Peninsula, Project Proposals

Leaving the “Transit” Out of Transit-Oriented Development

An article in the Chronicle today discussed the possibility of building homes on 1,433 acres of Peninsula bayshore land. The land, located in Redwood City near the crossing of Highways 101 and 84, is currently used by Cargill Inc. for salt production that the company plans on phasing out. At this point, no official plans have been released, and no formal application will be filed with the city until next year — but environmentalists have already announced their intention to actively block this project. Will Travis, the head of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, does not necessarily oppose the general idea of development here, provided that the proposal is accompanied by a plan to restore at least half of the land to its natural state. In any case, there are still considerable hurdles to contend with, ranging from local (Redwood City zoning ordinances) to federal (the Clean Water Act).

Nancy Radcliffe, vice chairwoman of the Redwood City Planning Commission, supports the project. She cites the city’s strong need for additional housing, but she misses the point:

Redwood City is in desperate need of residences for people who work in the Peninsula city. Such housing would reduce the number of commuters on Bay Area roads, thereby reducing car emissions and helping the environment.

I cannot say that I agree with the latter half of this assessment. There is no particular reason to believe that this development, with its easy access to Highway 101, will house only people working in Redwood City. Meanwhile, the remote location, distant from the Caltrain corridor and core SamTrans bus routes, essentially ensures that none of its residents will ride transit. I appreciate the Redwood City Planning Commission’s desire to introduce additional housing into the city, but “transit-oriented development” that is nowhere near transit (or transit-friendly employment) is counterproductive.

The Peninsula corridor could certainly use more housing, but new development should be high-density and focused intensely along El Camino Real, with immediate access to Caltrain and SamTrans — not low-density homes sprawling across bayshore land parcels adjacent to the freeway. Too much bayshore land has already been eaten up by development that would be better placed in major urban centers and along transit corridors. We should protect what precious little bayshore land remains and restore it as open space. The Bay Area needs more housing, but the housing must be well-placed in order to be consistent with our long-term goals for smart growth.

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Discussion

10 thoughts on “Leaving the “Transit” Out of Transit-Oriented Development

  1. Redwood City wants to put in a ferry terminal at their port, which is very close to this location. While I doubt it would be enough to justify expensive ferry service, it would improve things slightly.

    Posted by Aaron | 1 November 2007, 4:52 pm
  2. Is this not relatively close to where a potential Caltrain Dumbarton crossing would be?

    I agree with your skepticism, Eric, but I think that if this development was say 50% of the area (with the rest converted back to bayshore), high density walkable residential/commercial with new bus service and potentially a new Caltrain crossing close by – this could be a good spot for development. What I don’t want is the likely compromise – low density residential on half the land.

    Posted by Chris | 1 November 2007, 5:04 pm
  3. Just to clarify, the Dumbarton (Caltrain) East Menlo station would be nowhere near this site, really–over a mile at the closest (assuming it’s built). Given service levels and direction of travel, the most convenient major transit option would be Downtown Redwood, also about a mile away from the closest corner of the site. The ferry would be closer but service would be limited and as the man mentioned, highly subsidized.

    Posted by Steve | 1 November 2007, 5:45 pm
  4. A ferry terminal would help slightly, though it will take time for ferries to elevate in status as a universally viable transit alternative, and the Caltrain crossing wouldn’t really be that close. But my real question here is if there would be the will to build truly high-density housing — and enough of it, so that you would have a critical mass of transit riders to justify frequent-enough bus service to be a convincing alternative to driving to a population that will likely be 100% car-owner. If Redwood City is so interested in more housing (and they should be), I’d rather see it near downtown, easy walking distance from shops, jobs, and Caltrain — and not in the form of the “likely compromise” Chris mentions, low density suburban housing.

    Posted by Eric | 1 November 2007, 5:48 pm
  5. Ok, yeah it is farther than I was thinking.

    How is Redwood City’s downtown plan progressing? I know that they had some delays regarding parking issues (what else?), but I also remember that it was a pretty ambitious plan to add several thousand units of housing downtown.

    Posted by Chris | 1 November 2007, 6:26 pm
  6. Here’s a map (PDF link) of the planned uses for the downtown Redwood City area. Downtown is basically the area between Sequoia and Middlefield, that isn’t labeled on the map. The Caltrain station is right near Sequoia High School.

    The downtown plan, which was approved this past spring, calls for about 2500 units of housing downtown, but those will be added over the course of years, and it doesn’t seem as though the city actually has that many units lined up yet. I believe that the Villa Montgomery project (just 58 units) is the main (only?) addition this year. According to the plan, buildings could be as high as 12 stories in the central zone, tapering off to 4-5 stories at the edges. There’s quite a bit of residential parking, though.

    Posted by Eric | 1 November 2007, 7:49 pm
  7. Although, Redwood City is the proud owner of the most progressive parking policy in the Bay Area. No, seriously.

    Posted by Steve | 1 November 2007, 11:23 pm
  8. Very true on the parking policy.

    Taking a look at that plan…I chose the wrong word with “ambitious”. Twenty years and 2500 units? Ugh.

    Posted by Chris | 2 November 2007, 7:49 am
  9. Same story with development in Brisbane and South City and on and on

    The wrong stuff is going in the wrong places and I am not hopeful

    Posted by Zig | 6 November 2007, 8:25 pm

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