Letter: Ground Floor Office Space Will Kill Downtown

Redwood City business owner and resident says that she and others will protest the proposed amendment at Monday's city council meeting.

An amendment coming before the Redwood City Council this coming Monday, May 21, to change the , if passed, will allow the city to rezone ground floor retail space on the key downtown corridor (Broadway) for office use for a period up to 5 years during times when vacancy in the downtown is more than 10%.

A large group of retailers, and Redwood City shoppers/diners/visitors are VERY concerned about the present and future of the downtown if this passes.  And, we will be turning out in numbers on Monday night to express our opposition.  

See the one-page pdf highlighting our concerns and position.  

Our recommendation regarding this amendment is as follows:

We request that the City Council hold off on making a decision on this amendment on Monday until it can be studied more thoroughly.  And, that the input of a broader set of stakeholders including downtown retailers, residents and frequent downtown visitors/shoppers be included in this evaluation.

I am an owner and partner in Brick Monkey as well as a resident of Redwood City. The downtown has come a long way thanks to the vision of the City and Council in creating the Downtown Precise Plan.

Now is not the time to lose faith and abandon it after just 16 months of it being in effect, particularly now that positive momentum and progress are underway.


Kirsten McKay

Owner/Partner Brick Monkey & Mt. Carmel Resident

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Marty May 20, 2012 at 09:17 PM
This has failed everywhere it has been tried. Large corporations have tried this and it creates dead zones for pedestrians and nightlife. People are unwilling to walk through unpopulated areas. It isolates those commercial businesses that are open.
Sarah May 21, 2012 at 05:39 AM
futurecitycouncilmember - McWhorters paid their rent and the landlord refused to renew their lease. The space has been empty for almost a year. It is going to take a really long time for the landlord to make up the lost rent. We lost a valuable neighborhood store when McWhorters closed up shop.
Zeke Mead May 21, 2012 at 04:38 PM
Plato also said, " I have hardly ever known a mathematician who was capable of reasoning. " (and he was a mathematician) Socrates said, "As for me, all I know is that I know nothing." So? Why don't we look a little less than 2300 years back, when things were a little different than the society and commerce we have today. We can go back 10 years ago to the very successful Urban Planner, Michael Freedman, who was hired by RWC to hold public input meetings and help us craft a plan, the Downtown Precise Plan, that was well thought out. Let's not be so impatient and realize RWC high end retail is doing very well! Brick Monkey, Pickled, Velo Bikes? We do need to do a better job of targeting new retail, but not by giving away all the good retail spots for office space for 5 years. And whoever said fewer retailers would give you less competition, why do you think Home Depot and Lowes have stores across the parking lot from each other. Because retail brings MORE retail. But another retail can't move in if the spot next door is occupied by a bunch of cubicles. RWC is great and is going to be amazing, if we allow it to, let's not solve a longterm problem with a short term solution.
La Vonne martin May 21, 2012 at 05:06 PM
I know a lot of people that shop in San Carlos BECAUSE we don't have any shops in DEADWOOD CITY. There are so many things going on downtown days and evenings, I am sure retail would work IF we had it. I would rather we had shops locally so I could support my own town, not someones else s I miss Redwood City!!!.
Joseph Lucero May 21, 2012 at 05:09 PM
Joseph Lucero Owner of Your Life's Personal Best Sport Massage. As a active participant in the growth on the downtown not only eating, going to events and studying growing patterns in the city as a whole. I feel we are heading in the right direction and with more events like the President of the United States coming to our down town, this will help Redwood City Downtown and incise other retailers to take notice that we a growing community one that is willing to take risks and move forward in positive direction with the community as a whole in mind. It wont be easy but I feel will be the best for the community. Let's go to the meeting and see what they have to say. See you all on the flip side.
Ralph Garcia May 21, 2012 at 05:21 PM
