OP-ED: Whatever Federal Agencies Decide, Any Saltworks Plan for Redwood City Is Still a Bad Idea

More than two years have passed since Cargill/DMB’s Saltworks plan was defeated in Redwood City, but they are still working behind the scenes with plans to build on the Bay. Redwood City residents are staying vigilant in their strong stand against this reckless development. Dan Ponti, president of Redwood City Neighbors United recently published this OP-ED in the Daily News

The Aug. 16 Daily News story, “Report favoring Saltworks plan stalled,” strongly suggests that DMB/Cargill is hoping that some media attention will short-circuit a formal review process that would determine whether their controversial plan to develop the salt ponds in Redwood City is subject to federal government oversight.

More than two years have passed since DMB/Cargill withdrew their initial plan to build a city in the bay, but the bitter controversy that pitted Cargill and its developer DMB against the residents of Redwood City, neighboring communities, and environmental groups has not gone away. They still intend to develop the site and are hoping that if they can get federal agencies to bow out, it will be smoother sailing for their project.
The findings in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers documents that DMB showed the press, if adopted, would reverse long-standing policy regarding salt ponds in San Francisco Bay. As an example, crystallizer ponds located near Napa (and very similar to the Redwood City salt ponds) were deemed “waters of the United States” subject to the Clean Water Act and permitting requirements. Those ponds are now being restored.

Doesn’t it seem odd that the Corps would claim jurisdiction and require permits for salt pond restoration projects, yet now claim no oversight role over a huge development on similar ponds? And there are other oddities — for example, the Corps attorney’s bizarre use of the term “liquid” to describe water in the salt ponds. Apparently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) thinks something is amiss too, and is reviewing the Corps’ decision, in part because of “issues raised by the Corps’ proposed approach.” What would this reversal on the federal jurisdiction mean for other salt ponds and former salt ponds throughout San Francisco Bay? Both the Corps and EPA oversee implementation and enforcement of the Clean Water Act. Review by both agencies is a required part of the process in making these determinations — and it should be allowed to play out.
However, all of this is just a distraction because a jurisdictional determination does not address the real issue here: that growing Redwood City on the salt ponds is a really bad idea.

In the two years since the Redwood City City Council turned its back on Saltworks, things have changed. Fueled by a new General Plan and an ambitious Downtown Precise Plan, housing is being built at an astonishing pace, focused in the downtown area where infrastructure and transit already exist. This is true smart growth that limits traffic impacts, makes efficient use of resources and preserves our open spaces.

In contrast, any new Saltworks project would contradict both the letter and spirit of our General Plan. Instead of growing Redwood City within our core, developing the ponds means more traffic gridlock on our freeways and city streets, needless destruction of restorable wetlands, and threats to the jobs and viability of our port and nearby industries. Add concerns about our water supply, liquefaction and seiche hazards, and the risk of placing thousands of additional residents in the path of rising seas to the list and you have to wonder why anyone would consider building out there. Simply put, Redwood City has neither the need, nor the capacity, to build in the bay.

So what part of “no” does Cargill/DMB not understand? Redwood City is moving on. Developing on the salt ponds never made sense to our community, and scaling back a bad idea doesn’t make it a good one. And that’s something you might think about while sitting in traffic on 101.

Dan Ponti is a Redwood City resident and president of the local advocacy group Redwood City Neighbors United: Responsible Growth — Not Saltworks (www.rcnu.org)

Salt Pond Update: 2013 Year in Review

Don't Pave My Bay

As we enter the new year, two square miles of the Bay remains at risk in Redwood City.

It’s been a year and a half since you helped Save The Bay and a broad coalition of environmental organizations, community groups, elected officials, and others defeat Cargill’s initial proposal to build as many as 12,000 houses atop restorable salt ponds in Redwood City.

Still, Cargill is unwilling to back away from its intent to submit a revised development proposal for the site, let alone sell the salt ponds so they can be restored and included in the Don Edwards SF Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Instead, Cargill has pressured the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to grant an “exemption” from the Clean Water Act, which would make it easier for Cargill to get permits to develop the site. Insider sources tell us that in recent months Cargill has ramped up its lobbying efforts in Washington D.C.

Thousands of you have called on the Army Corps and the EPA to stand up for the Bay and not let Cargill get out of basic environmental regulations that protect the health of our great estuary. The federal agencies have yet to make a decision, but thanks to you, we know they are hearing us.

Overall, there’s hope for the long-term health of the Bay. Every day the Bay Area moves further and further away from Cargill’s archaic plans to pave the Bay:

  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently released a long-awaited blueprint to restore the Bay’s wetlands. Called the Tidal Marsh Recovery Plan, this federal report specifically calls for the protection and restoration of Redwood City’s salt ponds.
  • Through the recently adopted Plan Bay Area, the region has chosen to move away from sprawl, focusing future development near transit, in already urbanized areas. Cargill tried to undermine this plan at the last minute, threatening regional agencies with legal action unless the Redwood City ponds were were listed as “urbanized,” but we beat them back before it was too late.
  • As sea levels continue to rise, policymakers throughout the state are beginning to realize that we need to protect the infrastructure we already have – not put more people at risk. San Mateo County’s recent sea level rise summit shows this message is getting through.
  • Finally, the historic restoration of the Bay continues at a rapid pace, as thousands of acres of the shoreline are returned back to Bay wetlands. The restoration of former salt ponds in the North Bay demonstrate what’s possible in Redwood City, if only Cargill is willing to cooperate.

