Cargill Misleads Gov’t Agencies about Salt Pond Wildlife

Video of shorebirds on the Redwood City salt ponds
Click the image above to view a video of shorebirds on the Redwood City salt ponds

One of Cargill’s most consistent efforts in its campaign to pave as many as 1,436 acres of restorable salt ponds in Redwood City has been an attempt to mislead the general public, especially voters in Redwood City, into believing that that the salt ponds have little value to wildlife.

Cargill/DMB representatives have repeatedly denied the significant wildlife use of these salt ponds – saying, for example, that there is “nothing alive” on the salt ponds and that birds would “burn their fannies” if they tried to land on these two square miles of the Bay. Eneas Kane, the CEO of developer DMB Pacific has even gone so far as to describe the salt ponds as “inhospitable to man or beast.”

This is a theme that is repeated in Cargill’s official 370-page submission to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, where the company argues that the Redwood City salt ponds should be declared “exempt” from the Clean Water Act and other federal regulations that protect the Bay.

One of the attachments in their submission to the federal agencies is a 2002 “Significant Nexus Analysis” performed by Cargill’s long-time consultant, Mike Josselyn, that outrageously claims that the Redwood City salt ponds are only used on a “relatively limited basis by birds” and that the salt pond site “does not contribute to the integrity of the surrounding watershed.”

We understand why Cargill would prefer to ignore, downplay and outright deny wildlife use of the Redwood City salt ponds, but the annual presence of thousands of migratory shorebirds on the site is simply indisputable.

PRBO Conservation Science, a leader in studying birds along the Pacific Flyway, notes that San Francisco Bay, including the salt ponds, is a recognized site of hemispheric importance for migratory shorebirds. PRBO’s studies document that the Redwood City salt ponds are home to at least 24,800 shorebirds annually, including several threatened species. They describe the Redwood City ponds as having “among the highest [bird] counts from the West side of the Bay between the Bay and Dumbarton bridges” making up more than a quarter of the total shorebird population of the region. They also believe these numbers are an underestimate.

We could cite additional reports, but it doesn’t take reams of scientific data to prove that Cargill has been misleading state and federal permit agencies about the habitat value of the site. Just take a look at the video in the top right of this blog post, or any of the images in Save The Bay’s photo set of shorebirds on the Redwood City salt ponds to see for yourself. Do you see birds “burning their fannies?”

Weekly Roundup: June 1, 2012

In today’s Weekly Roundup, Cargill/DMB seek to avoid federal environmental protections after facing widespread opposition and rejection of their development plan by Redwood City.  Cargill/DMB are “just not listening or not liking the answers.” In other news, a recent study shows that wildlife refuges raise nearby property values. Plus, do you want to use less plastic? Beth Terry talks about her Plastic-Free Life.

Palo Alto Daily News 5/30/2012
Redwood City Saltworks developer seeks to avoid federal environmental rules
In a move that could allow it to elude some environmental regulations, DMB Pacific Ventures on Wednesday asked two federal agencies to declare whether they have any say over what happens to the Cargill salt flats in Redwood City it wants to develop.

The New York Times 5/30/2012
Wildlife Refuges Raise Property Values, Study Shows
Beyond the scenic views or flora and fauna, metropolitan area homeowners who live near a national wildlife refuge now have a different reason to appreciate the proximity. Research shows that such homes have higher property values than those that are farther from a reserve.

On Earth 5/31/2012
Beth Terry: Doyenne of Plastic-Free Living
Over the last few years, many people with good intentions, a bit of free time, and a modicum of Internet savvy have blogged about doing more with less, eschewing superfluous consumer goods, and generating less waste in the process. But no one has taken these goals to such an extreme as Beth Terry, a mildly obsessive Oakland accountant who in 2007 started a blog called Fake Plastic Fish as a platform for tracking her attempts to allow almost no new plastic into her life.

Wonky Wednesday: Not Going on our Christmas Tree

I picked up these salt-filled, Cargill Christmas ornaments last week at a Bay Planning Coalition luncheon at the St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco. Cargill and their development partner, DMB Associates, were both sponsors of the event.

