Redwood City Approves 350 Unit Apartment Complex Near Jefferson – El Camino

Redwood City’s most prolific residential developer of late, Greystar Development, has been given the green light to move forward on another 350 unit apartment complex.  City council voted 4-2 last week to approve the 8-story project at 1409 El Camino, which will also include 6,000 S/F of ground floor retail, 440 parking spots, and 35 affordable units (10% of the total offering).  As a condition of the project’s approval, Greystar will also be contributing $250,000 towards Habitat for Humanity’s 20-unit affordable condo development at 612 Jefferson.

Greystar Development has been the largest beneficiary of Redwood City’s 2011 Downtown Precise Plan, which pre-emptively completed environmental work for the construction of 2,500 new residential units.  With the approval of their most recent 350 unit complex, Greystar has now accounted for just under 1,000 of the 2,500 new residential units allowed under the Precise Plan.  These 1,000 units are spread across 4 separate developments – all within a block of each other.  See below for a map showing Greystar’s development activity in downtown Redwood City.

Greystar

Despite all of Greystar’s development falling under the residential cap set by the Downtown Precise Plan, many residents feel the city has not adequately taken into account the environmental impact of green lighting so much development in such a short period of time.  The Precise Plan was initially supposed to guide development for a period of 15 – 20 years, but just 6 years since its passing the city has already almost hit the 2,500 unit residential cap (between was has been built or approved).  Further exacerbating environmental concerns is the fact that Greystar’s 1,000 units are all packed into a 4 square block area, adjacent to the already congested intersection at El Camino and Jefferson.   Citing these concerns, an organization called Redwood City Residents for Responsible Development has filed an appeal against the approval of Greystar’s new project at 1409 El Camino.

It’s possible that Greystar – in an attempt to avoid litigation – will compromise with residents by reducing the size of their project.  If not, it could be quite some time before any shovels hit ground at 1409 El Camino.  

Redwood City Residents for Responsible Development have not yet indicated whether they will file an environmental lawsuit against Greystar’s project should their appeal be denied.

Stay tuned.

Creativity and Cooperation: Financing Affordable Housing Sans State Redevelopment Funds

Since the dissolution of California’s 400 plus Redevelopment Agencies (RDA’s) in 2012, much of the burden of funding affordable housing has fallen back to the local level.  Previously, city governments and non-profit builders were able to tap into RDA’s for the funds necessary to get affordable housing projects off the ground.  Now, these projects rely much more heavily on public/private partnerships for funding.  In the SF peninsula, where there has become such a dearth of affordable housing, we are starting to see these public/private partnerships take initiative.  Take for instance, Habitat for Humanity, who has partnered with Redwood City to fund the construction of 20 affordable condos at 612 Jefferson.  Or more recently in San Mateo, where the Housing Endowment and Regional Trust of San Mateo County (HEART), a public/private nonprofit, just announced it will be lending $500,000 towards predevelopment activities for a 68-unit affordable apartment complex at the new Bay Meadows mixed-use development.

The absence of RDA funding is also part of what motivated Redwood City Council to pass an amendment to their Downtown Precise Plan in 2016 requiring that 15% of new residential construction be reserved for affordable housing.  Without RDA funding, the city knew their ability to finance affordable projects on their own was limited.  This amendment served as a way for them to pass the financial burden on to the developers of new market rate housing.  Since its passing, at least two developers have responded to the city imposed affordable housing requirement in a promising manner.

First, Anton Development put forth a proposal for a 250 unit apartment complex on Brewster, including 20% (50) affordable units.  The project received unanimous approval from the city, and council members praised the developer for taking advantage of state and federal tax credits and exemptions to finance a greater number of affordable units than what was required.  Using these opportunities provided by state and federal governments to finance affordable housing could set a precedent for developers in the future.

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Aerial view of the Broadway Plaza site, as well as the land where Sobrato hopes to build 120 affordable units

Last month, the developer trying to push through a massive mixed-use complex at Broadway/Woodside in Redwood City, the Sobrato Organization, announced a partnership with MidPen housing (a non-profit developer) to construct 120 affordable units on two parcels of land already owned by Sobrato.  These 120 units would count towards the affordable requirement imposed by the city, and when taken into account with the 400 market rate units they hope to build, make up almost 25% of their total offering.

If these affordable housing projects had been built in to all new residential development from the inception of the Downtown Precise Plan back in 2011, they likely would have had a much more significant impact.  Now, building 120 affordable units into yet another huge market rate complex just feels like damage control, as the cost of living has already soared far out of reach for countless locals.  Still, 120 additional below market rate units means 120 low-income families get to stay in place.  Let’s hope this trend of developers and public/private partnerships leading the charge to build affordable housing continues.

RWC: Broadway Plaza Proposal Amended to Add 120 Affordable Units

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Earlier this week, Redwood City council voted 6-1 to approve a study that will look at how amending the General Plan to allow for residential in one of the city’s light industrial areas would impact nearby businesses and traffic.  This comes on the heels of the Sobrato Organization announcing a partnership with MidPen Housing to build 120 affordable housing units on two parcels of land currently owned by Sobrato, located in the southeast corner of Woodside and Bay Roads.

