Friday, March 13, 2009

Cargill property draws skepticism from Bay planners

by Stephen Knight, Political Director

A top priority for Save The Bay is stopping Cargill from developing its 1430-acre retired salt pond site in Redwood City – the single largest restorable wetland site currently under threat of development anywhere around the Bay.

Cargill’s developer, DMB, has yet to file an actual development plan, but last week DMB gave a general introductory presentation to the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) – which is just one of the many state and federal agencies that will eventually have to approve development on these retired Bay salt ponds.

DMB’s consultants sketched out a picture of restored wetlands and other popular amenities like waterside trails and bike paths across Highway 101 to downtown. But virtually no mention was made of housing, traffic-choked streets, overtaxed water use, or of the many real-world impacts.

Numerous commissioners raised significant issues, such as:

--> How do you build “transit oriented development” on the other side of Highway 101?
--> Should a Bay salt pond even be considered for a housing development?
--> What about climate change and sea level rise?
--> Will the proposed development be built on fill, or behind massive levees? (Answer: both.)
--> What are the flood control risks raised by such a development in the Bay?
--> What about the likely impacts on the endangered California clapper rails that live nearby?
--> How do we help guide this process so that Redwood City does not pursue a development that we won’t approve?
--> Shouldn’t complete salt pond restoration of the site be considered?
--> In San Mateo County, not even a fraction of the El Camino Real corridor has yet been developed.

Commissioner Eric Carruthers observed that the Cargill salt ponds were tidal wetlands as recently as 1943, which he said was “not ancient history.” He added he felt “very uneasy about such a major” alteration of the salt pond site.

Among those expressing opposition to any development at the site were Save The Bay, Sequoia Audubon, Committee for Green Foothills, Friends of Redwood City, the Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge, and Loma Prieta Sierra Club. The Chamber of Commerce showed up to speak in favor.

Redwood City Mayor Foust also attended and told BCDC that the city looks forward to working with DMB to conduct a planning process, starting with a “conceptual plan” from the developer later this year.

Interestingly enough, this week a major new study was released showing the worst-case scenario in sea level rise—one meter by 2100—could be overly optimistic.

“Rising seas, storms and extreme high tides are expected to send saltwater into low-lying areas, flooding freeways, the Oakland and San Francisco airports, hospitals, power plants, schools and sewage plants,” the article says. “Lessons from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina are not to build below sea level.”

As the city’s general plan and the specific development processes move slowly forward in the coming months and years, Save The Bay and many others will be working and watching to see that Redwood City reaffirms that these restorable salt ponds are not a place for housing. The public can make themselves heard through this form on the City’s General Plan website and you can take action on our website.

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