San Mateo looks to untie the County Center knot 

The vision is ambitious: tear down a county office building and replace it with a more energy-efficient venue, replace another building with a park and turn a car-clogged loop of a road into a pedestrian haven.

That is now the plan for the San Mateo County Center, endorsed Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors.

Click the picture for a gallery of buildings that will be affected.

The San Mateo County Center is a knot of buildings that sits on the edge of downtown Redwood City, comprising the Hall of Justice, traffic court, a jail that has long been slated for replacement, two buildings stuffed with county offices, and a parking lot that Supervisor Don Horsley recently joked was “the nicest-looking building in this campus.”

The plan is long-term — it will take perhaps 20 years or more to implement — and is dependent on funding, warned county Department of Public Works Director Jim Porter.

But supervisors will likely decide the fate of 455 County Center, a large office building on the northeast corner of the center’s plaza, within about a year. The building needs a seismic upgrade, but because it is also the most expensive building for the county to operate and maintain, officials have considered demolishing it rather than renovating it.

“It really can be a nightmare to retrofit old buildings,” Supervisor Adrienne Tissier said.

A longer-term vision could involve moving the traffic court into the Hall of Justice, though this move would require the cooperation of the Superior Court. Porter said that would then free up the traffic court building and, if it’s not needed, it could be replaced with a park.

Horsley liked the idea, calling the traffic court an “ugly building.”

The plan also calls for the closure of the “loop road” that currently makes an L through the County Center, intersecting with Marshall Street and Middlefield Road. The road is currently clogged with parked sheriff’s vehicles, county vans and cars slowly trolling for parking spots. The entire loop could be converted into a pedestrian-only area, Porter said. He said that change could come with a new or retrofitted building at 455 County Center.

Ultimately, exactly which of these plans go forward, and how quickly, depends on what the county can afford. Implementing everything in the county’s newly adopted master plan, both in the County Center and in other county facilities, could cost taxpayers $485 million — no small change in a county struggling to close an $82 million deficit.

“I know all the numbers seem daunting, but if you put that over 10 or 15 or 20 years, it really isn’t as daunting,” Tissier said.

But Board of Supervisors President Carole Groom had an alternate plan.

“I think we need to win the lottery so we can get this accomplished,” she joked.

Replacing the seat of government


  • Potential changes to the San Mateo County Center in Redwood City
  • Building 1, or 455 County Center: Could be either seismically retrofitted, or torn down and replaced with a more energy efficient building.
  • Traffic court: Court could be moved into the Hall of Justice. Building could then be removed and replaced with a park.
  • San Mateo County Jail: Will eventually be removed, once the county builds a new jail.
  • County Center Road: The L-shaped road that curves through the County Center could be blocked off to traffic, and converted into a pedestrian-only area.
  • Hall of Justice: Currently consists of half court offices, half county offices. However, if the court expands or absorbs the traffic court, the county could place county managers’, sheriff’s,  and Board of Supervisors’ offices in another building.

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Katie Worth

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