The town of Woodside met the challenges of 2020 and its many curveballs, particularly in both town finances and governance.
Early on, town officials expressed confidence in Woodside's finances, saying they were well-positioned to weather the economic downtown spurred by the coronavirus pandemic. As in other communities, local merchants and restaurants were greatly affected by stay-at-home orders, and the town allocated $80,000 in grants from the general fund to support local businesses through the San Mateo County Strong program and streamlined permits for outdoor dining.
By summer, the Town Council — via videoconference, of course — was also back to tackling regular council business in addition to its COVID response.
The council updated several planning and zoning ordinances, including those that govern granny flats, and OK'd amending portions of the zoning code related to "natural state," requiring that when a property is developed, a certain percentage of a hillside lot be left undisturbed.
The council also implemented a new law aimed at reducing the noise and air pollution from leaf blowers, and unanimously approved the establishment of a Youth Advisory Committee to encourage more young people to get involved in local government.
But the month of August saw particular challenges when the CZU Lightning Complex fires erupted nearby. The largest wildfires in San Mateo County history brought ash and smoky skies, closed many key roads in the area and spurred evacuations of nearby communities.
Threat of wildfire closes in
Though no Woodside residents had to evacuate during the weeks that fires burned, through road closures and an abundance of smoke and ash, the conflagration still brought disruption and renewed already heightened concerns about local fire prevention measures.
But in the face of twin calamities, the community also came together to help. Andy Kerr of Alice's Restaurant, aided by donations from the local community, went behind fire lines to deliver meals to firefighters. Alice's, with community support, early in the pandemic began providing meals to homebound seniors and first responders.
In September, the council issued a proclamation recognizing the community service of Alice's Restaurant and its co-owners, brothers Andy and Jamie Kerr, for their support of the community during the fires and the pandemic.
Road safety issues and collisions
The forested, winding roads in the area continued to attract visitors, a number of whom were speeding and in some cases, racing each other, with the problem most pronounced in the Four Corners area at the intersection of highways 84 and 35. Neighbors said the speeding problem had worsened during stay-at-home orders.
The ongoing speeding issue was a major focus of the town's Circulation Committee and a frequent topic of discussion for the council, with requests to the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office to step up enforcement resulting in larger numbers of citations issued, and data showing that most of the cited drivers were not Woodside residents, according to Sheriff's Office reports made to the Circulation Committee.
This year saw several fatal collisions on Woodside roads, including a two-car incident that killed both drivers in August and a fatal solo vehicle crash in July that resulted in the driver's arrest on felony DUI charges after his friend, a passenger, died in the incident.
Another collision in August involved a bicyclist who was fatally injured when a car moved into his lane to pass another cyclist. Though that collision took place on a county-owned stretch of Kings Mountain Road, the incident restarted a town project stalled by the pandemic to install bicycle turnouts and signs along the mile and a half of Kings Mountain Road under town jurisdiction.
A move to address housing needs
In July, the council unanimously voted to make it easier to get permission to build granny units, officially known as accessory dwelling units (ADUs). The change brought the town's ordinance into alignment with a state law that went into effect at the beginning of the year, streamlining ADU requirements to help alleviate the statewide housing shortage. The changes include shorter timelines for approval and loosening of setback requirements, allowing, per state law, for at least one 800-square- foot ADU to be built a minimum of 4 feet from the side and rear property lines. The updated ordinance is likely to get some fine-tuning, particularly as it relates to building height.
In updating the town's ADU ordinance, the council embraced the concept as a method of providing additional housing in town without adding density, in order to maintain the community's rural character.
An uncontested election
During a year when so many things were in flux, the results of Woodside's Town Council election never seemed in doubt, even well before Election Day, with the races for the four seats up for election in 2020 — in districts 1, 3, 5 and 7 — all uncontested. Voting went ahead as officials are required by the town charter to hold an election to allow for the possibility of write-in candidates.
In December, the council swore in two new members: attorney Jenn Wall, elected to the District 1 seat, and management consultant John Carvell, elected to the District 5 seat. They are replacing Daniel Yost (District 1) and Tom Livermore (District 5), who both declined to run for reelection. Also seated were reelected members Chris Shaw (District 3) and Ned Fluet (District 7).
Fluet served as the mayor in 2020. Brian Dombkowski, mayor pro tem and council member for District 2, was sworn in as the town's new mayor on Dec. 8.