Much has been said in small towns around the Peninsula — Woodside among them — about the importance of preserving rural character.
Planning projects in Woodside are analyzed to ensure compatibility with the town's rural landscape. The town's general plan emphasizes retaining that rural character. Propose a change in town and, however small or large it may seem, the concept of how and whether it would fit in with Woodside's rural charm will be invoked.
Which brings us to Measure A, an initiative on the Nov. 2 ballot that would potentially allow for more outdoor community dining and gathering spaces by amending existing zoning restrictions on some parcels in the center of town.
The measure, which needs a simple majority in favor to pass, would allow the property behind Cañada Corners to potentially be outfitted with surface parking to accommodate permanent outdoor dining, trails and play structures, all of which are now prohibited. It would also allow for the possible construction of a public building — an amphitheater or gazebo — for community events in the residentially zoned Town Center area on a portion of a 1.65-acre plot called Village Hill. Measure J, approved by Woodside voters in 1988, prohibited development of commercial or office space on a then vacant, town-owned parcel near where Town Hall is now located. It also required residential properties within and adjoining Town Center to remain in residential use unless commercial parking on those properties had been permitted prior to June 1, 1988.
Measure 1, approved by voters the following year, created an exception to Measure J's requirement that residential parcels in Town Center remain in residential use. Upon its approval by the voters, residentially zoned parcels in the Woodside Road Whiskey Hill Road Parking Assessment District were authorized to provide access, parking and open space, so long as at least 50% of the residential parcels were maintained in open space. Approval of Measure 1 allowed the town to construct Town Hall parking and access improvements which now serve Town Hall, commercial businesses in the Town Center and the public.
The passage of ballot measures J and 1 made it so only voters can overturn rules limiting future development on these sites.
Woodside residents Alex Tauber and Peter Bailey, authors of Measure A, introduced the initiative in light of the popularity of outdoor dining during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Woodside Town Council's state of emergency ordinance allows the town to waive restaurants' parking requirements, but when the emergency declaration ends, the town will have to enforce the parking requirements as currently outlined.
Measure A, however, would enable the potential addition of permanent outdoor dining behind Cañada Corners, along with other community benefits like trails, play structures and a public amphitheater or gazebo. Potential is the key word here: The passage of Measure A would only allow for a continued discussion about these proposals, which would happen in public meetings of town committees or the council. It will enable reports and designs and schematics — further analysis of the properties and proposed changes. Approval of the measure doesn't guarantee any physical changes will be implemented; therefore, one can vote in favor of the initiative while also feeling that more aspects of the proposal need to be fleshed out — because they do.
More than 30 years have passed since residents approved measures J and 1. Inevitably, people have come and gone from Woodside, and some longtime residents who voted on the initiatives that limited development of these parcels in the late '80s may have since changed their minds. The Almanac recommends a yes vote on Measure A to allow for continued conversation and more formal plans to be analyzed by the community.
The benefits of permanent outdoor dining, play structures, a public gazebo and trails for the community speak for themselves. These are staples of many communities, and outdoor gathering areas have only become more essential since the onset of the pandemic. Outdoor dining in particular has been vital for the survival of many eateries and will continue to serve as an asset for these restaurants and their patrons as the pandemic continues and beyond.
Opponents have painted a picture of Woodside as a rustic hamlet that would become overrun with nonresidents flocking to the center of town for rock concerts and outdoor dining, resulting in a significant uptick in traffic and noise. But the passage of Measure A would enable the continued analysis and conversation around community gathering spaces and the uses of these properties, which would generate environmental impact reports investigating potential traffic, noise and other factors that could play into land use changes. The measure's authors, Bailey and Tauber, have also stated that they determined after speaking with community stakeholders that Woodside could use an open space for groups to meet, and that they "don't want any lights or speakers," but rather "something that fits into the environment." Bailey and Tauber have also maintained that any development would be paid for by the property owner, not the town or Woodside residents.
Adding surface parking and amenities like a play structure and permanent tables and chairs for dining would be additions that could be enjoyed by anyone, but would mainly appeal to residents. The amphitheater — which measure proponents envision would be for the use of Woodsiders — isn't going to be a state-of-the-art concert hall that seats 30,000 people. This project wouldn't be the type to attract attention from a large number of people who aren't already in town on a frequent basis.
The argument from opponents that residents shouldn't support this measure because expanded use of the town's center could benefit "outsiders" and upset Woodside's rural character perpetuates the reputation of exclusivity that wealthy, primarily white enclaves like Woodside have maintained for decades, in part through now prohibited practices like restrictive covenants that prevented non-Caucasians from buying houses in areas of the Peninsula. This anti-resident sentiment is not only foolhardy — visitors help any town's economy, and many residents were visitors before they settled in Woodside — it's blatantly discriminatory. It would be worthwhile for community members to consider what exactly upholding the town's rural character means to them, and how Woodside's historic dedication to that concept may have perpetuated its lack of economic or ethnic diversity — but that's an editorial for another day.
Resistance to change is understandable, but thinking change can be controlled by a simple ballot measure is unrealistic. Change is inevitable, and occurs in Woodside every day in innumerable ways. Many controversial changes that have been adopted by local municipalities over the years — the addition of sidewalks, for example — have been considered moves to the mainstream for the most public benefit. Continuing the conversation about possible improved public amenities in the center of Woodside will ultimately benefit the community. Vote yes on Measure A.