The Loma Prietan - July/August 2009

Proposed Development Would Be Setback for Local Wetlands

by David Walling, Gita Dev, and Laura Burge

Developers have proposed a 1,400-acre project that would bring in 30,000 new residents and eliminate any hope of restoring the area into wetlands.
Developers have proposed a 1,400-acre project that would bring in 30,000 new residents and eliminate any hope of restoring the area into wetlands.

Just days after Redwood City and San Mateo County officials proclaimed the month of May "American Wetlands Month" at an event in Redwood Shores, developers unveiled a proposal for a nearby area that would be the largest shoreline development on the bay in 50 years.

The plan, crafted by DMB Associates, would pave over 1,400 acres of Cargill Salt Ponds with up to 12,000 homes, 1 million square feet of office, retail, and public buildings, and a new community of possibly 30,000 people. Included is just 440 acres for wetland restoration. The timeline for the development is 25 years.

What is the rationale given for this plan by DMB Associates to build homes on low-lying salt ponds that are subjected to flooding? DMB claims the development would bring people closer to jobs. This is reasonable, but is it a sound idea for this location?

"Just the location itself is unsustainable," said Cynthia Denny, Chapter Wetlands Subcommittee Chairperson. "We would love to see them do a development in downtown" Redwood City instead of this location.

Here are some key questions we should be asking:

• Is it wise to build on low-lying land that is subject to flooding when seawalls built on Bay mud could rupture during natural disasters such as earthquakes?

• Highway 101 and Woodside Road exits are already severely overloaded. How will this new population impact existing congestion?

• Will the existing high water table mean dependence on pumping that could fail resulting in homes with damp foundations and crawl spaces?

• Will rising tides and water levels due to global warming mean expensive maintenance costs to be borne by Redwood City and its neighbors for years to come?

• Will the fresh water for these 30,000 residents be pumped from our shrinking aquifer since Redwood City has made it clear it has no water capacity to serve this enormous development?

A plan of this scope seems out of touch with what people and governments are looking to accomplish: using sustainable approaches and natural processes to lessen pollution and carbon emissions; avoiding flooding of lowlying areas; restoring environmental balance to improve and expand habitats for fish and wildlife; and moving toward decisions where man's activities are in concert with the natural world.

Restoring the 1,400 acres of salt ponds into healthy wetlands would contribute more to the local and regional community than will houses and pavement. Wetland restoration projects create jobs. They result in better fisheries, a less polluted bay, cleaner air, and recreational open space — where potentially events could be held, like the one that took place in May.

David Walling, Gita Dev, and Laura Burge are members of the Chapter's Wetlands Committee.