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In The News

Developers Thumbs Up New Bay Lands Policy Amendments
Proposed projects built near the bay will be reviewed on individual merits, to the concern of some environmentalists.

By Austin Walsh, Redwood City Patch, 10/7/11   

Members of the Peninsula business community celebrated a decision by the the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), due to perceptions that regulations on development near the bay have been eased.

A unanimous decision by the commission at its meeting Thursday afternoon in San Francisco amends existing policy to include considerations of projected future water level rise by requiring protections for low lying areas within 100 feet of the bay shores.

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, according to a commission report.

And Thursday's decision is taking action to ensure that communities and areas near that area will be protected over the course of that time, as the water levels rise, according to Will Travis, the commission's executive director.

"We are taking a giant step forward in acknowledging that sea level rise is a big deal in the Bay Area," Travis said. "We are all committed to doing something about it."

But business and development advocates support the commission's decision because most feel that the amendments make the policy more flexible toward allowing construction on the area near the bay.

The Bay Area Building and Construction Trades Councils, a local labor union, said in a prepared statement that it approves of the commission's decision because the new amendments allow each project proposed to be built near the bay shore to be reviewed on individual merits.

“This is an important victory,” said Bill Nack, the union's business manager.  “It shows that we can respond to climate change and sea level rise in ways that actually protect San Francisco Bay, create employment and boost our economy.”

Developers in the past have said that they believed the previous policy was too stiff in its opposition of construction near the bay.

Saltworks, which is working in conjunction with DMB Associates to develop the Cargill salt ponds in Redwood City into a 1,426 acre housing project, also supported the commission's decision.

In a prepared statement, Saltworks called the decision today "an appropriate move toward better planning to protect Bay Area cities against the threat of sea-level rise."

The businesses and developers advocating for approval for the Saltworks project have said they are willing to build to levees as part of the project that would go to protect Redwood City as bay water levels rise.

"Saltworks can be part of protecting vulnerable areas of Redwood City, and we welcome an opportunity to be a part of the broader discussion to protect Bay Area cities," said the company's press release.

Thursday's decision culminates nearly two and half years worth of discussion about the proposed amendments. Following necessary approval by review boards, the new policy will likely go into effect around January 2012, said Travis.

And though the decision is being touted by some as a success for business and development, Travis said the new policy should not be viewed as such.

"It doesn't make it any easier, and it doesn't make it any harder," said Travis, of whether the amendments ease regulation on development. "It just makes it different."

"We did not pre-approve, or pre-deny, any project anywhere," he said.

He said that the unanimous approval of the board, which is comprised of elected officials from local governments as well as members of both the business and environment community, is an indication of the neutrality of the amended policy.

And given the nearly universal support shown for amendments, Travis said he doubted that a lawsuit would be filed to block the new policy from going into effect. But he did not rule out the possibility of such an effort being made.

Meanwhile, Thursday's approval came to the chagrin of some environmental advocates who felt the policy was more effective before the amendments were passed.

Marianna Raymond, chair of the Baylands Committee of the Loma Prieta chapter of the Sierra Club, said that she believed though it is important for the policy to acknowledge the danger of sea rise, she would have like to seen stronger restrictions on development near bay land.

"The bottom line is that there are a lot of good things in the plan, but we feel it tends to be a little too weak," said Raymond. "It tends to open the door to development on previously undeveloped wetlands."

Raymond said the new amendments will likely have a profound impact on whether the Cargill saltworks will be developed. It is the hope of the Sierra Club that the land be maintained as natural habitat, rather than be turned into a housing project.

Yet still, she reiterated the importance of approving policy that addresses the challenges presented by bay level rise.

And Travis said Thursday's decision is only the first step in the process of developing a regional strategy dedicated to protecting the greater Bay Area against other environmental dangers such as climate change, water shortages, wild fires, energy concerns and a variety of other threats.

"There's a lot more work to be done," said Travis.


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