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In The News

Redwood City orders studies of proposal to develop Cargill salt flats

By Shaun Bishop
Daily News Staff Writer
Published in the San Jose Mercury News, 8/12/09

In its first official action on a proposal to develop a mini-city at the Cargill salt flats in Redwood City, the city council authorized the hiring of consultants and outside attorneys to help evaluate the ambitious plans.

The seven-member city council unanimously agreed Monday to proceed with the studies despite protests from some who say the project would be a poor fit for the community and should be "dead on arrival." City planners now must determine what kinds of studies the city will need as it reviews plans for the 1,436-acre site east of Highway 101.

On land that historically has been used for salt harvesting, Cargill and its development firm, DMB Associates, have proposed to build up to 12,000 housing units, 1 million square feet of office space, 20 playing fields and a 200-acre park, and to restore 436 acres to wetlands.

The studies will help the council decide whether to amend the city's general plan, which currently designates the Cargill site as "open space" and prohibits residential and commercial buildings there.

Critics argued Monday night that the entire site should be restored to wetlands and a general plan amendment should not even be considered. But others urged the council to go forward with the studies to get independent information that could help the council make an informed decision about the proposal.

The city is considering a three-pronged approach to studying the project, Senior Planner Blake Lyon said.

The first step would be hiring a lead environmental consultant, who would in turn hire sub-consultants to study issues such as traffic, air quality and flood control. A second consultant would be responsible for general oversight and management of the review process, including helping the city with questions related to land use and urban design.

A third component would be hiring other consultants with specific technical expertise that city staff lack. Lyon said that could include an expert on groundwater, since DMB has proposed using groundwater for some of the project's potable water needs.

The city will likely issue a "request for qualifications" in the coming months from firms that consider themselves qualified to do the necessary work. The city council would approve any contracts.

The council also unanimously approved an agreement that requires the developer to pay for outside attorneys to help the city with legal issues that arise during the review of the plan, such as questions about land use and California's environmental laws.

Oakland-based law firm Jarvis Fay Doporto & Gibson will represent the city throughout the process, creating an interesting arrangement since Cargill could be paying for legal opinions that may not be in its favor.

City Attorney Stan Yamamoto said the developer will pay the city a yet-undetermined advance on its legal bills. The city will use its own funds to pay the outside counsel.

"There is no contractual relationship between (the developer) and our outside legal services," Yamamoto said. "They work for me."



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