rolandelli, who has long been active in historic preservation in Redwood City. “For a community such as ours to have something that looks like this does is quite a source of pride.” People come from all over to attend concerts on Courthouse Square, he adds, and “Redwood City is really a happening place because of it.”

What a difference a few decades make. Not that long ago, visitors to the old courthouse came to pay traffic tickets and property tax bills or to arm wrestle in Small Claims Court. Today, they’re drawn by concerts, art shows and festivals outdoors and indoors to the museum’s exhibits, research archives, lectures, school tours, Victorian teas, as well as a gift shop that offers discounts during certain events. Museum space is also rented for weddings, receptions, dinners and other private parties. (San Mateo County owns the courthouse, as well as two other offsite historic locations that the historical association operates, Sanchez Adobe in Pacifica and the Woodside Store.)

Almost 40,000 people visited the museum and archives last year, and the other sites and outreach pushes the total to nearly 60,000. Thousands of school kids from all over the tour the museum.

The Day of the Dead celebration held every year on the first Sunday in November brings out more people to the museum than any other event in the year. Now in its eighth year, the “Día de las Muertos” celebration has grown from 500 to more than 3,700 celebrants who toured the old courthouse last year, according to Carmen Blair, the museum’s deputy director. The event is cosponsored with Casa Círculo Cultural, and with the Redwood City Library and the Parks & Art Foundation.

This year’s celebration will be on Nov. 4 and will begin with a procession down Broadway to Courthouse Square, where food purveyors and vendor booths will be set up. Music and dancing add to the festivities as well as a chalk mural. Then from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., the courthouse will be open for children to do crafts in the rotunda while other visitors can see a display of altars in the ceremonial Courtroom A; the altars will remain on display for the following week.

Former Redwood City Mayor Barbara Pierce has just completed a term as chairwoman of the historical association board. The city, she notes, has a large population of families from Mexico and the event “really helps to bring a whole new set of people to the museum and to downtown who might not otherwise.” The high-quality celebration “really honors their tradition,” Pierce says, adding that last year, 2,000 people came through the museum in two hours.

Originally affiliated with what was then called San Mateo Junior College, the historical association got its start in 1935 and created a local history “museum room” in 1941. It moved around within the downtown San Mateo campus until a 6,000-square-foot space was created in 1959 in the new College of San Mateo campus overlooking the city.

By the late 1990s, meanwhile, use of the historic courthouse for trials was winding down. In 1939, a space called “the Fiscal Building” had been added to the front of the building for an expanded office workforce and the stately columns were torn down. An addition to the rear of the structure on Marshall Street was built in 1941. But with the post-World War II growth of county government, more office space was needed and the eight-story Hall of Justice was built in 1963, followed through the years by additional county buildings and a new campus on Tower Road in San Mateo.

In 1998, the museum moved to the old courthouse in Redwood City. That was the good news. The bad news was that the annex buildings were still occupied by county office workers, which meant that the entrance to the museum was not through the front door facing Broadway, but through a side door on Hamilton Street.

The needs of the museum and the renaissance of downtown converged to create what led to the restoration of the historic courthouse, a revitalized museum and a great public plaza. However, making those pieces come together took a lot of heavy lifting by dedicated people.

Rolandelli was part of a committee that was formed to restore the courthouse to its original splendor and create a public plaza that would replace a lawn and simple pathway. The task was daunting enough: relocate the county employees along with removing the three-story Fiscal Building without damaging the historic courthouse structure. Then faithfully reproduce the original columns, façade and wide stairway from photo archives and create a plaza that was contemporary yet would complement the classic courthouse architecture.

Fundraising for the restoration project had its own challenges, especially after the stock market bubble burst, but between funds from redevelopment, foundations and passing the hat, the finances worked. An unforeseen problem originated in Sacramento, where the head of the state architect’s office was an enthusiast for works that President Franklin Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration had created. That presented an obstacle to dismantling the Fiscal Building.

