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New Bay Level Increase Policy May Impact Saltworks Project
Gov. agency overseeing Bay brings forth possible new rules for development on Cargill saltworks site.

By Austin Walsh
Redwood City Patch, 8/5/11

A recently released report that proposes amendments to the rules and regulations on development in the San Francisco Bay may have a significant impact in Redwood City, as the new policy would likely affect the 1,426 acre housing project proposed to be built in the Cargill saltworks.

The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) is considering to alter the way it governs the Bay space, and what kind of development is allowed in the region it controls.

In light of expected rising water levels in the Bay, the Commission has proposed revising its current policy to add a new section that requires protections for the low lying areas and communities surrounding the Bay.

According to the Commission’s report, scientists believe the Bay could rise up to nearly three feet by 2050, up to nearly five feet by 2070, and nearly six feet at the end of the century.

Should the projections come to fruition, it would have a profound impact on the future of the large housing development in Redwood City being proposed by DMB Associates located at the saltworks plant, owned by Cargill.

But the proposed policy amendments allow for the Commission to consider the potential benefits to the Bay, and protections to surrounding vulnerable areas, that would be constructed as part of any proposed development in the region, said BCDC Executive Director Will Travis.

David Smith, Senior Vice President of DMB Associates, said he is appreciative of the new proposed revisions.

He said he views the amendments as a means to make the policy more flexible, which could allow the Commission to consider developments on a case-by-case basis. This is seen as a shift from the current policy in place, which Smith said he believes is too stiff.

"The prior version absolutely disallowed certain types of projects, without any consideration. The amendments recognize the Commission's authority and responsibility to look at each project carefully," said Smith. 

State law allows BCDC to have ultimate authority over any development on Bay land within its jurisdiction. That could allow the Commission to halt a proposed development, even if a local city government approves the project to be built.

Travis said there is still uncertainty as to whether the saltworks plant in Redwood City falls under the purview of the commission. Those in favor of the development believe it is not Bay land, and the commission believes it is.

Travis said a future court ruling may be necessary to resolve that conflict of opinion.

But regardless, DMB/Cargill has pledged to stay in compliance with the rules and regulations set forth by the Commission, said Smith.

"DMB has been carrying out their planning consistent with the policies in place," said Travis.

But Travis said it is too early to tell whether these new amendments will go to facilitate, or prevent, the progress of the saltworks project.

"It is impossible to evaluate their proposal against these policies, because we don't know what the proposal will be," said Travis.

He also added the plans for the development being formulated now will likely undergo significant changes through process leading up to the decision regarding the project's ultimate fate.

In relation to findings in the report, Smith said it has always been the intention of the developer to construct a housing project that would include built-in protections against increased water levels in the Bay.

He said these protections would not only benefit the homes in the development, but the natural undeveloped lands surrounding it, as well as the greater community in Redwood City.

But before the new regulations addressing Bay rise go into effect, the Commission's internal regulatory board must approve them. The commission will hold a public hearing to receive input on the proposed amendments on Sept. 2. Following that, and then it is slated to vote on the revisions at their meeting Oct. 6, said Travis.

In order to gain approval, at least 18 of the 27 commissioners must vote in favor of implementing the new policy.

The Commission is comprised of nine members from the board of supervisors in counties with property on the Bay, representatives appointed by the Association of Bay Area Governments from four cities on the Bay, two federally appointed representatives from the Army Corp of Engineers, five representatives from various state environmental agencies, five appointed residents from cities on the Bay, one member of the Senate Rules Committee and one member appointed by the Speaker of the Assembly.

Should the commission approve the proposed revisions, two more government agencies must review the commission's process leading to the decision before the new policy would go into effect.

Travis said should the proposal gain ultimate approval, the new policy would likely go into effect around January 2012.

A representative from environmental advocacy group Save The Bay, which opposes the Saltworks development, said his organization was also pleased with the Commission's proposed policy amendments.

"Save The Bay is happy to see the latest draft," said Stephen Knight, Save The Bay's political director.

"What BCDC is saying in this report is that it is bad policy for the state to allow building in a place like this," said Knight.

Travis, however, was more reserved than Knight in his interpretation of the new proposed policy. 
"These policies acknowledge that we are going to have to have protection of certain areas along the shoreline," said Travis. He said the amendments are not to be seen as a kill-switch for any developments.

Despite the difference of opinions surrounding the issue, Travis, Smith and Knight all agreed that plenty of progress needs to be made before the proposed revisions would need be applied to the Saltworks project.

"To speculate about how how these amendments would effect a project, it's just too early to tell," said Travis.


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