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In The News

Saltworks Housing Plan
Local legislators, Bay regulators: Let review play out

By Shaun Bishop
Daily News, 4/2/10

As politicians from around the Bay Area urge Redwood City officials to stop an environmental review of a massive housing development proposed for the Cargill salt ponds, two Peninsula state legislators and two leaders of a major regulatory agency say the critics should let the planning process play out.

“While elected officials and other community leaders can freely express their personal views on this or any other issue, this should not preempt the processes that have been established to deal with projects impacting the Bay,” Will Travis, executive director of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, and Sean Randolph, the group’s chair, wrote in letter to local newspapers this week calling for the review process to continue.

The commission would need to issue a permit to develop the site if the developer wins approval from the city.

Ira Ruskin, whose 21st Assembly District includes the Saltworks project, believes the environmental review process will “help the city council reach the right conclusion,” his spokeswoman said Thursday.

“As a former city official and former mayor of Redwood City, he knows how important it is to support the process but not interfere with it,” said Ruskin spokeswoman Karen Zamel.

Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, also said Thursday he’s committed to “defend (the environmental review) process and stay the course regardless of the political influence and interests.” The latest out-of-towner to oppose the Redwood City Saltworks proposal is state Assemblyman Jared Huffman, who represents Sonoma and Marin counties and sent a letter to Mayor Jeff Ira last week saying the project should be stopped in its tracks.

Cargill and developer DMB Associates have proposed developing up to 12,000 homes, office space and sports fields and restoring 400 acres of wetlands on salt ponds east of Highway 101, a project that is increasingly becoming the subject of a regional debate as interests outside the city weigh in.

In his letter, Huffman said the site should be restored to tidal marsh and questioned the developer's plan to use a series of "water transfers" to supply the 1,436acre site with drinking water.

"We know enough about this project, in my opinion, that I think that local authorities should take it off the table," Huffman, D-San Rafael, said in an interview Wednesday. "This is just not what you do with Baylands."

Ira said he realizes interests on both sides of the Saltworks project are lining up their ranks of supporters, even though the plans will likely be revised in the coming years. In that sense, getting a letter "from an Assemblyman or a U.S. senator or anyone doesn't really impress me.

"We're still steadfast on going through the EIR process and getting some great information," Ira said.

Huffman's letter underscores a debate over whether the Saltworks project should even go through the typical environmental reviewprocess of analyzing potential impacts on traffic, water and other issues. City officials have said they plan to hire consultants later this year to prepare the environmental impact report, which could take years.

The city councils of Belmont and Menlo Park have passed resolutions encouraging Redwood City to stop the process now, and 92 current and former elected officials from throughout the region signed a joint Feb. 25 letter expressing similar sentiment.

On the other side, former San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos was hired by the developer to tout the Saltworks project, and Peninsula business groups have endorsed it as a way to bring needed housing to the Peninsula.

Huffman acknowledged he was approached by Oakland-based Save the Bay, which is spearheading opposition to the project, to sign the Feb. 25 letter of opposition and initially declined.

But after researching the project he decided that it is "in such a significant location and is so huge in its scale and so unprecedented in both its impacts and its unusual water supply arrangement that it justified an exception to what I would normally have as a rule of focusing only on my own district," Huffman said.


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