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A proposal to enter a land swap agreement with San Mateo County officials looking to develop a modern navigation center on current Redwood City land failed to garner enough support from members of the City Council during a remote meeting Monday night. 

The land swap would have involved 3 acres of a 4.5-acre plot of land at 1402 Maple St. to be exchanged for county land at 1580 Maple St. where the vacant women’s jail and operating homeless shelter sit. Once the land was acquired by the county, plans were to develop a modern navigation center, offering resources for the homeless.

Just more than half of the 20 community participants of the remote meeting spoke in favor of the land swap, saying enabling the county to develop the navigation center would be a major step forward in fighting the growing homelessness crisis within the city and county as a whole. 

“I can’t ... urge enough how much I would approve of this land swap. Homelessness is not an individual problem but a community problem and the ability to build a navigational center to address the issue of homelessness to Redwood City residents as well as county residents will not only improve our community and diversity of our community but will address [other known issues],” said Robert Molson, a resident of Redwood City who works with the homeless. 

Councilwoman Giselle Hale, who has worked alongside Councilwoman Diana Reddy on the Safe Parking RV program, said she would vote for the land swap, adding that Redwood City now has the highest number of homeless residents compared to neighboring cities. 

“If there was a reason for the haste I believe it’s because we are in an extraordinary, unprecedented time. I do believe we will have a massive wave of displacement hitting our county and our city,” said Hale. “If you look at the data on homelessness it has already increased 16% during COVID and right now 32% of Americans can’t pay their mortgage. We’re not even talking about renters, we’re talking about homeowners who may be in that displaced group in the near future.” 

Reddy and Vice Mayor Shelly Masur also said they would vote in favor of the land swap due to the opportunity to alleviate the burden on local homeless residents being of great importance.

Of about 20 speakers, almost half spoke against the deal during the public comment session of the remote meeting citing concerns for a lack of public engagement on the matter. Some speakers also noted they first heard of the potential land swap less than a week before the council’s opportunity to vote on the measure, giving those against the deal enough time to develop a petition which gained over 500 signatures. 

Hale, Reddy and Masur all shared the sentiment of others that the lack of public engagement was unfortunate but said they did not want the pieces of the deal to fall apart. 

Other speakers against the immediate approval of the land swap, including Pat Mapelli, the Graniterock Redwood City land use manager, said the area was unsafe for a navigation center because of the proximity of the land to Graniterock, a construction materials and contracting company which also processes asphalt, sand, concrete and other building materials in the area. Some also noted the lack of transportation in the area or access to amenities.   

Despite these concerns, many against the land swap implored the council to instead consider the development of a waterfront park in the area rather than trading the land to the county for the navigation center. Some also referenced a study on the inner harbor done in 2016 which envisioned the area being transformed into a what a speaker called a “jewel,” though councilmembers noted the study was never approved for other complicating factors.

Others said the waterfront land should be used for the expansion of boating capabilities, a common recreational activity in Redwood Creek. 

Councilmembers Ian Bain, Janet Borgens, Alicia Aguirre and Mayor Diane Howard all said they were not ready to vote for the land swap measure due to the lack of transparency in the process. Bain said the deal could be better for the city noting the plans were not a “win-win” situation. 

“The timing of the CARES Funds happened very quickly and I understand that accelerated conversations but we didn’t follow the process that we should be following in terms of bringing people into the conversation. Having 20 people speak to us at midnight is not a robust public process on how we do complex land use situations,” said Bain who was on the council in 2009 when the land was first purchased. 

Though negotiations for the property swap may continue, the application deadline for accessing the CARES Act funding, a federal relief package aimed at helping individuals, businesses and communities through COVID-19 needed for development, ends July 25.

Bain suggested setting a special meeting before the deadline to potentially come to a better agreement but City Manager Melissa Stevenson Diaz informed the council a new or adjusted deal was unlikely to transpire during the 10 days between their decision and the deadline. Staff was still advised by councilmembers to continue negotiations, pushing for greater city benefits out of the deal. 

During the Board of Supervisors meeting held July 7, Supervisor Don Horsley said officials have spent years looking for property suitable to hold the facility adding the selected area in Redwood City’s Harbor District would work well for long-term assistance for the homeless. 

“This is probably the best and only site for this facility,” said Horsley.

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