These 120 affordable units are part of an amendment made last month to Sobrato’s massive Broadway Plaza redevelopment proposal, and would help fulfill that project’s city-imposed affordable housing requirement.   Sobrato’s “Broadway Plaza” proposal calls for the redevelopment of the aging shopping center located at Broadway and Woodisde Road, currently home to CVS, Big Lots & Foods Co.   It would replace the existing retail strip mall with 400 market rate residential units, 420,000 S/F of office space within three 5-story buildings, and about 19,000 S/F of retail space (which will include a new storefront for the existing CVS).

City Council was enthusiastic bout Sobrato’s partnership with MidPen Housing, a non-profit affordable housing developer with a great local reputation.  Just a few weeks ago MidPen purchased a 55 unit apartment complex on Rolison in Redwood City for $17.1 million in order to maintain them at below market rate.

Still, even with the MidPen partnership, this project raises some concerns.  After you take into account the 120 affordable units, Sobrato’s proposal would introduce 520 new residential units around the already highly congested Woodside Rd/Highway 101 junction – where there was no residential previously.  Add a busy 420,000 S/F office complex into the mix and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a permanent Woodside Road parking lot.

Janet Borgens, the one Redwood City council member who voted against the study, expressed concerns that going forward with Sobrato’s proposal would set a precedent for “spot-zoning”, which over time could replace our industrial spaces with residential.  The southeast corridor of Bay Road, where Sobrato hopes to build the affordable housing, is a light industrial area, but it has also become something of a startup incubator.  Borgens worries that introducing residential along that stretch of Bay could threaten the incubator environment, which brings something unique and difficult to replace to our economy.

Do you have concerns about this project?  If so, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to voice them.  City staff confirmed that between the citizen committee, Planning Commission and City Council meetings required for a general plan amendment, there would be seven to eight more public hearings where community feedback could be considered.

Stay tuned!

Delivery Robots Out in Force in Redwood City

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In December of last year, London based Starship Technologies rolled out a 9-month pilot program of their robotic delivery service in Redwood City. Masterminded by Ahti Heinla, co-founder and former Chief Technical Architect of Skype, Starship Technologies hopes to provide autono-mous food and grocery delivery that can be implemented by existing third-party delivery services like Door Dash and Postmates (both of which became the Starship’s first official US partners this year).

At this point, Starship reports their robots have reached 90% automation, only needing remote assistance while crossing streets. However, if you happen to run into one in the streets of Redwood City, it will likely have a human “handler” in tow. This is in part to ensure safety while the robots are still mapping out the city, but also to help with community engagement.

We recently caught up with Starship’s Head of Operations in California, Justin Hoffman, who filled us in on his company’s mission and future in Redwood City. He informed us that while the robots currently only operate within about a 2-mile radius of their office at 234 Marshall, they hope to expand their service area by setting up additional charging hubs at various points throughout the city. As of right now, Redwood City residents cannot specifically request robotic delivery, but Hoffman did say there’s a possibility Doordash will offer that feature by the end of the 9-month pilot. For now, keep an eye out for these robots as you pass through Redwood City!

Read below for a complete transcript of our brief interview with Justin Hoffman:

How far do the robots deliver from your office on Marshall?

–2 mile radius is what we are initially beginning with

Are there plans to open additional charging hubs to allow a greater service area?

–In the mid-to-long term we aim to have automated charging/delivery dispatch hubs in a given city to broaden service areas and enable greater efficiency amongst the network of robots

Which elements of the delivery process have not become fully autonomous? When do your handlers have to step in to help?

–When a robot reaches a crosswalk, for example, the robot will ping a robot “operator” (a remote operator who sees through the robot’s cameras to guide it in difficult situations) to assist it when crossing the road. Handlers currently help us engaging with the community, assisting with mapping, and managing day-to-day operations

Are Redwood City residents within your service area currently able to request robotic delivery? If not, will they be able to at any point during the 9-month pilot?

–We currently operate through partners such as Doordash (and very soon Postmates), and at some toward the end of the pilot, you may be able to request a robot specifically for your order.

Will Starship’s delivery service ultimately be integrated into existing third-party delivery services like Door Dash?

–We actually are currently integrated already with third-party commercial partners such as Doordash. As we build more partnerships, we will be available for a variety of types of deliveries, including groceries and (e-commerce) packages as well.

Do you have plans to expand into other Bay Area cities any time soon?

–Yes, we are currently in talks with a variety of other cities in the Bay Area. We shall announce names over the coming weeks/months.

Rent Control Update: Burlingame, San Mateo, Mountain View

At the time our last newsletter was released, residents of San Mateo, Burlingame, and Mountain View were about to cast their vote on rent control measures. Let’s take a look at how each of those measures fared:

BURLINGAME – MEASURE R: DID NOT PASS
67.44% of Burlingame voters said no to rent control in the November election. Measure R would have tied annual rent increases to the consumer price index, but no more than 4% and no less than 1%. The rent control restrictions would apply to only multi-family homes built before Feb. 1, 1995. Also included in the measure was a just cause eviction provision which would have applied to all rentals other than owner occupied duplexes.

SAN MATEO – MEASURE Q: DID NOT PASS
60.44% of San Mateo voters rejected Measure Q, which which would have applied the same restrictions on rent increases as Burlingame’s Measure R, and a similar just cause eviction provision. No new construction, single-family homes or owner-occupied duplexes would have been subjected to either rent control or just-cause eviction.

