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In The News

Housing vs. Marshland in Redwood City

Planning Magazine, November 2010

Planners and consultants have begun an environmental analysis of a large mixed use project proposed for the edge of San Francisco Bay. Landowner Cargill and its development partner, Arizona-based DMB, hope to build 8,000 to 12,000 housing units and a million square feet of commercial space on a 1,436-acre site that has served as a commercial source of salt for the past century.

Redwood City officials will have the ultimate say as to whether the project can proceed, but the developers will first need permits from six federal agencies and a dozen or more state and regional ones. No final decision is expected before 2012.

The Saltworks Project, designed by Calthorpe and Associates and the ROMA Design Group, would cover less than half of the site. About 30 percent of the property would be restored to tidal marshland, with another quarter used for parks, greenways, and recreational waterways. The project is significant in a region where job growth has long outstripped housing production.

Redwood City (pop. 78,000), the San Mateo County seat, is midway between San Francisco and San Jose. An estimated 40,000 workers commute to the city every day.

Proponents of the new development — including business organizations and labor unions — argue that the project is actually urban infill, as the site is bordered on three sides by heavy industry, a port, office buildings, mobile home parks, and a garbage dump converted into a park. Opponents contend the site is part of the bay. "The era of filling San Francisco Bay is over," says a letter to the city council that was prepared by the group Save the Bay and signed by 92 elected officials from outside the city.

Cargill and DMB respond that their project provides for the largest privately funded marsh restoration ever on San Francisco Bay. "It doesn't have to be all housing. It doesn't have to be all tidal marsh," says DMB spokesman Jay Reed.

The proposed design, based on a formal grid plan, is crescent-shaped to maximize the bay front, according to landscape architect Bonnie Fisher, a principal of ROMA. She notes that the Saltworks project would add three miles of waterfront trails and open space.

Incorporating Saltworks into the urban fabric will be a challenge, however, notes Redwood City senior planner Blake Lyon, both because of the site's location across a congested freeway from most of town and because city officials want to ensure that the project does not divert private investment from the revitalized, transit-oriented downtown. Fisher says the city's concerns can be resolved and that the project would help the entire region by providing housing in a jobs-rich area.

— Paul Shigley

Shigley is senior editor of California Planning & Development Report.


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