State Elected Officials and Organizations Lead Growing Opposition to Massive Cargill Development in Bay

May 3, 2010

Cargill Inc.’s massive Bay-fill plan on restorable salt ponds in Redwood City now faces opposition from more than one hundred current and former elected officials including State Senators Loni Hancock, Ellen Corbett and Mark Leno and State Assemblymembers Jared Huffman, Jim Beall and Tom Ammiano, as well as the Planning and Conservation League (PCL), a leading statewide advocate for sound land use planning and responsible environmental policy.

The letter to the Redwood City Council, first sent in February with 92 signers, has now been signed by a total of 125 current and former Bay Area mayors, county supervisors, state legislators, and city council members, all of whom strongly oppose plans by Minnesota-based agribusiness giant Cargill 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.

The letter states 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.”

Senator Hancock and Assemblymember Huffman sent their own letters urging the Redwood City Council to halt the project.

“CEQA (the California Environmental Quality Act) explicitly entitles any city to reject a project without conducting an EIR when that project is inconsistent with a city’s general plan and zoning, has obvious flaws, or is unlikely to receive regulatory approval,” said Senator Hancock in her letter. “This project meets that criteria and Redwood City should feel no obligation to formally study any proposal to build on an area its general plan designates as Tidal Plain, where development is prohibited.” Hancock serves on the Senate Committee on Environmental Quality and is the former chair of the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources.

“This proposal is unacceptable on many levels,” said Assemblymember Huffman, “especially for those of us who are committed to protecting and restoring San Francisco Bay and its wetland habitat, stepping up to the challenges of global warming, and sustainably managing California’s limited water supplies.” Huffman is Chair of the Assembly Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife and author of laws on California water reform.

Further demonstrating rapidly growing regional opposition, the Planning and Conservation League sent a letter to Redwood City Mayor Jeff Ira on April 29. Speaking as an organization that is “proud to have helped pass and continue to defend the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA),” PCL’s letter states: “the Bay Area must accommodate growth, but it should do so sensibly and without sacrificing opportunities to restore valuable wetlands. Instead of filling restorable wetlands, PCL urges Redwood City to reject the Saltworks proposal. New housing should be focused near existing transit corridors and services, like in downtown Redwood City – not within Cargill’s former salt ponds complex.”  PCL joins Sierra Club, The Nature Conservancy, Audubon California, Save The Bay, Pacific Merchant Shippers Association, West Bay Sanitary District, Center for Biological Diversity, and many other organizations opposed to the development. 

No housing has ever been approved on Bay salt ponds in the modern era, since creation of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency more than 40 years ago.

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 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.

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.

Redwood City Salt Ponds are Part of the Bay
The Redwood City salt ponds 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 U.S. 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 regulated as part of San Francisco Bay under state law, and fall under the jurisdiction of 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.