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In The News

Redwood City launches environmental study of Saltworks plan

By Shaun Bishop

Daily News, 5/25/10

At a meeting packed with advocates on both sides of a massive development proposal for the Cargill salt ponds, Redwood City council members voted unanimously to launch an environmental study of the project, despite the urging of opponents to reject it without a review.

The typically non-controversial step of hiring an environmental consultant took on an intensity befitting the controversial proposal from Cargill and developer DMB Associates to build as many as 12,000 homes and other development on 1,436 acres of salt evaporation ponds south of the Port of Redwood City.

While nearly a dozen residents and business owners urged the council to let the process move forward, other residents urged the council to reject the development outright.

"We've presented plenty of facts as to why this is just an outrageously poor development idea," said Marianna Raymond, a member of the Friends of Redwood City group. "We are not just speaking only from emotion. We know the issues, we know there's no reason to be going forward with this."

The council voted 7-0 and without discussion to hire Hauge Brueck Associates by approving the contract as part of its consent agenda, which usually contains actions that are considered routine and are approved with one vote.

The approach surprised observers on both sides of the issue, given the intense interest in the Saltworks proposal, a mini-city that includes 8,000 to 12,000 homes, sports fields, new schools and office development.

Hauge Brueck will lead the preparation of an environmental impact report, or EIR, a document required by state law to analyze the impacts of large projects on water quality, air quality, traffic, noise and a variety of other issues. For the Saltworks, it will be a complex process expected to take years.

Critics have said the project has no place being built on land near the Bay that is in the path of rising sea levels and could be restored, though supporters say it could provide much-needed housing on the Peninsula.

Resident Kaia Eakin told council members that their "response to overwhelming regional opposition has been total silence at best and at times outright hostility" and asked them not to proceed.

Others said the information from the EIR will be valuable. "When we learn more, we gain facts, we gain knowledge, we make the right decisions," said Diane Cusimano, owner of the Deseo Tequila Lounge in downtown.

The contract approved Monday kicks off the early stages of the environmental review process, including mapping the site, holding public meetings and identifying technical experts to help with preparing the full EIR.

The initial contract is worth as much as $252,000 but can be increased to $400,000 and will be paid by the developer.

The vote came after a tense public comment period in which Mayor Jeff Ira limited about 20 speakers to just one minute each, saying only 15 minutes are allowed for all consent agenda items.

After the meeting, Eakin said she was "shocked the city council kept this on the consent calendar" and said the council showed a "disdain for democracy."

Saltworks spokesman Pete Hillan was pleased with the council's vote, saying after the meeting, "You do a factual review so a decision can be guided by information and not emotion."

 

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