The Loma Prietan - November/December 2011

Cargill Saltworks

Cargill Controversy Echoes Decades-Old Fight

by Marianna Raymond

Bair Island, a neighboring wetland parcel twice the size of Cargill, was saved about three decades ago. Ralph Nobles, the first speaker at the launch of Redwood City Neighbors United, inspired and entertained the crowd with a brief history of how.

As Ralph tells it, his ire was raised in 1982 when Mobil Oil, which had purchased Bair Island from Leslie Salt, proposed a development of 20,000 homes. When Redwood City approved the project, Ralph, an avid boater who had come to appreciate the Bay’s natural habitats, sprang into action with his wife, Carolyn. Ralph’s newly formed Friends of Redwood City, joined by other concerned groups and individuals, put a referendum on the ballot to overturn the City Council’s approval of the project. When the votes were counted, the measure had won by 42 votes out of 18,000 cast! With a twinkle in his eye, Ralph, now a snowy-haired octogenarian, recalls, “The City Council was surprised!”

The battle was not over, however. Seven years later, Tokyo-based development corporation Kumagai Gumi bought the property with new plans for development, and again the citizens had to take action. After more hard work and a clever ad campaign, citizens persuaded Kumagai to sell the property to Peninsula Open Space Trust. The land was later added to the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Fast forward to today, 30 years later. We are faced with a similarly flawed development plan and a City Council that seems not to be listening to the many residents who have spoken for years at council meetings, written letters to the editor, and provided detailed, thoughtful comments during the environmental review process. And now we have the newly-formed Redwood City Neighbors United…