The Redwood City Council is guaranteed to have at least one new member next year as Barbara Pierce is being termed out of her seat after filling it for 16 years.
There are four seats up for grabs on the seven-seat council in the November election with Alicia Aguirre, Ian Bain and Rosanne Foust seeking re-election.
They are being challenged by Janet Borgens, Shelly Masur and Tania Solé.
The Daily Journal sat down with all six candidates to discuss issues such as the city’s booming downtown, lack of affordable housing, development east of Highway 101 and traffic.
Borgens is a current planning commissioner, Masur is a trustee on the Redwood City School District board and Solé is the former president of the residents association at Docktown Marina, the city’s floating community on the Bayshore.
With construction cranes dotting the city’s skyline, the candidates have good and bad things to say about the Downtown Precise Plan, the city’s blueprint for future growth in the area.
The plan has paved the way for downtown’s booming office construction, which has already reached its cap.
Solé said the plan wasn’t envisioned to be realized for at least 20 years but has reached its numbers in less than five years.
She proposes a moratorium on downtown construction so the city can revisit the plan since it was developed before the crippling drought hit the state, she said.
In retrospect, Foust said the council could have placed a limit in the precise plan on how much new construction can take place per year in downtown.
The risk, however, is that changing market conditions could jeopardize development in the area, Foust said.
Bain said the plan is a good one overall but that it has led to a jobs/housing imbalance. He said the council may have set height limits too high for new buildings and that more emphasis on aesthetics should have been part of the plan.
“Most of us didn’t think we would reach the office cap so quickly,” Bain said about the council.
Neither Bain nor Foust said they want to see any more new offices built downtown beyond what the precise plan allows.
Aguirre, too, said height limits and the timing of development could have been given more consideration in the plan, although, she noted it took years to develop with a lot of community input.
“The market controls the growth,” she said.
Masur said construction downtown should have been more measured rather than so quickly. She said some of the buildings are “maybe too tall” and that a lot of the city’s newer residents were not able to provide their input into the plan.
The new buildings, too, will strain the city’s already aging infrastructure, Masur said.
Borgens wants to push the “pause” button on the precise plan also.
The plan could have better controlled the pace of construction, she said.
“We lost control of our plan,” Borgens said.
Development east of Highway 101
When it comes to development east of Highway 101, Borgens wants to see marsh land in place where the current salt ponds are at Cargill.
“It provides more protection against sea level rise,” she said.
She would like to see more recreational uses east of 101 but not so much housing.
She does, however, like the idea of exploring the possibility of having more liveaboards on the water such as Docktown.
“I love the idea of a floating community,” she said.
Aguirre also doesn’t like the idea of putting more housing east of 101 especially considering the threat of sea level rise.
She would like to see more recreational uses provided near the Bayshore, especially near the Port of Redwood City.
“The port is such a great asset, it’s prime for more trails,” she said.
Masur would also like to see land east of the highway remain open space. She is also keen on bringing ferry service to the port.
Solé doesn’t want to see any more construction east of 101 but does think the city should support sustainable communities such as Docktown, which would be ideal on the Bayshore when sea level rise hits.
Bain has reservations about building east and wants to keep the floating homes in place perhaps at Ferrari Pond in the future.
He anticipates that Cargill will come back to the council to build a new smaller project on its salt ponds after pulling its plans to build 12,000 homes on 1,400 acres three years ago.
“It’s not a good location for housing,” Bain said.
For Foust, Cargill was an ugly, divisive issue.
“I would prefer that it doesn’t come back,” she said about Cargill’s plans.
She does tout the completion of the Inner Harbor plan later this year which will guide future development decisions from Docktown Marina north to the former Malibu Grand Prix Raceway.
The plan looks to accommodate a mix of habitat, recreational, educational, residential and commercial uses in the Inner Harbor.
The city’s toughest issue, said Bain, is the city’s lack of affordable housing.
When the city’s redevelopment agency was still intact, Redwood City led the region in building affordable housing, Bain said.
He does not favor rent control, however.
“We need a mechanism at the state level to restore our ability to build affordable housing,” he said.
