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In The News

Opposition mounts to 12,000-home development on Cargill Salt lands in Redwood City

By Paul Rogers

San Jose Mercury News, 2/26/10

Fifteen months after beating back a challenge from environmental groups at the ballot box, an Arizona developer's plans to build the largest housing development on the shores of San Francisco Bay since Foster City was constructed 50 years ago are running into an increasing headwind.

On Thursday, 92 current and former elected officials from all nine Bay Area counties signed a letter opposing the project — which would construct up to 12,000 homes on vacant land owned by Cargill Salt into a community of 25,000 people.

Those coming out in opposition to the project — which would be east of Highway 101 next to the Port of Redwood City — included longtime Silicon Valley conservation leaders, such as former state Sens. Rebecca Morgan and Byron Sher.

Also listed are Ken Yeager, president of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors; state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco; Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums; and the current mayors of Mountain View, Cupertino, Campbell, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Alameda, Hayward, Richmond, Albany and Belmont.

"There is growing regional outrage and opposition to this project," said David Lewis, executive director of Save the Bay, an environmental group based in Oakland that organized the list.

Pete Hillan, a spokesman for DMB Associates, a Scottsdale, Ariz., developer working with Cargill to win approval for the plan, called the announcement premature and unreasonable. He noted that the Redwood
City Council, which would have to vote to change the zoning on the property to allow the development, hasn't yet hired a company to draw up an environmental impact report.

"Redwood City is undertaking an EIR process," Hillan said. "That is the place where all comers are going to have their concerns raised and vetted in an open and transparent process. We're disappointed that any elected official would seek to circumvent the process by which the public can seek to become more informed about not only the benefits, but the impact, that our project would have."

New obstacles

In November 2008, Redwood City voters defeated Measure W, an initiative backed by environmentalists that would have required a two-thirds vote of city residents for any development on open space such as the 1,436-acre salt evaporation pond site at issue.

Cargill and DMB then submitted a development application to the city in May.

But in the past six months, the project has faced a number of substantial new obstacles that foreshadow years of challenges, political headaches and almost-certain lawsuits if Redwood City eventually approves the plan. Among them:

  • On Feb. 9, the City Council of neighboring Menlo Park voted 4-1 to formally oppose the project.
  • On Jan. 5, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which will have to issue a permit for development to go forward, wrote in a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers about the proposal that "San Francisco Bay and its adjacent waters are critically important aquatic resources that warrant special attention and protection." The letter, from EPA regional water chief Alexis Strauss, also noted that any federal agency considering a permit must take into account "the recent successes in restoring aquatic functions to salt production facilities elsewhere in the San Francisco Bay Area."
  • In September, the leading shipping industry organization in Northern California came out in opposition, asserting that the project would create conflicts by putting new residents adjacent to the industrial facilities at the Port of Redwood City. Mike Jacob, vice president of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, called the project "a direct threat to the port's operations and its long-term viability" in an editorial published in the Palo Alto Daily News.

Still on track

Hillan said that the project, which developers hope to start in 2013, remains on track.

"It's moving forward," he said. "I wouldn't characterize these as major bumps in the road."

He said the project is environmentally friendly because DMB and Cargill will build on only half of the site, used for salt crystallization for a century, and convert the rest to wetlands and parks.

It also will provide infill housing, Hillan added, so Silicon Valley workers don't have to commute as far to their jobs. And he noted that the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, Redwood City-San Mateo County Chamber of Commerce and other organizations support the plan.

The environmental opponents say the salt ponds are essentially part of the bay and none of them should be developed.

"This project is DOA," said Lennie Roberts, with the Committee for Green Foothills in Palo Alto. "There are huge hurdles that are becoming more and more evident."


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