As a compromise, the committee agreed to save a fresco in the front lobby that had an historic Art Deco image. Rolandelli and other committee members agree that for Redwood City and San Mateo County, that was a battle well worth winning. In 2005, work began to demolish the Fiscal Building, restore the original courthouse façade and construct the plaza. The following year, the city celebrated the opening of Courthouse Square.

That’s not to say the Fiscal Building didn’t have its good points or its fans. Rolandelli recalls that Jean Cloud, another pioneer in historic preservation efforts, “didn’t want to see it come down.” The WPA structure “was actually quite nice. It’s just unfortunate that they stuck it in front of the courthouse. … The overriding factor was that (the removal in 2005) was going to uncover the historic gem behind it.”

Not only did the demolition open the entrance to the courthouse, it allowed for the creation of Courthouse Square, where events take place almost year-round ranging from concerts to a salsa festival and from an Oktoberfest to corporate events. On most Tuesday evenings, the Redwood City Improvement Association lights up the courthouse exterior with a changing 3D light show.

Working in collaboration, city and county governments invested about $20 million in restoring the landmark courthouse for the museum, including seismic repairs and upgrades to the structure and to the stunning stained-glass domes in the atrium and in Courtroom A. The county continues to maintain the structure and currently has crews working to restore the deteriorating sandstone exterior walls. The museum gets an annual $200,000 subvention from the county, which also provides electricity, gas and water services.

Museum officials take justifiable pride in the fact that it has been accredited since 1972 by the American Alliance of Museums. Accreditors go “measure everything about you,” Postel says, from financial reports, governance, standards of exhibitions, care of the collections, compliance with rules for nonprofits and more.

“It’s not easy to get accredited,” he adds. “There are about 40,000 museums in America and only about 1,000 are actually accredited. It’s so rigorous that a lot of museums don’t go through it.” During the transition from CSM to downtown, it wasn’t easy, he recalls with a laugh. “It was a horrible time to be reaccredited. We were still cleaning up all the dirt from construction. We moved in too soon. One of the things you have to do if you are a museum is you have to be really clean.” But accreditors knew “we were really trying,” he says.

A 2011 report by the AAM’s visiting accrediting committee offered high praise for the historical association for maintaining “a commitment to high standards during a period of unprecedented growth and change for the organization.” A reviewer was struck by “the spirit and drive of the staff” and board members seemed actively engaged, focused on the future and results-oriented. One of the “inspiring” highlights for the visitors was meeting leaders of the active and committed volunteers, including docents and people who raise funds at a used bookstore.

The reviewers also took note of the fact that the majority of the budget comes from private contributions and earned income, and comparatively little from public funds, a validation of the level of commitment from the board and support from the community. Of the total 2018-19 $1,588,500 budget, about $550,000 comes from the annual campaign and corporate and foundation support and another $200,000 from the annual San Mateo County History Makers dinner.

Where some small museums “get a bit too bogged down in the minutiae of little stuff,” Postel says, “I think we do a better job than most history museums in putting our story in context of the larger themes of Western and American history.” In planning the exhibit space, care was taken to show the county as a microcosm in a larger narrative – the story of native Californians, the impact of the missions, immigration and so on – as well as what in San Mateo County history is unique.

Caltrain, for example, operates on a rail corridor that dates back to 1863-64 and was the first commuter railroad west of the Mississippi. The first bit of highway constructed for the automobile was built between San Bruno and Burlingame, according to Postel. Then, of course, there’s the story of Silicon Valley and the entrepreneurs who pioneered in electronics, biotechnology, internet and other leading-edge endeavors.

Many displays include interactive aids to provide more depth as well as hands-on involvement. Young visitors to the Journey to Work gallery are encouraged to ride in a stagecoach, weigh gold, send a telegram and drive a streetcar. Nearly every gallery includes tangible material to recreate an historic experience. Visitors can experience what it took to pack a person’s worldly possessions in a shipping trunk. Or choose to interconnect stones just as workers had done to build the Crystal Springs Dam.

