New Flood of Objections To San Francisco Bay Development Project

April 19, 2011

A developer’s controversial plan to build 12,000 housing units on San Francisco Bay salt ponds is drawing new and heavy fire from hundreds of residents as well as state regulators, public agencies, local businesses, and community groups. Formal comments recently filed with the City of Redwood City raise extensive concerns about the legality, feasibility, and wisdom of Minnesota-based agribusiness giant Cargill’s plan to build a massive new city on sensitive San Francisco Bay salt ponds that should instead be restored to tidal marsh and preserved as open space.

“These significant new comments underscore that Cargill's salt ponds are not the place for housing,” said Save The Bay Executive Director David Lewis. “Businesses are alarmed that this scheme will kill jobs, the State cites negative impacts to the Bay, and the Federal Government wants the site protected as wildlife refuge – no part of this site makes sense for housing development.”

New objections demonstrates varied and growing opposition
This flood of new concerns boosts previous opposition to the plan from residents, neighboring cities and Bay Area elected leaders. Redwood City sought input on how the plan should be examined in its environmental analysis, before the city council considers the project. These "scoping comments” clearly illustrate Redwood City and the region’s opposition to this development, with almost a thousand pages of formal comments detailing the many severe problems Cargill’s plan poses for people, including health and safety risks to children and the elderly; risks from sea level rise; traffic jams; inadequate freshwater supply; and jeopardy to low-income residents already living next to the site. The development also threatens endangered fish and wildlife; lowers Bay water quality and air quality; overwhelms existing sewage and stormwater treatment capacity; and destroys open space that Redwood City has long maintained should be preserved forever.

Among the specific comments submitted:

  • The state agency that regulates San Francisco Bay and its streams notes that “this amount of fill is unprecedented in recent history and will require significant review by the Water Board to consider any project-related applications for fill of waters of the State and United States.” The agency notes that Cargill’s plan "would cause substantial impacts to areas that the Water Board must protect."
  • Prominent businesses in and around the Port of Redwood City declare that the project “shows a surprising disregard for sound land use planning recommended by local and state agencies," and complain that the proposed plan "includes immitigable significant impacts that are beyond reasonable debate."
  • The League of Women Voters of South San Mateo County declares that "This is not an infill development and does not concentrate development along existing transportation corridors," adding that "There is no plan for the developer to connect the project to downtown Redwood City or to make a connection to Caltrain."
  • The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service says the plan’s impacts to numerous endangered and threatened species would be significant in this area that could instead be part of a protected wildlife refuge; the developer’s plan to transfer water from Bakersfield to Redwood City also may have impacts on the sensitive Delta.

Redwood City residents, businesses speak out against the project
By a ratio of 10 to 1, the hundreds of Redwood City residents who submitted comments are strongly opposed to Cargill’s plan.

“I fear a disaster in the making,” wrote Redwood City resident and business-owner Brent Steelman. He also wrote that Cargill’s project “will create a regional traffic and infrastructure nightmare. It will also become known as the biggest environmental blunder of the 21st Century in the SF Bay Area. Besides… the entire project will be under water in 30 years or less, with the taxpayer holding the bag.”

Long-time Redwood City business owner Terry Lyngso notes that Cargill and development partner DMB Associates have refused to allay concerns for four years. “This isn’t just about housing, this is also about good planning for the existing industrial-zoned businesses, good planning for the cities along the 101 freeway and good planning for the health and vitality of the San Francisco Bay,” says Lyngso.

All the final comments are available online here.

Wrong place for housing
The recently submitted comments underscore that the Redwood City salt ponds are not the place for housing and commercial development. Cargill’s development plan would put new development in the path of rising sea levels and forever destroy Bay shoreline open space that should be restored to tidal wetlands to improve quality of life by providing natural flood control, addressing global warming, and increasing public access to Bay shoreline for recreation and wildlife viewing and preserving open space for future generations.

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Supplemental Information

Agencies, Cities and Organizations Who Submitted Comments About Cargill Salt Pond Development in Redwood City

A partial list of comments submitted to the City of Redwood City in response to the Notice of Preparation of an Environmental Impact Report for the development of 12,000 housing units on restorable San Francisco Bay salt ponds.

Federal, State and Local Agencies

  • California Department of Transportation
  • California Department of Water Resources
  • California Highway Patrol
  • California Public Utilities Commission
  • Menlo Park
  • Nancy Skinner, California State Assemblymember (14th District)
  • Palo Alto
  • Portola Valley
  • Sequoia Union High School District
  • San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission
  • San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board
  • State Lands Commission
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • West Bay Sanitary District
  • Woodside

Businesses

  • Lyngso Garden Materials, Inc.
  • PABCO Gypsum
  • Port of Redwood City
  • Seaport Industrial Association
  • Sims Metal Management

Residents, Community and Environmental Organizations

  • Hundreds of Redwood City residents
  • Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge
  • Committee for Green Foothills
  • Friends of Redwood City
  • Greater East San Carlos Neighborhood Association
  • Greenbelt Alliance
  • League of Women Voters of South San Mateo County
  • San Francisco Baykeeper
  • Save The Bay
  • Sequoia Audubon Society
  • Sierra Club, Loma Prieta Chapter
  • Tuolumne River Trust
  • Woodside Atherton Garden Club

SF Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board

  • "The Project would fill more than 1.5 square miles (1,000 acres) of waters of the State and United States immediately adjacent to San Francisco Bay. This amount of fill is unprecedented in recent history and will require significant review by the Water Board to consider any project-related applications for fill of waters of the State and United States…."
  • Points out the value of "restoring tidal marshes and/or open water habitat at the site, consistent with the City’s New General Plan. Evaluation of an alternative that would restore the site to tidal marsh should consider how the alternative could help retard, store, and filter floodwaters, and serve as a buffer against sea level rise and storms."
  • Cites direct observation of 49,055 birds in the Cargill salt ponds over the past year
  • Questions "the policy decision of placing thousands of people on an inherently unstable site. The Project site presents higher risk than other sites situated on more stable land."

