Union Workers Delay Apartment Complex Approval

Several residents argued that there was inadequate time to review the development staff report for the proposed 640 Veterans Boulevard project.

Rather than approving the on the old Dodge dealership site, the Planning Commission Tuesday night delayed any decision until its Jan. 31 meeting to allow the public to review the project’s documentation and comment if it chose. 

The project would have been the second apartment complex in the downtown area approved within the last two weeks. The Planning Commission on Jan. 17.

“It’s better to be safe than sorry,” said Commissioner Nancy Radcliffe.

The Planning Commission and city staff had to clarify several times precisely when materials were posted on Friday because the first portion of the packet was posted in the morning, and appendices were posted later in the afternoon.

Though city staff posted all the materials Friday afternoon, more than the required 72 hours before a public meeting, many residents felt that this was not an adequate amount of time.

“Please delay any decision on this project,” asked resident Mark Leach, who is also the President of the San Mateo Electrical Union. “This item was posted late Friday and with the Monday holiday, there was very little time for anyone to look at it.”

Mark Burri of the San Mateo County Plumbers and Pipefitters Union was also present at Tuesday’s meeting and stated that although he was not a Redwood City resident, he was representing several union members who wanted more time to review the project.

Commissioners noted that the two separate posting times this might have caused some people to believe that the first portion was all the materials that were available.

Vice Chair Ernie Schmidt was quick to make a motion to postpone any decision until January 31, stating that the public deserved to have more time to look over the materials and become involved in the process if they chose.

Muffled cheers of “Yes!” could be heard throughout the audience.

“We were surprised but understand what was going on,” said the developer’s consultant John Ward.

Many union members had attended Tuesday’s meeting to also ask that the developer, BRE Properties, provide prevailing wages to whichever contractor they hired once that agreement was reached.

“We want these projects to commit to paying construction workers prevailing wages so they can live and work in Redwood City,” said Bill Nack, Executive Director of the San Mateo County Building Trades Council. “If they can’t commit to this, I bet the workers won’t be coming from our county.”

The developer now has two additional weeks, but said that it was prepared for a decision Tuesday so there isn’t much additional work they can do.

“We were not shocked by their comments,” said Ward. “They have a job to do and they were leveraging their power.”

Though the commenters who spoke in favor of delaying the project were union workers, Nack insisted that this wasn’t a “union vs. non-union” issue.

“Go ahead and hire non-union workers,” he said. “We’re just worried about the workers.” 

Edward Evans of the Carpenters’ Union added, “Approving this residence at any cost doesn’t benefit the workers. Prevailing wage isn’t that hard to come to.”

BRE Properties is currently in the process of hiring a contractor, according to Ward, but could not provide additional details of specifically who would be hired.

The Building Trades Council’s attorney also conducted an environmental impact report, a document required by the California Environmental Quality Act to ensure that no development project would adversely affect the community during and after construction.

The consultant disagreed with some of the findings of the city’s consultant, stating that construction workers would be exposed to certain hazards like large amounts of carbon dioxide emissions over the course of the construction period.

“Our consultant believed these effects should have triggered a full environmental impact report,” Nack said.

However, city planner Charles Jany, upon review of the project’s initial study, decided that the revisions to the project agreed upon by the developer would mitigate any significant effects the project might have on the environment.

The city hired ICF International, an independent San Francisco-based consultant, to prepare the initial study.


Neighborhood Support

Though many trade union members did not show outright approval Tuesday night, many community members spoke in favor of the four-story apartment building.

David Amann, president of the Centennial Neighborhood Association which is adjacent to the site, praised the project for providing much needed housing to fill the housing/jobs imbalance in the city.

“High density housing is vital to resolve this imbalance,” he said. “And it’s very exciting that this particular project does that well.”

The proposed project would also provide 10 percent affordable housing units, something that housing activists have been fighting for from every development.

In exchange for these units, the developer is allowed to build 47 more units than typically allowed, the building height will be 55 feet instead of 50, and the sidewalk width will be reduced from 14 feet to 12 feet.

Gail Rabbe, another Centennial neighborhood resident, approved of the project because of the downtown activity it could spur due to the building’s proximity. She agreed with Amann that people living downtown would provide economic support to local businesses and increase use of public transit.

Because there will be an open corridor straight through the middle of the complex, bicycles and pedestrians can access the Centennial neighborhood from Veterans Boulevard, but not cars.

“The developers solicited input from the neighborhood very early in process,” Rabbe explained. ‘That’s unusual.”

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Reality Check January 19, 2012 at 11:21 PM
Add my voice of support to the Centennial neighborhood residents quoted in the story -- I'm anxious to see this infill housing project go forward! Along with several other west-of-101 housing projects also in the works, it's exciting to think of the much-needed vitality boost all the new residents near downtown and/or our existing transit corridors will bring to the core of Redwood City ... as well as serve as an ongoing demonstration that we don't need to unsustainably pave our precious never-developed and fully-restorable tidal Bay lands in order to grow our local housing stock.


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