None of this progress could happen without our members and supporters. You’ve signed our petitions, shared our actions with your friends, donated, and helped us continue to lead this campaign that is shaping the future of the Bay. We’ll keep you updated as we continue this important fight in the new year.

Curious to learn more about the nearly 25,000 shorebirds that use the Redwood City salt ponds annually? View our Birds of the Redwood City Salt Ponds slideshow. 

Explore the Newly-Opened Trail at Bair Island

Image of Bair Island's new pedestrian bridge
The new pedestrian bridge – the public’s gateway to exploring Bair Island

Save The Bay was thrilled last week to join the Redwood City community in a celebration of an important milestone in the nearly-completed restoration of Bair Island. Last Monday morning, the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge celebrated the opening of a new pedestrian bridge, and the first segment of trails accessible to the public since restoration work began in 2007. [Click here to see the Palo Alto Daily News’ slideshow from the event]

Bair Island is a 3,000-acre series of wetlands along the Bay shoreline in Redwood City. Frequently called the “crown jewel” in the restoration of the South Bay, Bair Island is home to over 150 species of birds and wildlife – including several pods of adorable, yet skittish harbor seals who nurse their pups on the Island. With a history including salt production and agriculture, the current restoration project aims to bring back the natural functions of this ecosystem by punching holes in the old levees and reconnecting the tides to allow the return of Bay tidal marsh and the endangered species that depend on them.

While there is still some work to be done before full public access is opened (expected to be late 2013 or early 2014), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided it was ready to open up a 1-mile trail loop for the public to visit the area and get a peek at the restoration work underway. This loop goes around a triangular-shaped area of Inner Bair Island called Area D.

Area D has subsided over the years, and so project planners raised the elevation with dredge material from the nearby Port of Redwood City. The area is currently covered in water and shorebirds. As construction crews complete the final breaches of the old levees of Inner Bair Island later this year, the water will drain out and the area is intended to be upland habitat for Bay wildlife.

How to visit Bair Island – the 1-mile Area D loop trail:

There is currently only one way to access Bair Island – through the new pedestrian bridge that connects Uccelli Boulevard in Redwood City with Inner Bair Island.

Map of Bair Island's Area D
Image courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / Don Edwards SF Bay National Wildlife Refuge


(Note: This trail area is so new that it doesn’t appear on Google Maps. If you want to plug an address into your GPS or navigation device, use the intersection of Bair Island Road and Uccelli Boulevard in Redwood City)

  • From Highway 101, take the Whipple Ave. exit
  • Go east and turn right on E. Bayshore Road
  • Passing the car dealership and old movie theater, use the new roundabout and continue on to Bair Island Road
  • In one quarter of a mile you will see the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge parking lot on your right. Make sure to drive slowly, as the sign is easy to miss. There will likely be construction equipment in the lot, but you shouldn’t have trouble finding a parking spot
  • Park and walk back to Bair Island Road. As you turn right, the road becomes Uccelli Boulevard. In about 400 feet, you will see the new pedestrian bridge on your left. Cross over the bridge and you can walk around the 1-mile Area D loop trail

Additional notes

  • Note that due to the sensitivity of this wetland restoration area, dogs are not allowed
  • For boaters, note that the changing hydrology associated with the restoration has created temporary fast-moving water in Smith and Corkscrew Sloughs that can be unsafe. Boaters can read more on the website of the Bair Island Aquatic Center

To learn more about Bair Island and Redwood City residents’ successful effort to save the area from development, read “Bair Island Restoration Nearing Completion” here on Save The Bay’s blog. You can also visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife / Don Edwards SF Bay National Wildlife Refuge’s official website for the site, which includes updates on the current construction work.

Weekly roundup 1/4/13

A county-wide plastic bag ban went into effect in all 14 cities and unincorporated areas in Alameda County on January 1. Businesses and consumers alike took it all in stride. Meanwhile, Marin County looks back on its first year under a plastic bag ban and finds that the ban is working, with fewer plastic bags entering landfills and both consumers and businesses adjusting to the change easily. The Palo Alto Daly News posts a year in review and includes the withdrawal of Cargill/DMB’s Saltworks proposal calling it “polarizing.” And right next door, public access to the Bair Island restoration site is a bit closer, with construction of a pedestrian bridge kicking off and scheduled to be completed in March. Meanwhile, worries grow in East Palo Alto as the rainy season continues and the city declares a state of emergency, asking for $2.7 million in state funds to repair storm-damaged levees along San Francisquito Creek. Finally, this week’s cuteness award goes to Sam the River Otter who mysteriously appeared in ruins of the Sutro Baths in San Francisco. We dare you to look at the photos and not say, “Awww.”

weekly roundup

Contra Costa Times 1/2/13
Few Objections in Albany to Plastic Bag Ban
Alameda County’s ban on single-use plastic bags was a long time coming and was enacted, said Albany Councilwoman Joanne Wile, because of the negative effects the bags have on the environment, especially in the water.
“It started by looking at the effect on the environment, on streams, on sea life, the number of deaths that have occurred because sea animals that have ingested plastic bags,” she said. “It seemed like something we could manageably do, and other counties have done it.”

