Woodside will soon install 20 license plate readers in town with the goal of deterring crime.
The Woodside Town Council voted unanimously at a Jan. 10 meeting to approve a contract with the company Flock Safety to install the automated license plate readers, known as ALPRs, in town. Town officials initially began looking into installing cameras several years ago and there have been concerns about safety after a string of burglaries in the Woodside Heights neighborhood.
The first year of the deal, the cameras and software will cost the town $61,000, according to a staff report. Each year after, for up to four years, the town will pay $52,500 annually. The cameras will be powered by solar panels. Back in July 2022, the town had been looking at paying Flock $61,100 for its cameras.
The proposed locations are:
1. Cañada Road @ Palm Circle Road — Southbound
2. Jefferson Avenue @ W. California Way — Westbound
3. Farm Hill Boulevard @ Highway 280 — Northbound
4. Woodside Drive @ Fernside Street — Westbound
5. Harcross Road @ Fernside Street — Westbound
6. Woodside Road @ Northgate Drive — Eastbound
7. High Road @ Woodside Road — Northbound
8. Northgate Drive @ Woodside Road — Southbound
9. Stockbridge Avenue @ Alameda de las Pulgas — Westbound
10. Whiskey Hill Road @ Sand Hill Road — Northbound
11. Portola Road @ Hayfields Road — Northbound
12. La Honda Road @ Friars Lane — Northbound
13. Kings Mountain Road @ Josselyn Lane — Southbound
14. Woodside Road @ Hobart Heights Road — Westbound
15. Cañada Road @ Runnymede Road — Northbound
16. Jefferson Avenue @ Cañada Road — Northbound
17. Farm Hill Boulevard Highway @ Highway 280 — Eastbound
18. Whiskey Hill Road @ Woodside Road — Southbound
19. Sand Hill Road @ Whiskey Hill Road — Westbound
20. Woodside Road @ Highway 280 — Eastbound
The plan blossomed from the town's original idea to do a pilot project for camera installations in the Woodside Heights neighborhood.
Council member Ned Fluet questioned why Flock wasn't recommending ALPRs where Highway 84 and 35 meet, known as the Four Corners. He said he presumed that they couldn't set them up there because it wasn't an ideal spot for solar.
"It is a high traffic zone and also one of the major ingresses and egresses of town," he said.
A Flock representative explained that the sites were ones town staff and the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office agreed on and that the town would have to hardwire the cameras if they opted not to do solar. Lt. Mark Myers of the Sheriff's Office said Four Corners would require about four cameras and is a site worth revisiting when the contract is up in a year. Woodside contracts with the Sheriff's Office for its police services.
In July 2022, the Town Council gave staff the go-ahead to negotiate a contract with Flock for the cameras. Flock also works with the town of Atherton, which decided to install cameras after a string of residential burglaries.
Atherton signed a contract with Flock in 2020 to buy 16 Flock Safety ALPRs for a cost of $2,000 each, totaling $32,000 annually starting in the 2020-21 fiscal year. Citizens privately funded 28 of the 49 cameras installed in Atherton.
Mayor Chris Shaw told The Almanac that he frankly is "not a fan of spying on citizens, but constituents feel pretty strongly about it. ... I'm entirely sensitive that if you've been victim of crime it matters a lot."
Mayor Pro Tem Jenn Wall said the council will come back in a year and evaluate if they're really effective.
Days of data retention
The council was divided on how long it wants the company to retain the license plate reader data: 30 or 60 days. Flock's standard is 30 days.
In a split vote, the council opted for 60 days.
Lt. Myers told the council that the longer retention time gives police a better ability to link crimes that occur over a greater time period.
"We deal with a lot (of crimes in) Woodside and Portola Valley and sometimes people are gone on lengthy vacations, so the timeframes are a lot longer," he said. "And having the ability to look back further than 30 days can enable us to see if there's a pattern, if another vehicle or a suspect vehicle has been entering the area and maybe committed another burglary. We're able to link those all together."
Recent burglaries in town
A home burglary was reported to police on the 100 block of Audiffred Lane on Dec. 18. The burglary itself took place on Dec. 12, according to the police blotter.
Another burglary was reported on the 17200 block of Skyline Blvd. on Dec. 11.
A resident reported a home burglary on the 4200 block of Farm Hill Blvd. on Nov. 9.
Shaw said a poll of residents showed half supported installing the readers and half didn't.
Patrick McGovern, president of the Woodside Heights Association, thanked the council for pursuing the readers in town. He noted that of the 65 Woodside Heights residents who took a Survey Monkey poll, all supported installing cameras in town.
"We had a number of home break-ins last year and were really upset, understandably," he said. "We are the very first entrances essentially in(to) Woodside." The neighborhood's proximity to Highway 280 leaves its residents vulnerable to break-ins, he added.
Resident Ehsan Farkhondeh said he came to the meeting to represent the 50% of Woodside residents who don't want license plate readers in town.
"Woodside Heights wanted it, it made sense there; there's lots of support there," he said. "All of a sudden the whole town got involved. So just to remind you, I know you voted on it, not going to beat the dead horse. I just want to remind you 50% said, 'Please don't put this in our town.'"
He also said he is glad data from the cameras will only be shared with local law enforcement agencies and not federal agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). He said he does have concerns about data breaches and pointed to the recent breach at LastPass, a company that secures people's passwords.
"Now, a license plate's not as important as your password, but it's going to happen," he said. "Let's just hope it's small and not impactful."
An installation date for the cameras has not yet been determined, Town Manager Kevin Bryant said in email.
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