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

  • The Cargill/DMB plan’s impacts to numerous endangered and threatened species would be significant in this area that could instead be part of a protected wildlife refuge; the developer’s plan to transfer water from Bakersfield to Redwood City also may have impacts on the sensitive Delta.

Port-area businesses, led by Seaport Industrial Association, supported by the Port of Redwood City, Sims Metal, Lyngso, PABCO Gypsum, and others

  • "The project described shows a surprising disregard for sound land use planning recommended by local and state agencies by locating sensitive residential uses in close proximity to existing heavy industrial operations at the Port and along Blomquist St."
  • "There is no question that basic land use principles, City policies, and specific guidance from regulatory authorities with jurisdiction over air quality and other resources strongly discourage – if not outright prohibit – new residential uses nearby existing industrial uses. Yet that is precisely what the project application proposes."

Pacific Merchant Shipping Association

  • "Residential development and uses in close proximity to port operations ultimately raise costs, restrict cargo operations and threaten marine terminals altogether. Given the fact that ocean carriage of cargo is the most fuel efficient and greenhouse gas friendly mode of heavy freight transportation on a ton per-mile basis, vessels should be encouraged to continue to call in Redwood City – not discouraged."

Hundreds of Redwood City residents who strongly opposed the project in scoping comments, including

  • "I am firmly against the Cargill Saltworks Project. As a Redwood City resident and small business owner (located on Haven Ave not far from the project) I fear a disaster in the making… It will create a regional traffic and infrastructure nightmare. It will also become known as the biggest environmental blunder of the 21st Century in the SF Bay Area. Besides… the entire project will be under water in 30 years or less, with the taxpayer holding the bag." – Brent Steelman
  • "Please consider all the nearby cities, officials, and environmentalists that oppose this development. Lets not fill any more of our bay – this could be a beautiful habitat for all of us to enjoy forever" – Jerry Brick
  • "Projects such as Saltworks must consider a very long time horizon as they can have immense impact to those of us living here and wanting to plan a future. I want to go on record that the more I learn about this proposal, the more I am against it." – Judy Borcz

California Highway Patrol, Redwood City Area

  • Projects a "need to add a minimum of ten officers and two supervisors to oversee and adequately address the increase in service demands."

League of Women Voters, So. San Mateo County

  • "This is not an infill development and does not concentrate development along existing transportation corridors."
  • The project "is contrary to the goals of the 2009 California Climate Adaptation Strategy, which states that new developments within known high risk flood zones are to be avoided."

Greater East San Carlos Neighborhood Association

  • "We understand that the US Army Corps of Engineers has stated that the entire property is regulated as "waters of the United States." That, together with the strong statement in Redwood City's general plan that the site should "remain open space forever," should cast serious reservations over any plan to build housing on the site."
  • "The introduction of this huge new high-value residential community into a historic industrial neighborhood will have a host of follow-on impacts to land values and long-standing industrial and commercial uses, as well as mobile home and other low income residents."

Sequoia Union High School District

  • "The district anticipates that this project, if it moves forward, could have significant impact to Sequoia High School in terms of increase student enrollment," and questions whether "its existing facilities and services will be adequate to support the additional student population at Sequoia High School."

Town of Portola Valley

  • "There are times… where the potential impacts of a proposal are so far reaching, with significant regional consequences, and require so many public concessions that it is impossible not to raise strong objections and concerns. The Saltworks project is certainly one of these proposals."
  • "This proposal, if authorized in anything like its current form, will set a contemporary precedent for a different view of the bay lands environment, i.e., that it can be traded, at least in part, for development."
  • "The potential environmental consequences of the project are so significant, even as currently understood, to respectfully ask Redwood City to consider actions it could take to not pursue the project further."

Town of Woodside

  • "There is an overwhelming body of evidence that the proposed project faces insurmountable environmental challenges and that its approval and implementation will gravely impact the project site and its environs and the San Francisco Bay itself, an asset that deserves the full and dedicated stewardship of all residents of the region."
  • "If this project were to be developed, the lack of a clearly identified, dependable long-term water source will create an untenable demand not only on Redwood City but on regional water supplies that will inevitably impact neighboring communities."
  • "This project will create traffic demands that will significantly impact the entire mid-Peninsula area. With no ready access to convenient mass transit the residents of this new community will inevitably be primarily reliant on their automobiles, creating a quantum increase in traffic on Highways 101, 280, and the arterials in our area."
  • "The potential negative impact of such a development upon our fragile and beloved San Francisco Bay Area habitat is of such huge proportion that it is amazing that it is even being contemplated."