Portola Valley joins chorus against Cargill project


Another voice -- the Portola Valley Town Council -- has joined the chorus of opposition to a proposal by Minneapolis-based Cargill Salt Corp. and an Arizona developer to convert 1,436 acres of salt flats off Redwood City into five residential communities that would house up to 30,000 people.

Residents and officials in Atherton, Woodside and Menlo Park have let their opposition be known. Portola Valley's contribution came Wednesday, Nov. 10, at a council meeting before a group of about 30 residents of The Sequoias retirement community at 501 Portola Road. (The council meets at The Sequoias about once a year, usually in the fall.)

Jon Silver, a former mayor and former San Mateo County planning commissioner, captured the mood as the first speaker in the public comment period. "There are certain ideas that are so bad that you just don't need to study them much," he said. "The days of pillaging the Bay for money ought to be over. ... If we can't oppose something this bad, we might as well pack it up."

There could be as many as 19 regional and six federal agencies with oversight, including the town of Woodside (which borders Redwood City), according to a 99-page study by the Redwood City Planning, Housing and Economic Development Department. Portola Valley is not listed but as a member of the public, the town can submit comments ahead of the Feb. 28 deadline for this first stage in a lengthy environmental study.

On Dec. 8, the Portola Valley council also plans to take a step that the Woodside council considered but declined: issuing a strongly worded resolution in opposition to the project.

A staff report recommended that Portola Valley monitor Woodside's ongoing monitoring of the project, but that idea faded after members of the public reminded the council of Portola Valley's view of itself as an environmental leader.

"It's not Portola Valley and Woodside. It's Portola Valley," resident Ward Paine said. "It's not Palo Alto. It's Portola Valley. We have more stroke than the 4,500 people who live here. What we do will be a lot more important that what other people do."

"It's not a time to meditate," added resident Marilyn Walter. "It's a time to act."

Climate-change-induced sea level rises "should be a far more important element in this discussion than it has been," said Portola Valley resident Marion Softky.

Council views

"I can't believe we're sitting here and that this (project) is even a possibility," said councilman and architect John Richards after the public had spoken.

Councilwoman Maryann Derwin, who summarized the topic for the council ahead of the discussion, noted that she has read the Redwood City study. "After I was done, I was even more alarmed than when I began," she said. The traffic in and out of the communities would be "a nightmare."

Fresh water would come via a swap with Kern County, where the developer owns water rights for up to 70 years, but getting it to Redwood City will require the participation of intermediary public agencies that get their water from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir and the San Joaquin Valley, Ms. Derwin said.

The project's location on a salt flat would necessitate a levee, she added. The study describes a perimeter levee 14 feet high, including an extra 4 feet to deal with "anticipated sea-level rise."

Go to this link for a copy of the study.

A U.S. Geological Survey map depicts the site as bright red, Ms. Derwin noted, meaning that it's vulnerable to seismic rupture and liquefaction -- sedimentary soil liquefying by a sudden infusion of ground water.

Ms. Derwin contended that a combination of a major earthquake and a break in the levee could be disastrous for that community.

Liquefaction is a problem, resident and geophysicist Sheldon Breiner said in an interview, but such land can be made safe by piling on soil and driving long stabilizing posts deep into the ground. "There are solutions to it, but it takes money and it takes engineering," he said.

Significant impacts

The study lists 17 categories of concern (such as air quality and biological resources), which are subdivided into 88 issues. Of that total, 72 (82 percent) are listed as potentially significant, including all of the issues identified for air and water quality, biological and cultural resources, greenhouse gas emissions, population and housing, public services and recreation.

While this list looks foreboding, the study noted, preparing an environmental impact report requires such an explicit listing of issues.

"Many of the potentially significant impacts identified in this checklist could be avoided through changes in design or mitigation, both of which will be developed during preparation of the EIR," the report says. "Agencies are encouraged to submit comments proposing mitigation measures to address impacts subject to their jurisdiction or expertise."

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Like this comment
Posted by redwood city resident
a resident of another community
on Nov 16, 2010 at 12:31 pm

Everybody seems to be opposed to the project, yet Don Horsley - who accepted campaign contribution from Cargill; was just elected as county supervisor....

Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 16, 2010 at 12:41 pm

The fix, as they say, is in.

It's a very safe bet that the county establishment -- and all the campaign contribution money that it represents -- will not let this project go down to defeat, assuming that the Redwood City establishment will be signing off on it.

Like this comment
Posted by Thelma
a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 16, 2010 at 1:38 pm

Horsley accepted campaign contributions from both Cargill and DMB developers.
He is quoted in a PA Daily Oct 22 interview as saying "I would never take money from a developer with a project before the board. The Cargill project won't come before the board of supervisors. Cities are the appropriate level to address local issues."

Like this comment
Posted by danny
a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 16, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Sounds like "sour grapes" to me. Get over it, Mr. Horsley won.

Like this comment
Posted by Thelma
a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 16, 2010 at 3:15 pm

Sour grapes make great vinegar--a good solvent for cutting through greased palms.
At least Mr. Horsley will have to recuse himself from voting on this issue when it does in fact end up in the county's lap.

Like this comment
Posted by M. A.C.
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Nov 16, 2010 at 5:39 pm

Can we give something back to Mother Nature? We are overcrowded here already.

Like this comment
Posted by ann
a resident of another community
on Nov 16, 2010 at 9:43 pm

I really feel for you folks. I love living on the Coastside.

Like this comment
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of another community
on Dec 30, 2010 at 12:45 pm

This is an urban infill project near jobs and transportation. It is not the type of sprawl we have seen over the years with commuters coming to their jobs on the peninsula from places like Tracy. That makes the Cargill Project very "green".

The cities in our area have a tremendous jobs/housing imbalance (more jobs than housing). This project could solve much of that problem. We also need the playing fields.

Considering that the current 'wetlands' are really dead salt ponds, the benefits of this project are obvious except to those that already have their comfortable homes near their jobs and don't want others in the neighborhood.

At a time when thousands of people are *still* commuting into local jobs from as far away as Stockton, spewing who knows how much car exhaust and wasting precious natural resources (most notably Time, the most precious and finite resource any of us have) the myopia of a good many "environmentalists" is stupefying.

To say nothing of how many critters were displaced by development out in the remote San Joaquin Valley, rather than here in an already urbanized area.

In short, fill in the swamps, let another Foster City bloom, and give your children (and by extension your granchildren) a chance to live near you, rather than many miles away.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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