The Yuppification of Redwood City

I’ve always viewed Redwood City as the melting pot of the Peninsula Bay Area and have been blessed to have grown up in such a great community. Rich, private school kids hanging along-side kids from the barrio, to me – at least – there was never a social or cultural ladder, really.

My family is as white as white rice comes. Actually, forget the rice. We were as white as white-washed comes. Despite being half Filipino and half Chinese, I grew up knowing neither language, and nothing of being Filipino (but that’s for another blogpost). My parents raised us in Catholic, private schools – something I stuck with all through my years of schooling (minus NYU which was private, but not Catholic…obviously).

Redwood City is truly a curious demographic mix up. Apart from its famous motto: “Climate Best by Government Test,” the city boasts great diversity in its residents. According to recent census surveys, 44% of the population is White, 38% Latino, 10% Asian, and goes on from there. Being the “token Asian” was a common occurrence, I hardly… if ever… felt like a “minority”, but that’s just me. The thing is, no one is really a “minority” in Redwood City. Or at least that’s how I remember things growing up. **DISCLAIMER: In editing, I realize it sounds like I may have just grown up insanely unaware of my surroundings. Quite possible, but I like to think I was a smart kid.**

Early last month I went home to give old RWC a visit. Granted, I had been back for the Holidays, but within 6 months the entire landscape of the city had already changed.

Redwood City is located perfectly between San Francisco proper – to the North – and Palo Alto and Silicon Valley in the South. In case you’ve been living under a rock, San Francisco / Silicon Valley has experienced a tech-boom sort of gold-rush, if I may. The result: JOBS. Which are really great things!

Renderings of Box HQ (credit: bizjournals.com)

But let’s break it down:

Jobs equals influx of people equals great new restaurants and bars and fun things which also equals housing for all of these people and fun things to live in.  The simple rule of supply and demand shows us that when there are a lot of people needing apartments/housing, supply also has to increase. And that’s where I’ve found issue.

Living in NYC, I’ve read countless New York Times articles about the gentrification of Williamsburg (done deal), the gentrification of Greenpoint, Harlem, etc. and also in San Francisco (see Mission gentrification). Summarily (again, in case you’ve been living under a rock), new money, typically, young white people are pushing out and outpricing locals out of housing in their own neighborhoods – historically black and latino. Reading these articles was always interesting to me – thanks to my Dad who’s instilled an extreme interest in NYC and SF real estate – mostly because was able to look at the situation from the outside.

New York Times: “Can Mom-and-Pop Shops Survive Extreme Gentrification?

Redwood City’s landscape, to date, is now littered with high rise, luxury apartments. Corporate logos are adorned on buildings that were once reserved for affordable housing. Small cafes have been edged out of business by larger chains like Philz Coffee (oh but for fuckssake, it tastes so good though). Employees at mom & pop Mexican restaurants aren’t even Mexican anymore… they’re white hipsters.

I went to this year’s 4th of July parade, where I usually run into families and kids I used to teach swim lessons to at the community pool. Maybe I’ve aged out of being the “cool lifeguard,” (confirmed. I have)  but I recognized nobody. Instead of once-little-Juan and Jose and their families, I saw young white and Asian couples… yuppies galore. So not only has the physical city of Redwood City changed – the culture and the people have changed drastically as well.

So long as this and Chavez is still around, I can deal.

It’s an exciting time to live in the Bay Area with all of the companies and start ups flourishing. However I’m not sure if I feel nostalgic, or saddened by the new developments (literally and figuratively) happening in the city I grew up in. My family lives very comfortably in RWC and we are probably the target for a lot of these new restaurants and stores and businesses popping up, but it doesn’t mean that we’re not disappointed in the direction the city has gone. In fact, my Dad served on the city’s planning commission for years, up until this year. Having grown up in the Bay Area, and in RWC for decades, he has always supported affordable housing. Speaking out against the new luxury high rises (catering to the tech and startup communities), he soon found himself off of the planning commission. This obviously leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, but even before learning about this, I was definitely shocked to drive through RWC in July for the first time since December to see the changed city scape.

Development plans, but more importantly RWC will have a “Flatiron building”. Just no. (credit: redwoodcity.org)

I am very nostalgic about the way things were when I was growing up. In middle school, my friends from public schools told me how they weren’t able to wear red or blue shirts to school (gangs were still very prevalent in the city), and now the biggest problem the city has is figuring out how to turn old apartments into profitable high rises. Even while enjoying a Philz mint mojito iced coffee, its still hard to see the upside to all of this gentrification business, even if you are on the side that benefits ultimately.

And for all you RWC locals. Google “Depot Circle”.

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8 Comments

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  1. As someone who does not benefit and who these are not for, it makes me sad too. RWC is not the same, and the direction it was going in made me have a final decision to not move back there…I went to Santa Cruz. When I want to feel like RWC is the same, I drive back up to the hills–the rich peoples houses still all look the same.

  2. Your blog hit the bullseye of how RWC is not the home I grew up in. I lived there most of my life. I was the third generation to go to Sequoia High School. I can remember Circle Star and getting whiffle balls at Goetz bro. I still have best friends that live there (who have to live at home to afford it now). I went back there last week after living in Oregon for a year. I was shocked. You look towards downtown from Jefferson and El Camino and you can’t see the sky. Did you know we don’t even have a Goodwill. The bowling alley is a fancy apartment complex. The sad part is that once this tech bubble bursts I’m afraid that these high rise aparents will be ghost towers. The city will look rundown and my hometown will suffer. Perhaps then I can buy back my parents house for a cool million (what a steal).

  3. Chavez and El Grullense (pictured) are not the same.

  4. Jennifer Vessels August 4, 2015 — 17:40

    Agree on all here (have to say Tahtahme your comment made me do a double take… I live on Highland Ave and never thought i would be called ‘rich people’….).. I do hope the ‘hills’ don’t change toooo much although soooo many of my neighbors are selling or have sold.

