Minnesota-based agribusiness giant Cargill’s plan to build a new city on more than 1,400 acres of restorable Bayfront salt ponds in Redwood City is being met with growing opposition. In May 2009, Cargill’s development partner, Arizona-based luxury home builder DMB Associates, submitted its proposal to fill the salt ponds with up to 12,000 units of housing. Environmentalists widely agree that Cargill’s massive development is the biggest current threat to the Bay. And in the past few months the opposition has rapidly spread far beyond a broad environmental base to include industry, neighboring cities and a candidate for the California Assembly.
In an important opinion piece in the Palo Alto Weekly, Palo Alto City Council member Yoriko Kishimoto called out Cargill’s plan as a grave threat to the Peninsula’s future, warning of “a proposed development in Redwood City so breathtaking in its size and misguided in its scope that nothing of its kind has been seen in half a century.” Kishimoto, who is currently running for the state Assembly (AD-21 includes Redwood City), points out that “this is not an infill site and this is not the place for housing.”
Kishimoto points out that “under California’s new AB 375, we are required to work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by curbing sprawl. Real infill doesn’t need new roads, let alone the 223 acres of them in Cargill’s plan.” She urges that the plan be viewed through the lens of the Peninsula’s positive vision for its future: “We must have a clear vision of what core assets we must preserve and what fundamental changes we need to prepare for. Top among those assets is our threatened open spaces; high among the coming changes are rising sea levels from a warming planet. Cargill’s proposal is simply at odds with where the Peninsula needs to go as a community.”
Also significant is the strong opposition from the Pacific Merchant Shippers Association. In a recent op-ed, PMSA Vice President Mike Jacob stated flatly that “residential development near port operations does not make sense for the port, for its customers or for the quality of life of future Redwood City residents.” PMSA’s Jacob told ABC7-TV that “building in the bay, as problematic as it is to begin with, probably is not the best idea when it’s right next to a port.” ABC7 reported that the Port of Long Beach is losing a battle for growth because it is within a quarter-mile of one school.
Meanwhile, the Menlo Park City Council voted 4-1 on October 20 to take up a resolution declaring the project an environmental hazard to the region. Menlo Park Council Member Kelly Fergusson told her council colleagues that “the Cargill project as proposed today would do irreparable harm to Menlo Park.” Council Member Andrew Cohen agreed that “the current Cargill/DMB development proposal seeks to reverse long-standing regional and local policies to protect the Bay and its wetlands.” Mayor Heyward Robinson and Vice Mayor Richard Cline both expressed “strong concerns” about the proposed salt pond development.
The growing opposition to Cargill’s salt pond development seems to confirm the observation by Foster City Mayor Rick Wykoff. Wykoff told the SF Examiner that times have changed since the last time any Bay fill development of this size was proposed five decades ago. “There was less attention environmentally to a lot of things,” Wyckoff said. “I think we’re all a little more sophisticated nowadays.”
David Lewis is the Executive Director of Save the Bay