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In The News

Developers claim support for homes on Redwood City salt ponds

By Will Oremus

Daily News, 5/14/10

The developers planning up to 12,000 homes on the Cargill salt ponds in Redwood City released a partial poll result Thursday that they said shows heavy local support for an environmental study of the project.
A key opponent countered that it shows nothing, since developer DMB Associates declined to release the full survey.

The poll is DMB's latest maneuver in a long-running public relations battle that has intensified in recent months.

The Redwood City City Council later this month is expected to hire a consultant to study the project's environmental impacts, a step required by state law if the development is to move forward. Critics, including several environmental groups and elected officials from around the Bay Area, argue the plans should instead be stopped in their tracks.

The developers said Thursday the survey result shows Redwood City voters are on their side.

Given three alternatives, 68 percent of those surveyed said the city council should proceed with a full environmental review before deciding what to do with the 1,436-acre site, according to DMB officials. The other two options were raising local taxes so the city could buy the site, or rejecting any development and allowing industrial salt harvesting to continue.

DMB spokesman Pete Hillan said 500 Redwood City voters were polled between April 18 and April 21 by the firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz and Associates.

John Bruno, general manager of DMB Redwood City Saltworks, said in a statement the survey confirms his suspicion that local residents favor an environmental review of what his firm calls "the 50-50 Balanced Plan," in reference to the proposed mix of homes to open space.

David Lewis, executive director of the environmental group Save the Bay, called the purported poll result "a pathetic attempt at manipulation that actually isn't news."

He said, "You can't reach a conclusion about what people said in a poll from abstracting one question. When the developer releases selectively one question from a poll, that's clear evidence that they're trying to manipulate your conclusion" about what the survey really showed. "Otherwise, why not release the entire poll?"

For example, Lewis went on, there's no evidence that the poll explained to people that the "50-50 Balanced Plan" means a massive new development on sensitive land that some consider to be part of the San Francisco Bay.

The one question that was released, Lewis added, presented a false choice. No one has proposed raising taxes, he said, and no one is calling for salt harvesting to continue. The development debate arose, he noted, only after landowner Cargill announced plans to cease salt operations in Redwood City.

Hillan defended the question as a fair representation of the three main options for the site. Asked why he wouldn't release the full survey results, Hillan said they contained "proprietary information." His side isn't the only one that has used the tactic, however.

In April 2008, Lewis and Save the Bay publicized a partial poll result that they said showed 71 percent support for a measure to protect the salt ponds from development. Lewis acknowledged Thursday that his group similarly declined to release all of the survey questions. The measure ultimately failed, with just 37 percent voting "yes."

Redwood City Mayor Jeff Ira said Thursday he supports the environmental study but puts little stock in the poll one way or another.

"The poll is exactly the same as when I get letters from another city, when I get letters from God-knows-what Assembly member that thinks they're important," he said.

Regardless of any of those opinions, Ira added, "I think we owe it to the citizens of Redwood City to follow the process and get all the science."

E-mail Will Oremus at


Developers said their new poll result shows residents want Redwood City to move forward with an environmental review of a plan for thousands of homes and offices on the Cargill salt ponds along the San Francisco Bay. A leading critic charged that the poll question presented "false choices" and said the result was meaningless outside the context of the full survey. Here is the text of the poll question, along with the results, as released by DMB officials:

Now I would like to hear your opinions about some alternatives to the 50-50 Balanced Plan. I would like to know whether you support or oppose these proposed alternatives:

a) Raise Redwood City Taxes enough to purchase the entire one thousand four hundred acre Redwood City Industrial Saltworks site and restore this land back to the way it looked 100 years ago. (RESULT: 14%)

b) The City Council rejects ANY development at the Redwood City Industrial Saltworks site and simply allows salt harvesting to continue at this site. (RESULT: 17%)

c) The City Council conducts a full environmental review of the 50-50 Balanced Plan and then makes final decisions about development of this site based upon public and community input. (RESULT: 68%)

SOURCE: Pete Hillan, spokesman, DMB Associates


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