The county’s shipping legacy is celebrated in the Charles Parsons’ Ships of the World exhibit where remarkable ship models he made are displayed. (A fun fact: The San Carlos was the first ship to sail into San Francisco Bay.) The gallery also presents murals and artifacts of some of the great sailing ships that wrecked on the county’s rugged coast along with the original Fresnel lens from the Montara Lighthouse that later helped sailors avoid disaster. The museum also celebrates Redwood City’s legacy as San Francisco Bay’s deep-water port, the port’s importance to the city’s growth and its continued contribution to commerce.

From the beginning, immigration has played a major role in the county’s development and that dynamic is celebrated in the Land of Opportunity exhibit where people from all parts of the world have made the Peninsula one of the most culturally rich in the nation. Colorful costumes of early settlers present a striking display.

Silicon Valley technology has been a dominant economic force in the county and the History Makers exhibit takes a tour through recent history and showcases the entrepreneurs and other business people who made a major impact. On one of the exhibit’s walls, a static mural timeline of entrepreneurs will soon be replaced with two large flat screens to bring contemporary, dynamic life to that space.

One of the newest exhibits celebrates the county’s fame in the surfing community. No, not just web surfing, but riding the giant waves at Mavericks Beach, just north of Half Moon Bay. Visitors start by stepping on a surfboard near a big window overlooking the plaza and Fox Theatre. From this perch, it’s possible to imagine that this 40-foot perspective is what Mavericks surfers experience when they begin their amazing descent. Then one can take a few steps into a high-tech surfing interactive display, mount a surfboard and choose a wave to ride.

A large video screen interacts with foot manipulations on the board to negotiate down a selection of waves, safely make it through a passage with rocks on either side and dismount. The virtual experience lets visitors test surfing skills without getting wet.

Courtroom A is a destination for museum visitors as well as a popular space for special events. Like the domed rotunda, this large courtroom was restored to its 1910 origins. Superior Court Judge George Buck, whose portrait hangs on the wall, presided there until 1932. In fact, cases were heard in the historic courtroom until 1998.

District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe’s roots are deeply connected to downtown Redwood City and its courts. His father had considered going to work for a big law firm in San Francisco but a judge in the historic courthouse urged him to practice law in San Mateo County. He did — for five decades. Steve began his career at the DA’s office in 1975 when it was located in the old courthouse and he was sworn in as district attorney in Courtroom A.

The famous courtroom is still used for ceremonial events such as swearing in new judges. During most regular museum hours, visitors can sit at the bench, named in honor of retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor who worked in the county’s district attorney’s office after graduating from Stanford Law School in the early 1950s.
“The museum has grown over the years just like Redwood City has grown,” Pierce says, “and it just keeps getting better and better. And there are wonderful plans for the future.”

Lathrop House, one of the Peninsula’s oldest mansions, built in 1863 by Benjamin Lathrop, San Mateo County’s first clerk, will be carefully moved to the back of the courthouse where Hamilton and Marshall streets intersect. The house currently sits on land on Hamilton Street opposite the Hall of Justice, where the county has plans for constructing offices and a plaza. The historic house was last moved in 1905 from Broadway, where the Fox Theatre now sits. Back then, the movers placed logs under the structure and pulled the big house with horses.

Redwood City resident Dee Eva, a member of the historical association board who has been involved with the plans for the relocated Lathrop House, says a company which specializes in historic properties will be handling the transportation job.

“It’s a clear shot,” she says. “They will pick it up, move it forward onto the street, then they are going to pull it down the street in the same orientation a couple hundred feet across Marshall Street and then just back it up and put it on the lot.” The interior furnishings have been removed and stored in containers for the moving date, which has slipped several times. A new foundation and utility work still need to be done before Lathrop House can move to its new home behind the museum.

