The Loma Prietan - July/August 2011


Chapter Weighs in on Saltworks Project

by Gita Dev

The Chapter has submitted its first set of comments on the Saltworks project proposed by developer DMB for 1435 acres of Cargill-owned Redwood City salt ponds. We oppose DMB’s proposal to build a small town on lands currently zoned as open space. The Chapter’s comments are in response to the city’s ‘Notice of Preparation’ (NOP), a document announcing that an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) will be prepared and identifying the impacts that the EIR will cover. The Chapter’s Cargill Taskforce, created to deal with opposing this development, prepared the Chapter’s comments.

Although we believe that the list of potential impacts in the NOP is reasonably thorough, we are worried about how carefully the EIR will address these impacts. This worry led us to make our voice heard with a 20-page commentary that sets out our primary concerns. Among these concerns are …

A new town below sea level: The development would create a new population of 30,000 residents and office space for 10,000 workers, all housed below sea level, by filling in salt ponds that were targeted for restoration to wetlands.

Transportation: Since this huge development is on the Bay side of Highway 101, away from transit and from downtown Redwood City,the traffic implications are quite significant. There is no assurance that a light rail line to downtown that developer DMB is counting on will actually be built, or, if it is built, that it will attract use. In fact, in nearby Redwood Shores, shuttles similar to what DMB is proposing are transit options, and they have not been successful. Building far from current transit and commercial centers is a prescription for more traffic, more pollution, and more global warming emissions. This proposal violates Redwood City’s own climate action plan.

Wetlands: Although DMB proposes to restore a small part of the land to natural wetlands, the plan leaves much of these wetlands surrounded on three sides by development, subjecting them to noise, pollution, predatory household pets and nighttime light that are antithetical to a wetland habitat. Wetlands are extremely valuable for flood control, water quality, and fisheries, but a wetland inhospitable to wildlife can deliver few or none of these benefits. The entire Saltworks acreage was originally proposed for inclusion in the Don Edwards Wildlife Refuge, and the development is close enough to the refuge to degrade some of the already protected wetlands there as well.

Hazards: This development would be built below sea level and protected with 10-foot levees. Although a tsunami in Redwood City is not a concern, a major earthquake could slosh water around in the bay, as seiche waves, to destroy or overtop these levees and flood the development. In addition, soil liquefaction during seismic events can destroy earthen levees.

Economics: Although the project is touted as an economic winner for Redwood City, numerous studies show that such residential developments are financial drains, as the expenses of providing public services to residential areas exceed the tax revenues they generate. In addition, below-sea-level developments are particularly expensive, as evidenced by Foster City budgets.

The next step in the process will be a second NOP, followed by the preparation of a draft EIR. The Chapter and its taskforce will be following the process very carefully to ensure that our concerns are addressed; and we will respond to any problems that remain. We believe that the problems caused by this development cannot be mitigated and that this development proposal would be best rejected. Our hope is that the draft EIR will recognize this fact and that the Redwood City Council will reject this project.

Gita Dev is a member of the Cargill Taskforce and the Sustainable Land Use Committee.