Redwood City developer faces 'green' opposition


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1,400 acres of bayfront land now sit under salt a couple feet deep. It has been that way since 1943. But, one developer sees fertile soil underneath it all. Arizona-based DMB wants to build housing there, between 8,000 and 12,000 units, enough homes for 25,000 people.

"The 50-50 balance plan is 50 percent tidal marsh restoration and open space, and the other 50 percent for a transit-oriented community with schools, trails and parks," explained DMB spokesman Jay Reed.

Leslie Salt Company originally owned the land but it was later sold to Cargill. Cargill/DMB is now a joint venture in pursuit of developing the land. Reed says the current plan calls for high-density housing with the peninsula's biggest sports complex, five schools, 200 acres of public parks and shoreline bay trails.

It would be called "The Saltworks."

"Redwood City is significantly out of whack in terms of its housing supply. More than 40,000 people commute into Redwood City every day for their jobs," Reed says. "By putting housing closer to jobs, we're taking a huge chunk of those people off the freeway."

Save the Bay Executive Director David Lewis says, "This is not a place for housing. This is a place to restore San Francisco Bay."

Lewis calls the Saltworks proposal the biggest existing threat to the bay. He says 90 percent of the bay's tidal marsh has already been lost. Cargill/DMB says it would restore 435 acres there, but Lewis wants the whole site.

"Well, the developer is trying to make as much money as possible," he says. "Cargill is putting profits over the health of the bay, and the Bay Area doesn't have to say yes to that."

Environmentalists have an unlikely ally in opposition to development, the Port of Redwood City. It is just across the street from what would be homes and schools.

Vice President of the Pacific Merchants Association Mike Jacob cites, "The light and dust and noise of an industrial facility, including emissions from ships and tugs, and all those things right in someone's backyard." He says, "Even if you can mitigate them politically, it's just never going to be a peaceful relationship."

Jacobs says similar scenarios are playing out at ports up and down the West Coast. Right now, the Port of Long Beach is losing a battle for growth because it is within a quarter-mile of one school.

"Building in the bay, as problematic as it is to begin with, probably is not the best idea when it's right next to a port," Jacob says.

The city is in the process of making sure Cargill-DMB's application is in order and all the necessary information is there for a complete environmental impact report. It could be years before project approval goes before the city council. And, even if approval is won at the local level, there could be years of state and federal legal hurdles.

"We're very early on in the process and we haven't even begun the environmental impact report yet," Reed says. "Once that process gets underway, we encourage everyone to ask questions so we can fully understand the impact and the benefits."

Cargill-DMB remains hopeful, saying the best-case scenario could see ground-breaking in three or four years. But, even with years to go, opposition is mounting. Palo Alto City Councilwoman Yoriko Kishimoto has taken a stand against it and the Menlo Park City Council will be considering a resolution opposing the project.

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