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New Caltrian station redevelopment plan in Redwood City cuts office space, adds housing


REDWOOD CITY — After years of planning, Redwood City leaders are once again considering changes to the redevelopment of Sequoia Station. The new proposal eliminates thousands of square feet of office space, adds more housing units and envisions a new elevated Caltrain station.

When originally proposed in 2019, the transformative project to redevelop the aging Sequoia Station shopping center included a 17-story office building — the tallest ever proposed in the city — surrounded by similarly tall buildings, including three 10-story buildings and two eight-story buildings.

For transit advocates who have long sought greater density in the Caltrain corridor around popular stations, the proposal was a dream. But changes over the past few years mean it’s unlikely any of the buildings will tower over 10 or 12 stories and may not be constructed in the first place.

In order to increase the likelihood of something actually getting built, city staff want to reduce the amount of office space from the current 1.6 million square feet to about 1.2 million. This reduction in total office space, a city report says, would allow more housing when the transit center is redeveloped and is a win for advocates who criticize the jobs-housing imbalance created by building too many offices and not enough housing.

Creating a new Transit District would also help realize the city’s housing goals. The estimated 1,100 residential units include 165 to 220 deed-restricted affordable units. The office uses would require in-lieu fees of $29 million or about 123 deed-restricted affordable homes.

The proposed affordable units in the district will go a long way in meeting the city’s state-mandated housing goals of building 4,588 units by 2031 and also increase ridership for Caltrain, which has been struggling to regain riders since the pandemic.

The development also calls for the complete revamp of Caltrain’s Redwood City station as the transit agency seeks to electrify the corridor and add new trains in the coming years to increase service. In the new plan, Caltrain could build an elevated station above a central bus depot, maintaining bus and rail service in a single location close to El Camino Real and the city’s downtown business and commercial district.

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In a letter to the city on behalf of the Peninsula Joint Power Board, Caltrain voiced its strong support for the new transit district.

“This project will bring quality of life benefits to the area by improving local traffic flow and access to transit restaurants, businesses, and vital services, helping invigorate the economic vitality of Redwood City and the region while allowing train service to increase and meet statewide and regional mobility needs,” Executive Director Michelle Bouchard said in a letter sent Nov. 15. “We appreciate Redwood City’s commitment to encouraging transit-oriented development and expanding access to transit service on the Peninsula.”

For residents, the project has been largely consistent with the area’s recent transformation from sleepy “Deadwood City” to a thriving business and commercial district attracting the wider Peninsula.

Housing advocates wanting to see more transit-oriented developments love the plan, while others worried about displacement and retention of the neighborhood’s character have been loud voices in opposition to further downtown development.

In a letter to the city council, Ali Sapirman, a South Bay organizer for the Housing Action Coalition, praised the new plan, describing Caltrain’s commitment to allow housing on its parcel of land in the Transit District as “revolutionary.”

Sapirman said the inclusion of 1,100 new homes in the plan will help the city make significant headway on its state-mandated housing production goals. The new plan, Sapirman notes, will allow Redwood City to use just 16 acres of land to satisfy almost 25% of its state-mandated housing goals, “and developing housing in a service and the transit-rich area is a rare and high impact opportunity.”

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Sapirman added that “by taking a city-wide approach to housing development, the city is setting itself up for success in meeting its housing needs and other priorities, including transportation, equity, and long-term economic vitality.”

Still, some in Redwood City are hoping more can be done for the low-income residents that could be displaced as a result of massive downtown development.

In a letter to the city council, Rohan Sabnis, a Redwood City resident and Tenant and Neighborhood Councils member, notes that tenants and homeowners in the area should be protected against direct displacement caused by the construction of infrastructure, transportation or other demolition of existing homes.

Sabnis wants the city to commit to compensating displaced residents 100% of all out-of-pocket expenses and relocation costs as well as the “right to return.” He also said the city should enact new fair rent laws, strong relocation assistance requirements, enforcement of tenant protections in foreclosed properties and right-of-first refusal that allow tenants to buy a property before it is sold to a third party.

Others like Tammy Aramian of the Centennial neighborhood wrote to the planning department to express their frustration over the city’s efforts to build a new transit district downtown.

“It’s been plainly apparent in the last 10-15 years that Redwood City is lifting wholesale pages out of the San Francisco playbook,” Aramian said. “A “transit-rich district” is all well and good but once again RwC goes so far overboard.”

Aramian said that while SamTrans and Caltrain will be able to handle additional commuter loads, she isn’t convinced people in this new development will forego cars altogether.

“To think that its residents will (have) NO cars is ludicrous,” Aramian wrote. “It doesn’t matter, it’ll be shoved down our throats whether we want it or not, whether it is sustainable or not. ‘Transit-rich’ is not the only consideration. Developers have always ruled this state.”

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