Almanac

News - February 10, 2010

At last, Menlo council takes up Cargill resolution

by Sean Howell

Since it was first presented to Menlo Park City Council members nearly four months ago, a two-page resolution opposing a plan for a mini-city on the Bay has sparked a public records request, as well as indignation from both officials in the city with jurisdiction over the land, and from the project developer.

On Tuesday, Feb. 9, Menlo Park council members will blow off the dust and consider approving the resolution, calling for "full restoration" of salt ponds owned by agribusiness giant Cargill.

The resolution formally opposes Cargill's plan to build a virtual city accommodating up to 25,000 people within Redwood City's borders, on property that stretches along disused salt flats by the Bay between Woodside Road and Marsh Road. The resolution takes up calls by environmental advocates for the area to be restored as wetlands, and included with surrounding territory in the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge.

Councilman John Boyle, several Redwood City council members, and a Cargill spokesperson have argued that it's inappropriate for Menlo Park to take such a stand, especially in light of the fact that Redwood City is still awaiting completion of an environmental impact report.

"We're gonna have plenty of opportunities to comment, appeal, even sue if we need to," Mr. Boyle said at the October 2009 meeting when a draft of the resolution was first presented, noting that he has "grave concerns" about the project. "So for us to take a position on this before we have even been briefed on it, it's just shocking to me. I don't think we have to have a resolution for Redwood City, or Cargill, for that matter, to know that there are issues and concerns here."

Council members Kelly Fergusson and Andy Cohen, who are urging the council to adopt the resolution, argue that it's appropriate for the city to take a stand early on because the resolution categorically opposes developing the land, rather than quibbling with the specifics of Cargill's proposal. The city should make its position clear early on, they said, instead of waiting to respond through the formal environmental process guided by state law.

"I have come to the conclusion in my own mind that the Cargill project would do irreparable harm to Menlo Park," Ms. Fergusson said. "I think it takes us kind of back to the dark ages."

Mayor Rich Cline said in an interview that environmental research and a half-century of regional policy argue against developing the land. Councilman Heyward Robinson agreed: "The sea level is rising, and I don't think (wetlands) are in general something that we as a society should be building on."

Mr. Cohen was more blunt.

"I'm not waiting for Redwood City to come here and make a presentation to let it be known how this community feels about the kind of burden their project will have on the region," he said, responding to a suggestion by Mr. Boyle.

While Menlo Park's staff has been communicating with Redwood City about the project for over two years, Redwood City council members have been quoted in local newspapers as saying they think it would be inappropriate for Menlo Park to take a categorical stand on the project.

Cargill, meanwhile, accused Mr. Cohen of trying to concoct a "backroom deal" surrounding the project, based on an idea Mr. Cohen had floated in an e-mail to Save the Bay Political Director Stephen Knight, obtained through a public records act request. Mr. Knight called that accusation "desperate."

Cargill spokesman Pete Hillan also derided claims by Ms. Fergusson and Mr. Cohen that there had been a groundswell of opposition to the Cargill project by Menlo Park residents.

The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in the council chambers, between Laurel and Alma streets in the Civic Center complex. The item on the Cargill resolution will follow a study session on another topic.

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