The city has suffered too much displacement with the area’s skyrocketing rents, he said.
The city has engaged in some innovative ways to preserve affordable housing by offering property owners of aging buildings forgivable loans if they voluntarily install sprinkler systems. Two big fires destroyed hundreds of units of affordable housing on Woodside Road in recent years.
Foust is looking forward to the county’s formation of “Closing the Gap, the San Mateo County Affordable Housing Task Force” that will meet for the first time Sept. 24.
The housing problem is a regional issue, she said.
She opposes rent control but said some “greedy, nasty” landlords have taken advantage of the market.
Foust is hoping that developers will provide community benefits to support the construction of affordable housing in the future after the completion of a nexus study that links the development of new commercial buildings to the need for affordable housing.
Solé too does not think rent control is the solution.
She wants the city to pursue more alternative housing such as floating or tiny homes or other accessory dwelling units.
Aguirre too is looking for developers to provide community benefits in exchange for building in the city.
“Hopefully, developers will realize they need to give back to the community,” Aguirre said.
Masur said the city’s community benefits plan should have been in place before all the new construction was undertaken.
She thinks the council should consider using city-owned land to build housing for teachers or city employees.
Borgens said too that the lack of affordable housing is a regional issue.
“We need to bring all stakeholders to the table and determine the problem but we cannot tell property owners what they can make or not make on their investments,” Borgens said.
If the city had a one-time $5 million surplus, Borgens would spend it on housing, infrastructure such as rehabilitating storm drains and bringing recycled water west of El Camino Real.
The city, however, has set aside enough money for capital improvement projects, Aguirre said.
She would spend the $5 million on affordable housing.
Masur would spend the money on creating more parks, open space and upgrading city facilities.
Foust would spend a portion of the surplus on paying down the city’s pension and health liabilities but said the city’s strongest need is affordable housing.
Solé would spend it on housing and Bain would spend it on more community policing services and paying down pension liabilities.
Differing opinions of council decisions
When it comes to bad decisions the council has made in recent years, Bain said the decision to restripe Farm Hill Boulevard may have been the wrong one.
The projections from staff and traffic experts on the impact of restriping was a “glowy” one, Bain said.
Solé said the worst decision has been to allow for the construction of all the new offices which has created a jobs/housing imbalance in the city.
Foust agreed that residents may not have seen a “thoughtful approach” to the city’s decision to restripe Farm Hill Boulevard and Jefferson Avenue.
Aguirre too is rethinking the Farm Hill decision.
She said the pilot program to make the thoroughfare safer was done in a way that hit residents by surprise, which it should not have done.
Masur said the city should have had a plan in place to collect impact fees from developers through a community benefits program as it approved the Downtown Precise Plan.
Borgens said the council was close to making a decision earlier that year and it would have modified the precise plan negatively.
“They were going to increase the cap on office and I was hugely against it,” Borgens said.
Borgens calls herself a listener and said residents want to have simple conversations about the issues they care about.
“I’m willing to commit the time for that,” Borgens said. “It’s not about me. It’s about the decisions I make that affect the city.”
She would like to see councilmembers assigned districts so that they have direct contact with the neighborhoods.
Masur said her experience on the school board will make her a good councilmember. She wants to build on bringing more collaboration between the city and its schools. She would make pedestrian and bicycle safety a priority if elected.
Aguirre wants to “connect residents in every way we can” to create a better sense of community.
Bain admits he is often the lone voice of dissent on the seven-seat council but said his approach is always evidenced-based and that he does so with respect for the other councilmembers.
Solé said the “council needs a completely new face.”
Most candidates either first sit on the Planning Commission or school board before running for office, she said.
“They have been indoctrinated and I have not been indoctrinated,” Solé said.
Foust said she’s proud of the 12 years she has been on the council to revitalize downtown and protect the neighborhoods.
She touts the Redwood Shores Library, restoration of Bair Island and Courthouse Square as some of the major accomplishments the city has had while she has served.
This year’s election is a first for the county as it will be conducted primarily by mail. Election Day is Nov. 3.
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