Developer Jay Paul will have to go back to the drawing board after Redwood City councilmembers agreed that the “Harbor View” office complex proposal will significantly worsen traffic congestion and aggravate the city’s housing problems, among other impacts.
“[The project] will exacerbate the current housing/jobs imbalance I have no doubt,” said Vice Mayor Diane Howard at a packed meeting Feb. 11. “I have major concerns about moving forward on this project. The type and the intensity of this project I’m not sure belongs on this site. There are a substantial number of significant impacts that cannot be mitigated.”
Discussion focused on the draft environmental impact report for the project, which was published in January, and no formal decisions were made at the meeting.
The proposal at 320-350 Blomquist St. east of Highway 101 includes 1.2 million square feet of offices within four seven-story buildings, but no housing because the developer’s representative said the site is close to a freeway and the soil is contaminated.
“If we look at this from a housing impact standpoint, I can’t help but think this is going to create more demand on our already strained housing market,” Mayor Ian Bain said. “I believe it’s going to create a significant demand not just on below-market-rate units but on market-rate units which we’re already feeling in this area.”
Councilwoman Janet Borgens said there are more than 19 significant and unavoidable traffic impacts in the draft environmental impact report.
“That’s huge for our community to have impacts that are significant and unavoidable — that means you can’t do anything about it, you can’t mitigate it, there’s no wiggle room there,” she said.
A general plan amendment is required to build offices on the site and most councilmembers said they are unwilling to do that. The site is zoned for industrial uses and is currently vacant.
“I don’t believe we should do a series of general plan amendments even if it’s a project that we really really like,” Bain said. “Doing a series of general plan amendments is being on the back foot and being reactive. That’s not a way to lead a city. I don’t want to do that.”
Resident Jim Gernand elaborated on the implications of a general plan amendment and the loss of areas zoned for light industrial uses.
“Light industrial businesses are under enormous pressure in the Bay Area in part due to displacement and conversion of existing light industrial districts into new office projects such as this one,” he said. “The kinds of jobs provided by the Port of Redwood City and its supporting industries are a key part of that effort to broaden Redwood City’s economic base and provide economic resiliency as these provide jobs for all skill and education levels and that’s an essential component of addressing our housing affordability crisis.”
Impacts to the port and related businesses were a common theme during public comment and, Borgens said, in the roughly 400 emails the council received from residents leading up to the meeting.
Residents also raised concerns about sea level rise and suggested that approving the project would be a first step toward development of other open space, including the Cargill salt ponds.
According to the DEIR, 4,579 employees would work in the new offices, but some residents argued the actual number of employees would be closer to 8,000.
“The number of workers are severely understand,” said resident Bob Wilson. “[The DEIR] used 250 square feet per person to come to [4,579 workers]. Facebook just down the road in Menlo Park published reports saying 153 square feet per person. Other Bay Area companies are at less than 100 square feet per person. The workers and support people on this site will be over 8,000 and could approach over 16,000.”
While the list of concerns is long, the proposal also comes with a hefty package of community benefits.
Paul is offering more than $50 million in community benefits in addition to about as much in required mitigations, including a $12.4 million donation to nonprofit St. Francis Center to build affordable housing in the city.
“We need to balance impacts with benefits,” said Sister Christina Heltsley, who runs the nonprofit.
Nonprofit Casa Circulo Cultural also spoke in favor of the proposal for the community benefits and for generating construction jobs. Councilwoman Shelly Masur said many of those workers are Redwood City residents.
Masur also cited the proposal’s contribution to a child care fund and fees for affordable housing and traffic. Paul is offering $24.35 million in voluntary traffic improvements in addition to $26.15 million in required traffic mitigations.
While councilmembers acknowledged the community benefits are significant, most suggested they were not significant enough to offset impacts.
“I want to thank the Harbor View team for reaching out to the community and seeking support by finding out what’s important to us with the housing and child care and other things that could create benefits for our community,” Councilwoman Diana Reddy said. “That said, I am concerned about the extent of significant and unavoidable impacts and the inability of these community benefits to overcome those impacts. I hope there are other alternatives that will come back to us.”
In other business, the council held another hearing on the switch to district elections and narrowed down the list of potential district maps to five. Maps 7, 13, 19, 21 and 22 — all posted to the city’s website — will be considered at the next meeting Feb. 25.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 102