The City is not driving this, One downtown bldg owner that bought the building knowing what the zoning was and then put lot's of money into it knowing what the zoning was is now crying about the zoning. There are some safeguards in the zoning but the city's enforcement of such rules in the past have been less than steller. Hopefully this will not pass. I am a downtown business owner on Main where office is already allowed and we have two offices with blacked out windows. Looks bad. Email our city Council members to tell them you do not support this or come to the meeting tonight.
Joseph Lucero May 21, 2012 at 05:30 PM
Thank you for the update. I will look into this. what is your business, I would like to come down and see if I can use your business or know someone that can. have a good day
Ralph Garcia May 21, 2012 at 05:52 PM
Ralph's Vacuum & sewing Center. We have been in Redwood City for 34 years and Downtown for 2 years on June 1st.
Dan Ponti May 21, 2012 at 06:06 PM
Redwood City's Downtown Precise Plan and General Plan are very forward-looking documents that have been put together with much thought and input and that have a lot of community buy-in. I find it very distressing that, before the ink is barely dry on these plans, we are considering changes that will certainly delay, if not destroy, the DTPP vision only to address a temporary vacancy problem largely driven by our current economic climate. It almost makes me not want to participate in any future planning workshops if we're going to effectively say "well, never mind" to these blueprints before giving these ideas a chance to be implemented. We should be thinking more about how to incentivize retail downtown, rather than considering converting good retail space to commercial. There are some provisions in the staff report to provide more flexibility in allowing different types of retail into various districts downtown. This should help and perhaps those provisions could go into the plan. But what about thinking about some type of temporary tax credit to retailers who move into unoccupied spaces? The city isn't getting any revenue from the empty store fronts anyway, so we're hardly losing anything to consider this. Surely there are other good ideas our community can come up with.
Dan Ponti May 21, 2012 at 06:23 PM
Long term, we need to get more housing downtown to ensure a vital retail district that includes more than sandwich shops and restaurants. We're on the right track in getting housing downtown, and we could give that a big boost by insisting that every upcoming mixed-use development proposal contains a housing element. One of these is Depot Circle, which will include significant new commercial and retail space and a hotel. One proposal up for consideration also adds a housing component (~140 apartments) - the other does not. The City Council will be selecting the Depot Circle developer tonight. Those of you who oppose the DTPP amendment ought to also speak up during the Depot Circle agenda item. Tell the City Council that if the City is going to be selling or leasing city-owned property for development (the case here with Depot Circle), then it should help contribute to the overall DTPP and General Plan vision by requiring that housing be included at Depot Circle.
Reality Check May 21, 2012 at 07:03 PM
Zoning is a tool An important one. And just like with most tools, you can do both good and bad things with it, depending on how you use it. In this case, as I mentioned in the other thread on this subject, allowing ground-floor office uses ("cube farms") in the downtown core & entertainment district is a really bad move. Mr. Garcia speaks of this all coming about due to one unnamed building owner who knew the rules, renovated his building and as now trying to change them. Anyone care to guess which building and owner this would be? I can't help but think of Cargill. They knew the restrictions on their land, and with their (temporarily on hold) Saltworks plan pushed mightily to get them changed.
Buck Shaw May 21, 2012 at 08:43 PM
We're fighting over controls? Thats whats wrong. Things are better off without them. I'll bet the landlords don't care who pays the rent as long as its paid. And dear soon to be councilman. The county gets its taxes even if its not rented. You ever heard ot a tax lien and tax sales for nonpayment. I'm sure you have.
Buck Shaw May 21, 2012 at 08:51 PM
Start with the demographics, that should give you a good idea. Then maybe 25% of all low income housing in San Mateo Co. is in RWC downtown area. Controls on who and who can't rent. The list goes on and on...
Buck Shaw May 21, 2012 at 09:08 PM