MOUNTAIN VIEW – MEASURE V: PASS
Mountain View’s rent control measure passed with 53.6% of the vote. HOWEVER, city council has since put a temporary hold on the measure after the California Apartment Association challenged its constitutionality. The CAA subsequently filed a preliminary injunction against the measure, which will be heard by a judge March 19th. If the injunction is approved, the measure will not be enforced. If it is not approved, Measure V will take effect, tying annual rent increases to the Consumer Price Index (between 2-5%), and rolling current rents back to what they were October 19, 2015.

Rent control may have failed by a fairly large margin in both Burlingame and San Mateo, but it succeeded in gaining significant grass roots momentum. Should housing issues persist, I would expect the movement to return in force by the next election.

For the sake of full disclosure, we were contributors to the $1 million+ that was spent collectively by SAMCAR and the CAA opposing Measures Q & R leading up to the election. If you follow our newsletter, you’re probably familiar with our stance against rent control by now. But it bears repeating that while we are sensitive to the social issues driving the argument for rent control, we strongly believe it only serves to exacerbate the underlying causes of the housing crisis. For an elaboration on our argument against rent control, read our previous newsletter at:

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RWC Approves 250 Unit Apartment Complex, Including 50 Affordable

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The Redwood City Planning Commission unanimously approved a proposal to construct 250 apartment units at 801 Brewster, just a few blocks from the heart of Downtown.  The project was granted an exemption from current building height restrictions in order to account for 50 affordable on-site units.  The Developer, Anton Development, found that if they increased building heights to 4 and 6 stories instead of the 3 and 5 currently allowed, they would be able to take advantage of state and federal tax credits and tax-exemptions to offer 20% (50 total units) of the total project at below market rent.  In all, the project calls for the construction of a 379,502 square foot, 4-6 story building, offering a mix of studio, 1 bedroom, & 2 bedroom apartments. The architectural design will incorporate Craftsman elements common among buildings in the neighboring Mezesville Historic District.

The proposal was met with enthusiasm from the Planning Commission for the creative approach that Anton Development took to increase the project’s total offering of affordable units. The hope is that their use of opportunities provided by state and federal government to incentivize below market rate housing could lay the groundwork for future developers to do the same.  These tax credits and exemptions are in place so that developers can offer a greater public benefit without taking a significant hit to their bottom line.  If this proves to be a lucrative project for Anton Development, even with 20% affordable units, perhaps other developers will follow suit.

Redwood City has authorized the construction of a considerable amount of housing since passing the Downtown Precise Plan in 2011, but the vast majority has been market rate housing – a mark that has grown out of reach for many longtime residents.  As a consequence, City Council has been facing increasing pressure to pause development and retool the Downtown Precise Plan to address the need for affordable housing.  With this in mind, developers looking to invest in Redwood City might find it worthwhile to use these state and federal tax breaks to finance a greater portion of affordable housing.  It could save them time and effort in the approval process – as evidenced by the quick and unanimous approval of 801 Brewster.

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2016 Mid-Peninsula Real Estate Market in Review

The mid-peninsula real estate market told a much different story in 2016 than it did in 2014 and 2015. While home prices continued to grow, it was at a far slower rate than the two years prior. The average sale price for homes in the mid-peninsula grew 17.14% from 2013-2014, and 15.14% from 2014-2015. By contrast, the average sales price in 2016 saw only a 2.74% increase from 2015. The most obvious explanation for this slow down is that inventory was significantly higher during the busiest months of 2016 than it had been in either 2014 or 2015. In fact, in some cities inventory was nearly double its 2015 levels through much of the summer and fall months. With more on the market, buyers became more selective, and the bidding wars that were all too common in ’14 and ’15, became much less prevalent in 2016. While I’m sure most homeowners would love to see home values continue to soar indefinitely, the slowdown we saw last year was a welcome sight for buyers who felt the market had been running away from them in recent years.

* For the purposes of this update, the mid-peninsula refers to San Mateo, Foster City, Belmont, San Carlos, Redwood City & Menlo Park.

See blow for a snapshot summary of the 2016 mid-peninsula real estate market. All percentages reflect the change from 2015 values.
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2017 Real Estate Market: A Look Ahead

TRUMP

With Donald J. Trump sworn in as our 45th President on the steps of the Capitol Building last week, now seems as good a time as any to ruminate on the future (of the real estate market). Two indicators to closely monitor this year will be the stock market and interest rates. After taking a quick dive immediately after Trump’s victory was announced in early November, the stock market surged to finish off the year. If this trend continues, it will boost the buying power of some home buyer hopefuls, especially here in the Silicon Valley where it seems everyone over the age of 30 has a stock portfolio. Still, despite recent stock market performance, a new president and new economic policy bring with them a degree of uncertainty. For now, expectations of decreased regulation and taxes have investors feeling optimistic about the Trump presidency.

Rising interest rates could be the real story of the 2017 real estate market. The Fed finally raised rates in December for just the second time in the past decade. And just yesterday, Fed Chair Janet Yellen said she expects a few more rate hikes throughout the year. With this being said, the Fed will only continue to raise rates if they are confident in our economy, which to a certain degree will hinge upon policy pushed through in the early goings of the Trump Presidency. If rates do in fact continue to rise, the increased cost to borrow could have a stabilizing effect on home prices in 2017.

