Salt ponds development triggers war of words

February 25, 2010 6:25:26 PM PST
The war of words is heating up in the battle over a proposed development on salt ponds in Redwood City. The opposition is hoping for strength in numbers and today is standing side by side with some more political muscle including former Palo Alto Mayor Peter Drekmeier, Menlo Park Council member Kelly Fergusson and former state Assemblywoman Sally Lieber.

The development proposal called "The Saltworks" comes from Cargill and Arizona-based DMB. They want to build between 8,000 and 12,000 homes plus schools and a sports complex on 1,400 acres of bay front property which is now covered in salt.

Dozens of Bay Area elected leaders announced today they stand with Save the Bay in opposing the development project.

"We feel that this proposal has to be stopped at the earliest opportunity," Lieber said. "It is very unprecedented for over 90 elected officials from all nine Bay Area counties to come together in one statement like this."

Save the Bay executive director David 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 and that Cargill "is putting profits above the health of the bay."

"We don't need years of battles and costly environmental impact reports, we know what we need to know, this is not the place for housing," Lewis said.

Cargill/DMB quickly released a statement asking "Why is a Bay Area Environmentalist Undermining Environmental Review in Redwood City?" The Redwood City staff recently reported to the council that there were no insurmountable hurdles in pursuing the development. The Redwood City Council voted in August to proceed with an Environmental Impact Report for The Saltworks proposal.

"We're disappointed that they seek to circumvent an open and transparent process that would give them the information to make a more informed decision," Cargill spokesperson Pete Hillan said.

Cargill says The Saltworks development calls for restoring more than 400 acres of wetlands, but opponents say any development on bay land has been unacceptable for decades.

A group calling itself Sustainable Redwood City wants city leaders to consider everything Cargill could bring to the table.

"The possible pluses are expanded park land, open space, affordable housing, jobs, an increased tax base," Lou Covey with Sustainable Redwood City said.

While it doesn't normally get involved with projects outside its jurisdiction, earlier this month the Menlo City Council voted 4-1 to oppose the development.