Cliff Keith is right on. The straw poll in this patch article it seems to be for leaving it alone. And Dan; I know your a professional and all that and I refuse to get over it. PALMS in Redwood City? Not so Precise to the Planning as I see it. Nothing not even more expensive to maintain would justify PALMS even though there not really trees.
residentwithopinions May 21, 2012 at 09:49 PM
I've lived here 13 years and I do not remember if there was a McWhorters anywhere but Woodside Plaza and they went out of business, that's probably why they didn't get their lease renewed.
Dan Ponti May 21, 2012 at 09:52 PM
Not sure exactly where you were going with your comment to me, Buck. I said the DTPP had a lot of community input and buy-in, I wasn't implying that everyone agrees with EVERYTHING in the DTPP. Anyway, the palms came about as part of the Theater Way and Courthouse Square redevelopment, which predates the DTPP. They wouldn't have been my choice, either, but the palms were supposedly chosen as a throwback - apparently palms were planted in front of the Courthouse years ago. I suspect the decision also had a lot to do with expediency - large palms are relatively portable; not so with native redwoods, especially large ones. Perhaps you'd prefer Palm City? :-)
Jim May 21, 2012 at 10:21 PM
So to help me understand the issue completely. As a city we are 100% ok with pay by the week hotels and refugees from the county jail smoking and drinking on Main street all day, but don't want commercial office space on the ground floor?
Reality Check May 21, 2012 at 10:35 PM
Jim, who told you that jive about 100% OK? And why did you believe them?
Ralph Garcia May 21, 2012 at 11:48 PM
There will be some numbers told at the meeting tonight that hopefully will put it to bed.
Buck Shaw May 22, 2012 at 10:31 PM
Thanks Jim! Well said. Don't forget with 25% of all San Mateo Counties Low Income housing and more to come. They should have the disposible income to pump up down town right ?Maybe this has something to do with the reason RWC doesn't have that "something" that other Cities on the peninsula do have. Wasn't the Theater Complex originally going to be a hotel? Has the city made a profit on the underground parking yet? With downtown RWC hindsight is 40 X 40 ! Hummm! something about a Silk Purse and a Sow's Ear comes to mind...
Reality Check May 22, 2012 at 10:40 PM
Clearly, we need more disposable income tumbling from the wallets of people in the downtown area. Downtown market rate housing is a great way to do that. Another is getting more well-paid office workers (e.g. tech workers) down there. There shouldn't be too much debate about that ... the problem comes when you put those workers that the spaces that the retail and restaurants are supposed to go. How can they move into those ground-level spaces when they're full of cube farms? Put the office workers above ground floor. Put them on side streets. Reserve the prime street-level storefronts for the shops, restaurants, clubs, services and watering holes that the new downtown office workers and residents will make possible.
Jim May 22, 2012 at 10:53 PM
Currently the 'retail' space is empty. How long was the Old Spaghetti factory space vacant? How many restaurants on theater row have come and gone in the past 5 years? Beard Papa anyone, sushi restaurant turned burger bar turned _____ and of course the global cafe that left and is now another, global cafe of some sort, then the photography studio that moved, then the space next to La Tartine that is still empty, then what used to be the Red Lantern that is now office space, how did they manage that? The other empty theater space on Broadway, the 2 vacant spaces across from it that have been vacant for nearly a decade. Businesses that make you go WTF is that, like Club Mayan, and of course the empty space next to club mayan. So the plan is, to form a plan to form a tiger team to form a committee to have a meeting to discuss how to attract more businesses to downtown redwood city. My plan is to spend my time in San Carlos and downtown Palo Alto, but Park in Redwood city and take the train since there is always plenty of parking in redwood city.
Reality Check May 22, 2012 at 11:07 PM