For better or worse, 2017 is sure to be a year full of surprises! Stay tuned to my monthly newsletter for updates on the mid-peninsula real estate market as the Trump presidency progresses.

RWC: Major Tenant Secured for Powerhouse Gym Redevelopment

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Conceptual Design for “The Broadway Station”, at the current site of Powerhouse Gym

On April 19th of 2016, the Redwood City Planning Commission approved a proposal to demolish an existing building at 2075 Broadway (Powerhouse Gym), and redevelop it into a 93,515 S/F mixed use building, with roughly 65,000 S/F designated for office space, and the rest for ground floor retail.  The developer, Lane Partners, had been trying to get the project pushed through for quite some time, having their initial proposal of 1750,000 S/F of office space rejected back in April 2015 due to a lack of parking.  Now, with a downsized project and planning commission approval, Lane Partners plans to break ground on the project this June, with an estimated construction duration of 20 months.

Despite project completion still over two years out, Lane Partners have reportedly already secured a major tenant for the development.  According to Redwood City mayor, John Seybert, the development will be an expansion site for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a company formed by Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, and his wife Priscilla Chan.  According to the company’s website, their objective is to “advance human potential and promote equality in areas such as health, education, scientific research and energy”.  The couple introduced the company in December of 2015 with a pledge of 99% of their shared stock in Facebook, which at the time totaled roughly $45 billion.

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative will be another big name added to downtown Redwood City’s employer roster, which is currently headlined by Box Inc, who occupy the majority of the new Crossing/900 development.  While the company is not big in terms of number of people they employ, It is huge in terms of the weight carried by the Chan & Zuckerberg names.  Putting those names on a building just a block from the Courthouse Square will impact how downtown Redwood City is perceived by businesses looking to relocate in the future.

Stay tuned!

San Carlos to Put a Stop to Lot Splits

In response to concerns about increasing neighborhood density, the San Carlos Planning Commission recommended last week that the city revert to pre-2011 development standards, which were much more stringent on minimum lot sizes.  This change would increase the minimum lot sizes from 5,000 S/F to 10,000 S/F, and lot width from 40 to 65 feet.  It also puts restrictions on flag lots, which are parcels of land at the end of a long driveway with no road frontage.  The Planning Commission voted 5-0 in favor of this recommendation.

Zoning changes made in 2011 allowed construction of larger homes, and for homeowners of lots 10,000 S/F of more to split their lots in order to increase the city’s supply of housing.  They allowed for homes to cover 50% of the total lot square footage, rather than the 40% permitted under pre-2011 zoning laws.  In addition to allowing for the construction of larger homes, the increased lot coverage makes constructing accessory dwelling units possible for more homeowners.

The city had already placed a moratorium on the 2011 zoning changes back in June.  This was in response to resident complaints that homes were being built too large on lots that were too small, and that lots splits were leading to too much neighborhood density.

San Carlos, like most cities on the peninsula, has seen a recent surge in housing demand due to nearby job growth.  This has attracted the attention of developers and builders who see that there is money to be made in San Carlos.   But increasing density is hardly ever a popular idea in small close-knit communities like San Carlos, so it’s not much of a surprise to see residents push back against more relaxed zoning laws.

Facebook Pledges $20 Million to Affordable Housing

Last week, Facebook announced they will spend $20 million to help alleviate the housing shortage in their neighbor cities of Menlo Park and East Palo Alto. About $18.5 million will go towards building new housing, mostly targeted at low/middle income families, while the rest will go towards job training programs and providing legal assistance to tenants facing eviction. This announcement comes as Facebook and other tech giants have been facing growing pressure to partner with local governments and community organizations to find solutions to the region’s housing shortage – a problem which many feel has been exacerbated by unchecked tech growth.

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Bird’s eye view of Facebook’s recent campus expansion. Chilco Street is the only thing separating it from East Menlo Park’s Belle Haven community (visible in the top left)

Facebook’s rapid expansion into East Menlo Park, a historically low-income region, has been a point of contention as of late. Early in 2015, they opened up a brand new 430,000 S/F Frank Gehry designed campus expansion within shouting distance of East Menlo Park’s Belle Haven community. Almost immediately after they cut the ribbon on that building, they submitted plans to the City of Menlo Park to redevelop an adjacent property into roughly 1 million square feet of additional office space. That project – also Frank Gehry designed – was promptly approved, and construction has been underway for over a year now. With all of this new office space to put to use, Facebook has estimated that they will bring 6,500 new employees to the area in the coming years.

A coalition of local community organizations had planned to sue Facebook over the stress 6,500 new employees could put on an already overburdened housing market. However, after a series of meetings with Facebook representatives, they agreed not to. Tameeka Bennett, executive director of Youth United for Community Action, one of the groups in the coalition, said she is convinced that Facebook is committed to partnering with the community to address the housing shortage. And more so than any of their Silicon Valley peers, their actions have demonstrated as much.