Not only was the event staffed by a half dozen of their employees,  but Cargill also paid for the table decorations and DMB made sure everybody knew they were responsible for the large multicolor display of cupcakes, with each one topped off with the initials “D”, “M” and “B.” I’m sorry I didn’t have my camera with me.

While the ornaments are coming in for some laughs here in the office, there’s nothing funny about the scope of Cargill/DMB’s influence with the amounts of money they are willing to spend to get their way.

The really big money being spent by Cargill/DMB are on their high-powered law firms such as Hunton & Williams, a firm which the New York Times connected to a plot by the US Chamber of Commerce to spy on US citizen activists. It is spent on powerful lobbyists in Washington in Sacramento, like the now $500,000 in documented spending by DMB trying to derail the Bay Area’s groundbreaking sea level rise plan. And it is spent on a staff of more than ten people working full-time in Redwood City since 2006.

Against that backdrop, Cargill’s cheerless Christmas ornaments and DMB’s holiday turkeys, scholarships, and little league sponsorships look like what they are: very small change.


Opposition to Cargill erupts in Redwood City

Cargill & DMB developed a very big headache at the Planning Commission meeting in Redwood City last Tuesday night. Redwood City asked for their residents’ input on the proposed salt pond development, and that is exactly what they got – over three hours of it. The overflow crowd lined the walls, sat on the floors and spilled into the hallway, where a TV and portable speakers had to be set up to accommodate everyone. Not swayed by the developers’ slick and expensive presentation, the podium was packed with opponents to the project throughout the night – vastly outnumbering development supporters.

From the neighborhood associations to the mobile home parks and the garden clubs, Redwood City residents made it clear that they’re deeply concerned about this destructive development and will be fighting it at every step of the way.

You can watch the meeting here; public comments start with Joel Jensen’s great statement at 01:10 here.

Sadly, despite a September presentation by consultants emphasizing that CEQA was democracy in action, Redwood City actually suggested that “advocacy” would not be tolerated, and that “there shall be no debating the merits of the project.” Residents protested, their city attorney corrected them, and they put out edited slides crossing out the offending provisions.

What the slide seems to suggest is that unless you favor the project, Redwood City doesn’t want to hear from you.

That is unfortunately consistent with the 99-page “Notice of Preparation of Environmental Impact Report for proposed Saltworks Project” released by Redwood City which is reminiscent of the project that it purports to describe: fundamentally evasive about core environmental issues, numbingly large, and preferring to distract attention by emphasizing irrelevant details.

The NOP makes no mention of:

— the SF Bay Water Board’s recent letter to Redwood City stating the salt ponds to be “an important biological resource” providing “foraging and nesting habitat for a variety of birds.” (June 2010)

— the US EPA’s recent statement that Cargill’s Redwood City salt ponds are “critically important aquatic resources that warrant special attention and protection.” (Jan. 2010)

The NOP is clearly trying to advance the developers’ interest, not the public interest. City Councilmembers insisted in 2009 that the salt ponds be removed from Redwood City’s General Plan process at the explicit request of DMB, and their promise that this EIR would evaluate a broad range of visions for the property is now clearly broken.

— Stephen Knight, Political Director

GO Giants! GO AWAY Cargill!

The Phillies weren’t the only out-of-towners that were dealt a blow yesterday. As Giants fans were filing into AT&T Park, just before the Giants/Phillies NLCS game on the beautiful Bay shoreline, a banner was flying over the stadium telling Cargill and their luxury developer, DMB Associates, not to pave our precious San Francisco Bay. Fans were reminded that while our very own SF Giants are fighting for the National League title, corporate “giants” from Minnesota and Arizona are scheming to pave over and develop the very Bay that defines our region.

Check out some pics from the flyover!

If the fact that Minnesota-based agribiz giant Cargill has the gall to try to build a city on the Bay enrages you as much as it does us, sign the petition and learn more at