In The News
Councilwoman calls for Cargill land vote
By Steve Penna
Special to the Daily Journal, 4/12/12
Stating she had been “thinking about it for quite some time,” Councilwoman Rosanne Foust asked her colleagues on the Redwood City Council to consider placing a measure on the November 2012 ballot asking voters about the proposed Cargill Saltworks property development.
“I would not normally suggest something like this but this is such a major matter that appears to have divided the community,” Foust said at the council’s April 9 meeting. “I feel very strongly, even though projects can go through substantial changes during the Environmental Impact [Review] process we should ask them (voters) if this council and staff and community should continue to analyze this.”
The issue at hand is the 1,436-acre Cargill Saltworks property located just off Highway 101 along Seaport Boulevard. The property has been used for salt production since 1901. Initially owned by the Redwood City Saltworks, it was sold to the Stauffer Chemical Company of San Francisco in 1905 and later to the Leslie Salt Company in 1941. Cargill purchased the Leslie Salt Company, including its Redwood City plant site, in 1978. At its peak, the Redwood City plant site produced and shipped 350,000 tons of salt annually.
The Saltworks plan covers more than 2.2 square miles of industrial salt-harvesting property. Portions of the site have been in salt production for more than 100 years and the site is currently off limits to the public. The plan calls for 50 percent of the property to be preserved for permanent open space, public recreation and tidal marsh restoration and the remaining half be developed into housing, schools, parks and retail and transit facilities. The site could have up to 12,000 housing units.
Since 2006, DMB Pacific Ventures has engaged Redwood City residents on the future on the Saltworks site. In 2008, Measure W asked voters to change the city’s charter to effectively stop the Saltworks project but was defeated.
Also in 2008, Measure V asked voters; “Shall a Charter Amendment requiring majority voter approval for future development of the Cargill Lands, consisting of approximately 1,450 acres east of Highway 101 and south of Seaport Boulevard, with exemptions for takings and vested rights, be adopted?” It was also was rejected by voters.
Since that time, the city has embarked on an extensive environmental review of the Saltworks site. In response to the significant amount of public input during the city’s review process, DMB notified city staff that they were evaluating future alternatives for the Saltworks site, which continues today.
The announcement of the Saltworks plan was the start of a lengthy period of official study, evaluation and public review. The City Council will make final decisions on the development based upon the impacts and benefits to Redwood City.
Foust asked the council to consider, “calling for an advisory vote on the project description” after the EIR is presented to the city. The council and city staff is currently waiting for the EIR to be completed.
Recently, a community group calling itself Redwood City Neighbors United has been critical of the council’s EIR process. The group’s slogan is, “We believe in responsible growth — not Saltworks!”
“At minimum, this creates the appearance of a conflict of interest that will result in studies that may be perceived by the public as biased,” wrote Dan Ponti, the co-chair of Redwood City Neighbors United, on the EIR process. “At worst, it affords Cargill/DMB the clear opportunity to control the content and conclusions of reports before anyone, including the City, gets to see them.”
Redwood City Mayor Alicia Aguirre took exception to the group’s comments and responded in a letter.
“Only when the new review and scoping process is complete, and the project description is finalized and ready for environmental review, will the city begin preparation of the EIR document, independently, with the city’s own consultants,” her letter stated. “It’s a fundamental responsibility of Redwood City to analyze the project description in a transparent, impartial, detailed manner, and bring it into the public review process.”
Foust is the chief executive of the San Mateo County Economic Development Association, also known as SAMCEDA, which has endorsed the project. Last year, Foust received a ruling from the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission that she acted in violation of state ethics rules when she participated in a decision regarding the project. She has since voluntarily recused herself from any council discussion of the project.
“But you have been dinged consistently out there and I’ve been dinged, which is why I will not be involved in discussion in the future,” Foust said as she addressed her colleagues about community discussions on the proposed development. She also expressed concern about how the project is continuing to divide the community and taking a “tremendous toll” on the council and city staff. The measure would, she said, “allow the council to hear from the public at large in addition to the various ‘interested’ groups.”
A representative from Save the Bay, the environmental nonprofit strongly against the project, said it is premature to comment on Foust’s proposal.
We have a “rough sense of what she said,” said Stephen Knight, political director of Save the Bay, about Foust’s proposal.
The developer also has a wait-and see-approach.
“We are considering the implications of giving voters a say on whether to undertake environmental review of a revised restoration and reuse plan for the Saltworks property and await details of what the City Council wants to do” said Jay Reed, director of Communications and Strategic Planning for DMB Associates, Inc.
“I feel that a well-crafted project description that includes fundamental community benefits would be enough to present to the voters of Redwood City,” Foust said. “This is an opportunity for this council to discuss this,” and “consider putting it on an agenda for a future meeting.”
This is an “opportunity for you to lead, for you to actually step out and say this is what we need to do for our community,” Foust told her colleagues.
Aguirre said she would look at the suggestion and put it on an agenda for a future council meeting to discuss.
“This is an opportune time to explore various options in moving forward on this unprecedented project for the community of Redwood City,” said Aguirre. “Prior to re-engaging in that process, the City Council may want to consider whether the revised project is of interest to the community and worthy of further exploration and analysis.”