In The News
Portola Valley joins chorus against Cargill project
by Dave Boyce
The Almanac, 11/15/10
Another voice -- the Portola Valley Town Council -- has joined the chorus of opposition to a proposal by Minneapolis-based Cargill Salt Corp. and an Arizona developer to convert 1,436 acres of salt flats off Redwood City into five residential communities that would house up to 30,000 people.
Residents and officials in Atherton, Woodside and Menlo Park have let their opposition be known. Portola Valley's contribution came Wednesday, Nov. 10, at a council meeting before a group of about 30 residents of The Sequoias retirement community at 501 Portola Road. (The council meets at The Sequoias about once a year, usually in the fall.)
Jon Silver, a former mayor and former San Mateo County planning commissioner, captured the mood as the first speaker in the public comment period. "There are certain ideas that are so bad that you just don't need to study them much," he said. "The days of pillaging the Bay for money ought to be over. ... If we can't oppose something this bad, we might as well pack it up."
There could be as many as 19 regional and six federal agencies with oversight, including the town of Woodside (which borders Redwood City), according to a 99-page study by the Redwood City Planning, Housing and Economic Development Department. Portola Valley is not listed but as a member of the public, the town can submit comments ahead of the Feb. 28 deadline for this first stage in a lengthy environmental study.
On Dec. 8, the Portola Valley council also plans to take a step that the Woodside council considered but declined: issuing a strongly worded resolution in opposition to the project.
A staff report recommended that Portola Valley monitor Woodside's ongoing monitoring of the project, but that idea faded after members of the public reminded the council of Portola Valley's view of itself as an environmental leader.
"It's not Portola Valley and Woodside. It's Portola Valley," resident Ward Paine said. "It's not Palo Alto. It's Portola Valley. We have more stroke than the 4,500 people who live here. What we do will be a lot more important that what other people do."
"It's not a time to meditate," added resident Marilyn Walter. "It's a time to act."
Climate-change-induced sea level rises "should be a far more important element in this discussion than it has been," said Portola Valley resident Marion Softky.
"I can't believe we're sitting here and that this (project) is even a possibility," said councilman and architect John Richards after the public had spoken.
Councilwoman Maryann Derwin, who summarized the topic for the council ahead of the discussion, noted that she has read the Redwood City study. "After I was done, I was even more alarmed than when I began," she said. The traffic in and out of the communities would be "a nightmare."
Fresh water would come via a swap with Kern County, where the developer owns water rights for up to 70 years, but getting it to Redwood City will require the participation of intermediary public agencies that get their water from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir and the San Joaquin Valley, Ms. Derwin said.
The project's location on a salt flat would necessitate a levee, she added. The study describes a perimeter levee 14 feet high, including an extra 4 feet to deal with "anticipated sea-level rise."
Go to this link for a copy of the study.
A U.S. Geological Survey map depicts the site as bright red, Ms. Derwin noted, meaning that it's vulnerable to seismic rupture and liquefaction -- sedimentary soil liquefying by a sudden infusion of ground water.
Ms. Derwin contended that a combination of a major earthquake and a break in the levee could be disastrous for that community.
Liquefaction is a problem, resident and geophysicist Sheldon Breiner said in an interview, but such land can be made safe by piling on soil and driving long stabilizing posts deep into the ground. "There are solutions to it, but it takes money and it takes engineering," he said.
The study lists 17 categories of concern (such as air quality and biological resources), which are subdivided into 88 issues. Of that total, 72 (82 percent) are listed as potentially significant, including all of the issues identified for air and water quality, biological and cultural resources, greenhouse gas emissions, population and housing, public services and recreation.
While this list looks foreboding, the study noted, preparing an environmental impact report requires such an explicit listing of issues.
"Many of the potentially significant impacts identified in this checklist could be avoided through changes in design or mitigation, both of which will be developed during preparation of the EIR," the report says. "Agencies are encouraged to submit comments proposing mitigation measures to address impacts subject to their jurisdiction or expertise."