On Aug. 20, San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine joined advocates from Save the Bay, the Committee for Green Foothills, and other local advocacy organizations at Bedwell Bayfront Park in Menlo Park. Their purpose, as Pine tweeted later that day, was to "announce a broad coalition opposed to development on the Cargill Salt Ponds," where the developer is testing the waters for a potential housing project.
"We're taking bold action to prepare our communities for the impacts of climate change, but building on these wetlands would be a giant step backward," Pine said in a Save the Bay press release. "There is too much at stake — building here will put people at risk, destroy fish and wildlife habitat and make traffic congestion on the Peninsula even worse."
"The salt ponds are particularly vulnerable to earthquakes, liquefaction hazards, and rising seas," Dan Ponti, a representative of Redwood City Neighbors United, added at the press conference. "We therefore believe it's just plain foolish to put residents and businesses on a restorable wetland that could otherwise provide unique benefits to the community."
Cargill's plans to develop the salts ponds were made public in 2009, when the company's contractor, DMB Associates, proposed building 12,000 homes on the 1,400-acre property. In 2012, however, Cargill withdrew its bid after facing significant public opposition.
Then, in 2017, the Trump administration's Environmental Protection Agency reversed a prior decision that protected the flats under the Clean Water Act.
As The Almanac earlier reported, a survey was sent this June to certain Bay Area residents, asking whether they would "support or oppose a proposal for the Saltworks land" that would involve building on 20 percent of the property while preserving and restoring the other 80 percent.
In the survey, the plan was pitched as a way to create much-needed affordable housing. "Any project would dedicate at least 25 percent of the new housing units as affordable workforce housing for young families, workers who serve our community such as teachers and nurses, and seniors on fixed incomes," one part of the survey reads.
However, says David Lewis, executive director of Save the Bay, affordable housing creation need not be in tension with environmental restoration. "Save the Bay agrees we need much more (low-income) housing here on the Peninsula," Lewis said. But, he added, "Redwood City has shown the way by building housing downtown, (which is) near transit, and is not at risk from sea level rise and climate change."
Megan Fluke, executive director of the Committee for Green Foothills, reinforced this last point. "It doesn't make sense to put development in a place that's going to flood," she asserted. Protecting a development from flood risk would require 40-foot levies to be constructed, which Ponti says "would be really expensive, and not without residual risk."
The Cargill property is one of the company's last remaining sites in the Bay. In 2003, Cargill sold the vast majority of its salt lands to the state and federal governments, and restoration of some 15,000 acres is now underway, the Sierra Club reported in April.
Scientists warn, however, that tens of thousands more acres of wetlands will have to be restored to protect against impending sea level rise.