Redwood City may force future downtown developers to provide public benefits
By Bonnie Eslinger Daily News Staff Writer
With the city in a building boom, Redwood City may create a community benefits ordinance that would require some developers to fund such initiatives as affordable housing and bike and pedestrian accommodations. (Bonnie Eslinger / Daily News)
Redwood City's elected leaders hoped to spur a construction boom that would revitalize downtown when they approved a precise plan three years ago.
Their dreams have come true, so much so that they now find themselves able to possibly exert enough leverage to coax developers into providing community benefits to get future projects approved.
And to get an idea of the kinds of benefits to ask for, the city has begun surveying citizens. Meanwhile, a meeting has been scheduled for Oct. 15 so the City Council can discuss whether to call for an ordinance that mandates certain benefits.
According to city officials, those benefits could lead to an enhancement of parks and open space, creation of more bicycle and pedestrian initiatives, construction of more affordable housing and funding of programs that serve low-income and other needy residents.
Since the downtown precise plan was adopted, nine developments have been approved totaling more than 1,200 housing units and 300,000 square feet of office space that have either been built or are under construction, according to city staff. And proposals for six more projects have been submitted.
In fact, the city this summer received so many applications for downtown office projects that they would exceed the development limit set by the precise plan if all are approved.
But for some residents, the development frenzy is taking its toll.
Councilman Ian Bain said at a Sept. 22 meeting that he used to receive positive comments about downtown's rejuvenation but lately has been fielding concerns about the resulting traffic and parking problems.
The public "wants to know what's in it for them," Economic Development Manager Sean Brooks said in an interview Monday.
"Now we're going back to the drawing board," he said. "We need to provide some benefits to our community."
Staff hopes to present a community benefits ordinance to the council by March, Brooks said. If adopted, it wouldn't apply to the nine building projects already approved nor likely to others currently in the works, he added.
Brooks said the ordinance could apply to other parts of the city besides downtown, such as the waterfront Inner Harbor area east of Highway 101.
Developers already pay park and traffic "impact fees" for downtown projects, said Community Development Director Aaron Aknin. Since 2011, the city has collected more than $10 million in park fees, most of that money from downtown projects, he said.
Aknin said some developer-funded benefits such as affordable housing used to be financed through redevelopment tax dollars, but that revenue source dried up two years ago when Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature dismantled redevelopment agencies.
The loss of those funds prompted the city to encourage downtown property owners to create a "community benefit improvement district" to pay extra taxes for services such as additional sidewalk cleaning, landscaping, marketing, signage and other promotional efforts. The owners voted in summer to form the district and city officials expect to collect about $800,000 this fiscal year for those services.