Menlo Park council takes stand on Cargill


In a meeting Tuesday, Menlo Park's City Council took an emphatic stand against a proposal by agribusiness giant Cargill to develop hundreds of acres of Redwood City salt ponds.

In a 4-1 vote, the council passed a resolution calling for "full restoration" of the salt ponds. The council members who supported the resolution said they felt a duty to speak out against the proposal before it makes its way through a long approval process.

Councilman John Boyle, who cast the dissenting vote, said he also has major reservations about building on the land.

But he argued that passing the resolution represented bad politics, wondering aloud whether it would weaken the city's negotiating position over mitigations and benefits during the approval process.

Mayor Rich Cline responded by saying that angling for a negotiating position on a proposal the city feels is fundamentally flawed would be like a man with a bodily disease fretting over his nails.

About 10 people spoke to urge the council to pass the resolution, including representatives of Save the Bay and the Committee for Green Foothills.

Michael Henderson, director of government affairs for the company that's overseeing the project, also spoke. Rather than make the case for building on the Bay, he argued that the site Cargill is proposing to build on is an industrial site, not part of the Bay at all. Cargill had used the site to produce salt for decades, but the operation stopped being profitable recently and has since been shut down, according to a consultant.

"It's not the Bay, and it's not wetlands," Mr. Henderson said. "There's nothing growing on it but salt. And salt doesn't grow."

Councilman Heyward Robinson responding by flipping through a slide show with photos of the site, juxtaposing images with plenty of green and blue against Cargill's representation of the area as salt flats.

"One of the things I hear from (the developer) over and over again is the word 'industrial,'" he said. "That this is somehow unusable for something else. That's just not true. That is just absolutely not true.

"This is the Bay -- and let's not make any mistake about it. It was marshland and wetland for centuries before it was ever an industrial site."

While the resolution is only a statement of principle -- it carries no legal weight -- it makes Menlo Park the first Peninsula jurisdiction to formally oppose Cargill's proposal to build a virtual city accommodating up to 25,000 people within Redwood City's borders. 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.

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Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Feb 9, 2010 at 12:58 pm

Menlo Park is right to worry.

Minnesota-based, privately-held and fabulously wealthy Cargill has no right to fill and pave its easily-restorable Bay tidal and marshlands in Redwood City with a new green-washed mini-city. They know this, and so they've hired top PR firms and Arizona-based luxury home mega-developer DMB to "sell" RWC and surrounding cities and stakeholders on their plan to cajole the RWC council to upzone their old and no-longer economically viable salt evaporation ponds in the Bay to allow a massive housing development. Cargill knows that as long as they can spend years selling their pastel-colored and "green-washed" vision of their plan for unsustainable sprawl onto Bay fill, whose levies will soon be threatened by rising sea levels and other costly maintenance nightmares, they have a good chance of getting enough votes on the traditionally very developer-friendly Redwood City city council to upzone their property.

Under their current "tidal plain" zoning designation they can't do any of what they want. And if everyone else has to abide by the zoning on their property, and expects to be protected by the zoning on their neighbors' property, why should Cargill's spending millions on PR and whatnot to get the zoning changed be rewarded, allowing them to destroy our precious and threatened Bay purely for their selfish desire to make hundreds of millions (or billions) and leave us with the after-effects of poor and unsustainable development in the path of sea level rise?

The Redwood City council can and should put an early stop to all this nonsense, which is not doing anything good for anyone. Everyone knows damn well that we need good transit-accessible infill growth -- especially in cities like Redwood City. And that filling the Bay for any reason -- let alone for out-of-state corporations and developers to extract obscene profits at the expense of our natural resources and quality of life -- is not something anyone would (or should) stand for around here. So the council should stop playing like the flirty girl in the corner batting her eyes all innocently while saying "gee, I don't know, do you think we should dance with these Cargill/DMB predators? They sure talk a good game, so maybe we will, maybe we won't, we just can't make up our minds yet ..."

