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In The News

A push for thousands of homes on bayland site

Jane Kay, Chronicle Environment Writer
S.F. Chronicle, 5/19/09

An Arizona company has released plans to build as many as 12,000 houses on Cargill Salt's bayland property in Redwood City, touching off a battle over development of one of the largest remaining chunks of restorable wetlands on San Francisco Bay.

DMB Associates of Scottsdale, Ariz., and Cargill are expected to submit the plan covering 1,433 acres - the size of San Francisco's Presidio - to officials in the Peninsula city today.

The concept, billed as a smart-growth community of 30,000 people who would live near jobs and retail stores, has been in the works for three years. Half of the property would be dedicated to parks and restored tidal marsh.

Environmental groups, including Save the Bay and the grassroots Citizens Committee to Complete the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, have eyed the industrial saltworks for refuge expansion.

When the federal and state governments forged an agreement to purchase 16,500 acres of Cargill property for $100 million in 2002, the groups had tried to include in the deal the diked bayland purchased from Leslie Salt in 1977.

In 1990, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated the bayland as a wildlife haven to be preserved and placed in federal ownership should Cargill be willing to sell and the purchase money available.

John Bruno, vice president and general manager of DMB's Redwood City Saltworks, said the project has been put before hundreds of Redwood City residents. The companies plan to design construction below sea level given projections of rising bay waters.

Scientists predict the bay to rise as much as 16 inches by 2050 and 4 1/2 feet by 2100.

The plan envisions about 700 acres of houses and industrial and commercial development. About 250 acres would be dedicated to parks, including an extension of the Bay Trail and other public access, and 440 acres would be returned to tidal marsh.

"This would all be done as part of the total project at private expense for the benefit of the public," Bruno said.

The developers hope to get approval from the city, the Bay Conservation Development Commission and a host of agencies to break ground in 2013. The project would take 25 years to build, Bruno said.

Redwood City voters last year turned down a measure, put on the ballot by environmentalists, that would have required citizens to approve bayside development.

In previous years, voters had defeated other major development, including two-dozen office towers on Pete's Harbor and 4,700 houses on Bair Island in Redwood City.

Ralph Nobles, founder of Friends of Redwood City, called the new development plan "so anachronistic, it leaves me flabbergasted."

"There hasn't been a project like this since Foster City nearly 50 years ago," which sparked the creation of the bay conservation agency, which has authority over shoreline development.

"They'll be building below sea level on deep bay mud subject to liquefaction. I don't think the people of Redwood City will go for this."

Nobles also wants the proposed development to be considered in the context of the city's general plan to prevent piecemeal development and avoid negative impacts.

In March, the developer made a presentation before the BCDC.

"There was skepticism about building in low-lying areas, there was enthusiasm about restoring wetlands and there was willingness to look at the final plans," said Will Travis, executive director.

The developer promised to refine the plan and bring it back to the agency in the fall, Travis said.

 

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