Rolandelli had had his doubts about how moving the house might affect its listing on the National Register of Historic Places. But at a meeting in May in Palo Alto, the state Historic Resources Commission said the status would be unimpaired, which took care of that concern.

Eva, who has been advocating for a Redwood City history museum for several years, says two interior walls will be taken down to create space for a gallery where city memorabilia and artifacts can be exhibited. Realtor John Shroyer, who has a collection of bottles and ephemera, will provide the first display. She and Pierce say the move should prove beneficial because Lathrop House will be open more often because of the connection with the museum.

“I think it’s the crown jewel of Redwood City historic properties,” Eva says. The house will be illuminated in such a way that it will look dramatic and “really shine.”

According to Eva and Historical Association President Postel, plans are also in the works for a new carriage house to showcase the 30 mostly Brewster era (1810 to 1905) carriages that have been stored in the museum’s 5,000-square-foot warehouse. The carriages that came to the museum once belonged to Lurline Matson Roth, who owned the Filoli Estate. Plans call for a two-story structure next to Lathrop House at the corner of Marshall Street and Middlefield Road. The proposed design would create an open-air rooftop space that could be used for gatherings such as small weddings, parties and corporate events. Postel says many private collectors own carriages and vehicles that could be displayed too.

More immediately, there are plans to have a natural history gallery and redo the immigrants and entrepreneurs galleries, he adds. After 34 years on the job, Postel says his enthusiasm is undiminished. “I am having so much fun,” he says. “It’s great to work here, just with a terrific staff and the volunteers have always been the best group of volunteers.”

Ready to make some more history.

Neighbors oppose plan to relocate Whipple crosswalk

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Neighbors opposed to plan to relocate Whipple crosswalk

A proposal to relocate a crosswalk on Whipple Avenue in Redwood City has upset several neighbors.

Based upon a 2017 road analysis, city staff determined that the crosswalk at Woodstock Place should be relocated to Iris Street to increase pedestrian safety. A design of the new enhanced crosswalk at Iris St. was completed early this year and advertised for construction in July 2018.

Problem is, residents living on Whipple said they only heard about the project when the city sent a letter less than two weeks ago.

At Monday’s City Council meeting, the project contract was scheduled to be awarded. Following complaints from multiple neighbors, however, no decision was made in order to allow for further public outreach.

The problem of high traffic volume and speeding on Whipple Avenue dates back several years. In 2010, neighbors fought to get additional crosswalks installed on Whipple. In 2011, two were installed on Woodstock and on Nevada Street along with other safety enhancements such as additional signage. Since then, neighbors say, there have been no major accidents or injuries in the area, and the crosswalk has been useful for students traveling to schools.

When it came time in 2015 to conduct a paving project on Whipple, public outreach led to renewed interest in safety enhancements on Whipple, according to the city. Some short-term enhancements were installed when the paving project was done in 2016. At the same time, according to city staff, consultants were hired to evaluate safety enhancements. An ensuing study looked at four locations in the area for potential enhanced crosswalks and decided having one at Iris Street rather than Woodstock was optimal.

About a half-dozen neighbors who came to Monday’s City Council meeting to oppose the plan disagree with that finding. Further complicating matters, in 2016 the city approved a permit allowing a homeowner to relocate his driveway, which now runs into the Woostock crosswalk, a probable code violation.

Photo: City of Redwood City

‘Next Generation Dunkin’ set for grand opening in San Carlos

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'Next Generation Dunkin' set for grand opening in San Carlos

A “Next Generation Dunkin'” is opening Wednesday at 240 El Camino Real in San Carlos.

Calling it the Dunkin’ “store of the future,” the new shop will have “innovative new features such as a cold beverage tap system and a sleek new interior design,” the company said on social media. The company, which last month announced a rebranding from Dunkin’ Donuts to simply Dunkin’, has been opening dozens of next generation coffee shops this year.