Facebook’s recent $20 million announcement isn’t the first commitment they have made to combat the housing crisis. Last year, in partnership with St. Anton Development, they broke ground on a 394-unit apartment complex at 3639 Haven Avenue. Those units will be offered to non-Facebook employees, and 15 of them will be subsidized by Facebook for low-income families. They extended their commitment to constructing publicly available housing earlier this year, when they unveiled a proposal to build 1,500 total units, 15% of which would be reserved for low to middle income families. This hands on approach to tackling the housing shortage is completely breaking the mold of how Silicon Valley tech companies offer support to communities impacted by their growth. While it is fairly common for companies to pay “impact fees” to help fund affordable housing, it is unprecedented for them to actually build the housing themselves.

To be fair, this isn’t a completely altruistic effort on the part of Facebook. Housing costs in the Bay Area have made it increasingly difficult for companies like Facebook to recruit the talent they want, so adding to the supply of housing serves their interests by driving those costs down and making it easier for them to recruit.

Perhaps others will follow Facebook’s lead. There are certainly plenty of eyes on Google in Mountain View, and Apple in Cupertino, hoping they will make similar efforts. Stay tuned!

New Wine Bar & Cafe Open at Box HQ, Redwood City

Donato Scotti, owner of Donato Enoteca in downtown Redwood City, has opened a wine bar, retail store & cafe at the new Box Headquarters at 900 Middlefield Road.  Cru Wine Bar & Merchant offers hard to find wines from around the world, as well as an international and domestic craft beer selection.  A European style menu featuring charcuterie plates, pizza by the slice, sandwiches and other treats are served as well.

The first day of service was November 2nd.  The cafe opens at 8am, and lunch service begins at 11am.

We sopped by there earlier today to do some reconnaissance – check it out!

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New Redevelopment Proposal Submitted for Old Redwood City Theater

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SyRes Properties, LLC – the company that owns Redwood City’s defunct Century 12 Theater – recently submitted plans to redevelop the 15-acre property into 336 residential units and a 100,000 S/F luxury sports club.  This is a revision of a plan they submitted to the city last year which originally proposed 550 residential units.  At the time, city officials told SyRes that 550 units needed further review and would require the land the be rezoned for high density development.  Previous attempts to redevelop the land into rental units and auto dealerships have all fallen through.

“We’ve received a revised application and it’s currently considered conceptual at this point”, said Lisa Cost-Sanders, the city planner assigned to the project.  “We’ll be providing the developers with additional comments and will be restarting the Environmental Impact Report process shortly.”

SyRes is the real estate branch of the Syufy family, who are known for their chain of Century Theaters.  In recent years however, the family has begun redeveloping their older cinemas into luxury VillaSport athletic clubs, as they are in the process of doing with an old theater in San Jose, and are currently hoping to do in Redwood City.  They currently operate three active VillaSports in Texas, Colorado, and Oregon, with single adult monthly dues ranging in price from $92 – $138 (expect that to be higher at Bay Area locations).

Follow this link to view a Villasport marketing video.

Other than serving as extra parking for neighboring auto dealerships, the property formerly occupied by Century 12 Redwood City has remained mostly vacant since the theater closed in 2003.  Should the recent SyRes proposal pass, it will become the second major development along Redwood City’s bayfront, with One Marina Homes just a stone’s throw away. However, even with the reduction in proposed residential units from 550 to 336, this project is sure to be put under heavy scrutiny by city officials for it’s potential to further congest the Highway 101/Whipple junction.  It also comes at a time when city hall is facing growing pressure from the community to put the brakes on development.

This proposal is by no means a slam dunk for the Syufy family, who have had no luck getting anything approved for their property at 557 East Bayshore.  Stay tuned to our blog for further updates on this project.

Redwood City Council Shoots Down Moratorium on Steep Rent Increases

Redwood City councilmembers reaffirmed their opposition to any form of rent control at Monday night’s meeting when they shot down a proposed moratorium on rent increases.

The Housing and Human Concerns Committee was tasked to meet with residents and stakeholders before making recommendations to City Council Monday about how to address the city’s affordable housing crisis.  One of the proposals they put forth was a temporary freeze on rent hikes greater than 7-10%.   The proposal was met with general unease from the council, as 4 members voted against it outright, and the remaining 3 voted for more research to be done before proceeding.

“I don’t see a distinction between a moratorium on rent increases and rent control. And, rent control is proven not to work. It doesn’t treat everyone fairly, including everyone on the tenants’ side fairly, and doesn’t treat everyone on the landlords’ side fairly”, said Redwood City Mayor John Seybert, “Our council across the board has spoken in opposition of rent control, this isn’t something new”.

City council did show interest in other alternatives to addressing affordable housing.   They instructed staff to continue studying the viability of a relocation assistance program, and discussed possibly requiring longer lease terms in order to limit the frequency of rent increases.

With rent control on the November ballot in both Burlingame and San Mateo, it will be interesting to see what, if any, effect the results of those elections will have on the movement in Redwood City.

For the record, RealSmart Group stands strongly against any form of rent control.  Please follow this link to read our argument against it.

Two San Mateo County Cities to Vote on Rent Control

With rent control on the ballot for both Burlingame and San Mateo this November, I feel compelled to unpack my argument against it. First, let me make this clear – rapid gentrification is an issue that should be addressed, not just because we have a moral obligation to protect those being priced out of their homes, but also because of the economic destabilization that can occur when a region loses its low-wage workforce. With that being said, the issue should be addressed in a thoughtful and collaborative manner that takes into account 1) who should be responsible for providing housing assistance to low-income families, and 2) how to give that assistance directly to those who need it. Rent control, however, is a short-sighted approach to tackling gentrification. It puts little thought into either of these two questions, and leaves a host of new problems in its wake.

