Deskside with David: Developer Vows to Build on Bay Despite City’s Rejection
After a stern rejection in Redwood City last week, Cargill’s development partner DMB immediately promised to keep pushing to build a new city on restorable salt ponds that would threaten the health of the Bay, put residents in the path of rising seas and forever destroy open space. Despite overwhelming public opposition, these stubborn corporations clearly just don’t get it – so Bay Area residents will have to keep fighting for the largest at-risk wetlands parcel on the shoreline.
Facing a Redwood City council vote to terminate the massive “Saltworks” housing project, the developers hurriedly withdrew their pending application. This is a huge milestone and tribute to everyone who has worked to prevent the ponds from being paved, so they can be restored to tidal marsh habitat.
I’ve been involved in some big shoreline development battles, and studied the history of many more that Save The Bay has fought over the last five decades. It is common for developers to believe at the outset they can win permission to build in the Bay where others have failed. Once they are stopped, they often are willing to sell their property for conservation – that’s been the story from Bair Island in Redwood City to Cullinan Ranch near Vallejo.
I shared this history when I met with DMB and Cargill executives years ago, but they were dismissive. So they spent five years and tens of millions of dollars pummeling Redwood City residents with mail, phone calls and newspaper ads; lobbying the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) to disregard sea level rise; trying to buy favor with campaign contributions and donations; attacking Save The Bay and local residents.
- The developers’ PR campaign backfired, making them and their project more unpopular than ever. The last public poll showed Redwood City voters oppose the project by more than 2-1. More than 200 elected officials from the Bay Area officially oppose development on these salt ponds, as do Redwood City’s neighbors. Hundreds of residents joined together in a new community organization, Redwood City Neighbors United, to fight Cargill’s development, and over a dozen labor unions opposed the plan.
- Lobbying to blow up BCDC’s climate change policies failed – the Commission enacted them last year, echoing California’s state policy discouraging development on restorable areas vulnerable to sea level rise, like the Cargill ponds.
- Pushing Redwood City to start a formal environmental impact study failed. The Saltworks review stalled at stage one, never answering the mountain of concerns residents and government agencies voiced in early comments. Now Redwood City Councilman Ian Bain and the city’s attorney publicly admit that the zoning does not permit development on these salt ponds.
- Redwood City residents are so united in their opposition that DMB and Cargill are widely seen as dividing the community, straining city staff, and distracting the City Council from a real priority – smart growth redevelopment downtown.
Save The Bay has renewed our efforts to convince Cargill and DMB not to spend more millions trying to fill in the Bay, but to change course and donate or sell these ponds so they can be fully restored. Restoring the site would help our region meet the scientifically established goal of 100,000 acres of healthy wetlands around San Francisco Bay – benefitting people and wildlife. It also would build on the opportunity that U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein and business leaders recently highlighted to protect our communities from flood risks by restoring Bay wetlands.
The San Francisco Chronicle concluded two years ago:
“There’s no good reason for Redwood City to continue entertaining a project so fraught with environmental and fiscal risk.”
“Controversies like this take a public toll in dollars, including staff time at public agencies, and in civic energy. The region would be better off if Redwood City just dropped it.”
Clearly, the message hasn’t gotten through yet and Cargill and DMB continue to favor profits over the health of the Bay. So please share the latest update and ask your friends to join you in signing the petition telling Cargill: Don’t Pave My Bay!
- David Lewis, Executive Director