“Doors open at 5 a.m., and the first person in line will receive a $150 Dunkin’ gift card, with the second and third guests in line receiving a $50 gift card each,” according to an eventbrite for the grand opening.

A ribbon-cutting will occur at 8 a.m., and there will also be free food and beverage samples, special giveaways to the first 100 people in line, and an appearance from Dunkin’s mascot Cuppy. Dunkin’ will also donate to the San Carlos Education Foundation as part of the event.

The store will open seven days a week, from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. Menu items include specialty coffees, espresso, sandwiches, and baked goods, including donuts.

Photo credit: Twitter @DunkinNorCal

Redwood City intends to transition to district-based elections

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Extremely Low Income Housing Takes Center Stage at Redwood City Planning Commission The Planning Commission and Housing and Human Concerns Committee express concerns about deeply affordable housing at Housing Element study session

In response to the threat of costly legal action, the Redwood City council on Monday unanimously announced its intent to transition from an at-large elections system to a district-based elections system.

As first reported last month by Climate Magazine columnist Mark Simon, Redwood City recently joined a long list of state jurisdictions in receiving a letter from the law firm Shenkman & Hughes alleging that its current system of at-large elections discriminates against minority voters and candidates.

While at-large elections allow voters of the entire city to elect the seven councilmembers, a district-based system has voters voting solely for the councilmember who resides in and aims to represent their particular district of the city.

In the letter to Redwood City officials, Malibu attorney Kevin Shenkman said the at-large system violates the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) of 2001. His letter threatened litigation if Redwood City did not voluntarily switch to district-based elections.

In its report to council, Redwood City staff did not defend the at-large election system. Rather, staff advised that challenging the legal threat would likely be costly and unsuccessful.

According to a staff report, “the threshold to establish liability under the CVRA is extremely low, and prevailing CVRA plaintiffs are guaranteed to recover their attorneys’ fees and costs. As a result, every governmental defendant that has challenged the conversion to by-district elections under the CVRA has either lost in court or settled/agreed to change its election system and been forced to pay at least some portion of the plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees and costs.”

When the City of Palmdale attempted to defend its at-large council election system in court, it was forced to pay $4.7 million in plaintiff’s legal fees, not counting nearly $2 million in legal defense fees. Santa Barbara, Whittier, Anaheim and Modesto incurred legal fees of between $600,000 and $3 million in settling such challenges, staff said.

“All of these cases ended with those cities adopting by-district elections,” the staff report says.

Locally, seven jurisdictions have either chosen to adopt district elections or are preparing to do so, including Half Moon Bay, Menlo Park, South San Francisco, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors and two local school districts. Santa Clara was court-ordered to implement district elections even though voters in the city rejected such a system in June.

Proposals by Redwood City staff include reducing council seats from seven to six under a district-based elections system, with the mayor’s position elected in at-large system. Other alternatives include red “ranked choice voting,” “cumulative voting” and “from district” elections formats, according to the staff report.

Should council approve the transition to district elections, public hearings will be held to seek input on drafting district maps. The conversion to district elections is expected to cost Redwood City about $175,000.

Freewheel Brewing Company hosting stand-up comedy hour Thursday night

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Freewheel Brewing Company hosting hour of stand-up comedy Thursday night

What’s so funny about Redwood City?

Well, you can find out for yourself on Thursday night.  From 8 p.m. to 9, settle in for an hour of stand-up comedy at Freewheel Brewing Company, 3736 Florence Street (and since it’s at Freewheel, naturally the event is also free).

They call it “Good Suds,” with local and touring comedians – and the “suds” part, that’s Freewheel’s beers.  You do have to pay for those, but if it turns out that “what’s so funny about Redwood City” is, not so much – well, at least there’s beer.

Meantime, you can take a look at Thursday night’s line-up, and refresh yourself on any of the other details, at the Good Suds Facebook page here.

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