Mayor Brian Dombkowski discussed his priorities, which include making outdoor dining a permanent fixture, improving pedestrian safety and exploring the state's housing mandates.
The CZU Lightning Complex fires brought fire risk to the town's doorstep last year, Dombkowski said. The town is 10 years into its defensible space program (citizens can apply for 50% off their clearing costs, up to $3,000) and still building on its success, with the primary goal of reducing as much fuel as it can, he said. He also encouraged residents to sign up for SMC Alerts, the county's emergency warning notification service that sends out text messages.
"If residents haven't yet signed up for that texting service, please do take emergency preparedness serious and sign up — it is the best way to get immediate information on any serious threat to our town or your safety," he said. "And please participate in our defensible space program. We are all in this together and those are the happiest checks we write every month at Town Hall."
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.
Outdoor dining — which is barred by the current stay-at-home order but was offered by restaurants much of last year — may help bring a sense of community and gathering to town, Dombkowski said. He wants to "optimize the Woodside experience in a post-pandemic environment" by making the town center more accessible. He called the town's restaurants "really critical to the fabric of the town."
"It's a dark winter they have to go through," he said. "We have continued to advocate for (restaurants) in any way we can on their behalf."
Woodside will work on recognizing the town's "amazingly unique" architecture and culture and accommodating new residents and families, Dombkowski said.
This month, the council will take a deeper dive into the state's housing mandates and work on creating greater incentives for residents who build granny units, also known as accessory dwelling units (ADUs). In 2019, the council allowed Glens neighborhood homeowners with the smallest lots to add up to 500 square feet to their homes. The town would like to loosen building codes in the Old La Honda and Western Hills communities, he said.
"The goal for me and the Town Council is to honor the history — the architecture and community we all cherish, while we encourage the next generation of Woodsiders to put down roots," Dombkowski said.
He said the town would like to do anything it can to streamline processes for building granny units.
In July, the council unanimously voted to make it easier to get permission to build 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.
Woodside aims to reopen Town Hall to the public for council deliberations. For much of the past year, meetings have been held exclusively on Zoom. Prior to 2020, meetings were livestreamed only occasionally by local watchdog group Citizens of Woodside (COW). Dombkowski said he imagines the town will continue to livestream once council members meet in person.
"One of the unexpected positives that has come out of the pandemic environment is it has forced a significant tech evolution in local government," he said. "We've moved town halls across America into the cloud."
He said this has improved the accessibility of local government to its citizens, which "can only be a good thing." In-person meetings do provide a better dynamic and more debate, he noted.
Speaking of technology, Dombkowski said he would also like to help extend broadband internet connectivity to all corners of Woodside.
Dombkowski would like to recruit more people to serve on town committees, which can be a challenge in such a small town.
"Finding qualified candidates can be a challenge," he said. "We have a town of 5,500 and we're trying to staff a lot of critical positions."
The town will also need to renegotiate its policing contract with the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office. The Sheriff's Office has two dedicated officers serving the town. The town receives at least $100,000 a year from the state Citizens for Public Safety (COPS) program to help pay for policing.
The town will work to address pedestrian safety in 2021. Traffic safety continued to be a major concern in 2020, as there were 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.
The Town Council next meets on Tuesday, Jan. 26.