Rent control subsidizes affordable housing by placing a ceiling on how much a property owner can charge for rent. When that ceiling is below market rate, the difference essentially becomes a tax payed by landlords to their tenants. This puts a large amount of risk on landlords, as their only real insurance against losing money (when for example the rental market is down, or maintenance costs become too burdensome), is having the ability to raise rents when the market is up. This added risk is enough to scare some landlords out of the business. We’ve already seen this happen in Burlingame, where the owner of a 10 unit apartment complex recently served all his tenants eviction notices pending the result of the November election.

Rent control creates a welfare program, only unlike most welfare programs it isn’t funded by state or federal taxes and you don’t have to qualify for it. Instead, it’s privately funded by landlords and all you have to do to reap the benefits is live in a rent-controlled building. This means the 26 year-old web developer living alone making $150,000+/year has the same access to subsidized rent as a single mother of four working two jobs to make ends meet. It also means this web developer will stay in their unit for longer than they would were their rent not subsidized, keeping that unit off the market and unavailable to those who actually need it. Once people are locked in to their rent-controlled units, they tend to stay there. This restricts the available supply of rentals and makes what is available more expensive (look to San Francisco for evidence of this trend). If that sounds counter-productive, that’s because it is. Subsidizing housing costs for low-income families is fine, but do it with government money (which we all pay into), and actually give that money to low-income families through programs they apply and qualify for (i.e. Section 8). Don’t hand it out to every renter regardless of their income, simply because they live in an expensive rental market.

Whether or not you agree with anything I just said, it’s important to understand this – when people buy rental property, they buy it as an investment, not as a public service. If a rent control ordinance threatens to cut too deeply into profit margins, property owners will do whatever is in their power to protect their investment. This means evicting current tenants to raise rents before the ordinance is passed, or selling their units and moving the money elsewhere. Keep this in mind before casting your vote on rent control.

Wells Fargo Scandal Shines Light on Benefits of Loan Advisors

As many of you have probably heard, Wells Fargo is currently embroiled in a cross-selling scandal involving millions of fraudulent accounts being made without their clients’ knowledge (cross-selling is when a different product/service is sold to an existing customer). Wells Fargo’s abuse of this practice – which is standard in the banking industry – was the result of bankers cutting corners to meet ridiculous product per customer quotas passed down by company executives.

While we’d like to think that most bankers aren’t subject to the same quotas that Wells Fargo employees were, most bankers are incentivized in one way or another – through bonuses, promotions, pay raises – to open up as many accounts per client as possible. If you’ve ever opened an account or taken out a loan with a major bank or credit union you’ve probably been at the receiving end of aggressive cross-selling before – “We recommend you move your car loan over to us”, or “While you’re here, can I interest you in opening up a savings account?” In the case of Wells Fargo, the pressure put on bankers to meet these quotas was enough to lead many to fraud.

This is one of the advantages to working with a loan advisor rather than going to straight to a bank/credit union for your mortgage.  They have no financial incentive to do anything other than to make sure you are satisfied and feel comfortable referring them more business later on down the road. Just some food for thought!

If you’d like to be put in contact with one of our preferred loan advisors, feel free to reach out and we’ll be happy to make the introduction.

Commuter Ferry Service from East Bay to Redwood City Approved

East Bay commuters inching their way to the Peninsula every morning through bumper-to-bumper traffic will have an alternative come 2017.  Last week, the California Public Utilities Commission voted to allow two private ferry companies, PROP SF and Tideline Marine Group, to operate scheduled public ferries from Berkeley and Emeryville to San Francisco and Redwood City.  Tideline will actually begin limited service to San Francisco by the end of this month and expand as demand grows, but PROP SF plans to roll out their Redwood City routes by the first week of 2017.

In April, Redwood City’s Port Commission penned a letter to the Bay Area Water Emergency Transportation Authority expressing disappointment that they had not included Redwood City in their long-term strategic plans for expanding their public ferry service.  At the time, the WETA  (the government agency tasked with expanding ferry service across the Bay Area) cited concerns that ridership in Redwood City would not be sufficient to make the program economically viable just yet.  The ferries WETA currently operate from SF to the East Bay carry 300 passengers, and they rely heavily on rider fares to cover costs.   Both Tideline and PROP SF operate much smaller vessels, ranging in size from 36-100 passengers, so they are less limited by ridership goals.

Take a look at the short video below showing one of Prop SF’s 36 passenger vessel:

and one of WETA’s much larger vessels:

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WETA gave the Redwood City Port Commission a 7 point plan to follow in order to initiate service, part of which suggested that the city partner with a company like Google or Facebook to fund the program.  Currently, both companies use small private ferry services to shuttle employees to Redwood City from the east bay, but there has been talk for some time that RWC could form a public/private partnership with Google to fund WETA’s expansion into RWC.  That talk intensified when Google purchased about a million square feet of office space at the Pacific Shores Center near the Port of Redwood City back in 2014.

Even with a Google partnership, I’d imagine the introduction of Tideline and PROP SF into the equation has just cast further doubt on WETA’s future in Redwood City.  They were already concerned about ridership, and now their 300 passenger vessels would have to compete for ridership with two other companies.