  5. Having been born at Sequoia Hospital sixty years ago and living in Redwood City most of my life, I agree the city has changed. My parents purchased their Woodside Plaza area home in 1951 when it was just stakes in the ground. And they still live in that same home in 2015. The area was rich with new homes, new schools and new families with the influx of WWII veterans moving out of San Francisco. In my family, my father was a New York City native who was discharged on the West Coast with the promise of a job while attending college in SF; my mother was a SF native when she met my dad. At that time, Redwood City changed from a small town and county seat to a large town. Was that a yuppification of the town?

    Like the author, I too, worked at the City’s pools. Yes, at one time there were two pools operated by the City–Community Pool renamed Herkner Pool in 1981 and Hoover Pool. I worked at both for many years (Community Pool 1968 & 1981 to 1986 and Hoover 1969 to 1978 and at Sequoia the year–1980 the City ran it while Community Pool was rebuilt). I also worked for the Recreation Dept. helping to supervise the pool and playground activities from 1987 to 1994 and was in charge of the Peppermint Patty & Teen Softball leagues from 1988 to 1997. The yuppification actually started in the 1970’s; and possibly earlier as the term didn’t exist at that time. As the population aged, the number of school children dropped drastically. Schools were closed and the property sold off. Most notably, to me, were the closures of Lincoln and Washington Schools. Lincoln went the way of several homes in the “expensive” area of the City–Mount Carmel area has also had higher housing prices than other areas of the City. Washington became the Woodside Terrace Senior Community, now Brookside. When I was first at Hoover Pool there was a mix of white, black, and some hispanic kids using the facility. What was most notable about the racial makeup of Redwood City from the 1960’s thru 1970’s was the loss the Black community. Since that time there has been an influx of Hispanics (Latinos which ever term is PC), and most recently of Asians and East Europeans. Many of these are tech workers are those from other countries. Affluent families seem to have fewer children while those of lower means have more. Public schools are populated with ESL students, many Spanish speaking. The demographics changed, but they again are changing.

    I recall driving on the Bayshore usually to or from my Grandparents house in Millbrae. I saw the area of the bay now know as Foster City be filled in and built upon; and then watched as this was also down to the East of Raston Ave but as part of Redwood City. I can recall when on a field trip our teacher pointed out at the wetlands east of the Whipple overpass and declared that by 1990 the population of Redwood City would double to about 140,000. Thank God that didn’t happen. The old Frank’s Tannery burned, and up sprung the Mervyn’s, now Kohl’s Plaza. The area (Belmont, San Carlos, Redwood City, Menlo Park) had many pre-silicon electronics firms–Dalmo Victor, Litton Industries, and Ampex to name a few. Littered throughout the area were many nurseries, many run by Asians. Those I specifically remember were on Redwood St (near Sanchez Way), Valota (Knecht’s across from St. Pius Church, and Honda’s near Carleton Ct), and many along Woodside Road. Many of my friends parents worked at the old S&W cannery. All are now gone, most disappearing in the 70’s. Homes now sit on those former sites of wonderful aroma when the flowers were in bloom. Was this growth yuppification of the town?

    Changes occurred again in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The many auto dealerships along El Camino are long gone; mostly those of American Cars, some replaced with those of foreign cars (Honda at the foot of Hopkins) Sequoia Station replaced Davies Chevrolet. Gone are Ben Franklin’s and JC Penney’s and in goes the Downtown Cinemas. It was at this point that much of the available land was already developed and Redwood City started thinking up. Small pockets of land were developed. Condominiums replaced single family homes and pockets of detached homes with no yards have sprouted around the city. As the 90’s moved into the 2000’s any available land was developed with multi-level buildings. Without land available, developers maximize the use of that land by going up. This was first seen with the development of Woodside Terrace/Brookside then later at the Franklin street developments and now many more downtown.

    Like the author, I am floored at the rapid development of the downtown area with high rises. I would also note that the author failed to make note of the developments condominiums in the former marinas further increasing the population. As population grows, those individuals need to live somewhere. I am concerned and wonder how the infrastructure will support these high rise homes in an already traffic bound downtown. I hope that a significant number are reserved for low cost housing. I hope that we see a mixed population in terms of ethnic mix, economic mix and age mix move into these homes.

    We have entrusted our City mothers and fathers with properly planning for growth. We have a thriving port; down town can’t be called “Deadwood City” as it was when I was growing up. We have great parks, recreation facilities, a mix of job types (restaurant, retail, entertainment, high tech), two great hospitals, lots of other types of medical facilities. Yes, there’s change. Do I like all of it? No! Overall, our city leaders are doing a good job. If not we wouldn’t see the growth that’s occurred in the last sixty years. I hope that on the author’s next visit to Redwood City she travel up and down the Peninsula and see the development all over. It isn’t just Redwood City. Sixty years ago San Jose was mostly a farming community, it’s now the birth place of the Silicon Valley. Land for silicon wafer manufacturing was available there. The silcon wafer was born from the old electronics firms like Dalmo-Victor, Litton Industries, Lenkurt, and Ampex. Growth is everywhere in the Bay Area. What may be unique to Redwood City other than it’s world reknowned motto on climate is that it is a most desirable place to work and live. If this is yuppification, then so be it. I can adapt to change.

  6. Sadly, this is nothing new for Bay Area neighborhoods. And perhaps those all around the world that go through rapid growth. Read this article and almost felt immune to it, even though I grew up in the area and see the changes, too. That’s saying something.

  7. Nice read! Funny, I was raised in redwood city…went to catholic schools-st Francis and then Nyu! 🙂

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