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In The News

Bay Area officials blast Cargill project

By Shaun Bishop

Daily News, 2/26/10

In a demonstration of widening opposition to a massive mixed-use development proposed for the salt flats owned by Cargill Inc. in Redwood City, nearly 100 current and former Bay Area elected officials joined forces in the form of a letter unveiled Thursday urging the city council to halt the project.

At a press conference at Bayfront Park in Menlo Park, which borders the southern part of the Cargill site, officials from the Oakland-based environmental group Save the Bay and three local politicians — former Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, former Palo Alto mayor Peter Drekmeier and Menlo Park Council Member Kelly Fergusson — released a letter signed by 50 current and 42 former elected officials from all nine Bay Area counties.

In the letter the officials take aim at the plans of Redwood City Saltworks, the joint venture of Minnesota-based Cargill and Arizona-based developer DMB Associates, to build up to 12,000 homes on the 1,436-acre site, declaring "the era of filling in San Francisco Bay is over.

"Nothing so breathtaking in size or misguided in scope has been proposed in half a century," the letter reads. It calls for the salt ponds to be restored to tidal marshes and urges the Redwood City City Council to "join us in actively opposing this project to develop on San Francisco Bay salt ponds."

The letter's signers include council members, county supervisors and state lawmakers from Marin to Santa Clara counties and Half Moon Bay to Oakland. Eight sit on the 27-member San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, which would need to issue a permit for the project, located between Seaport Boulevard and Marsh Road east of Highway 101.

Despite the pressure, at least two Redwood City council members said they intend to stick with the council's plan to prepare an environmental impact report to get as much information as possible before deciding the best use for the site. The city plans to hire an environmental consultant this summer.

"I understand their position. They're very passionate about the Bay. They don't want anything built, period," said Redwood City Mayor Jeff Ira. "My responsibility is to take the application and to process it just like any other application and to make an intelligent and scientific decision, which I need the EIR to be able to make the full analysis."

"I think it's our role as a city council to fulfill our obligation, to review the application, to go through the process," added Vice Mayor Alicia Aguirre.

But former Assemblywoman Lieber said the Saltworks proposal — which also includes constructing 1 million square feet of office space, 50 acres of sports fields and 436 acres of wetlands restoration — is "entirely inappropriate for the Bay Area."

Building on the salt flats "just doesn't make sense environmentally, economically," said Lieber, also a former Mountain View mayor. "It's just not the direction the Bay Area has been moving in."

The joint letter illustrates the regional attention commanded by the Saltworks proposal, which was first submitted to the city last May. "The point these elected officials wanted to make is this isn't just an issue for Redwood City," said David Lewis, executive director of Save the Bay.

DMB spokesman Pete Hillan said the company was "disappointed" by the letter, adding that none of the signers have visited the site or contacted the developer.

"We wish they would be better informed and they wouldn't seek to circumvent an open and transparent process," Hillan said.

DMB also announced Thursday its development plans have been endorsed by several business-oriented Peninsula groups, including the San Mateo County Economic Development Association, the Redwood City Chamber of Commerce, the Peninsula Coalition and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.

DMB Vice President John Bruno said in a statement that the endorsements are "powerful evidence that we are taking the right approach to solving one of the region's most pressing economic issues."

Barbara Valley, 64, a longtime resident of Redwood City who watched the press conference, said she supports the city's decision to continue studying the application.

"I think the process should continue," Valley said. "We need more information. I haven't decided yet."

But Menlo Park Council Member Fergusson said the officials wanted "to send a strong signal to Cargill today that developing these wetlands is not acceptable." Menlo Park passed an resolution earlier this month opposing the Cargill project.

Save the Bay says the Saltworks project would be 17 times larger than any Bay fill development approved since the 1960s, when state and federal agencies began regulating shoreline development. DMB contends the 1,436 acres are an industrial site, not part of the Bay, Hillan said.

Lieber said she plans to continue fighting the Saltworks plan and any actions the council takes to keep moving it forward.

"Everyone I've talked to is really incredulous when they find out how far this proposal has gotten," Lieber said.

 

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