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In The News

Saltworks debate pits conservation against housing

By Bonnie Eslinger
Daily News, 3/29/11

The chief designer of the proposed Saltworks project in Redwood City and the head of a regional environmental group that opposes it squared off Tuesday night in a debate that pitted conservation against the Bay Area's demand for housing.

About 75 people attended the event, held at the offices of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association. The Bay Citizen, a nonprofit news organization, co-sponsored the event.

Peter Calthorpe, chief designer of the Saltworks project, said a regional housing shortage forces people to drive to work from outside the area, clogging the roadways with pollution-spewing vehicles.

"There are 200,000 people commuting into the Bay Area because we don't have enough housing," he said.

Building more housing on the Peninsula -- as called for in the Saltworks project -- would allow more workers to live here and shorten their commute, which would be better for the environment, Calthorpe said.

As proposed, the project would feature up to 12,000 homes, five schools, 1 million square feet of offices, 140,000 square feet of commercial and retail space, 20 athletic fields, a 200-acre park, and 436 acres of restored wetlands.

Save the Bay Executive Director David Lewis countered that San Mateo County's existing housing needs could be met by building dense housing near public transportation, such as Caltrain, and along El Camino Real, a major bus route and traffic thoroughfare.

The rate of development in Peninsula cities is not keeping up with job and population growth, Calthorpe said, putting some blame on residents in cities like Atherton and Menlo Park who have fought against new housing.

If there's a lack of housing, the cities are to blame, Lewis said.

"It's a cop-out to say, 'Atherton is tough, so let's build in the Bay," he said. "It takes the pressure off of all of us to do the right thing."

Save the Bay has long maintained that the privately owned salt ponds that make up the proposed Saltworks site should be restored as wetlands only, Lewis said.

But the site can be used to meet both housing and environmental objectives, said Calthorpe, referring to the 436 acres of wetlands the project would potentially fund.

"If we want to save the environment, we have to think about ways to pay for it," he said.

Lewis, however, called the Saltworks project shortsighted. Once the salt ponds are paved and developed, he said, the opportunity for wetlands is lost forever.

 

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