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In The News

New watchdog for Saltworks

By Michelle Durand
Daily Journal, 10/3/11

A new group opposing up to 12,000 homes on the former Cargill Saltworks site in Redwood City says it wants to reframe the debate as not just being between developers and environmentalists.

“There is a whole slew of quality of life issues if this project if approved that we just didn’t feel that was out there,” said Dan Ponti, co-chair of the newly formed Redwood City Neighbors United.

Ponti said he and other members were concerned developer DMB Associates was painting the opposition to its 50-50 Balanced Plan as only being fringe environmental groups from outside Redwood City.

“The implication is that nobody else minds except for these folks, but it’s a lot broader,” Ponti said.

David Lewis, executive director of nonprofit Save the Bay, said the environmental organization is pleased to welcome another opposing group.

“It’s one more demonstration of the Redwood City community’s deep opposition to this destructive development proposal,” Lewis said by e-mail.

Another residents group, Sustainable Redwood City, has been keeping an eye on the development process. Lou Covey, co-founder of Sustainable Redwood City, had yet to hear of the new group and said more discussion is always a good thing. He wondered, however, why there was a need.

“It seems like this is going to take resources and time and funding away from other groups that are already involved unless of course they are planning to get additional funds,” Covey said.

Representatives from Friends of Redwood City, another grassroots group that fought previous Bayfront developments, could not be reached for comment.

Ponti ballparked membership at an initial 100 but growing. The group has established a website and is currently funded by in-kind donations but will hopefully be able in the future to accept more so the effort is sustainable, he said.

The group plans to raise awareness of the plan and its impacts through attendance at community events, one-on-one outreach to the business community and other communication, Ponti said.

The group does not have a uniform opinion on what, if anything, should go on the site but Ponti said the effort is to take the project off the table completely so that conversation can take place.

The community helped craft a general plan that wants to handle growth by putting residents on the transit corridor and downtown but the Cargill plan flies in its face, he said.

“You’re completely turning that general plan on its head,” he said.

The proposed development 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 12,000 housing units.

RCNU argues the development’s impacts include traffic gridlock, uncertain water supplies, loss of wetlands and infrastructure maintenance costs.

“How is it smart growth to put 30,000 people out on an isolated salt pond, behind a massive flood levee when we’re facing rising sea levels? And how does building a whole new commercial district help to revive Redwood City’s downtown?,” co-chair Ramona Ambrozic said in a prepared statement.

DMB doesn’t have much comment on the group because it’s not clear what they are going to do, said spokesman Pete Hillan.

Instead, it is focusing on the plan and the review process.

“We’re kind of at a point where there are a lot of issues that need to be addressed in Redwood City, like housing and parks, and obviously we think the Saltworks site addresses a lot of those needs,” Hillan said.

Hillan said other voices are welcome but hopes they provide solutions instead of “just throwing stones.”

The city was recently made aware of the group but spokesman Malcolm Smith did not think there had been any contact. The city also maintains its position to reserve judgment on the project until after it has been thoroughly vetted, he said.

“We feel it’s important to go through the environmental review process so that the community, interested stakeholders, regulatory agencies, and the city have the most thorough, in-depth information possible, on which to form an opinion as to the merits of the proposal,” Smith said.

Covey said his group is taking a similar wait-and-see approach.

Sustainable Redwood City may come out against the plan when it is finally presented in a year or so but, for now, there is initial support for the process, he said.

He also hopes all the parties involved have answers as well as questions not just about Cargill but all issues facing Redwood City — jobs, accommodating population growth, where to locate new playing fields.

“When they tell me it’s not their concern, it scares me,” he said.


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