Editorial: No substance to Cargill chargeCargill's breathless accusation that a Menlo Park City Council member and the environmental group Save the Bay were engaged in a "backroom deal" in discussing a resolution opposing the Redwood City Saltworks project is hogwash, and we doubt if anyone other than Cargill's public relations consultants is concerned.
The supposed culprits, Andy Cohen and Save the Bay political director Stephen Knight, were "exposed" when an unnamed person filed a public records act request with the city of Menlo Park to see all the e-mail messages between Mr. Cohen, Mr. Knight and Councilwoman Kelly Fergusson, pertaining to a proposed resolution opposing the Cargill project. So far, the council has not taken up the resolution, though city officials say it will likely be on a February agenda.
Based on what we saw in those e-mails, Mr. Cohen, Ms. Fergusson and Mr. Knight were simply discussing possible ways for Menlo Park to work with the Redwood City government to save the more than 1,400 acres that would be developed by Cargill and DMB, its joint venture partner. Nothing illegal was exposed by the two-inch-thick stack of copied e-mail messages made available to Peninsula news outlets.
In a discussion with Almanac reporter Sean Howell about the e-mails, Cargill spokesman Pete Hillan pointed to a message Mr. Cohen sent to Save the Bay political director Stephen Knight in June 2009. In it, Mr. Cohen said, "just met with paul Collacchi (former Menlo Park City Council member) and talked about a regional approach to housing cooperating with Redwood City to provide some higher density in our El Camino Real visioning process along El Camino in exchange for Cargill project going away — you'd have to work this out in greater detail with paul, but it's consistent with my earlier stand."
Mr. Hillan sees it this way: "He's suggesting something of value to Redwood City in exchange for Cargill going away. This is evidence of a backroom deal that was not done in a public way."
Mr. Cohen has a much different spin on the e-mails. He says he was simply mentioning an idea and did not construct any kind of a deal with Mr. Knight, other council members or Redwood City. "Backroom deal" is a term sure to get the attention of newspaper editors and newspaper readers alike, but the e-mails don't provide any evidence to back up that accusation.
Both Mr. Knight and Mr. Cohen sounded baffled by the accusation. When asked about it, Mr. Knight took the opportunity to not only defend Save the Bay, but to get in his licks against the Cargill project.
"Cargill is getting desperate, and there is nothing out of the ordinary or secret about the fact that Save the Bay, for 50 years, has been working with cities around the San Francisco Bay Area to protect the Bay from exactly this sort of thing. ...The era of filling in the Bay is over."
The Cargill/DMB joint venture, dubbed the Redwood City Saltworks project, is an immense development that would create a mini-city of 8,000 to 12,000 homes and 1 million square feet of office space, in addition to sports fields and other facilities, on 1,436 acres east of the Bayshore Freeway between Marsh Road and Seaport Boulevard. The plans call for about 400 acres to be restored to wetlands. Six federal agencies and 12 or more state, regional and local agencies would have to review the project, a task that is likely to last for many years.
It is no surprise that Menlo Park council members are talking about ways to lessen the impact such a huge project would have on their city. When built out, the Saltworks could accommodate more than 25,000 residents, plus thousands of office workers. Any council member who is not interested in talking about this project with Save the Bay or any other interested group is simply not doing his or her job.