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In The News

Menlo Park council takes stand on Cargill 

By Sean Howell

The Almanac, 2/10/10

In a meeting Tuesday, Menlo Park's City Council took an emphatic stand against a proposal by agribusiness giant Cargill to develop hundreds of acres of Redwood City salt ponds.

In a 4-1 vote, the council passed a resolution calling for "full restoration" of the salt ponds. The council members who supported the resolution said they felt a duty to speak out against the proposal before it makes its way through a long approval process.

Councilman John Boyle, who cast the dissenting vote, said he also has major reservations about building on the land.

But he argued that passing the resolution represented bad politics, wondering aloud whether it would weaken the city's negotiating position over mitigations and benefits during the approval process.

Mayor Rich Cline responded by saying that angling for a negotiating position on a proposal the city feels is fundamentally flawed would be like a man with a bodily disease fretting over his nails.

About 10 people spoke to urge the council to pass the resolution, including representatives of Save the Bay and the Committee for Green Foothills.

Michael Henderson, director of government affairs for the company that's overseeing the project, also spoke. Rather than make the case for building on the Bay, he argued that the site Cargill is proposing to build on is an industrial site, not part of the Bay at all. Cargill had used the site to produce salt for decades, but the operation stopped being profitable recently and has since been shut down, according to a consultant.

"It's not the Bay, and it's not wetlands," Mr. Henderson said. "There's nothing growing on it but salt. And salt doesn't grow."

Councilman Heyward Robinson responding by flipping through a slide show with photos of the site, juxtaposing images with plenty of green and blue against Cargill's representation of the area as salt flats.

"One of the things I hear from (the developer) over and over again is the word 'industrial,'" he said. "That this is somehow unusable for something else. That's just not true. That is just absolutely not true.

"This is the Bay -- and let's not make any mistake about it. It was marshland and wetland for centuries before it was ever an industrial site."

While the resolution is only a statement of principle -- it carries no legal weight -- it makes Menlo Park the first Peninsula jurisdiction to formally oppose Cargill's proposal to build a virtual city accommodating up to 25,000 people within Redwood City's borders. The resolution takes up calls by environmental advocates for the area to be restored as wetlands, and included with surrounding territory in the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge.


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