Now past initial conversations of what the Redwood City stretch of El Camino Real could look like, a citizens advisory group met this week to weigh concrete options for coordinating transit and other activities along the busy thoroughfare.
This was the group's second meeting to discuss a variety of infrastructure, design and economic considerations aimed at improving traffic and accessibility around current and proposed businesses and residential buildings on or near El Camino Real, largely between Whipple Avenue in the north and Oakwood Drive in the south. The options were collected from community meetings and stakeholder interviews in the fall and early part of this year.
Providing for more affordable housing, public art and open space were also among the issues brought up by those participating.
Consisting of 10 citizens appointed by the City Council or serving on the Housing and Human Concerns committee, the group reviewed the number and possible placement of activity centers, or building and parking clusters allowing residents to park in one place and visit a number of buildings and services. City staff presented an option to locate four activity centers between Whipple Avenue and Hopkins Avenue, Brewster Avenue and Jefferson Avenue, Maple Street to Pine Street and around Charter Street. Another option presented was to have one centralized cluster at or near Sequoia Station downtown.
The group ultimately favored multiple centers placed throughout the zone over one centralized cluster after a discussion of their pros and cons.
Though some were encouraged by the idea that the activity centers could distribute services and businesses along El Camino Real and closer to individual neighborhoods, the group acknowledged a concern that they might increase traffic and congestion along the corridor.
Advisory group member Brian Jaffe challenged the group to weigh the goals of smoothing traffic along the corridor and improving access to services for those living in neighborhoods farther from the downtown.
“I think the goal ought to be if you live nearby, you can do several things in the immediate vicinity,” he said.
The group discussed how the nature of the services and businesses located in the activity centers could affect their impact on traffic on El Camino Real, acknowledging pharmacies and dry cleaning services would generate shorter visits than restaurants would. Several advisory group members were supportive of the activity center's potential to provide shared parking opportunities, as the possibility of removing parking on El Camino Real to make way for enhanced sidewalks and bike lanes had been discussed at a previous meeting.
Several group members expressed interest in including public art and open or green spaces in the activity nodes where possible. Planning Commission Vice Chair Kevin Bondonno, who also serves on the advisory group, noted the potential of the aesthetic improvements to help those passing through the city's stretch of El Camino know where they are.
“Public art and public realm improvements would be big in my mind so that people driving in will know they're in a special place,” he said. “They [will] know they're in Redwood City, they don't have to get halfway through the Redwood City portion of the corridor to realize how special it is.”
The group also provided feedback on how developers proposing projects outside of development requirements, which could include building height and density that exceeds the city's limits, could be required to provide resources benefiting the community.
Affordable housing topped the list of priorities for most group members as a critical community benefit. Group members discussed ways to encourage developers to include on-site affordable housing units in their projects to open new, below-market housing as quickly as possible.
Group member Alma Montalvo, also chair of the Housing and Human Concerns Committee, wondered if there is a way to emphasize the need for developers of new residential buildings to provide on-site affordable housing instead of paying a fee toward affordable housing, as one of the two is required for new projects to comply with the affordable housing impact fee.
“I almost think we shouldn't give them a choice,” she said.
Group member Muhammad Safdari suggested funds collected from developers hoping to build beyond development standards be collected toward one priority, such as a new park.
“I like the idea of picking something we're really passionate about and organize overarching efforts toward that,” he said.
The group also reviewed strategies for incentivizing economic activity along the corridor, such as creating a business assessment district, which would tax businesses and use revenue toward street cleaning and improvements, a tenant retention program that would require existing businesses to be included in redevelopment projects and a bonus to developers hoping to consolidate several small parcels into one, multi-use parcel.
Redwood City resident Bill James offered his support for multiple activity centers, and said that they would help residents in neighborhoods farther from the downtown access services more easily. He advocated for a center more closely located near the northern end of the city, near Cordilleras Creek.
“Going a little bit further in that direction would embrace far more residents in that neighborhood from Edgewood Road or even further in that direction,” he said.
Redwood City resident Gita Dev, who also represented the Sierra Club, encouraged the group to limit parking spaces as a way to encourage other modes of transportation.
“We should be looking at other ways to get people through this corridor,” she said. “The most dense volume is pedestrian. I would encourage you to go for the lowest parking that we can. Don't give that precious real estate away.”
An online survey and community workshop next week will give residents additional opportunities to weigh in on some of the streetscape options generated from these meetings. The citizens advisory group will meet again in April to discuss feedback generated from these meetings as well as from progress updates shared with the Planning Commission and other citizens advisory committees.
The next community workshop will be held Wednesday, March 1, at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 1017 Middlefield Road.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 102