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Saturday, February 4, 2023

Redwood City Downtown Plan


Where and what is Redwood City ?

Redwood City is a dense urban metropolitan area of about 90,000 residents, located on Highway 101 about 25 miles south of San Francisco and 27 miles north of San Jose.  It is the home of such companies as Oracle, Electronic Arts, Shutterfly, and Avast, as well as being the capital city of San Mateo County.  Each day about 55,000 workers commute into Redwood City, and 31,000 workers commute out.

What is the Redwood City Precise Plan ?

The Redwood City Downtown Precise Plan (DTPP) describes the vision for the future of downtown Redwood City, regulates private development, and recommends potential future City projects.  It was adopted in 2011, and has been amended three times, in 2012, 2013, and 2016.

“Urbanism” vs “High Density Suburbia”

The plan makes the distinction between “Urbanism” – a cohesive, walkable downtown – and “High Density Suburbia,” where the car transportation is still the dominant factor. “Active” building frontages determine whether a street is lively or dull.

To look at the Redwood City document in greater detail, with 15 pages selected from the full 194-page plan, see the “Explore the document” page, click here.

Form-Based Code

Their Precise Plan includes a comprehensive Form-Based Code, which could serve as a model for another city’s form-based codes.
Included in Redwood City’s plan are:

  • Zones ranging from 3 Stories to 12 Stories. [In Arcata, this might correspond to 2 to 6 stories.]
  • Along the major commercial/pedestrian streets and along much of the perimeter of the area, there is a Stepped-Height requirements of 3 Story maximum height.
  • On the building’s site, the portion of the building along the street is 3 stories, and then set back from the street the building can be 5-8 story maximum. The tallest buildings in the plan are 12 Stories, but the maximum along the commercial streets is 5-8 story.
    [This might correspond to a 2 Story height along the street, and a 4 Story maximum height along commercial streets.]
  • Stepped-height requirements in relation to adjacent Single-Family homes.
  • 15% of the units reserved as affordable housing.
  • Parking requirements of 0.75 (for a Studio) to 3 parking spaces per unit.
The Redwood City Downtown Precise Plan does not include such aspects as:
  • Specific requirements for bike lanes, traffic calming, pedestrian conditions, public open space designations.


Does the Redwood City Precise Plan include Ministerial review or Public/Planning Commission review?

The Redwood City Downtown Precise Plan is based on Planning Commission review (with public input) of all projects above a certain size or height.

Further discussion on how it works for Redwood City to NOT have ministerial review,
and how there can be Form-Based code that does not rely on Ministerial review,
see the page “Ministerial Review” on this website.


Public Open Space and Bicycle Lanes

Public open space and bike lanes are part of other requirements in Redwood City, and are written about in “The Vision” of the plan in Book I (see link below).  The city has relatively wide streets, which lend themselves to designated bike lanes.  [Arcata has narrow streets, which make fitting two lanes of traffic, parking, sidewalks, and bike lanes to be a problematic issue.]  Also noted:

  • There are 23 public open space areas in the plan. 96% of all parcels in the plan are within a 3 minute walk of an open space.
  • Of the 23 public open space, 10 are designated as “Shadow Sensitive.” Maximum permitted building heights are reduced near these spaces. See Section 2.7, link below.

What is their Form-Based Code Document?

The Redwood City Precise Plan is a 194-page PDF document.  It is very dense in layout, and may be considered to be the equivalent of a 300 or 400 page book.  There’s a huge amount of information there, yet it is well-organized and easy to read. The content can be skimmed, with the extensive built-in graphics making it easy to find items of interest.  It is extremely specific in terms of what Redwood City wants developers to follow in their designs.  In some cases, the document provides planning guidelines on a block-by-block basis, so that new construction will fit in with the general aesthetics of that block.


How can I read the full Redwood City Downtown Precise Plan document ?

It is an outstanding example of what a plan can be.
Please take a few minutes (or longer) to view this document.
A summary with ~15 pages from the document is here on this website.

Method A:
The Redwood City Downtown Precise Plan can be easily accessed on the Redwood City website by opening the entire plan document here [or stored on this website here].  The Table of Contents is on Page 5. To look up a subject of particular interest to you, you can use the search (Ctrl-F or Command-F) on your viewer/browser to look up a word or phrase, and then jump to that section of the document.  As examples, a search for “bike lane” yields 10 entries; for “urbanism” yields 14; for “shadow” yields 20.

Method B:
Here’s the entire document. You can scroll through it, enlarge (zoom), pan left and right, make full screen, and download it — but no search.  ((When in full screen, the control buttons are only at the bottom.  You can exit full screen with the button at the BOTTOM of the image.)


[Note to the Reader:  Many of the images in this article are fuzzy.  This is from the process of converting individual PDF pages to photo images (jpg).  When I wrote this article, I did not have the software to embed full PDF files, as is above.  If there is enough interest, I can edit and convert this article use the embedded PDF pages.  The results are sharper and easier to read.  It that would help you, let me know.]


How long did it take to create ?

Redwood City’s Form-Based Code is the result of much concentrated effort through community workshops and by 5 city upper-level staff members and 19 city staff employees, plus other city committees and numerous consultants.

In total, the process took approximately 3 years to develop the Plan, plus another year or more for the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) — a total of 3 or 4 years to develop a form-based code and an EIR.


Can Arcata benefit from Redwood City’s Precise Plan?

Their plan shows a huge amount of public input, thoughtful consideration, and hard work.  Redwood City is of course far wealthier than Arcata, with a greater amount of money devoted to public services.
Possibly the Redwood City Form-Based Code could be used as an outline for Arcata — essentially, could be copied in its entirety, with numbers and dimensions changed to fit our situation.  That is, where they talk about building heights of 3 to 12 stories, for Arcata that might correspond to building heights of 2 to 5 or 6 stories.
With countless citizen input, 24 staff people, and outside consultants, it still took 3 or 4 years to develop their plan and EIR.
The Redwood City downtown map, showing building heights.

Redwood City downtown map, showing building heights of 5 to 12 stories.  In Arcata, this might correspond to 2-6 stories.
Note the Yellow zones along the major commercial roads and along much of the perimeter.
This designates where buildings will have a 3-story height along the street, and then a 5 to 8 story height behind that.  In Arcata, this might correspond to a 2 Story height along the street, and a 4 Story maximum height along commercial streets.

3D Modeling of downtown Redwood City

A 3D modelling image of the downtown. Again, note the 3 story zone along Main Street, Broadway, parts of Maple Street, El Camino, and other locations.



Be sure to view other posts on this website about Ministerial Review, Form-Based Code, and how the Redwood City Downtown Precise Plan incorporates Planning Commission / Public Input Review into their process.