By Alice Kaufman, Legislative Advocacy Director and Dan Ponti, President of Redwood City Neighbors United
This article originally appeared as an op-ed in the San Mateo Daily Journal on 11/13/17.
In July of this year, the Redwood City Council overruled its own Planning Commission and voted to initiate proceedings to amend the General Plan for the former Malibu Grand Prix/Lyngso site adjacent to the Highway 101/Woodside Road interchange. Why is this important? Because it’s the first step toward possible approval of Jay Paul Company’s proposed Harbor View project — four 7-story office towers on a 27-acre campus for approximately 5,000 workers. That’s a lot of new employees looking for a home nearby, or adding to gridlock on the freeway and nearby streets — far more than if the site was fully developed under the existing light industrial zoning. The Harbor View project might also lead to significant changes harmful to Redwood City’s Bayfront open space and the port.
It’s no secret that the region has a housing crisis. Job growth has outstripped available housing for years. Despite building housing at a record pace, Redwood City’s jobs/housing imbalance is bleak and, under our current General Plan, we have already completed, approved or have office projects in the pipeline for nearly 7,500 new workers. Unlike Harbor View, these new offices are largely near downtown housing and public transit. To go out of our way to change Redwood City’s General Plan — the blueprint for future growth in the city — to build even more office space that is away from transit and in the path of sea level rise is just plain foolish.
Changing the site’s land use and zoning also threatens to undermine an important objective of the 2010 General Plan — to preserve and enhance Redwood City’s port and its associated industries. Current zoning for the Harbor View site allows for businesses that serve to buffer heavy industrial port activities from incompatible uses like offices or homes. By turning land designated for light industrial uses into offices, Harbor View could deal a body blow to this important part of Redwood City’s economy.
Despite these concerns, the City Council voted 4-2 (with Councilmembers Ian Bain and Janet Borgens dissenting, and Diane Howard absent) to move the project approval process forward. While insisting that their vote was only to authorize a “study,” their decision actually begins the entitlement process, including future public hearings, an environmental analysis and a final vote by the council. In the past, arguments have been made that developers, having undergone this long planning process, “deserve” to have their projects approved. In this case, however, the developer purchased the properties knowing they were not zoned for high-density offices and is not entitled to amend the General Plan.
This is the second time in recent years that the City Council has considered changing our General Plan to accommodate a controversial project on the Bayfront. Remember Saltworks — the new “City in the Bay” proposed for Cargill’s 1,400 acres of salt ponds? Those ponds are right across the street from the Harbor View site. Currently designated as open space, they provide habitat for thousands of migratory shorebirds, and present an exceptional opportunity for tidal marsh restoration, flood protection and recreational trails.
Although the Saltworks plan was withdrawn in 2012, the threat of future development on the ponds is ever present. With the current trend for large companies like Google, Facebook and even NASA to build housing near their tech campuses, approving Harbor View could turn up the pressure on the salt ponds and be the catalyst for a new Saltworks proposal. What better excuse for building in the Bay than the argument that all those thousands of Harbor View employees right across the street need a place close by to live?
Final plans for the Harbor View project may come before the City Council in 2018. With so much at stake, will Redwood City uphold its General Plan and reject the Harbor View proposal, or will we be approving a project that may pave the way for paving the Bay?