Redwood City City Council leans toward major Sequoia station development and passing station project

On Monday, February 8, the Redwood City City Council gave input on a major mixed use development proposed for Sequoia station which would create space for a passing station that would enable greatly increased Caltrain capacity and service quality, as well as grade separations for downtown streets.

As those familiar with Redwood City know, the site is currently occupied by a surface parking lot focused retail center with a popular Safeway. The development would keep the grocery store and other retail, move it closer to El Camino Real, and add over a million square feet of office space and over 1000 homes.    

Council members were generally sympathetic with concerns raised by residents about the high share of office relative to housing, and supported addressing the imbalance with other sites and policies, including through the city’s upcoming Housing Element process which requires the city to plan for housing for a variety of levels, and by establishing a task force to address the imbalance.  Council members were also interested in seeing any opportunities to add affordable housing and deeper affordability levels.  Council Member Hale expressed interest in opportunities to reduce parking requirements in order to increase space for housing.

An economic feasibility study showed that a high share of office was needed to enable development at that site, because of the currently successful shopping center,  the need for costly underground parking, and the need to make space for the rail infrastructure.

As those following the issue closely will know, the passing station would enable fast trains to pass slow local trains, enabling greater service frequency with two trains every 15 minutes, and a more regular schedule that allowed better connections. The project would also benefit connections to any future Dumbarton rail project. Caltrain staff at the meeting noted that based on community feedback they were open to considering an infill station in North Fair Oaks/Southern Redwood City. 

Caltrain staff at the meeting said that the transit benefits of the passing station would likely help bring in other sources of federal and state funding for the infrastructure including the grade separations, which are expensive and on their own don’t qualify for much outside funding.

In response to Council questions, Caltrain staff reported that Measure RR to fund Caltrain garnered over 70% of the vote in San Mateo Caltrain. Hale reported that the results were over 80% in Redwood City neighborhoods near Caltrain. The goals of the measure included preventing a Caltrain shutdown because of the Covid recession, and funding the improved service that would be enabled by the Sequoia Station infrastructure. 

The next steps in the project would be moving ahead with environmental review in 2021, as well as more detailed design of the passing station and grade separations, with a major round of community outreach in 2022.