As Dan Zack's presentation with comparisons to other successful Peninsula downtowns suggested, we've got too much retail space across too large an area downtown for our current population/disposable income base. Short of shrinking our sprawling retail area, the best way to solve the problem long term is to increase the number of people (with spending money) in and around our downtown. As with many things, it's a bit of a chicken and egg problem. Retail & shops need more housing and jobs nearby to improve, and better retail and shops would draw more housing and jobs. With the DTPP still in its infancy, and with the economy kind of sputtering along, it will take some time and patience. There are nearly 1,000 housing units in the pipeline right now either in -- or close to -- downtown. Also, as the downtown improves, becoming more of a "destination," it will continue to draw even more people from surrounding communities. Sure, many of those people and their dollars will come at the expense of other downtowns. But that's just good old fashioned competition.
Buck Shaw May 23, 2012 at 12:21 AM
Thanks Jim your right on. Reality Check. I don't care to much for all the Government Planning seems like thats a good portion of the problem. But it is what it is. Like your last sentence though.
Reality Check May 23, 2012 at 05:08 PM
Not surprised. I've got you pegged as either a Republican, a libertarian and/or a TEA Party sympathizer. I sometimes think it would be fun to put them all on a comfortably large virtual island without taxes and all the government, agencies, regulations, laws, etc. they decry and watch them enjoy the resulting disaster their lives would instantly become.
Jim May 23, 2012 at 05:20 PM
As a Libertarian I would love to put every big government utopian socialist on an island and see what happens. Oh well I did live in Paris for a year, so there is France, but it's not an island.
Reality Check May 23, 2012 at 05:35 PM
Compare big-government islands (or virtual islands) like Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark (life is very good) with no-government poster children like Somalia or Haiti (life is extremely bad). Sure, government is bad ... but no government is terrible.
Jim May 23, 2012 at 05:38 PM
I don't think anyone is proposing 'no government' just 'less government' and what is your beef with Libertarians? We want you to be free to smoke as much pot as you wish, and we can even move that pot dispensary next to Heimerhouse to a better location, maybe into one of empty retail locations on Broadway.
residentwithopinions May 23, 2012 at 06:05 PM
I have family in Sweden and Denmark while their lives are pretty nice everybody is the same, you can't buy a car or house with cash you always make payments even if you can buy it outright, and the healthcare is ... Stand in line and wait your turn, my husbands father just passed 2 weeks ago in Sweden from aggressive cancer. He sat and waited to be seen and waited and waited...and the by the time he got his tests take n and results etc it was too late. Socialist society is not the way to go! Don't want to get into that here... I am a libertarian as well. But I want you all to know that rwc median income (on rwc website) is $67000 that's is nothi g compared to what you really need to have a good life around ere and shop buy a house etc. buck shaw is right too much low income here, and only more to come so that will not help pump up our retail, schools and general appearance.... Somebody's gotta say what everybody is afraid to admit out loud!
Buck Shaw May 24, 2012 at 03:14 AM
Your absolutly right. Mr.RC No government would be terrible. And its been proven so. I have never heard, ever of a Republican, Libertarian, Conservative or Tea Party person saying "No government would be best". That phrase I'm sure came from some dissagreement in an arguement when someone was generalizing and was taken as a statement of fact to run with in further discussions. Like here. I happen to garden and really enjoy it. When discussing planting some Nicotinia thats Tobacco (beautiful white flowers) some said to me. "Gee isn't that illegal to plant Tobacco" I asked why? The reply was well don't you have to get a permit or something. I asked why? again. The reply was well isn't the government going to want to know? People assume or at the very least that its regulated. This need for the governments permission to do anything is the thing that I feel imposes on ones liberties. Or way of life. I have a neighbor who wants to put in a sprinkler (drip system) system in his garden. He needs a permit note the use of the word NEEDS. He is afraid to get a permit because he was an audence member in the recent Emerald Hill vs. County Design Review battle that isn't over yet. He thinks there will be reprisels against him. I believe him. That sort of Sword of Damicles hanging over his head is what we've come to. A genuine fear of our government being in ever little part of our lives. That and other reasons to many to mention is why I want it smaller.


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