Two SM County Cities Moving Forward With Rent Control Initiatives

Come November, residents of San Mateo and Burlingame will have their say on rent control.  In San Mateo, community activists were able to obtain well over the 11,000 signatures required to place their proposed rent control measure on the ballot, and in Burlingame city officials put forward their own measure.  Should either pass, it could set a precedent for the rest of San Mateo County.

The pro-rent control movement gained a lot of momentum over the past year and a half, fueled by several widely circulated “evict, renovate, and increase rent” stories.  The case that probably garnered the most media attention, and helped catapult the rent control debate into the public discourse, was that of the 18-unit apartment complex at 910 Clinton Street in Redwood City.  The complex was sold, and the new owners promptly served all tenants a 60-day notice to vacate so they could proceed with renovations.  However, instead of vacate, many tenants chose to stay and rally in front of the building for more time – a demonstration that quickly took the form of a protest for rent control.  One of the tenants, a 14-year old high school student, became the spokesperson for the evicted tenants, and his pleas for rent control were run on virtually every major public news outlet – NBC Bay Area, Kron 4, ABC 7.  Ultimately, the issue was resolved when the owners agreed to assist the evicted tenants with relocation costs.  910 Clinton Street, now called “Velocity at Clinton”, currently offers 1 bed, 1 bath apartments at roughly $2,500/month.

Since the evictions at 910 Clinton, rent control proponents in Redwood City have done everything in their power to make their voices heard by lawmakers – from organizing roughly 200 people outside of City Hall, to marching down El Camino.  The issue was eventually taken up in City Hall, but rather than put forth a rent control initiative, city officials agreed to pass a per square foot impact fee on new development that will go towards building more affordable housing.  However, if either measures pass in Burlingame or San Mateo, tenant advocacy groups in Redwood City could take up rent control again with a renewed sense of confidence.

I won’t get too deep into my own views on rent control, but everyone should hear the case against it – especially since that side is rarely covered in the media.  Rent control essentially creates a subsidy paid for by a small group of private citizens (rental property owners).    These people are paying the subsidy through the money they are losing by not being able to rent their property at market value.  Let’s look at it this way: if affordable housing is a viewed as a right that should be afforded to ALL citizens, is it fair to levy the burden on providing that right on a minority group within the population?  And if it’s fair to set a price ceiling to protect renters, is it then also fair to set a price floor to protect property owners in the event the rental market bottoms out?

Another factor to take into consideration is that rent control could actually serve to decrease the supply of rental units.   Short term, rent control could constrict the rental supply by scaring some landlords out of the business.  This has actually already begun in Burlingame, where the owner of a 10-unit apartment building recently served his tenants notice to vacate, citing that he did not want to run the risk of having to operate his building under a rent control ordinance.  In the long run, it could slow the construction of new rental units, as many developers would likely shy away from building in a city with a rent control ordinance.  Let’s remember, it’s a shortage of available rental units fueling the affordability crisis in the first place.  Anything that would further tighten supply could exacerbate the issue.

No one would argue that families being displaced by rising rents isn’t an issue.  The question is:  is rent control the practical solution to the affordable housing crisis, or the emotional one?

If you own rental property in Mateo County, take note.  If a rent control ordinance is established in San Mateo or Burlingame, it could become the standard bearer for similar ballot initiatives elsewhere in the county.  Read below for a brief synopsis of each

Burlingame – Measure R
Measure R would accomplish three things:  repeal Measure T, which currently prohibits the City of Burlingame from regulating real estate sale/rental prices; establish a rent control ordinance; enact just cause for eviction provisions.

The rent control ordinance would apply to all multifamily residential buildings with initial certificates of occupancy before February 1, 1995.  It excludes single-family homes, condominiums, owner-occupied duplexes or secondary dwelling units, hotels, motels, hospitals, certain nonprofits, dormitories and certain governmental facilities.  The ordinance would establish a base rent for each tenancy based off the amount paid on March 30,2016.  Under this ordinance, rent increases would be limited to once per year, and will be restricted to an amount proportional to the rate of inflation (but no more than 4%).  Tenants would be able to petition for lower rents if their landlords provide substandard housing, decrease housing services, or increase rent above what is allowed under the ordinance.  Conversely, landlords would be able to petition for rent increases under some circumstances to ensure a fair rate of returns.

The just cause eviction provision would apply to all units under rent control as well as single family homes, condominiums, and most multi-family residential units regardless of date of construction.  Reasons for a just eviction include: failure to pay rent, breach of lease, nuisance, criminal activity, and failure to grant reasonable access.  Landlords must pay relocation assistance to tenants for evictions based on necessary repairs, owner move-in, removal of unit from rental market, and demolition of unit.  Relocation assistance under this provision would constitute 3 months rent for a similar unit.

San Mateo – Measure Q
Measure Q is very similar to Measure R, with the key difference being that no existing law needs to be repealed to allow for rent control.

Like Burlingame’s Measure R, Measure Q would set a base rent for each tenancy and limit subsequent rent increases.  Base rents would be determined by the amount the tenant paid on September 21, 2015.  For tenancies beginning after that date, base rents would be the rate paid upon initial occupancy.  The limits on rent increases are the same as Measure R – once annually, in an amount equal to the increase in Consumer Price Index (but no greater than 4%).  Landlords and tenants can petition for higher/lower rents for reasons similar to those described in Measure R.