Marin Independent Journal 1/1/13
Marin Plastic Bag Ban Making a Difference after one Year
Kate Robertson hates plastic bags, and she wants you to know it. The Novato resident carries 10 recyclable bags in her car and says plastic is a leading cause of sea turtle mortality. Not surprisingly, she’s happy with the year-old ban on plastic grocery bags in unincorporated Marin — and she’s not alone.

Palo Alto Daily News 12/31/12
2012: A Year in Review with Daily News Photos
After three years of planning, Saltworks developer DMB Pacific Ventures in May withdrew its polarizing proposal to develop 1,400 acres of Cargill’s salt ponds in Redwood City. While opponents hoped the massive residential project had been killed, the company called the move nothing more than a timeout while seeking clarification on whether the project would need federal approvals from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency. A new application would be forthcoming, DMB said, but by the end of 2012, the project was still on hold.

Redwood City Patch 1/2/13
Crews Start Work on Bridge to Inner Bair Island
Construction has started on a new pedestrian bridge that will allow public access to the Inner Bair Island and trail.
In the latest development of the multi-year public access project for Bair Island, the bridge will be installed just before the entrance to Pete’s Harbor and will soon connect Bair Island Road to a newly restored Inner Island trail.

Palo Alto Daily News 1/3/13
East Palo Alto to Seek $2.7 Million from State to Shore up Flood-Damaged Levee
East Palo Alto officials announced Wednesday that the city will seek $2.7 million to repair and shore up a dirt levee that was breached and flooded over during last month’s torrential storms. “I want to reassure all of the residents along San Francisquito Creek that the work that we did … has been paying off and it’s holding up and there’s no immediate danger along the creek,” Mayor Ruben Abrica said at a City Hall news conference. “However … after further and more thorough assessment we have encountered additional damages, serious damages. So we’re concerned about the entire rainy season and we have two or three months left.”

San Francisco Chronicle 1/4/13
SF’s Only River Otter at Sutro Baths
Naturalists and wildlife aficionados are atwitter about the unexplained presence of a river otter at the ruins of Sutro Baths, the first of the furry mammals seen in San Francisco in at least a half century.
Read more>>

Weekly Roundup December 14, 2012

weekly roundupHigh tides hit the San Francisco Bay Area this week, flooding shorelines throughout the Bay and inspiring amateur and professional photographers alike to document the lunar influence on the tides. Although unrelated to sea-level change, this week’s flooded streets could be a harbinger of future tides as the sea level rises. As East Coast states seek federal funding for the costly repair of businesses and homes destroyed by Superstorm Sandy, public attention is focused on our own vulnerability and the costs California residents will bear for future flood events. A simple solution for the Bay Area can be found in wetland restoration. Meanwhile Cargill and DMB try to make the case to the federal government that the restorable Redwood City salt ponds should be exempt from federal regulation under the Clean Water Act and the Rivers and Harbors Act. If Sandy has taught us anything, it’s that the salt ponds should be restored to protect surrounding communities from flooding, not filled with housing. Finally, come January 1, you’d better grab some reusable bags to take to the store as the Alameda Bag Ban goes into effect. Covering 14 cities and more than 2,000 retailers, this is a big one.

San Francisco Chronicle 12/13/2012
High tides bring S.F. Bay Area flooding
This week hundreds of Bay Area residents documented the spectacularly high tides lapping at shores and seawalls across the region. The tides aren’t new – they happen every year – but this week a coalition of government and nonprofit advocates hopes the photos will draw attention to the rising seas.
Read more>>

San Mateo Daily Journal 12/13/2012
A wake-up call for San Mateo County
New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania are going, hat in hand, to the federal government for close to $100 billion to recover from Hurricane Sandy. However, only about 10 percent is for building new protections against future such events. The rest is for repairs and restoration of the homes and businesses back to where they were in their current vulnerable situation.
Does this make sense to us?
Read more>>

San Jose Mercury News 12/8/2012
Redwood City Saltworks project waits in limbo while feds mull next course
Back in May, DMB Pacific Ventures withdrew its controversial plan to develop 1,400 acres of Cargill’s salt ponds in Redwood City until two federal agencies could clarify — hopefully by the end of the year — whether they have jurisdiction over the project.
Read more>>

East Bay Express 12/4/2012
Bust Out Your Reusable Bags, Alameda County; Ban Starts in January
Ten and a half months ago, Alameda County approved a ban on all single-use plastic bags at grocery stores and many other retailers selling prepackaged foods or alcohol. In a little more than three weeks, the ban finally takes effect. Starting on January 1, the bags will no longer be available at the checkout stands of more than 2,000 retailers in the county, including most grocery stores, minimarts, convenience stores, pharmacies, and other businesses that sell prepackaged foods and alcohol.
Read more>>