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In The News

Trust the planning process on Saltworks project

By Art Agnos

S.F. Chronicle, 3/18/10

Twenty years ago, as mayor of San Francisco, I faced a difficult decision over the fate of the Embarcadero Freeway after the 1989 earthquake.

Some 22,000 people signed a petition opposing demolition of the hideous double-deck freeway. Indeed, they opposed even starting an environmental review process to develop the facts.

As I was facing re-election, the easy political decision would have been to agree. But I decided to ignore the politics of the moment and follow what a sound environmental and development review would find as the best solution. And that is why San Francisco today now has restored access to the bay and its spectacular, thriving waterfront.

Today, Redwood City faces the same kind of decision over plans for the future of the Saltworks site.

The owners of the land have proposed a site plan that offers the most restoration of the bay in one place ever proposed with no taxpayer expense, while at the same time offering a sustainable development.

It does this on land that was bypassed by the federal government as too expensive to buy and too hard to restore when Sen. Dianne Feinstein's leadership led the efforts to acquire restorable bay land in 2003.

Most important, it does all this without putting one shovel of fill in the bay.

Yet, some of my environmentalist friends would stop the environmental review process - to prejudge the situation, just as I was asked to do in 1989.

And that position is just as wrong today.

The impact of the inevitable growth around the bay must be addressed. It will not emanate from a narrow "one size fits all" policy that says no to everything. And the more I have learned about this project, the more I am convinced that it is worthy of being evaluated on its merits.

The Saltworks proposal commits to restore 440 acres of 100-year-old landfill closest to the bay into state-of-the-art wetlands at private expense. It commits an additional 400 acres to parks and public open space with extraordinary access to the bay itself - also at private expense.

With the remaining 700 acres, it commits to building sustainable homes that voluntarily include 15 percent affordable workforce housing therein.

It commits an entire development to be self-sufficient with its own water source and renewable energy strategies that can take it off the grid - again at private expense.

It commits to building a transportation link from the homes to and over Highway 101 including a trolley system at private expense.

It commits to a 3 1/2-mile-long bayside park that provides the missing link to the San Francisco Bay Trail while protecting against the projected sea level rise at private expense.

It commits to flood control for the Stanford medical clinics and surrounding Redwood City neighborhood chronically plagued by floods in heavy rains such as those that occurred this winter at private expense.

Redwood City in particular and the Bay Area in general deserve the right to see what the developer, DMB, has to offer them. That means we should trust the planning process in our local communities. The stakes are too high for the restoration and sustainability of our precious bay to make decisions based on politics rather than facts.

Art Agnos is a former mayor of San Francisco who is currently a strategic adviser for DMB.

 

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