Almanac

News - April 28, 2010

Atherton strongly opposes Cargill plan

by Renee Batti

After debating at length how strong a statement to send to the town's neighbors to the north, the Atherton City Council unanimously voted April 21 to oppose Cargill's plan to intensively develop its salt lands with residential and commercial buildings, and to support restoration of the 1,436-acre property on the Bay in Redwood City.

The council passed a resolution expressing its position at its Wednesday meeting after hearing from dozens of residents from Atherton and nearby communities, who were divided as to whether the town should hold off from commenting on the controversial project until an environmental impact study is completed.

Cargill and developer DMB Associates want to build a community of up to 12,000 homes, commercial space, playing fields and several hundred acres of restored wetlands on the property, located in the northeastern portion of Redwood City, east U.S 101 and just south of Seaport Boulevard.

Atherton joins Menlo Park and Belmont in strongly opposing the project. In April, Woodside took a milder approach, passing a resolution to convey the Town Council's "serious concerns" about the project and indicating the town's "intention to closely monitor the pending environmental review."

Although Atherton council members were concerned that too strong a statement could backfire, closing the door on the town in terms of influencing the Redwood City Council as it proceeds with the approval process, they ultimately took a firm stand. The approved resolution supports "the full restoration of the Cargill salt ponds and inclusion of the salt ponds in the Don Edwards National Wildlife refuge."

The council also voted to include with the resolution a cover letter acknowledging the near certainty that the environmental review process for the proposed project will go forward, and stating Atherton's desire to be part of the decision-making process.

A number of Redwood City residents, as well as representatives of a Sequoia high school district youth athletic group, packed the council chambers, some praising the proposed project for allowing people to live closer to where they work, and for providing more amenities such as parks and playing fields.

DMB consultant Tim Frank characterized the planned community as one that would be both "walk-able" and transit-oriented, reducing the amount of traffic in the region. The project, he said, would have "tremendous benefits for the entire area."

Several proponents of the project urged the council to hold judgment, saying that the process is important and public officials shouldn't try to derail it.

But Atherton residents who spoke weren't buying it; several noted that they, not Cargill or Redwood City residents, are the council's constituents.

Calling the proposed project an "environmental disaster," Atherton resident Sam Bronfman said, "Process is an important part of government, (but) so is judgment and leadership."

From the start, council members appeared ready to pass some sort of resolution urging Redwood City to kill or curtail the proposed project, with Councilman Jim Dobbie stating that he is "totally opposed."

Councilman Charles Marsala noted that, even if the project did result in regional benefits because of reduced long-distance traffic, Atherton was sure to be negatively affected by increased traffic.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Lewis said she was more comfortable with the language Woodside used in its resolution. She favors restoring the Bay lands, she said, but "economic drivers" will determine if restoration is financially feasible, and the money might not be available.

All council members ultimately signed off on the recommended resolution before them after Mayor Kathy McKeithen came up with language for a cover letter they could all agree with.

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