By Matthew Vollrath
Special to The Almanac
A recent survey sent to certain Menlo Park residents floated the possibility of a development project on a 1,400-acre wetland property on the Redwood City shoreline.
The survey from McGuire Research contains the following question: "Would you support or oppose a proposal for the Saltworks land that would permanently dedicate a substantial majority of the property as publicly accessible open space, active sports fields, the Bay Trail, tidal marsh restoration, flood control, transportation improvements, and a buffer against sea level rise; and, in order to help pay for those public benefits, the fractional remainder of the property would be used for a combination of private, economic uses including housing, office space, school and church sites and neighborhood retail stores?"
A subsequent question suggests that "only about 20 percent of the land would be used for buildings and about 80 percent would be used for public recreation, parks, open space, tidal marsh restoration, and access to the Bay and Bay Trails."
The possibility of such a proposal comes on the heels of a recent Environmental Protection Agency decision. In 2009, Arizona developer DMB Associates proposed building 12,000 homes on the salt flats. The proposal had Bay Area environmental groups and activists up in arms and prepared to fight the development; among those voicing strong opposition were numerous elected officials from Menlo Park, Atherton, Woodside and Portola Valley. In 2012 DMB withdrew its bid.
Last March, however, EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler ruled that the flats were not protected under the Clean Water Act as previously determined, potentially clearing the way for a new development proposal.
The survey goes on to acknowledge competing arguments regarding the implied proposal. On the one hand, it mentions that "the Saltworks project will increase the amount of affordable housing in Redwood City," and suggests that "at least 25 percent of the new housing units" would be dedicated to housing "for low and middle income families that would include professions such as nurses and teachers."
It also suggests that a development "would include hundreds of acres of tidal marsh restoration" and that an amount of land "bigger than Golden Gate Park in San Francisco" would be "permanently ... set aside as open space."
Barring such a project, it points out, "the property owner will continue the salt harvesting operations indefinitely, leaving the Bay shoreline as an industrial site, off-limits to the public, behind a chain link fence."
On the other hand, the survey implies that there may be "no guarantees from the developer on the project's community benefits." It also raises the possibility that "new housing on the Saltworks would put people at risk from rising seas, destroy habitat for fish and wildlife, lack an adequate water supply and worsen traffic."
Either way, the survey says, "Any building proposal will still have to go through a complete public review process, including public hearings and Redwood City approval."