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In The News

Cargill debated in San Mateo

Bill Silverfarb

Daily Journal, 5/19/10

San Mateo County is jobs rich and housing poor. It is a statement used by DMB Cargill to justify building 12,000 new homes on salt ponds in Redwood City.

Building the homes on the east side of Highway 101 will be better for the environment because people will spend less time in their cars, said Michael Henderson, director of government affairs for DMB.

But Save the Bay and about 125 elected officials in the Bay Area say DMB’s plan is outrageous and should not even be considered.

Three cities, Belmont, Menlo Park and Atherton have all officially opposed the project through resolutions.

But labor groups say the project, to be built out over 25 to 30 years, will create much needed jobs.

DMB’s Henderson and Save the Bay Political Director Stephen Knight debated the merits of the project at a Beresford-Hillsdale Neighborhood Association meeting in San Mateo last night.

Only about eight people showed up to hear the presentations, however, including Mayor John Lee and Councilman David Lim.

San Mateo has not weighed in on the development.

DMB Cargill’s plan calls for 50 percent of the 1,436-acre site 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 house up to 25,000 new residents if the project is approved.

Only about a third of the property, a little more than 400 acres, will be restored to actual wetlands.

Cargill owns the land and manufactures industrial salt on the property but says the business is no longer profitable. DMB is an Arizona-based company that builds housing. The two companies will eventually split the profits if Redwood City ultimately approves the project.

But Save the Bay’s Knight said the entire property should be restored to wetlands and that Redwood City’s own general plan does not allow for any housing projects to be built on the site. The city is currently updating its general plan, however, and may change to accommodate growth on the east side of Highway 101.

San Mateo County has 346,000 jobs which bring in 197,000 cars a day into the county daily, said Henderson. Building housing closer to jobs will help alleviate traffic and be better for the environment, he said.

“You will never get people out of their cars,” Henderson said. “What we need are for the cars to be on the road less.”

And since DMB proposes to build a levee to circle the development, it will help protect Redwood City from sea level rise, Henderson said.

Save the Bay was founded 50 years ago to help stop the destruction of the Bay. The group’s top priority is to stop Bayfill.

Knight blamed the Redwood City Council for allowing Cargill to move ahead with plans to build on its property.

Without the city’s encouragement, Cargill would more likely be a willing seller since producing salt is no longer profitable, Knight said.

The land should be sold to a group such as the Peninsula Open Space Trust, be converted back to wetlands and incorporated into the Don Edwards National Wildlife Preserve, Knight said.

“DMB thinks if you put enough money into it and put enough glossy fliers in people’s mailboxes you can convince people it is a 21st century project. But it is not. It is the opposite,” Knight said.

Nineteen federal, state and regional regulatory agencies have some authority over the property.

The project still needs to go through California Environmental Quality Act review, which the city is close to implementing.

Save the Bay, however, contends the city should scrap the idea altogether and ditch the environmental review process.

“This is not smart growth. This is not transit-oriented development. This is freeway-oriented development. It is a 20th century backward-looking proposal,” Knight said.

Redwood City resident Karen Keefer attended the meeting and warned attendees of the dangers of liquefaction related to the infill site.

Keefer formally worked for the Federal Emergency Management Agency who said building on the Cargill site would be a disaster.

“I wouldn’t build my house in a volcano either,” Keefer said.

A major earthquake would sink the project, she said.

A recent poll of 500 voters randomly queried between April 18 and April 21, revealed 68 percent support the Redwood City Council continuing a full environmental and public review of the 50-50 Balanced Plan which calls for a mix of housing, retail, schools and sports fields with a light-rail system that would link the development with Caltrain.


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