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In The News

Foster City Founder's Son Favors Saltworks Development, Draws Similarities to Creation of Foster City

T. Jack Foster, Jr., says the Redwood City project is facing the same opposition as Foster City did many years ago.

By Jim Clifford
Redwood City Patch, 1/12/11   

A plan to put thousands of homes on reclaimed salt ponds in Redwood City is the target of unfair attacks, especially those that zero in on the threat posed by levee breaks and earthquakes, insists the man whose family built Foster City.

T. Jack Foster, Jr., whose father’s vision converted a hayfield in to a city of 30,000, saved much of his fire for a recent editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle that labeled the project “a risky development.”

As the largest development project ever proposed for Redwood City, the Saltworks Project created by Arizona-based developer DMB Associates has been under a microscope for more than a year.

The developer wants to restore 50 percent of the 1,436 acres of salt production land to open space and tidal marsh recreation and 50 percent for a community that could house 30,000 residents. Supporters praise the project for smart growth that will create much-needed parks and housing for commuters who drive into Redwood City everyday. The opposition wants the entire plot of land to be restored back to tidal marsh land to preserve the San Francisco Bay and act as a buffer against rising sea levels.

“I’d write them a letter but I know they won’t print my viewpoint,” said the normally mild mannered Foster, 82. When asked if he was angry, Foster answered, “I kind of am."

Foster said he wrote to newspapers in the past, only to be rebuffed. He pulled out last May’s editorial in the San Mateo County Times that said salt ponds are the “wrong place for 12,000 homes.” The editorial claimed the plan would “require an extensive levee system” because global warming could lift the ocean’s level 55 inches by the end of the century.

In an email to the paper, Foster charged the editorial had “all the earmarks of being written by the Save the Bay people.”

The Redwood City project is not unlike those in Foster City, Redwood Shores and Mariners Island, all now realities, he said.

"The DMB plan provides not only housing but employment, economic stimulus, parks and open space, and some Bay restoration at no cost to the taxpayer.”

Foster recalled that his father’s plan to build on landfill faced opposition from those who claimed a strong temblor would devastate what was billed as the nation’s first “planned city.”

The San Mateo County Times’ May editorial attacking the Redwood City project used “liquefaction in the case of an earthquake” as one of its arguments.

“In the marketing of Foster City, putting the earthquake situation into perspective was always a problem,” Foster said. “It was not a great sales point to advertise that the land had been prepared in such a way that earthquakes would not be as damaging as they would otherwise be.”

The special way the land had been “prepared” included compacting the fill when it was placed on the surface.

“The buildings added weight as well, but not nearly as much as the fill,” he said. “The shock waves from an earthquake were expected to travel through the mud with the result that the initial shock would be dampened, but the ground movement would be greater.”

Much of the earthquake fear was based on U.S. Geological Survey Reports that stated, “the greatest damage from an earthquake would be along the filled areas at the edge of the Bay,” Foster recounted.

Sales in Foster City, which welcomed its first resident in 1964, slowed down or stopped for a time after the reports hit the newspapers, he continued. There was nothing to be done to counter the critics until an earthquake put Foster City to the test, which came when the Loma Prieta earthquake struck in October of 1989.

Many of the same papers that carried the USGS stories reported that Foster City was “damage free.”  In contrast, considerable damage was sustained by the contents of Foster’s apartment in San Mateo.

Despite the good showing by Foster City in the 1989 quake, Karen Keefer, a retired program officer with FEMA, insisted in a commentary in The Daily News this year that the “salt ponds would be a dangerous place to be” in the event of a major quake.

She also said that in addition to “the risks of an earthquake, building on this floodplain will only be possible with a massive new levee,” adding that “flooding is already a significant threat in Foster City.”

Not so, said Foster who noted that levees on Brewer’s Island, the area that is now Foster City, stood up well during the great 1906 quake.

"A few hay bales fell out of the barn and some cows were scared, but that was all,” he said. “Levees actually get better with age,” he continued, adding that Foster City’s levees were raised 18 inches in 1990. If a risen ocean threatens, the levees could be raised again.

“The viability of development behind levees has been proven by Foster City and Redwood Shores,” Foster concluded, but conceded, “if a hurricane hit we’d have to rethink everything.”


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