The just cause eviction provision in Measure Q is almost identical to what is described in Measure R, except that the amount of relocation assistance paid to a tenant when applicable has not yet been determined.  It will be decided by City Council within 6 months of the Measure passing.

Redwood City School District: Achievements & School Info

Despite being one of the lowest State funded districts in the county, the Redwood City School District has been able to achieve a great deal in the way of improving facilities, quality of education, and student performance.  Just this past November, voters showed their support for continuing those efforts by approving Measure T – a $193 million bond that will be used to upgrade and repair schools within the Redwood City School District.

In honor of the start to the new school year, let’s take a look at a few of the RCSD’s other recent accomplishments:

-North Star, Adelante, and Orion named California Distinguished Schools

-Roy Cloud, Taft, Hoover, & Roosevelt given Gold Ribbon Awards – an award given to honor schools while the California Distinguished Schools Program is on hiatus as California transitions to new assessment and accountability systems

-North Star Academy recognized as having one of the highest API scores in the state (ranked #4 in 2013).  It was also honored as a National Blue Ribbon School in 2012, a coveted award which over its 33 year history has been presented to roughly 8,000 schools nationwide.

-Seven district schools have API scores over 800 or 900: Adelante, Clifford, Roy Cloud, Henry Ford, Orion, North Star Academy and Roosevelt.

-Several RCSD schools earned the Kent Award for innovative practices from the San Mateo County Board of Education: Adelante, Clifford, Henry Ford, Kennedy, Hoover, North Star Academy and Orion.

-Adelante ranked 2nd for the Spanish Embassy’s School of the Year in 2016

-The entire K-3 teaching staff was presented the San Mateo County Literacy award in 2011 for their work in using assessments to improve reading.

For more specific information about each school within the Redwood City School District, reference the brochures below:

Adelante:

Download (PDF, 1.23MB)

Clifford: 

Download (PDF, 456KB)

Fair Oaks: 

Download (PDF, 1.22MB)

Garfield: 

Download (PDF, 1.92MB)

Hawes: 

Download (PDF, 1.48MB)

Henry Ford: 

Download (PDF, 1.92MB)

Hoover: 

Download (PDF, 1.45MB)

John Gill: 

Download (PDF, 1.3MB)

Kennedy: 

Download (PDF, 451KB)

McKinley Institute of Technology: 

Download (PDF, 2.6MB)

North Star Academy: 

Download (PDF, 1.66MB)

Orion Alternative School: 

Download (PDF, 2.17MB)

Roosevelt: 

Download (PDF, 1.62MB)

Roy Cloud: 

Download (PDF, 1.17MB)

Selby Lane: 

Download (PDF, 1.55MB)

Taft:

Download (PDF, 1.42MB)

Stanford Submits Design Plans For Phase 1 of RWC Campus

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Though it’s still a long ways from becoming reality, the future of the Stanford in Redwood City project is starting to come into focus. Nearly 10 years after purchasing the former Mid-Point Technology Park on Broadway, Stanford University has officially submitted design plans to the city for approval. They will go before the Architectural Advisory Committee this month, before heading to the Planning Commission for review in September. If approved, phase 1 of construction will break ground in Fall of this year, with completion tentatively slated for 2019.

According to Stanford’s project update, phase 1 of construction will include:

– four office buildings
– a town square and park (open to the public)
– outdoor dining areas and plazas
– a child care center
– a parking garage
– a glass atrium fitness center and its own sustainable central utility plant

The timeline for completion of the rest of the project is unclear, but when it’s all said and done, Stanford in Redwood City will feature:

– 35-acre campus
– 1.5 million square feet for offices, medical clinics, and R&D
– 13 total buildings
– 2,400 Stanford employees working on the Redwood City campus after the completion of phase 1 (making it the city’s 3rd largest employer)
– 2.4 acres of publicly accessible open space

4_town-square

Stanford in Redwood City, which will be located between Broadway and Bay, Douglas and Second, will incorporate the same look and feel of the main campus in both the architecture and the public spaces. In a video posted to the Stanford in Redwood City website, University Architect Dave Lenox says, they “want to evoke that same emotion that people feel coming down Palm Drive walking into the main quad, and just feeling that sense of awe.” Stanford has pledged $15.1 million towards public benefits as a part of the deal, and they also plan to run their Marguerite shuttle (which is free and open to the public) between the two campuses. Barron, Warrington, and Hurlingame Avenues will all be extended through the site.

Redwood City becoming host to a world-renowned institution such as Stanford feels like a symbolic final piece to the city’s transformation – from “Deadwood City”, to a bustling hub of business, research, and entertainment. But this project is quite a bit different from all the others. Unlike Crossing/900, or the apartments at 201 Marshall – which are in highly visible downtown locations – Stanford in Redwood City will be peripheral to the city’s downtown hub. Instead of being flanked by restaurants and shops, it will border two densely populated, lower-income communities – North Fair Oaks and Friendly Acres – both of which stand to see property values increase as a direct result of Stanford’s arrival, the money they invest into the community, and the real estate investors they attract. This, of course, is good news for homeowners, and not so good news for the many renters that populate the area (we’ll save that conversation for another day). We’ll be keeping an eye on these two communities as the project progresses.