92 Elected Officials Tell Redwood City Council to Oppose Massive Cargill Development in San Francisco Bay

February 25, 2010

Ninety-two current and former elected officials representing all nine Bay Area counties today urged the City Council of Redwood City to reject a massive development on Bay salt ponds proposed by Cargill Inc., declaring, “The era of filling San Francisco Bay is over.”  In a letter to the Redwood City Council, dozens of Bay Area mayors and city council members, county supervisors, and state legislators strongly oppose the project, noting that “salt ponds are not land to be paved – they are part of San Francisco Bay to be restored to tidal marsh for wildlife habitat, natural flood protection for our communities, cleaner water, and recreation areas for everyone to enjoy.” 

Minnesota-based agribusiness giant Cargill and Arizona luxury home developer DMB Associates are proposing to build a new city of up to 30,000 people on 1,436 acres of restorable salt ponds in Redwood City.  This project would be 17 times larger than any Bay fill approved since state and federal agencies began regulating shoreline development in the 1960s, making it the largest development threatening the Bay. 

“I strongly urge all elected officials around the Bay Area to join the 92 of us who have already signed this important letter to protect San Francisco Bay,” said Contra Costa Board of Supervisors Chair John Gioia.  “The proposal to build in our Bay is a direct assault on the whole Bay Area’s quality of life and our region’s residents will not stand for it.”

Just two weeks ago, the Menlo Park City Council voted to oppose the project, citing the adverse impacts it would cause, and the urgent need to protect and restore San Francisco Bay.

Redwood City officials have downplayed the enormous legal hurdles faced by Cargill’s proposal, which is unprecedented in the modern era. The City Council recently chose to move forward with a CEQA review of the project, insisting that further study is required in order to form any opinions.  Today’s letter makes clear that this view is being rejected by a growing number of regional leaders who say that building in the Bay should not be an option.

"We don't need years of costly studies and litigation to know that this project should not even be considered," said State Senator Mark Leno. "We oppose further filling or development of the Bay, our beautiful natural treasure loved by people around the world."

“Stopping Cargill’s plan to destroy these restorable wetlands is critical to the Bay’s health.  The entire salt pond site must be restored,” said Sally Lieber, former State Assembly member and former Mayor of Mountain View.
“It is not 1960, and the Bay is not the place for housing” said Peter Drekmeier, former Palo Alto Mayor.  “It’s not smart growth like Redwood City’s award-winning downtown projects.  That’s why the City Council should just say ‘no’ to Cargill now.”

92 Elected Officials Sign Letter Opposing Cargill’s Development
The letter’s 92 signers include: 

  • Representatives from all nine Bay Area counties
  • Current mayors of 13 cities
  • Elected officials from 26 cities and supervisors from six counties
  • Eight Commissioners of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, one of 19 agencies from which the project would need permits
  • Eleven members of the Executive Board of the Association of Bay Area Governments

Era of Filling in the Bay is Over
By the 1960s one-third of San Francisco Bay had been filled or diked off and there were plans to fill 60 percent of the remaining Bay, leaving only a narrow shipping channel.  Only ten percent of the Bay’s original wetlands remained, less than six miles of shoreline was accessible to the public and the Bay was choked with raw sewage and industrial pollution.

Because concerned residents founded Save The Bay in 1961, and created the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) in 1965, the Bay is now cleaner and healthier.  Citizen advocates stopped major Bay fill projects, secured better sewage treatment and reduced pollution from factories.  Now more than half of the Bay is ringed with public trails, linking a necklace of shoreline parks.  No housing has ever been approved on Bay salt ponds in the modern era, since BCDC and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency were created more than 40 years ago. 

Salt Ponds Should be Restored to Tidal Marsh
Instead, salt ponds are being restored to wetlands throughout the Bay Area.  Along the Napa River north of Vallejo, salt ponds nearly identical to Cargill’s Redwood City ponds are being restored to tidal marsh by the California Department of Fish and Game, with funds from the California Wildlife Conservation Board and the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration’s federal stimulus program. And in Redwood City, after voters prevented Bair Island from being developed a generation ago, it was purchased and added to the Don Edwards SF Bay National Wildlife Refuge and is now being restored to tidal wetlands.  Scientists recommend that tens of thousands of wetlands must be restored to ensure a healthy Bay for people and wildlife. 

Bay Area Community Wants Bay Restored; Authority Pursuing Restoration Funding
Polling shows overwhelming public support for Bay restoration and willingness to bear the cost.  A new regional special district was established in 2008 by Assembly Bill 2954 (Lieber) to raise and grant funds to restore shoreline wetland habitat around San Francisco Bay. The San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority is currently laying the foundation for funding measures that will help pay to restore thousands of acres of thriving wetlands.

“The San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority I helped to create is now working to tap the strong support for the Bay all around the Bay Area to help fund this work,” said former State Assembly member Lieber. “Cargill has announced that it is done making salt in Redwood City, and now we need a fair appraisal of these salt ponds so the public can purchase them for restoration.”

Redwood City Salt Ponds are Part of the Bay

The Redwood City Salt Ponds that Cargill seeks to pave over with a massive development are undeveloped open space and part of San Francisco Bay, providing habitat for shorebirds and other animals. Salt ponds are legally “waters of the United States,” under the Clean Water Act and other federal and state laws. The US Environmental Protection Agency recently called the Redwood City salt ponds a “critically important aquatic resource that warrant special attention.” (Letter to US Army Corps, Jan. 2010) Salt ponds are also part of San Francisco Bay under state law, and are regulated under the San Francisco Bay Plan through the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission.  Redwood City's own General Plan says of the site: "Due to the sensitive nature of these open space areas, it should be assumed that they will remain as open space forever." (General Plan, Page 2-2) The city’s "Tidal Plain" zoning does not allow for industrial use – only agricultural uses including salt making, or public parks.

Wetlands Are Vital Habitat
Wetlands are home to endangered species, such as the California clapper rail and salt marsh harvest mouse.  They keep the Bay healthy by filtering runoff pollution to improve water quality.  Additionally, they act as a sponge, providing flood control when water levels are high and create a protective buffer for communities threatened by rising sea levels associated with global warming. 

"People understand that a thriving Bay is vital for our region's quality of life and economy; and this deep support is a critical asset in protecting the Bay, restoring more tidal marsh and making the Bay healthier for people and wildlife," said David Lewis, Executive Director for Save The Bay. 

About Save The Bay
Save The Bay is the largest regional organization working to protect, restore and celebrate San Francisco Bay.  As its leading champion since 1961, Save The Bay protects the Bay from pollution and inappropriate shoreline development, making it cleaner and healthier for people and wildlife.  We restore habitat and secure strong policies to re-establish 100,000 acres of wetlands that are essential for a healthy Bay.  We engage more than 25,000 supporters, advocates and volunteers to protect the Bay, and inspire the next generation of environmental leaders by educating thousands of students annually.  www.saveSFbay.org