Viewpoint - February 24, 2010

Guest opinion: Reasoning behind the Cargill decision

by Heyward Robinson

The Menlo Park City Council recently passed a resolution opposing the Cargill/DMB "50/50" plan for the Redwood City salt ponds. Normally, cities do not consider development in neighboring jurisdictions except through comments as part of formal environmental reviews. But the proposed development of 1,400 acres of San Francisco Bay is so inappropriate and out of place that we were compelled to take a position.

It is remarkable that this project is even being considered. No project like this has ever been approved since the 1960s, when permits to fill and develop on or around the Bay became required. The Cargill plan would fill 17 times as much of the Bay as the largest project to date (84 acres for Oakland airport in 1968). The site is not zoned for development, but rather as "tidal plain."

The Redwood City general plan says this about the area: "Most of the land which is vacant cannot be developed because it is San Francisco Bay, its tributaries, salt ponds, and wetlands." Quite simply, this site is in the Bay, and we quit putting projects like this in the Bay 50 years ago.

The project faces tremendous regulatory hurdles, and approval of the required permits is far from assured. The primary state regulator (the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission — BCDC) states unequivocally that every effort should be made to "restore, enhance or convert these [salt ponds] to subtidal or wetland habitat." It is difficult to imagine BCDC, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and other regulators that seek to restore and expand Bay wetlands approving a project that does the opposite.

Cargill/DMB has launched a massive publicity campaign to try to salvage its project. A key piece of this campaign is to convince elected leaders and the public that these salt ponds are an "industrial site," and as such are not part of the Bay and ill-suited for anything but development.

This argument is incorrect. The 1,400-acre site remains part of the Bay. It is consider a "managed wetland" by BCDC, Redwood City, and other government entities. It can be restored to a tidal marsh and habitat for birds, reptiles, fish, and other aquatic species (as is currently being done in Napa, Menlo Park, and San Jose).

Redwood City, like other Peninsula cities, is facing tremendous pressure to build additional housing. Increasing housing is important, but so is restoring and expanding open space. Not all locations are appropriate for development. The DMB/Cargill site fits into this category.

Redwood City should stop this project now, before more public and private resources are expended. Rather than locating a massive development here, the site should be transferred to the Don Edwards National Wildlife refuge and put on the list of salt ponds slated for restoration.

Heyward Robinson is a member of the Menlo Park City Council.


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