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Posted by Very concerned local resident
a resident of another community
on Feb 9, 2010 at 5:57 pm

Very well said Reality Check! As a "unincorporated Redwood City" resident who greatly enjoys the Bay and spends time at the Baylands and Henry Bidwell Bayfront Park it has been alarming and disconcerting to monitor and participate in the process of this massive proposed development. After the first round of public participation the "50/50" plan evolved calling for up to 12,000 homes.(Imagine what it might have been otherwise)!
Developing in an existing flood plain is ludicrous, let alone the fact of rising sea levels. Recent television and newspaper advertising by Cargill, including "tweets" and blogging I believe are very misleading and I would encourage everyone to read more and look at the "pastel-colored" watercolor pictures of a nearby, new potential "City-On-The Bay".

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Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on Feb 10, 2010 at 6:55 am

Thank You Menlo Park Council

I attended your meeting last night, unable to stay for public comment. I wanted to Thank You in person for taking this stand.

In my opinion you have demonstrated what Citizens do, you get involved. The Bay needs Citizens, it doesn't produce fancy fliers or commercials.

Redwood City Council will most likely ignore your resolution. They ignored a landowner for years and several public meeting forcing him to sue them resulting in a recent ruling
by Judge Marie Weiner requiring the existing EIR be invalidated.

I support your resolution 100%

Michael G. Stogner
San Carlos

Like this comment
Posted by smart growth this is NOT
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 10, 2010 at 2:13 pm

Thank you Menlo Park Council and kudos to the many citizens who spoke in favor of the Resolution (I watched on cable and was very impressed with the quality and rationality of arguments bu all citizens who spoke -- the only only speaker against the Resolution was the Cargill PR man).

Filling in the Bay at this site is not "infill development." This site is remote (over a mile from CalTrain) and lacks almost all of the infrastructure that would be needed. Also, it will be auto-dependent, and the congestion, air quality and the tens of thousands of tons a year of global warming pollution it will generate will be a significant burden on the whole region and take us in the wrong direction on climate change. ABAG's vision plan calls for development along the El Camino/CalTrain corridor for a reason -- it's truly transit oriented and will utilize existing infrastructure in ways that will be much less of a burden on all of our Cities. Redwood City, as well as Menlo Park, should focus on putting most new housing and mixed use projects along El Camino. THose who fail to respect the coming challenge of sea level rise due to climate change will pay a very dear price, too.

Hopefully, this will be the beginning of a common sense drumbeat of others speaking out to say what is obvious. You don't need an EIR to know that this is simply the wrong place for such a project. Our resources as a society would be much better spent focusing on higher density and more affordable housing along the El Camino Corridor, as well as fostering more transit.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 10, 2010 at 2:31 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Perhaps Redwood City should start considering offering Cargill transferable development rights to build something much more dense than is currently allowed directly on the CalTrain corrider in exchange for a perpetual commitment NOT to develop the baylands site.

The amount of those development rights would be based on a good faith negotiation in which both parties realize that getting permission to build on the baylands site is far from certain. Cargill would need to take a discount from its current ambitions but in turn would be guaranteed the right to build a much denser project at the right place - rights which it could utilize itself or sell to another developer.

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Posted by Larry Tyson
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 10, 2010 at 2:54 pm

I believe the Bay needs protection from Cargil and others. I live next to the salt ponds and know on hot days how important the cool air flow is to the area. Redwood City doesn't need 25,000 more people. As families today have 2 or more car's the increase traffic on the two planned outlets would come to a standstill, because they are already jamed with traffic now. When will this growth stop? With the many families who struggle in this area already the surrounding cities don't need more problems. Would the quality of live be improved by this addition? I think not!!!

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Posted by halle
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 10, 2010 at 8:44 pm

Council...Thank you!

Like this comment
Posted by Nick
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Feb 11, 2010 at 11:10 am

Way to go, Town Council!

Like this comment
Posted by Aristotle
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 11, 2010 at 1:31 pm

Restore the wetlands. Cargill will survive without this industrial site. Save the planet. Make love, not war.

Like this comment
Posted by Kristopher Plumber
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Feb 19, 2010 at 12:24 pm

Menlo only removes itself from the discussion with a move like this. Redwood will do an EIR and look at the impacts. We need to be at the table. Very stupid indeed. Congrats to Cargill for getting Menlo sidelined!

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